South Africa just breached the 100 000 mark for COVID-19 cases, with half these being reported in the last 14 days. This exponential growth is inevitable as greater easing of the lockdown restrictions is carried out. Now more than ever, rigorous application of safety systems, in the workplace but also at home, is imperative to safeguarding as many of our fellow citizens as we can. This decisive action will be piloted by you, the safety professionals, who make up some of those on the front line of the collective war on this devastating pandemic.
You might say, ‘I’m just a safety officer – not a leader’. ALL safety professionals are leaders, as you are responsible for guiding your entire organisation when it comes to adopting, implementing and following sound safety practices. Within the scope of COVID-19, this will also require an unparalleled agility, as you adapt your systems to align to the new regulations.
And as a leader, the following nine qualities are key to fulfilling your role successfully.
- Demonstrate genuine concern for people
Being a safety officer is more than a job, it’s a vocation. You must be ready for self-sacrifice, rather than being self-centred and self-serving. Your responsibility to this job is larger than our individual self. If a safety officer fails to conduct an inspection, audit or training, the consequences could be damaging, or worse, fatal.
Whenever you’re feeling weary, motivate yourself with the thought that our profession plays an important role in preventing accidents, minimising risk and saving lives. If there is negligence on our part, we are accountable for our actions. Remember the Deming Principle: Most accidents trace their root causes to mismanagement. As part of management, what a safety officer does, or fails to do, will always have an impact on people and systems.
- Earn their respect
As a safety officer, you need the respect of your team. You should avoid doing anything that would lose their respect, such as inventing facts or violating safety rules yourself. If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit you don’t know and then find the answer. Making something up because ‘you’re supposed to know everything’ won’t do anyone any favours, especially you. Also, if you see a safety violation, take the chance to correct the violation and use it as a teaching moment.
- Reward ‘good behaviour’
As a safety officer, you may be tempted to focus on the negative part of the job. However, you can find ways to focus on the positive elements too. Find ways to reward your team when they do things the right way. If your team is struggling with a certain safety focus, find a way to track when they are safe. If your team is struggling with ladder safety, for example, choose one piece of ladder safety and reward them when they stay safe. You could choose to track when ladders are being inspected and reward them if they inspect their ladders at a percentage you choose. You can adapt this tip for whatever works best for you and your team.
- Have a plan
Any good leader has a plan and executes that plan. As a safety officer, make sure you develop a safety plan and then use that plan as you develop trainings and find ways to enforce the rules.
- Make your behaviour visible
Effective safety leaders lead by example, strictly adhering to the health and safety protocol outlined at all times. Your actions set the precedent for employees to follow, even when unobserved. If the safety leader cuts corners or takes risks, employees will behave in a similar manner. Great safety leaders are alert at all times and visibly follow the established guidelines to ensure they set the right example for workers.
- Respond timeously
Be diligent in logging all safety issues and events immediately, and prioritise their resolution as soon as you can. An effective safety leader is quick to notice and respond to safety issues as they arise, lending visibility to these and any lessons to learn, while stimulating co-operation, trust and inspired motivation among employees. If an employee does not adhere to safety regulations, management must address the issue at hand assertively and without compromise. An inability to show strict yet constructive response in relation to safety issues can gradually erode employees’ trust in the programme and breed a lax culture.
Where appropriate, involve workers in resolution of safety issues; provide a safe place for concerns and ideas to be heard. By involving your employees in safety concerns and not merely informing them of issues, you aid better understanding and respect for safety, while promoting a strong culture of safety.
- Maintain a proactive approach
An effective safety leader knows it is not only imperative to respond to safety incidents immediately after they occur, you must also be proactive in your approach, continuously anticipating potential risk factors on the ground, in the environment or hidden in routine employee behaviours. Carefully observe working areas, which will highlight possible ways to enhance safety, in addition to hearing each issue that staff raises. Workers are a vital and important resource, and regular proactive consultations are vital to the overall safety success of a company; carry out informal and specific meetings to discuss:
- high risk areas
- safety reports
- proposed changes, and
- safety surveillance concepts.
- Build strong communication
The best safety procedures are worthless unless all workers at all levels within the company communicate effectively about potential hazards/issues, and work as a team to remove them. As an effective safety leader, you are aware that workers have a distinct advantage in highlighting work hazards and providing essential and valuable input into effectual safety procedures and policies due to their knowledge of the workplace and everyday practices.
It is important to maintain communication through consultations between officers, HSE practitioners, advisors, managers and workers around occupational health and safety practices. This creates a powerful commitment from everyone, on all levels, to implement safety decisions and practices, in addition to developing trust and co-operation within the company. Therefore, a key ingredient is a framework that makes it easier for workers to report safety hazards in an open forum, highlights their contribution and earns them respect with management and their social sphere of colleagues.
Inform everyone of the exact protocols and their role in the operation. Establish the quickest and most productive form of verifiable communication to all parties involved, with:
- regular meetings
- toolbox discussions
- face-to-face discussions
- focus groups to deal with specific safety concerns
- worker surveys
- a system for logging issues and resolution
- sharing safety information and updates in newsletters/electronic noticeboards.
- Be conscientious
Another important attribute of an effective safety leader is to possess a strong sense of responsibility towards your staff and company’s health and safety, as well as a drive to raise your level of competence and knowledge constantly. It is your role to oversee and attend to all details necessary for safety excellence. Keep up to date, ensure regular spot checks, audits and observations are performed, document and communicate effectively so everyone within the company is aware of, and operate within the safety procedures outlined at all times.
Everyone needs a helping hand…
If you need more help when it comes to helping your fellow employees understand why strict observation to your safety systems is so important – especially in the current climate – we can assist you. You can successfully advocate the new way of working and living through training specifically focused on adopting safety habits focused on minimising and mitigating the risk of COVID-19 infections in the workplace: