Safety Series, Part III: We’re Talkin’ About Practice?

This is the 3rd installment of our multi-part series focusing on employee safety. This series covers 5 key areas where improved safety performance impacts overall business performance and profitability.  The first week we hit the direct and indirect costs specifically related to a change in your organizations’ safety performance. That topic was all about dollars and cents, with lots of facts and statistics meant to sharpen your safety “sales pitch” for your discussions with the pragmatists in your company.  Week 2 showed how improvement in workplace conditions directly leads to a more efficient and less wasteful production environment. And now for week 3 we’ll dive deeper into how the communication and management muscles used hourly/daily/weekly at all levels of the organization for the safety improvement effort will seamlessly transition into all other areas of your business. We will also address the use of select customer/supplier partners to assist you in the safety improvement effort driving enhanced revenue opportunities and supply chain efficiencies.

Let’s start by addressing those communication and management “muscles” that you’ll use to drive the safety improvement effort. Every time you put together a team to attack a 5S project, walk the shop floor identifying slip/trip/fall hazards, train your supervisors on hourly/daily safety contacts, lead quick shop floor safety huddles, etc., you’re using skills and techniques that are essential in managing every aspect of your business. The more you practice and put the training to work in “live” situations, the better you and your team will become in driving improvement throughout your company. Think of these early exercises in safety improvement as your “training camp” or “pre-season” as you get prepared for the regular season. All great athletes/teams spend huge amounts of their time year-round practicing to prepare for every contingency in actual games. The same should be true for your team, and you’ll get the benefit of a safer and more efficient workplace while you’re in training camp.

I’m sorry but I have to digress for a brief moment. Since the mid-2000’s I can never say or write the word “practice” without smiling and immediately beginning to mimic the now infamous Allen Iverson press conference. If you’ve never seen or heard of it—please enjoy the following:  Absolutely one of my all-time favorite things—you’re welcome! And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Next use customer/supplier partners to assist you in the safety improvement effort. This gives your company an opportunity to increase your engagement with these key customers/suppliers and drives enhanced revenue opportunities and supply chain efficiencies.  Plus, customers/suppliers are always looking to deepen supply chain connections and will typically partner with you by offering low or no-cost training assistance. This is much more common than you might assume so don’t be afraid to engage key partners in a very frank discussion about their ability/willingness to help. Even if the answer ends up being no, simply exposing your desire for improvement and showing that you consider their company to be a model for your future state will solidify your position in their supply chain.

This mentoring or training request of your suppliers/customers can take many forms. You could ask for select members of your team to tour their facilities or sit in on their safety committee meeting. You could request that a few members of their team come and perform a safety audit of your plant. You could offer a few folks from your operations to come and assist them with a safety improvement kaizen event and ask to copy some of their training materials. Does your supplier/customer have their own mentor company or someone else in their supply chain that they consider a model for safety performance? Ask if you could go along on a visit with them. These are all opportunities to improve your safety performance and have deeper and more substantial interactions with your supply chain partners.

Every company I visit is constantly bemoaning the shallowness of their relationships with key suppliers and customers. “Our supplier of product/service x is pretty good, and we generally are pretty satisfied with their price/quality/delivery performance, but we’re always talking about the same thing. Every meeting is about price/cost issues, delivery/JIT performance, quality hiccups, etc. We don’t talk about growth, innovation, trends, the future…” We’ve all been there. And when you’re the supplier, aren’t you constantly looking for any opportunity to have your sales/customer service reps shift the dialog onto these subjects and away from price, price, price?  The topic of partnering on safety improvements starts the shift into these more compelling conversations and starts exercising your critical communications “muscles.” A wider group of contacts from both companies will inevitably get involved, further deepening the connection. Often some higher-ups may join a meeting or want to be kept appraised of progress, heightening your profile and generating a more mature interrelationship. You will be looked at as a more beneficial and valuable partner—which is where you strive to position your company for the long-term

Everything we’ve covered today is pretty basic and fundamental—yet many organizations only roll out the improvement teams, supply chain experts, or customer communications blitz efforts for major initiatives. And often these multi-functional teams haven’t had much time together working on problem solving…on practice (yep—there it is again!). They haven’t been exercising those much-needed muscles and they can’t perform at the highest level…and the big initiative doesn’t achieve expected results. Take this opportunity and take the time to get those improvement muscles engaged while improving the safety and workplace environment for everyone. You’ll be building a foundation, setting a tone, and showing your employees that you are invested in giving them a safe, clean, and organized workplace—a space where they can succeed and improve. You’ll help lead an effort to invest in your people and invest in making employee safety an integral part of their training and development. When you embed these safety behaviors, while communicating them throughout the entire organization, you get happier, more relaxed and engaged employees. They’ll have more skills and resources to perform the tasks that drive your business forward every day.  Don’t just say it—lead by doing it.

Next week we’ll conclude by examining how employee engagement and satisfaction increases with improved safety performance, and how this will enable and drive further operational improvement initiatives.  I’m looking forward to it and in the meantime…Have a great week!

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