Twenty-eight per cent of direct supervisors apply pressure to prioritise production over safety while almost 40 per cent apply this pressure on a weekly basis, according to new research.
“We have found through our research and client engagements that organisations struggle to balance production with safety,” said Dom O’Brien, principal consultant with consulting firm Sentis, which conducted an analysis of more than 11,400 workers across seven industries.
While production and safety are often seen as oppositional, O’Brien said that “in reality they’re complementary: without safe operations, production suffers; without production, the operation isn’t viable,” he said.
“Helping leaders recognise the synergistic relationship between the two is part of our role.”
O’Brien, who was speaking ahead of an AIHS webinar on balancing production with safety: a challenge for leaders which will be held Wednesday 5 May, said one of the most common challenges for organisations in this regard is safety leadership capability.
This is particularly the case at a frontline supervisory level, and O’Brien said just 24 per cent of leaders are rated as effective by their teams, with the lowest competency being “recognising”.
“Senior leaders may push the right messages out to the workforce (e.g., ‘if it’s not safe, you’re empowered to stop the job’), however, may inadvertently through their actions and operational focus reinforce the message that ‘production is king,’” said O’Brien.
“People in these organisations quickly learn those actions which are rewarded and recognised.
“Without leaders actively and deliberately reinforcing positive safety behaviours – even during times of increased pressure to perform – there’s an implied message about what’s really important.”
An ideal starting point for organisations to improve the balance of production and safety is to consider their operational metrics and KPIs, said O’Brien, who explained that the key measures of success in organisations are often output/production and lag safety metrics (e.g., lost time injuries).
“Work (and workers) are managed with the goal of meeting targets associated with these,” he said.
“A first consideration for organisations is the visibility of these measures and the means and frequency of communication about them – do safety outcomes feature in balance with production messages?”
When considering safety metrics too, O’Brien said the challenge is that organisations can’t directly work on lag metrics such as a total recordable injury frequency rate, as this is based on historical incidents.
“A different approach is to define and measure lead safety metrics: those behaviours and actions to which each person in the organisation can contribute on a daily basis and where done effectively should reduce incidents,” said O’Brien, who noted that hazard identification and management is an example of this, as is infield safety interactions.
OHS professionals will be aware of the challenge of operational leadership balancing production and safety, particularly during times of peak pressure, said O’Brien.
“Advising and educating the organisation to better understand the relationship between safety and production can help, offering insights such as a calculation of the production impacts of current safety performance,” he said.
“Another is inviting leaders to consider the very real impacts of injuries on their people’s ability to continue to enjoy those things most important in their lives, including providing for their families.”
Finally, O’Brien said prompting leaders to consider and discuss what reward and recognition exists for safety in the business, as well as how deliberate efforts to capture and celebrate safe behaviours would impact on both safety and production, can significantly shift organisational focus.
O’Brien will be speaking at an AIHS webinar on balancing production with safety: a challenge for leaders on Wednesday 5 May from 14:30 to 15:30 AEST. For more information call (03) 8336 1995, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the event website.
Article originally published by the Australian Institute of Health and Safety.
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