Featured image depicting Ten cardinal rules of safety for managers

Ten cardinal rules of safety for managers

Many organizations have established rules for worker safety but what about managers? What are the cardinal safety rules they follow and hold to?

By Mike Goddu  |  March 12, 2020

Many operating and construction organizations have rolled out “Cardinal Rules of Safety”, “Safety Commandments”, “Life-Saving Rules” and so on – for their workers. These titles signal their imperative. They also form the basis for “just cause”: levels of disciplinary response to violations by offending workers and supervisors.

But what about managers? What are the unequivocal standards that we follow and hold to? What can our workers count on us for?

Here are 10 cardinal rules of safety for you and your colleagues to consider adopting:

  1. Spend at least as much time on safety as you spend on cost, schedule and productivity.
    1. For the time you spend, allocate 80% to safety leadership and 20% to safety management. Do this now – not AFTER incidents occur. Stop the cycle of incident-react; incident-react. You’ll be surprised how doing so then makes a big positive difference in cost, schedule and productivity!
  2. Learn your business back-to-front; bottom-to-top.
    • Understand the hazards inherent in your operation: Consider as many areas as you can such as toxic chemicals and gases, heat, pressure, the unintended consequences of change, the history of events in facilities, waste streams, “outside the battery limits,” etc. Learn the HSE Hierarchy of Controls, teach it to others and actively apply it to your site and operation.
    • Keep these dangers “close”; Safety is a declaration of readiness not an assumption based on past performance.
    • Understand how work on your site really takes place. Not as designed, engineered or written in the procedures, nor what the company or contract says it should be. Rather, how your workers and supervisors actually do the job: At night, in crowded conditions, across shifts, short-handed in safety critical areas, with unintended delays due to procurement, etc. (This will take time for you to learn and discover).

  1. Build authentic, trusting relationships.
    • People don’t work for companies, they work for leaders.
    • Listen first – build respect. Then, act on that feedback. This builds credibility.
    • Fix deficiencies in the workplace – how work is performed and performance is rewarded.
    • Encourage, don’t discourage. People who are confident speak up, and perform better. Ask yourself, “Did that last conversation improve my working relationships, build trust and confidence – or not?”; “Am I just meeting the targets and metrics for the front office or am I building capability, character and community on the site?”
  2. When visiting on the floor or site, do not talk about cost, schedule and productivity. Your workforce will only hear “hurry up”.
    • Workers and supervisors have a tremendous influence on cost, schedule, productivity, quality, but not while they are working! No-one can learn and perform at the same time. These tasks are in fact mutually exclusive.
    • If you want your organization to improve, you must get workers into a different place from their everyday activity and listen, really listen to them. Then you must act. This is the opposite of how most managers “lead”.
  3. Stop work, pause
    • Of course you would stop the job if you perceive an imminent danger. In your role as a manager, do so when the pressures of cost, productivity or schedule threaten to cloud your judgement and shape the action or inaction of others.
    • “Take 5” yourself! Practice self-awareness, self-regulation and question your background assumptions. You (like everybody!) are biased.
    • Ask for help and feedback, especially when under pressure or unsure.
  4. Don’t outsource safety leadership and responsibility.
    • Don’t subcontract your safety leadership, expand it. Increase your responsibility, from early in the design and contracting process, to the end of the operation or project; from your direct areas of accountability and control, to broad spheres of influence.
    • In most operating and construction environments contractors are doing the majority of the work. Don’t let contractual limits of liability with those companies define your responsibility for safe operations, or the people working in service of your company. This includes visible presence, Stop Work Authority and ensuring your products (sub-assemblies) are manufactured in a humane, safe workplace. Visit the warehouse, sub-floors, accommodation and food halls and find out for yourself.
  5. Stop blaming people. People are not a problem to be fixed. Especially when they make a mistake or get hurt.
    • Ask: ‘How did this happen?’ not ‘Who’ and not even ‘Why’. Challenge yourself and your (sub-)contractors to discover the organizational and background causes for the accident that go far beyond behavior and procedures. Look for organizational gaps and latent conditions, then fix those.
    • Administer caring justice: Stand up for rectifying the harm and restoring what has been lost, not retribution. Stand up for learning not blame. Zero is not possible. Perfection is not the goal, learning is. You will be surprised at the vastly different outcomes and solutions that arise when you shift your focus to learning from blame.
  6. When someone does get hurt make sure the care is top-notch and the follow-up is personal.
    • Manage the care as if injured worker is a member of your family, not for the benefit of your lagging safety stats.
    • Look after everyone around the injured worker, including supervisors, co-workers and colleagues. Don’t blame them either.
    • Visit the injured worker and the team regularly during the recovery process (including visits to the hospital). Take other managers with you.
  7. Actively pursue your own personal safety leadership journey
    • Be clear for yourself: What kind of a leader do I want to be? What am I really committed to? Your response will define how you go about leading safety.
    • Learn to speak with conviction and even passion about safety. Make it tangible by communicating stories and analogies.
    • Be committed to your company’s tenets and mission, but don’t preach. Ideology and dogma don’t keep people safe.
  8. Lead your organization to higher levels of quality, productivity and reliability using safety, not despite safety
    • Lead safety for all the right reasons; use it to transform and lead your organization to excellence in operations.
    • Safety makes for good business; challenge yourself and your managers to demonstrate it in demonstrable ROI. e.g.,
      • reduced direct and indirect costs of incidents
      • reduction of the bureaucracy of your HSE organization and improved safety performance
      • reduced turnover
      • improved operability and productivity

About JMJ

For over three decades, JMJ has been delivering impactful cultural change to help executives, leaders and front-line workers transform safety, sustainability, and business performance. We combine the deep experience of our people with our proprietary Transformation Cloud platform to deliver breakthrough results, making the impossible possible. www.jmj.com

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