The blog was developed collaboratively by Dan Volpe, TJ McCann and Tom Paciga
In our recent blog post on logistics safety, we advised logistics organizations to conduct safety audits in a way that associates don’t perceive them as “gotcha” exercises. Warehouse operators, drivers, and other associates need to know that workplace safety is a shared goal and that all parts of the organization, from management on down, are on the same team.
Unfortunately, audits are too often a “white-knuckle” experience for operators, who view the process as a nerve-racking but necessary evil. Their attitude: just get through it so they can get back to normal as fast as possible.
Professor Dominic Cooper, who writes on improving safety culture, notes that managers who are overly focused on controlling associate’s behavior tend to create an `us and them’ adversarial approach.
“It is a natural reaction for people subjected to extreme control to adopt the stance of only doing just enough to keep themselves out of trouble,” Dr. Cooper says. “Because of a fear of discipline or sanctions, there is once again a danger that people will engage in `unauthorized’ problem-solving.”
Communication is Key During the Safety Audit Process
Clear communication is a good way to alleviate that adversarial feel. Dr. Cooper advises that, before, during and after safety audits, managers ensure they are:
- communicating to associates the path by which the organization’s goals can be achieved
- specifying the time frame for the goals to be achieved
- helping people along by providing the necessary resources
- removing any organizational obstacles that will prevent safety goals from being reached within the allotted time span.
Clear messaging needs to be accompanied by a collaborative approach when identifying and rectifying safety issues, whether during a formal audit or at other times.
Moving from Confrontation to Collaboration
Esteban Tristan, safety practice manager at recruitment firm Select International, recommends a collaborative attitude towards audits and enforcement in a recent article in EHS Today. He describes his work with an organization that was eager to change what it saw as a deeply ingrained resistance to safety audits and safety awareness in general.
“They were tired of the predictable interactions where supervisors reprimanded employees quickly for certain actions, without stopping to ask why they did what they did,” he said. The antidote was to encourage managers, while conducting audits, to ask questions instead of reprimanding workers or simply ticking boxes. They urged auditors to find out exactly why people were comfortable making careless mistakes and failing to take personal ownership for safety.
“Whenever we make assumptions and fail to ask good questions, we miss great opportunities to uncover rich and useful information about hazards, risks and various aspects of the true safety culture,” said Tristan.
At Kane Is Able, we’ve successfully created a safety culture of collaboration, not confrontation.
Here, safety is a “bottom up” process, where the people who actually do the work are accountable for their safety results, and are often the ones suggesting improvement ideas.
The audits themselves are collaborative affairs where safety managers ask questions and seek input. This is in stark contrast to some audits, where auditors simply walk the floor on their own and complete a checklist.
Build Relationships Outside the Audit Process
Bottom line: associates must feel supported, not spied upon. Relationship-building is essential between safety personnel and operators. It does not work if the only time safety managers interact with warehousing or transportation staff is during an audit.
Safety audits are a necessary part of doing business; the trick is to turn them into a process in which every single member of your organization feels involved and invested in improving safety at your locations.