Many clients ask me where Safety Leadership will come from. Do we have to buy it in? Do we have to ask the CEO to do it? Is it the Senior Management Team that needs to show it?

The answer is it can come from everywhere. Yes the CEO should lead it and yes the Senior Team should walk the talk as well as all other managers. Yes you can buy in expertise to get you started but ultimately the organisation has to take “ownership of health and safety leadership” and run with it. Like all other cultural changes it has to be driven and someone needs to take the first step.

Safety Leadership is not and should not be confined to the management ranks or to those with a title, power or authority. It can come from the guy who sweeps the floor and empties the bins as easily as it can come from the newly appointed Line Manager who really wants to protect her shift. But that will not happen unless the company believes in it and invests in it.

All employees should be trained to understand what health and safety is all about, what safety leadership is and how they can demonstrate it. Importantly they should then be empowered to take action to protect themselves and everyone else.

One of the key players in all of this who can either motivate or alienate employees is the Line Manager or Team Leader. Their role should never be underestimated. They represent the company as far as their direct reports are concerned.

If Management and the Team Leader never talk about health and safety or never communicate what they are doing to protect their team or what they want and expect from their team, then obviously it is not important.

You get the Safety Performance you ask for

If they only ever talk about production, targets, margins etc. then employees will realise they are just units of production designed to increase profits for the owners or shareholders.

Team Leaders need to inspire their people about how work can be in their department – that it can be safe, injury free, stress free and free from fear. They need to articulate that:

  • work can be done in an enjoyable way where everyone goes home in one piece at the end of the day to their families and partners
  • that work will give them an opportunity to use their problem solving skills to solve ongoing health and safety issues.
  • that their participation in achieving this is crucial
  • that their Team Leader will train, coach and support them throughout

This concept is not utopia – it is achievable

So when these Team Leaders are decent, caring, professional people then their direct reports will believe that the company is like that. The Team Leader’s behaviour and actions will clearly demonstrate the company’s level of interest in their health and safety and wellbeing.

Ask your employees these questions about their Team Leaders: –

Do you feel that he/she really cares about you, are you treated decently and fairly? Does this Line Manager do what they say they are going to do?

Do they listen when you report health and safety concerns and more importantly do they do anything about them? Do you respect them? Do you trust them?

Do they care if you get injured? Do they want to send you home to your family or partner in good shape at the end of the day? And ultimately is your Team Leader a good health and safety role model for the rest of you………?

The relationship between employees and their Team Leader will determine their psychological contract with the company. People do not just come to work to earn a living and pay the bills, there are a range of other relationships which influence how motivated they are and one of the key relationships is that with their immediate manager.

That relationship will influence their willingness to get up out of bed and come into work even when they do not feel up to it, or to work that bit harder to meet a deadline or objective.

If the relationship is positive it will feed into their commitment to their job, to quality, to customer service, to health and safety and to their relationships with other employees. If it is negative then employees may lose respect for the company, may show no loyalty, may become complacent about the work and possibly even become negative and disruptive.

So here are nine activities that a Team Leader should engage in to show that he/she really cares about the health and safety and wellbeing of their people (and is therefore a Safety Leader):

  1. Include health and safety in all interviews for new hires
  2. Communicate their vision for health and safety to all new hires during induction. (explain what they expect from the new employee and what that employee can expect from them)
  3. Include it in all team meetings
  4. Walk around the area regularly (at a minimum once a day) just to see how it looks and how employees are working
  5. Consider health and safety before making any management decision re allocating work, changing processes or raw materials, introducing new equipment or technology etc.
  6. Talk health and safety up! (Don’t always ask the team about production or calls answered or trucks loaded – ask how employees feel and how health and safety could be improved)
  7. Listen to employees when they express concerns about some aspect of the work but equally ask them for their solutions, make notes and take some action.
  8. Involve employees in safety inspections, accident investigations, hazard spotting exercises – the more they are included the more they will understand and learn about prevention.
  9. Recognise and reward good safety behaviour publicly when they see it.

So why is this not happening? There are many reasons but here are some tough nuts to crack:

  • We are not having accidents here so everything is safe and we do not need to do anything.
  • We are in the service sector so we do not have major hazards like they have in manufacturing or construction so we do not need to do anything
  • We are never likely to be inspected by Health and Safety Authority so we do not need to do anything
  • No one is complaining so obviously they are all happy about health and safety so we do not need to do anything
  • Only the big companies do health and safety, we are small and cannot afford it so we are not going to do anything.
  • If we do anything and educate out workers that could open a can of worms and then we could be flooded with health and safety complaints so we are not going to do that.

Even in 2015 with all the knowledge we have about hazards, risks, control measures, different approaches and how health and safety ultimately pays etc. we have still not won over some employers. We still have a major job to do. So let’s take that first step.