Safety and OSHA News

When safety and production clash, which one wins?

If you post signs at your workplace that say “Safety First,” how can employees still get the impression that production is more important?

The answer is through other signs. Sure, no one posts contradictory signs that say, “Production First.” But the signs take other forms such as output graphs, production pressures and reward programs that suggest production is the real No. 1 priority.

Only when employees understand the proper integration of safety and production are they able to make the right choices to make sure it really is “Safety First” at your company.

So how do you get them to do that? It’s all about communication.

Learning to choose

It’s clearly not enough to tell them that safety comes first – if that were the case, the signs would be all you need.

Employees have to learn how the consequences of their choices can impact the things they value most. That’s according to Tania Van der Stap, founder and a safety consultant with Align Strategic Management Services in Australia, who spoke at this year’s ASSE Safety 2008 conference.

She suggests speaking to employees in small groups that have structure but provide plenty of time for open discussion. Include supervisors and managers to show all levels of employees are involved in this discussion.

An effective start is to ask workers to talk about current perceptions about workplace challenges such as safety versus production and what drives risk-taking.

Then discuss the nature of hazards at your workplace. What are the risks associated with them? What are the potential consequences of these risks?

The point is to acknowledge the hazards and how important it is to manage them well, not just by mechanical controls, but also through personal behavior (choices).

Personalize it

All this needs to be personalized. Ask employees about their personal work/life goals. Example: Employees’ No. 1 priority might be to spend more time with or provide well for their families.

How do employees reach these goals? What would be the impact on these goals if the employee had a workplace accident?

Next to last step: Relate all this back to safety and making choices. Challenge employees to reconsider benefits versus consequences of risk-taking.

To reinforce this discussion, have some real-life stories ready about workplace accidents and how they affected the victims.

What do you think of this suggested approach? How do you handle the clash between safety and production at your workplace? Let us know in the Comments Box below.

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  1. I say, don’t allow them to clash. I’ve always winced at the term,”Safety First” or for that matter, “Be Careful”. Neither term really means more than Be Safe to the average worker and the connection to production is tenuous at best. I think that if you ask a few people what the meaning of these terms are you may get the same kind of nonspecific statement like, ‘don’t get hurt’ or ‘watch out for hazards’.

    For a long time I have encouraged companies to verbally and visually use cojoined terms to describe their safety and work efforts (safe-work practices). These terms prevent the idea of separation of work activity from safety efforts. I use some of the following general terms to help integrate this: safe-production, safe-retailing, safe-construction, and for more specific jobs you can drill down slightly to terms such as: safe-machining, safe-stocking, safe-scaffolding, etc. Following up with similar signage is one of the visual parts of your communication. Training as well as relating all of this to employee work/life goals and understanding of work risks also helps. Incorporating safety into production and production into safety helps eliminate a production clash.

    It’s a matter of perception, habit and behavior – and, it’s not simple, but it can be done by those who are focused on doing it.

    That’s my few cents.

  2. There is a difference between what is available for big corporations and small companies. In a large corporation, there are a lot of resources that can be focused on safety, where the small “mom and pop” shop may be strapped to provide the same, including sending an employee to safety training. For a corporation of 1000 employees, sending 100 to talk about safety and risks for a day is no big deal. For a company of 10, sending 3 employees to talk about safety and risks for a day can shut down the whole operation.

    I find that there is much more risk taking in the small companies than in large corporations. I think that partly this is due to the fact that many of the employees in the small company may not be aware of the risks or of technologies available to mitigate risks.

    Today, companies have to remain competitive, large or small. Resources are not usually devoted to safety until it presents a problem to the “bottom line.” And then, it usually a shot in the dark to address the the true risks. There are many “safety” companies out there to provide training and equipment to companies with “safety issues.” Some are really good and some are there to cash in.

  3. James Trujillo says:

    An organization can only move as fast as its slowest members, and if those members are injured, production will grind down or stop. Once safety is compromised, the company’s insurances (health, life, AD&D, LTD/STD, BoD, Workers Comp., unemployment, property, casualty, etc.) will take a major bite of any profits and there goes the P from the P&L (plus our experience ratings are affected for years).

    If safety is not a priority, the lack of it will become a major liability. There is a balance between safety and production based on the degree of risk. If the addage was ‘Production First’, labor standards and life expectancy would be thrown back to the turn of the century when the life expectancy average was 45 years. We have reversed the trend of shortened and painful life-spans by legislating ‘Safety First’ and those forgetting the past are doomed to repeat it.

    US Administrative Law Judges are extremely fair. I find it is the employer who has failed in administering policies and procedures, in documention of training, in surveillance, in collecting employee-signed acknowledgements during orientations and in prevention. I then find it is the employer that whines about liberal judges and having to baby-sit their employees when it is the employer being short-sighted and ill-prepared with unresonable expectations trying to defend their lack of a skill-set to run a profitable business.

