5 Critical Safety Activities Every Supervisor Must Do Well

Moments of Truth: 5 Critical Safety Activities Every Supervisor Must Do Well

By:  Mike Mangan


Technology was supposed to make our work lives much easier, right? Well, it doesn't seem to be working out that way. The ability to gather information and communicate with each other faster, easier, and in multiple ways has also created higher expectations for availability, responsiveness, and, strangely enough, a thirst for even more information. The net effect is that most people are running flat out just to keep up with their current requirements.

Arguably, no group has more pressure to take on additional duties within the workday than first-line supervisors. As the first line of management, they're called upon to communicate management's direction, implement new initiatives, keep the operation moving smoothly, and oh yeah, keep people from getting hurt. When we talk to supervisors about safety, a common expression is, "Yeah, I can do that, and I see how it can help, but still that's one more thing on my plate to do every day. What gets taken off the plate?"

This is not just run of the mill complaining or cognitive resistance to safety, but an issue we, at BST, take seriously. The inability for leadership to focus on a manageable set of critical activities is a significant obstacle to safety improvement. Therefore, we've set out to define a limited set of critical supervisory safety activities that, from our experience and research, are absolutely necessary for improving safety. We call these five "Moments of Truth" because they each define unique opportunities where supervisors have the capability to shape the safety culture.

The five critical safety activities are:

  • Safety Contacts
  • Job Safety Briefs
  • Physical Hazard Identification
  • Life-Saving Procedure Application & Verification
  • Incident Response & Root Cause Analysis


Safety Contacts

Safety contacts is when a supervisor views the worker doing the job and gives feedback to him or her about their safety behaviors and exposure. Good safety contacts engage the worker in a conversation about safety in the workplace and are critical because they are planned opportunities for the supervisor to observe, provide feedback, and reinforce safety standards. To do this well, the supervisor must go to the job site; this cannot be done from behind a desk. Effective safety contacts also involve both success and guidance feedback targeted at safety behavior and conducted in a way that fosters open conversation and engagement.

Job Safety Briefs

Job safety briefs are a series of conversations throughout the job that identify ways to mitigate hazards. The focus is on planning to be safe, whether before or in the middle of the job, and debriefing after the job to cover lessons learned. This activity is important to reducing exposure before the job is conducted, and when conditions change that impact risk exposure. To do this well, supervisors need to be able to conduct briefs as an engaging two-way discussion, check for understanding, and follow-through on actions and responsibilities.

Physical Hazard Identification

Physical hazard identification is observing real hazards and anticipating potential hazards in the work environment and then engaging the worker about both the current and potential exposure. Physical hazard identification is important because it changes the supervisor's visual scan from employee actions to physical exposures and hazards. Effective supervisors will split the viewing area into thirds (knee to ground; knee to head; above the head) and look particularly for serious injury exposures (suspended loads, etc).

Life-Saving Procedure Application & Verification

The function of this supervisor activity is to verify that workers are following life-saving procedures accurately. Just because a life-saving procedure is established does not necessarily mean that it is (a) clear, (b) followed accurately, or (c) complied with consistently. The only way to ensure this is happening is for the supervisor to regularly check. To be effective, supervisors need to know the procedures and how to verify whether a given procedure is being followed correctly. In addition, supervisors need to know how to respond when workers pause work, and the difference between variation (I tried, but did it wrong) and violation (I didn't try).

Incident Response & Root Cause Analysis

When an incident occurs, the supervisor must respond immediately to care for the worker and take mitigating steps to address the exposure. In addition, the supervisor must know how to identify root causes and develop a quality action plan. This activity is important because done well, it can have substantial effects on the near-term environment and the longer-term safety culture.

Sometimes less is more. By sharpening our focus on just five important safety activities, we believe supervisors can better separate the wheat from the chaff of their daily requirements. Make no mistake, these five activities are not easy to do, but from our experience, supervisors who can do these activities consistently well, have a significant impact on both safety and the organization's culture.

Tags:  construction safety, industry EMR, fire protection, plant fire protection, special hazard fire protection, fire protection for special hazards

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