The next step is to change the “informal” management system to remove the rewards for risky behaviors and encourage safe behaviors.

As was reviewed in the January blog titled “Management System Rewards Risky Behaviors”, the “informal” management system where the Manager, Supervisor, and workers interact to conduct business operations is evident in the company culture or the attitudes and actions of all involved with a “this is how we get it done” mindset. The term “informal” indicates there is no defined or specified process. It is just how a worker decides 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.

Communication and perception drive the informal management system. The information communicated by the Manager to the Supervisor will direct the Supervisor’s actions and decisions as well as what the Manager did not communicate to the Supervisor will guide the Supervisors actions and decisions. Whatever information is not communicated by the Manager to the Supervisor is perceived by the Supervisor as not as important which may be incorrect or not the case at all. When a Manager talks with the Supervisor about meeting or exceeding a schedule and/or meeting quality standards yet does not mention anything about worker safety or business safety goals, the Supervisor hears and can see the emphasis placed by the Manager on schedule and quality and perceives that worker safety is not as important because the Manager did not specifically say anything about worker safety. This perception is not necessarily true or accurate though, however, perception is the reality that the Supervisor works within. Because the Supervisor is conducting day-to-day operations and making decisions based on the information and guidance provided by the Manager, the Supervisor focuses on schedule and quality and not as much on worker safety. The Supervisor will not do anything or have the worker do anything that will specifically cause them harm however the Supervisor will make decisions and his priorities, provided by the Manager, are schedule (production) and quality.

The Supervisor rewards workers based on the perceived priorities provided by the Manager. When tasks get done on schedule or ahead of schedule, the Supervisor rewards the workers. Some examples of these rewards include the Supervisor praising workers in front of fellow workers or recognizing that crew “a” is ahead of schedule while crew “b” is on schedule. The reality is that crew “a” is ahead of schedule because of actions they took like not using the correct tool or not following the SOP and taking shortcuts or running equipment at higher pressures or not doing the daily inspections of the equipment or not performing lockout/tagout. The workers know what was done to exceed the schedule and when the Supervisor praises them for getting the work done faster, the workers perception is that they received recognition for getting the job done ahead of schedule and that it was acceptable by the Supervisor in the manner that they worked in which to get the job done faster.

The reality is that the workers took risks and performed risky behaviors and, luckily, got the work done faster without anyone getting hurt this time. The next task they work on will be with the same mindset of that the Supervisor accepts the performance of risky behaviors so long as the work gets done ahead of schedule.

To correct this perception and cycle of getting work done while performing risky behaviors starts with the Manager communicating to the Supervisor that the work needs to be done safely so that it can meet or exceed the schedule or meet the quality standards. The Manager should specifically remind the Supervisor about what is needed to meet or exceed the schedule such as reminding the Supervisor to plan the task or job ensuring the tools and equipment are available then ensuring this planning be specifically reviewed with the workers before the job is started and on a daily basis should the job be planned over days or weeks. A major part of the planning process includes identifying the hazards of the tasks of the job and addressing them as well. Determine and plan for what special tools and equipment will be needed, what permits will be needed, what situations will the workers be in such as needing to control hazardous energy sources, needing confined space entry permits or hot work permits, needing the special equipment to enter into trenches, having the correct fall protection equipment.

Planning is one of the most important parts of getting work done safely, meeting production schedules, and meeting quality standards. The next most important aspect is the actual implementation and following of the plan that was developed. The “informal” management system becomes more formalized within the planning process. To turn an “informal” management system into a formal management system the planning and implementation process needs to be spelled out in documents such as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that provide guidance to the Supervisor and workers on how to accomplish routine tasks. These SOPs cannot provide for every situation however they provide specific guidance on completing a task or job or operation. The SOPs include references to safety procedures such as when a task calls for working on a machine, the Lockout/Tagout procedure is to be followed as part of the task steps.

The “reward” for meeting or exceeding production or quality should include the “how” it was met or exceeded including the Manager and/or Supervisor acknowledging that the task or job or operation was done safely and according to plan acknowledging that the plan may have needed changed due to unforeseen circumstances or situations that were not expected to occur.

In April, we will review the measuring of how a task or job or operation is being done safely so that it, ultimately, meets or exceeds expectations. These actions of measuring can be used to change the company culture and the mindset of “this is how we get it done”.

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

Categories: Blog