Total safety ownership

Total Safety Ownership

By Eduardo Lan

People in organizations without a strong safety culture often believe that safety is somebody else’s job. When asked who owns safety around here, they may point to the organization’s leaders or to somebody else other than themselves. In their mind, they may see their role as limited to production or construction and honestly believe that safety is the purview of the safety department or professional.

This level of ownership shifts with a higher degree of safety culture maturity, where people understand that they have a role to play in the creation of a safe workplace. In such workplaces, people know that taking responsibility for their own safety is part of their role. They may even go as far as believing that they are also responsible for taking care of each other and that everyone is responsible for safety.

Thinking that everyone is responsible for safety is a good thing, certainly better than thinking it is somebody else’s job. In such an environment, it is common for people to use proper tools and equipment and comply with existing policies and procedures. It is also common for people to speak up when they see something wrong or somebody who is being unsafe. Unfortunately, this is insufficient to create a world-class safety culture as we inevitably run into complex problems for which there is no clear division of responsibilities or simple solutions. At times, when everyone is responsible for safety, nobody is.

50%/50% Responsibility

A workplace where people believe that safety is everyone’s responsibility tends to operate under the 50%/50% responsibility model, wherein I will do my part if you do yours. Obviously, we need everyone in an organization to do their share to achieve safe production. However, as a way of being, the 50%/50% responsibility model tends to not work. When a breakdown occurs, especially a complex one, it is common for people to blame others or circumstances to explain the breakdown. The problem: Others are looking at us to explain the same thing.

The best example I have of this model’s inefficiency is our relationship with our significant other. We can all look at our partner or spouse and see things in him or her that we believe don’t work. We can further see that the problems in our relationship are based on their unwillingness or inability to change those things about themselves. We believe that if they just changed this one thing the problems we have would go away. Of course, they are looking at us and thinking the same thing. So, we go back and forth pointing fingers and blaming the other person for what is wrong.

Total Safety Ownership

Creating a world-class safety culture requires that a critical mass of people—starting with leaders—take 100% responsibility, wherein they own the whole of it instead of looking to see what their part is and what it is not. Assuming 100% responsibility is not the truth, and it is not about blame. It is simply a choice that gives one a powerful place to stand and come from to effect change. It is also the hallmark of leadership. What would you think of your leader if she explained all the organization’s problems by blaming others or circumstances? You wouldn’t think much of her, would you? To create a total safety ownership workplace, leaders must go first!

When one chooses to stand in 100% responsibility and take total safety ownership, a series of opportunities and possibilities open up that wouldn’t have otherwise. Ideas come to mind, we meet new people, and we engage in innovative conversations and actions all aligned with our stand to be 100% responsible and take total safety ownership. We take total safety ownership when we assume responsibility over a situation, an outcome, or a result. Taking total safety ownership is also about taking initiative; it is about believing our action is needed to achieve an outcome and it is not someone else’s responsibility. An added and necessary bonus of taking 100% responsibility and engaging in total safety ownership is that others tend to step up and do the same.

At Propulo Consulting, we help leaders, both formal and informal, to create world-class safety cultures and breakthrough safety results by taking total safety ownership and inspiring others to do the same.


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