Safety Supervisors – The 5 Most Common Mistakes
Safety Supervisors and their Mistakes
Whether you yourself are a safety supervisor or are just tasked with the appointing and training of them within your business, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Safety supervision is vital to any safe and efficient organization, but getting things just right is far from easy. For one, the changing safety strategy ‘findings’ and industry ‘best practices’ are an ongoing evolution that require safety supervisors to keep up with the times, even if they’ve just gotten used to a different system altogether.
Further complicating things is that, while OSHA and other overseeing bodies do set standards, safety is not a one-size-fits-all arena. In fact, managers will often find that, without adaptation for the specific workplace in which they exist, simply copying other seemingly successful businesses’ techniques verbatim won’t deliver the results they’re looking for.
Knowing this is all well and good, but before even getting to specific strategies, there are basics to be covered. In this blog post, we’re going to take a look at five ways in which the basics of safety supervision can be misconstrued. Hopefully, you and/or your management team will be able to avoid making these common mistakes and skip right past the clutter into a happy, blissful management existence (we all can dream, right?).
5 Common Mistakes Safety Supervisors Make
1. Being Reactive vs. Proactive
This mistake isn’t limited to safety, in fact it’s relevant to all kinds of management roles. I’m mentioning it here, however, because it can become especially dangerous to your employees when it comes to safety supervision.
Safety, of course, is a place in which we all can easily understand the importance of being proactive; we want to stop accidents from ever happening in the first place, rather than having to pick up the pieces after something goes wrong. Sometimes, a reactive approach is inevitable, but incidents should happen rarely to never, and it’s only in these situations we should find ourselves behind the eight ball. Of course we want to learn from our mistakes, but this kind of learning is dangerous when human lives are at stake.
For this reason, supervisors should be extremely ambitious about going out and observing – you know, supervising! – the processes they oversee and nipping problem areas at the bud. Supervisors should tackle emerging problems right away, and, in the case there they feel unequipped to deal with a situation fully, be unafraid to bring concerns to their own higher ups.
2. Having Bad Employee Interaction/Skills
I’ll be honest with you, someone with bad people skills shouldn’t find themselves in a management role in the first place. That said, there are some situations in which employee/manager relations might become strained. One of these is when an hourly employee is promoted and is suddenly asked to oversee his or her peers. They might have been comfortable with the idea beforehand, but all of a sudden having to manage – and sometimes call out – their friends and co-workers might seem a bit awkward.
Another example might be a manager hired from the outside who has little familiarity with your workers yet. Employees might not be extremely open with someone they barely know, or their personalities could simply not mesh well.
Getting past these barriers is essential for any good supervisor, and it facilitates the successful correction of mistake number one (ensuring one is proactive about safety) because employees themselves are your absolute best source of safety information.
Keeping open channels of communication between safety supervisors and their workers will help immensely in catching new problems as they emerge. Employees should know they can trust their supervisor when something comes up, without fear of retaliation in the case that something has gone wrong or if they may feel at fault.
3. Knee-Jerk Reactions
When something happens or is brought to a supervisor’s attention, the worst thing they can do is come undone, employees look to their supervisors for guidance, and having someone flip out instead of set an example can be a major problem.
Grumpy managers should be a stereotype best left to movies and not for the actual workplace. Supervisors shouldn’t be quick to anger, and they should always keep in mind that their primary responsibility is the safety of those they work with.
The best way to ensure that reactions are smooth and constructive is to have a framework planned out ahead of time. Whether it’s something that is self-constructed by the supervisors themselves or a structure that’s given to them, a step by step process for dealing with problems is essential.
It sounds elementary, but thinking of safety supervision as one of those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books we have as children can be useful. As something occurs, there should be an almost flowchart like structure of what to do. Processes this can be useful for aren’t just accidents, but can also include what to do when a potential danger is discovered, how to field employee complaints and concerns. Map it out, have a plan, breathe deep.
Sure, you can’t overreact – but you can’t just do nothing either. Dragging your feet about getting things done in the safety world can literally become a matter of life and death. While this isn’t likely in everyday interactions, that doesn’t mean your should discount the importance of quick action.
A good way to handle safety concerns is to evaluate both the long term and the short term implications of something that’s come to your concern, and then implement solutions for both of them in their respective timeframes.
As an example, let’s say an employee has noticed that a sharp edge on the assembly line has to be leaned over and is a major cutting hazard during production. As a long term solution, you order the piece to be re-welded or perhaps order a padded safe guard for the area. In the short term, however, you don’t want anyone getting cut on the job, so come up with another solution such as printing out a custom safety label (similar to this) with an industrial label printer (which you can find here) and place it on the hazardous area.. Is there another place that employees can stand for the time being when working on that part of the line? Can you place a piece of packaging foam over the edge as a makeshift guard? You get the idea.
Always take your responsibilities seriously, because they are.
5. Expecting Employees to Know What You Know
Treating workers as intellectual equals is paramount, but most people know their own jobs better than anyone else, and expecting your workers to know the things that you do about safety is a stretch in most cases and sometimes just plain silly. Part of your job is researching safety strategies and techniques, but it’s not part of theirs.
Make sure that if you come across a piece of information that you think employees should know about, or change a policy based on observation, that you explicitly communicate it to them. In a managerial role, you can’t assume things, you have to know them. In the case of employee knowledge, this means designing effective training and communication channels to ensure absorbsion.
While these have to do mostly with structural and mindset mistakes that safety supervisors might make, there are of course other considerations as well. For one, mistakes regarding the implementation of specific techniques are also a consideration. The best advice I can give in a nutshell here is to pace yourself, get input from others, and always adapt strategies to your own business for maximum effectiveness.