Increasingly senior management and directors are undertaking a safety walk through of their premises or sites. I applaud this initiative to demonstrate that they are monitoring that health and safety is working within their business.
The criticism of the Pike River Royal Commission and the Independent Taskforce is having an effect and I’m sure that health and safety is being discussed far more often at Board meetings than it ever has been in New Zealand’s history. One of the aims of this is to send the right message to workers, however a risk exists of doing it poorly and sending entirely the wrong message. It is unwise to underestimate workers ability to sense insincerity or a lack of understanding. This is particularly an issue for a group of senior managers and directors who hold positions largely based on the professional background – financial or legal, but do not have a good working knowledge of the operation. I’ve worked out these 10 tips from getting most of these things wrong at one stage or another over many years. I have the good fortune of visiting many different workplaces but if you’re going to be involved in the same workplace for a long period remember credibility is much easier to lose than win back.
My tips are:
1.Know why you’re doing it – Have clearly in your mind what you’re there to do and don’t get side tracked onto other matters. This is a common avoidance trick.
2.Say when you don’t understand something and ask them to explain it. Don’t ever try to fake knowledge – you’ll get caught out. Workers will love the opportunity to explain.
3.Be a good listener – pay attention – this is important.
4.If you need to - do some research – If you don’t know what to say, before you start, ask whoever is escorting you what the issues are, find out what work is being undertaken and any recent health and safety problems.
5.Don’t be the ‘Safety Police’ – The aim is for you to understand and talk to workers, not to be an enforcement agent. You may catch a few workers out but you will miss so much more.
6.Don’t get rushed
- Make enough time – Whirlwind tours just don’t work.
- Don’t plan to do too much – If your time is limited do less well, not more poorly.
7.Don’t get tied down to a form or checklist – These walks through can get hijacked by a form and end up being a tick box exercise.
8.Ask the hard questions - Don’t get fobbed off by superficial answers – go digging
- Look for root causes – Find out the background reasons behind issues.
- 5 whys – sometimes you need to say “but why” 5 times before you get the whole story.
9.Explain why safety is important to you – saying why it important to you makes the exercise so much stronger!
10.Encourage good behaviours as well as stopping bad behaviours – Saying “well done, that’s great” works so well and yet they are words seldom used.