  4. Roger Ackerson says:

    I’ll agree with Stephen, and maybe go a little further. “safety First” is a ridiculous slogan that is intended to clash. Emphasis should be placed on integrating safety into the production process, not making it more important. The truth is, unless you produce or sell safety as a product, keeping business viable will always be the priority. When business is difficult, programs that conflict with production will be seen as obstacles or unnecessary cost. Create safe business practices and skip the hype and untruth of “Safety First”.

  5. Production first, quality first, safety first, cost first – where does it stop? All these areas must be intergrated. It is called business for a reason. We are in business to produce products efficiently, with zero defects, at a reasonable cost and without placing our employees at risk. One of these cannot be singled out. Often you find that by doing work safely, it utimately leads to the other three.

  6. I’ve been challenged for about a year and half to try and get the management staff to see that Safety needs to be equal or just above the production and quality of the product that the employee is producing. However I haven’t been able to sell this to the production manger or better yet the plant manager. Our company has an attendance, quality and productivity incentive program but no safety incentive program. When I’ve asked about trying to implement one the reply is always that there’s no room in the budget for it! I also agree with others that the statement of “Safety First” tends to send a different statement to the average employee rather than saying work safely someone at home is waiting for your return. Again ultimately it’s the employee’s responsibility to decide that they are going to work safely no matter what the cost is. If it means that they get less production or force the maintenance department to repair equipment properly rather than “band aid” it and get by. The problem I’ve seen is that the employee is pushed for production numbers so they can meet the delivery deadlines that they will sometimes do task knowingly unsafe to please the supervisor or production manager. This is where I would discipline the employee and the supervisor or production manager when the front line employee gets injured. I feel like you’ve got to send out the signal to the frontline employee that they are responsible for their own safety as well as others. And also send out the same signal to management too. Everyone has to take ownership of safety!

  7. The problem is that people put safety vs. production when it should be communication of safety + quality = production. In the construction industry 9 times out of 10 if you go on a job that is clean and everyone is doing their part in safety the job is ahead of schedule and going to make a larger profit than projected + that client decides that your company will do all of there work in the future. They directly affect each other and so the Superintendent and project manager have to set the tone from the very beginning and allow no exceptions. If they do that they will be able to maintain a safe, high quality, product. I can say this from experience as someone who has worked both side’s production and now as a safety director. I’m not saying it’s an easy task, but if you make every decision based on the order of your values and your integrity, you shouldn’t have to put safety vs. production.

  8. If an employee leave the building during his 15 min break and gets hurt while away from the company could he still get comp?

  9. Bob Bumann says:

    My company does a lot of work for Chevron Corp., and they have the best safety program I have seen yet. Chevron takes safety extreemly serious, and demands that every employee working for them, or just working on one of their projects committ to an accident free environment.

    The most effective tool they use, is a pocket card they pass to every employee on a Chevron job during the initial safety breifing prior to a job being started, and that card is an order from the CEO of Chevron. It states that every employee has the right to stop work on any job site should they see something that is unsafe. Not only does the CEO give the lowest person on the job the right to stop work, but the employee has the responsibility to stop work should they see something that is unsafe. Not only are employees given this card, but they are trained on how to stop the job should they see something unsafe, or evan if they just think they see something unsafe they are required to stop work, until the site is proved safe.

    I have seen this done several times on Chevron sites, and it is so effective, we have developed a similar practice within our own company.

  10. I read the dialogue with interest as it represents a fairly broad spectrum of the safety “business”. I learned from my father, who was a safety engineer for 35 years, that the best way to determine where safety fell in a company’s hierarchy of importance was to see whether safety was under production or some other division of the business. If under production, the reality is that safety is always second, despite signs and slogans to the contrary. If safety was a separate division on par with production in the management structure then there’s a chance safety really is understood as a significant factor on the bottom line. One of the reasons I joined my current organization is the structure, which puts safety under a non-production division, with the authority to make thngs happen (or stop them). This was and continues to be a direct result of clear understanding by upper management and owners that safe operations has a significant positive effect on the bottom line. They know that having workers go home healthy every day means more dollars on the P line of the P & L statement. So, there need not be a “clash” of safety and production. What there must be is a clear committment from management to safety of their workers and the workers need to understand that they are the prime beneficiaries of a safe work environment. Truly, everybody wins in a safe work environment.

  11. Dallas Palmer says:

    I believe in the safety/work related message. My employer works on a message of 3 levels at all times: Safe habits lead to quality products and productive employees. It is difficult to relay the message but that’s what safety is all about: constantly working the message into the culture.

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