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Guest Editorial
Monday | 24 October, 2011 | 2:46 pm

Establish a safe workplace

By Ralph T. Beers

Supervisors are the impact players when building a sustainable safety culture

According to a study conducted by a leading insurance company, 92 percent of workplace accidents are caused by an unsafe act, 2 percent are the result of poor training and 6 percent are because of the use of damaged equipment. This means nine out of 10 accidents are the direct result of a behavior or performance deficit. Metal service centers need effective leadership and coaching on the warehouse floor. Supervisors need to use effective and time-sensitive tools to manage safe behavior because there are a set of unique factors that affect accident frequency:

• A small margin for error when handling and processing steel.

• Repetitious job tasks that can lead to daydreaming or complacency.

• Multiple shifts with material pulling and truck loading typically done by inexperienced third-shift personnel.

• Hourly workers who often are on the low end of the pay scale.

• Supervisors who are promoted from the hourly ranks and do not receive much leadership training and who face strong pressure to push steel out the door.

guestedit1011-fig1 smBehavior and changing outcomes
Because of the frequency of accidents that result from behavior or performance deficits, it is important to identify two categories of these actions: at-risk behavior, such as daydreaming, complacency and taking short-cuts, and high-risk decision-making, such as choosing to use an overhead crane with a malfunctioning pendant or brakes. In addition, it is important to recognize employees have a set of work and life experiences that translate into beliefs, which drive actions and ultimately create results. It takes time and effective coaching to change unsafe acts performed by experienced workers. There are four steps to changing employee behavior and creating a sustainable safety culture.

Step 1: Build the foundation for a safety culture with knowledge. Owners and senior-level management need to understand the economic benefits. Floor supervisors need to learn how to become effective coaches, and employees need to learn and commit to doing the job safely.

Step 2: Change attitudes toward safety. Safe behavior improves productivity and quality. To achieve this, it is imperative to have supervisors leading and coaching on the warehouse floor in real time with the backing of senior management.

Step 3: Change employee behavior and safety performance by focusing on a select group of key individuals, such as the best-performing employees, who will respond to coaching and will be inclined to use safe work practices. Find opportunities to champion them in front of their peers.

Step 4: Build a group dynamic by correcting unsafe behavior using positive reinforcement coaching and finding ways to use top safety performers in supervisor coaching sessions.

guestedit1011-fig2

Equip supervisors with five tools
A long-term, safe environment starts with supervisors, who are the impact players on the warehouse floor. Communication and team building through two- to three-minute coaching sessions in real time on the warehouse floor is key. A coaching session between a supervisor and small groups of employees must be unscheduled and tie into a recent behavior such as an accident, observed unsafe act or condition or in response to an approved corrective action.

Supervisors should use the five tools shown in Figure 2 to feed relevant information into the coaching sessions. These tools are integrated into one process, and the communication channel is the two- to three-minute coaching session. It is critical to condition floor supervisors to look at these activities as coaching tools and not tasks to document safety activity. Each tool, if used correctly in real time on the warehouse floor, provides an opportunity for a supervisor to send a strong message to the employees that their safety is the company’s highest priority. MM

Ralph T. Beers from R.T. Beers & Co. Insurance Services Inc. (www.rtbeers.com) has 23 years of experience providing leadership training and insurance coverage placement services to metal service centers. He has reviewed more than 3,500 workplace accidents at metal service centers. Contact him at 562/901-4600 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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