As was mentioned in the December 2021 blog titled “Risk Vs. Reward”, workers think of the reward first then they may or may not consider the risk.

I contend that many worker behaviors and decisions, some resulting in unsafe behaviors or injuries or fatalities, are based upon the management system in which they work, the management system which is dictated by management, the employer, through the Supervisors and Managers. Many of the rewards for unsafe behaviors are rooted in the “informal” management system and have become part of the company culture.

The first thing to understand is what is a “management system”. From my presentation titled “Safety Management Systems are for Small Companies Too!” at the ASSP Safety 2021 in Austin TX in September 2021, a “management system” is defined in ANSI/ASSP Z10.0-2019) as “A set of interdependent or interacting elements of an organization to establish policies and objectives and processes to continually improve performance.” A management system can further explained as “…a set of tools for strategic planning and tactical implementation of policies, practices, guidelines, processes and procedures that are used in the development, deployment and execution of business plans and strategies and all associated management activities…provides a foundation for implementation of both strategic and tactical business decisions regarding current activities, processes, procedures and tasks for the purpose of meeting existing goals and objectives of a profit organization and satisfying customer needs and expectations…provides management staff with tools for planning, monitoring and controlling management activities and measuring business performance, and to implement continual improvement processes within an organization.” (adapted from ) Some of the more formal parts of the management system include the standard operating procedures (SOP), safety procedures if separate from the SOP, quality management procedures, environmental management systems, etc.

The part of the “management system’ that we are going to look at involves Managers, Supervisors, and employee interactions that take place day by day, hour by hour, to get the work done each workday or each shift, where the boots hit the ground. This is the part of the “system” that is more informal in nature. It is how things get done in the day-to-day operation of a business that involves the supervision of the workforce and the overall management of the activities.

What a Manager tracks/monitors is what the Supervisor enforces. The Manager tells the Supervisor that the shift needs to produce a certain number of product this week to reach or exceed a production goal or the crew has to have a specific amount of work done on a construction or maintenance project each week to exceed the schedule. Or, the Manager does not say anything about worker safety or meeting company business goals related to safety or reminding the Supervisor about ensuring workers attend safety training or the importance of planning a specific task or occasionally talk with the Supervisor about safety at all. The Supervisor is going to do everything necessary to accomplish what the Manager expects in their supervising of the workers activities.

The impression, correct or not, that the Supervisor gets is that the Manager did not say anything specific about worker safety though the Manager did specifically emphasize to ensure the work was done correctly or ensure the product meets the company/customer quality standards, the schedule and quality are the key points the Manager emphasized and that is what the Supervisor is going to enforce.

When the Supervisor communicates with the workers, he is focused on the schedule and quality. Obviously, no Supervisor will blatantly sacrifice worker safety. However, because of the perceived focus on schedule and quality, when a Supervisor has to make a decision the points they consider first and that have the most weight is that of schedule and quality.

Within this “management system”, as one example, workers are rewarded for getting the job done faster when the Supervisor praises them in front of fellow workers when, in reality the reasons the workers got the work done sooner were that they did not do any type of job hazard analysis to specifically identify the risk (probability and consequences) associated with the identified potential hazards. Or they took shortcuts or bypassed steps in the SOP, they did not get or use the right tool because it was not planned for and not readily available, the workers operated equipment outside of normal operation, or workers were reaching into a moving machine while not applying Lockout/Tagout.

So when a worker is injured the first thing that is considered is what did the worker do that caused themselves to be injured and then what did the other workers do that caused a worker to be injured. Some trains of thought are that as many as 90% of workplace injuries are caused by worker error or unsafe worker behaviors. Just as previously noted, no Supervisor will blatantly sacrifice worker safety, no worker will consciously decide to do something that they know will get them injured or killed. A worker will decide to take specific actions based upon the perceived expectations of the Supervisor which is based upon the communicated expectations of their Manager. This is the “informal” management system in which workers get rewarded for performing to or above expectations that do not include specific expectations for safety.

Think about this “informal” management system where the Manager, Supervisor, and workers interact to conduct business operations. Does your operations have a similar “informal” management system? Any type of management system, good or bad, is evident in the company culture or the “this is how we get it done” mindset.

In the next blog in February, it will address how to change the “informal” management system to remove the rewards for risky behaviors and encourage safe behaviors.

For more information and/or assistance, contact:
Wayne Vanderhoof CSP, CIT
Sr. Consultant/President
RJR Safety Inc.

Categories: Blog