The Importance of Different Perspectives in Safety Observations
Imagine for a moment that you are purchasing a home. Your realtor provides you with pictures of the home, but most people would not make a purchasing decision solely based on pictures. Instead, you would want to visit the home, walk around each room, and eventually have an expert assess the home and determine based on their professional opinion, the overall condition. The combination of utilizing multiple viewpoints and expertise provides you with the perspective necessary to make a sound decision for your future home.
The process of monitoring workplace safety performance is not too different than the above example; the most effective approach is multi-dimensional. In a work setting, a safety professional may see a situation differently than a subject-matter expert, who in turn may see things differently than project management. The ability to view a situation from different perspectives is invaluable in accurately assessing a safety-related situation and establishing the best course of action. In order to ensure different perspectives are utilized in monitoring safety performance, a diverse selection of inspection types (i.e. safety audit, behavioral-focused observation, leadership interactions) and participants (i.e. safety professionals, workforce personnel, leadership team) is essential.
Leadership team member's role is not limited to planning and facilitating work. It is vital that leadership personnel be present and active on a personal level in the field. This is accomplished by leadership having one-on-one interactions with the workforce. They are not just observing, but more importantly, having a meaningful conversation. These should not be limited to criticism or identification of weaknesses; instead, leadership's involvement should also focus on identification of safe behaviors and outward recognition of good performance. These interactions should be meaningful and serve the purpose of creating a positive impact on not only the project, but also the individual. Taking this approach will allow a leader the opportunity to realize an unsafe observation is not merely a behavioral choice by the employee, but likely stems from a separate issue that needs to be addressed.
The significance of active workforce personnel involvement is often highly undervalued. Workforce personnel view and understand the hazards and behaviors associated with safe work related to their jobs at a higher level than safety professionals and members of the leadership team. They may recognize details in situations non-experts would overlook. Why, then, would we not take advantage of this level of expertise? Adding a new set of eyes will oftentimes help us to gain perspective. What is obvious to the workforce may be unknown to a safety professional.
The combination of workforce and leadership team's meaningful involvement in the observation process provides a more comprehensive understanding of the current state of safety performance, just as walking through a home and asking an expert's opinion will give better perspective on the state of the home. In the end, these various levels of participation and observations facilitate focus and direction in our efforts to achieve safe work.