“It’s not my job! That’s why we have a Safety Manager.”  Have you ever heard this before?  So many times department managers try to throw this one out there.  But the truth is, only the front line supervisor can be in charge of safety compliance.

You might think it is because of the adage “Safety is everyone’s job.”  But no, it’s because supervisors hold more power over their employee’s behavior.  More so than anyone else in leadership; definitely more than the safety manager.

THE POWER OF THE FRONT LINE SUPERVISOR

Think back to when you started at your last hourly pay job.  You probably met with HR and signed a bunch of paperwork.  They may have put you in front of a computer for some training.

But the whole time, weren’t you curious who you were going to work for?

You may have had a short introduction with the department manager, but you knew that you would have very little interaction with him.  It’s who creates the schedule, who delivers the work assignments, it’s who oversees your work that matters.

That person could fire you. 

That person has expectations you have to meet.

That person is your direct supervisor.

THE SAFETY POLICE CANNOT BE THE SAFETY MANAGER

In the organizational structure, the safety manager is a side leadership role.  Very few, if any, hourly workers report to them.  They have no authority over other people’s work; they only have influence.

Therefore, they can’t enforce the safety rules to the fullest extent.  Going back to the discussion on accountability (listen to the podcast here); without authority, you can’t have accountability.

Companies, where the safety manager is responsible for enforcing safety or completing safety write-ups, suspensions or terminations, will never have a successful safety program.

When a worker is approached by the safety manager, they understand the need to listen to them. But they also know that the expectations of their supervisor supersede everything.  They will bypass safety to meet the supervisor’s expectations.

This is why employees listen to their supervisors more than anyone else.  And, why the safety manager and the front line supervisor need to be in sync with their safety message.  The supervisor must be setting the safety expectation with their employees.

SUPERVISORS MUST LEAD SAFETY COMPLIANCE BY EXAMPLE

As well as listening to their supervisors, employees also copy their supervisors.  If the supervisor is not following safety compliance rules, then employees may not bother to follow them either. 

Front line supervisors need to be held to a higher standard than hourly employees.  There should be no case in which they are not following the safety compliance rules.  This must be strictly enforced by their manager.

Once again, it cannot be enforced by the safety manager because the safety manager does not have authority over the supervisor, only influence.  This creates a chain of safety enforcement up to the company President.

IMPROVED OVERALL SUPPORT FOR THE SAFETY COMPLIANCE

When the front line supervisors are walking the walk and talking the talk; when they are enforcing safety compliance rules, and they are the safety police, safety is seen as a value of the company.

Your supervisors set your safety culture.

Working safely and following the safety compliance policies becomes the way you work.  The expectation of the employees changes from making as many widgets as possible to safely making as many as possible.

Their fear of getting fired is changed from just their output to how they are working.  This benefits not only safety but the quality of the product or service, as well.

EMPLOYEES CAN’T FEAR THE SAFETY MANAGER

The last reason why the safety manager cannot be the enforcer is that employees can’t fear the safety manager, the safety policies, or reporting incidents.

When there is fear of the safety department (fear of termination or retaliation), no one benefits. This is when people start hiding things. This can result in a severe incident.

You want your people to freely talk to safety, to actively bring up issues to them, and to report injuries.  Every one of these is an opportunity to prevent a future accident. 

The last thing you want is for someone to die or lose a limb because of a known hazard that people were too scared to report.

You want your people to freely talk to safety, to actively bring up issues to them, and to report injuries.  Every one of these is an opportunity to prevent a future accident. 

TAKE ACTION

Do you struggle with getting your management team to take charge of safety compliance?  It is actually a widespread issue.  I had an executive tell me once that he didn’t want his supervisors wasting time doing the safety manager’s job.  Needless to say, they had super high injury rates and zero safety culture.

The disconnect in these situations is the understanding of why it can’t be the safety manager’s job. Many leaders feel this way because they don’t understand the overall psychology of safety.  Take the points in this article to heart, and the next time they expect you to enforce safety, explain to them why that is an impossible task.

Now It’s Your Turn

I have a feeling you have a BSF (best safety friend) who needs this information.  Share it with them!  Just click one of those cute social buttons or send them an email.  I am sure they will thank you.

Hi, I’m Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  I train and coach new safety managers on how to effectively do their jobs in the real world.  I specialize in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture.  I would love to help you do the same.

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