Half a century ago, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation with the following admonishment: “I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
Those words were the torch that set ablaze the innovative hearts that would win the space race, but many could argue there’s nothing inherently “safe” about launching a rocket with almost a million gallons of liquid fuel into space and accelerating it to 25,000 miles per hour. In the same vain, the concept of safe turnarounds is primarily an oxymoron. While we can certainly execute injury-free turnarounds, we have to keep in mind that turnarounds come with many risks. When you mix chemicals, lifts, pressures, temperatures, elevations, energy sources, confined spaces, simultaneous operations, tools, noise, blind spots, distractions, emotions, deadlines, etc. with human beings, you’re looking at a high-risk proposition. This is why safety must be the number one priority of every individual involved.
Not only do injuries affect employees we care about, they can affect their families, our turnaround costs, our insurance costs, our credit rating, our public image and our license to operate. So how do you truly affect people’s priorities so that injury-free turnarounds become the norm? Skilled managers understand that the best way to manage people is by managing culture. Managers clock in and clock out, but culture is always present. It extends the reach of management because culture causes people to manage each other and themselves. I have worked in only a few places where safety was the prevailing culture, and you never forget how rewarding that feels. Here are the ways to instill a culture of safety at your site:
1) A good contract. Clear safety requirements were written into the contracts with all contractors, even those who did not work on tools. Good fences make good neighbors and good contracts make great neighbors.
2) The right first impressions. The moment an employee walks on site, he is greeted with a clear and consistent message that safety is first priority. The gate is the first active checkpoint to look for proper PPE and issue safety bulletins, tokens and reminders.
3) Management transparency. Management must destigmatize reporting by modeling it. Managers openly and regularly talk in safety meetings about their own near-misses and mishaps but sum it up by reaffirming their own philosophy that all accidents are preventable.
4) Make near-miss reporting positive. Safety pyramids suggest that near-misses serve as precursors to more serious incidents—if you don’t correct the course. We all experience near-misses, so when none are reported, that triggers a big red flag. When you accurately report near-misses, it demonstrates you are honest as a company and you are serious about safety.
5) Link safety to professionalism. Remind employees regularly that skilled craftsmen work safely, and safety plays a key role in successfully meeting job performance standards.
6) Link tidiness to safety. Cluttered work spaces play a major role in slips, trips and falls.
7) All-Inclusive Safety Assessments. All company employees and contractor employees are dubbed “safety professionals” and are asked to do short safety assessments on fellow workers on a regular basis and to help correct unsafe practices in a courteous fashion.
8) Say “Thanks.” Verbal affirmation still goes a long way when it comes from a genuine place. Inexpensive safety trinkets and gifts are often retained for years and remind employees over and over that safety is first priority.
9) Regular Measuring and Reporting. There is an old, but true, adage: “What gets measured is what gets done.” The statistics should be shared regularly so that employees know where they stand. Statistics should not only be reported but clearly explained, and they should be personalized in terms of the real impact the statistics are having on the employees and their loved ones.
10) Break ties when necessary. Safety must be a condition of employment for every employee and for every contractor. Anyone who is unwilling to align with your safety values is an unaffordable liability. When are workers likely to have mishaps? At the beginning of the job when they are not as familiar with the risks of their surroundings, at the middle of the job when they are more comfortable and less guarded and at the end of the job when fatigue has set in. In other words, we can never take a break from driving a culture of safety.