I cannot count how many times people have said to me “Safety Brye, I want your job; all you do is walk around talking to people.” Uhhhhh, OK – but my job description is about four pages long.
Let’s face it, many people just don’t GET what we do. Heck, I didn’t get it the first time I saw the sign “Safety Department“. I always feel that I have to explain my job title to anyone who asks me. I meet new friends and say, “I’m a safety manager” and then I get this blank stare; I have to continue, “I make sure people don’t get hurt when they are working.”
That is usually my elevator speech. Since I have worked in the food industry, I also have to add that I DO NOT do food safety – totally different battlefield.
Safety Managers wear so many different hats, though; let’s break it down:
We are responsible to know every single regulation that applies in every single situation. We must have multi-faceted knowledge. We’re talking OSHA, EPA, DOT… I have even had to deal with the Department of Homeland Security.
We tend to be the answer person at the facility. If someone doesn’t know – go ask safety. They will either know the answer or they will know how to get an answer. Luckily for them, it is generally true.
Ideally, we are the conscious on everyone’s shoulder. Enticing them to always do the right thing and follow the rules.
We are responsible for changing people’s behavior. What?!?! I know what you’re thinking, you can’t change your spouse’s behavior, how can we change a worker’s?
Changing behavior means getting workers to follow the safety rules at all times, even when someone is not looking. On top of that, it’s even better if we can get them to WANT TO follow the rules; or, getting them to watch out for their teammates.
Safety is usually the mediator between employees and management. Safety Managers build trust with employees and they have a keen understanding of what is happening on the floor. They can help employees navigate reporting issues and help sell their case for changes or improvements they identify.
We are sometimes referred to as the Safety Police, although this is not a good position to be in. Unfortunately, if the culture at the facility is poor, it is usually safety who is enforcing the rules and is creating a scramble to get into compliance when they show up.
Accountability is so important to a well-run operation. Because Safety Managers are good at accountability, we sometimes get stuck with that role as well. Making sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing makes us feel like babysitters.
Good data analysis makes a good safety program and there are so many different data points to pay attention to. We have to know how to collect data, what data to collect, and then create reports from it to show progress or problem areas.
Data collection requires a lot of creativity. Incident data is easy to collect; but we have to come up with creative ways to measure proactive data to stop incidents from happening in the first place.
Seriously?! How you quantify housekeeping? Number of pieces of trash on the floor – lol
Does this mean we are sneaking around with a telescopic lens watching, taking pictures, and writing notes? Sometimes – but that usually isn’t the best way to build relationships. Although, we do have to be investigators.
We are the watchers of behaviors. We have to question everything. Why are you doing it that way? Why did you do that? Have you ever tried…? We are consistently trying to come up with the best, safest, and most efficient way to do the job.
In addition, when an incident does happen, we are called in to find the reason it happened and how to prevent it from happening again. This involves examining the scene, interviewing witnesses, and digging deep for the true cause.
Safety Managers need to excel at training on just about any subject. We are expected to teach everyone everything safety that is related to their jobs. We may even have to train other trainers. Since we are so good at training, we are regularly asked to train on non-safety topics.
This means talking in front of groups of people often. You can’t clam up when you are expected to be the expert. You have to be ready to answer any question that gets thrown out to you. And you have to get good at saying “I will look into that and get back to you” – just make sure you always follow-through.
Safety Managers start training employees and management from day one and it never stops; new hire orientation, weekly safety topics, monthly safety meetings, quarterly management trainings… safety training is never ending. I would say it is at least 50% of the job.
Safety is a product that needs to be promoted. Every program or initiative needs marketing. It usually falls on the safety manager to create it.
From designing logos, to creating posters, to planning events, to creating contests or incentives, or being a cheerleader, the safety manager is the head of the safety department marketing division. Heck, I’ve even seen a safety manager dress up in costume to promote their program and make safety fun.
You might be thinking, I got into safety because I hated sales. Sorry to say, you still have to be a salesman.
Being a safety manager means selling safety to everyone – employees as well as management. It is your job to show them the value of safety and prove that safety is a profit center for the company.
We also need to have good salesmanship when we’re trying to get approval to purchase an expensive program, training, or equipment.
Merchandizers and Purchasers
The last one, I’ll include here, is that safety is responsible for buying stuff and negotiating prices. We must have the skills to procure the best items at the best price. We are talking PPE, training programs, safety equipment, and more.
This may involve working with several suppliers, getting samples, and testing out the options. Using employees as test subjects for their opinion is always helpful. I have even seen facilities become pilot sites for new safety technologies.
Purchasing may also involve some accounting skills as well.
Now it’s Your Turn
As you can see, the list of responsibilities of a safety manager can be extensive. I am sure I have missed a few things (did I talk about managing a budget or contractors?). Now I want to hear from you. Let’s make this list even longer, let me know of any other “hats” you wear in your job. Are you required to handle non-safety related tasks? And, bonus points, for sharing how you manage to juggle all these responsibilities.
Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)! I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience. Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world. I would love to help you too.