Common Mistakes Safety Professionals Make
No one is perfect. At one time or another, as a safety professional, chances are you’ve made one of these mistakes throughout the growth of your career. Sometimes it’s due to lack of experience or knowledge, but sometimes its management’s lack of knowledge in falsely assigning tasks to safety advisors that should never be their responsibility.
#1 FAILING TO FOLLOW-UP – When a worker asks a safety advisor a question, it’s because they’ve cultivated a relationship of trust. Asking safety related questions is difficult for some workers, failing to respond to questions and follow-up is likely to create distrust. When questions and requests go without response, workers are unlikely to inquire or engage again.
#2 THREATENING DISCIPLINARY ACTION – It should never be the job of a safety advisor to administer or make threats of disciplinary action. This is where the term ‘safety officer’ convolutes the role of safety professionals. Historically we relate the term officer to people in a position of authority with the mandate to issue penalties for non-compliance. By continuing to refer to safety professionals as ‘officers’ or companies continuing to expect safety advisors to administer disciplinary action, you’re impeding the success of your Health, Safety & Environment Program. While it’s important to follow-up and ensure compliance with policies, practices and procedures, the role of administering the company’s consequence management plan should not be that of your company HSE Advisor.
#3 MAKING CRITICAL DECISIONS WITHOUT ONE-UP APPROVAL – Making critical decisions should be made by those assigned responsibility. As an advisor, critical decisions should always be made with approval of one-up management assigned such authority. For example, it should never be the role of a HSE Advisor to send a worker for post-incident or reasonable cause incident testing. That final decision should be that of the direct supervisor or management representative. The role of the HSE Advisor is to reference the company Drug & Alcohol Policy and advise supervision/management on steps to comply with such program.
#4 MAKING EMPTY PROMISES – Just like failing to follow-up, making promises you cannot keep to the workforce or management, will never get you further. For example, a safety advisor may have a discussion with a worker regarding a different type of personal protective equipment desired, safety advisor commits to procuring such equipment and management does not approve of the purchase. The safety advisor has ‘failed’ the worker.
#5 PRETENDING TO KNOW THE ANSWER – Probably one of the harshest mistakes you could make would be to fabricate an answer to questions asked by the workforce or management. There is typically pressure to provide solutions immediately and when advisors do not know the correct response they can feel pressure to provide some type of answer. As in any career, providing inaccurate information is unethical but can also put people at risk in the safety industry. It’s important to verify that the correct answers are provided in relation to all matters of safety.
#6 FAILING TO GET TO KNOW THE PEOPLE THEY WORK WITH – Not knowing the people you’re working with can create issues with the success of the health and safety program. It can be difficult to know how to address matters and resolve conflict. When you know the people you work with, you can successfully address issues, educate and resolve at risk behaviour, acts and conditions by approaching them accordingly.
#7 CREATING RELATIONSHIPS IN WORKFORCE THAT IMPEDE DECISION MAKING – Not knowing the people you’re working with can affect success but creating friendships can also cause issues. When friendships are developed between workers/supervisors and HSE Advisors it can be difficult to provide unbiased advice. While it can be difficult, it’s important to foster positive relationships that have clear boundaries that do not impeded the abilities of anyone to effectively execute their job.
#8 DEMANDING RESPECT WITHOUT GIVING IT – Sometimes HSE Advisors can feel that their position holds a certain amount of power and authority. With these types of positions, people can often think that they deserve respect, simply because of their position. It’s important to remember that every employee deserves the same respect, no matter their job title.
#9 LACKING PASSION – IT’S JUST A JOB – It’s important with any career that passion be at the base of motivation for success. This is especially true for a career as an HSE Advisor. The position can be challenging, demanding and difficult, especially if you’re working with people who believe safety is not a priority. In order to overcome this type of environment, you must be committed to the job and have a firm belief that safety is a priority and the protection of people is of the utmost important.
#10 NOT BEING ASSERTIVE – Knowing your role as a HSE Advisor and being knowledgeable in legislative requirements is essential to the success in your role. But just as important is being firm in your convictions is asserting them. Often inexperience in a HSE role can cause a lack of confidence and result in a failure to be assertive when there is a need. This can in turn allow unsafe acts, conditions and behaviours to exist due to a lack of assertiveness when addressing observations with supervision and management.
#11 LACKING CONFIDENCE IN THEIR CONVICTIONS – Lacking belief in your convictions can result in a failure to insist on what’s required. It’s important to have knowledge in areas in which you’re speaking to, but even more important, you should believe in what you’re saying. When you’re addressing safety issues with workers, supervision or even management, be informed and have belief in your words, it will resonate in the way you communicate it.
#12 BELIEVING SAFETY IS BLACK AND WHITE – While Occupational Health & Safety Legislation is written law, it leaves interpretation up to the reader (that’s often why provinces have explanation guides). The idea is for organizations to do what’s ‘reasonably practicable’. Meaning: protecting, educating and providing for workers within reason. While some areas are non-negotiable (i.e. fall protection), other areas are based on the risk (i.e. basic personal protective equipment requirements). To be successful, companies must ensure they’re providing the education, training and resources required. It’s important that the Health & Safety Advisor work with supervision and management to reasonably protect the workers without causing undue hardship for the company (unless it possess a safety risk to the worker).
#13 BLAMING OTHERS FOR SHORTFALLS RATHER THAN HELPING – In any career, it’s easier to blame others for not doing their job than it is to accept your own shortfalls. Being in a position that entails the title ‘advisor’, it’s quite easy to sluff off undone jobs to others, rather than assisting where you sometimes don’t really want to. This is where it’s important to have a passion for the job because if you do, you’re more than willing to help out wherever it’s needed.
#14 HAVING AN ‘IT’S NOT MY JOB’ ATTITUDE – THERE IS NOTHING MORE ANNOYING! Anyone that is ‘overly’ committed to their job or business despises this trait. It’s often common in Health & Safety Advisors because quite often that title comes with additional responsibilities. A good employee is willing to do whatever is required for the success of the company (this is not the philosophy of everyone and that’s ok).
#15 NOT LISTENING – TO WORKERS, SUPERVISORS OR MANAGERS – Quite often, personnel other than the HSE Advisor have opinions on the management of the HSE Program. While those opinions are not always correct, it’s important to always solicit opinions. Company Health and Safety Advisors are not solely responsible for the implementation of the program so it’s important to include the opinion of workers, supervision and management.
#16 LACK OF CREATIVITY AND INITIATIVE – Unfortunately for some, creativity is a job requirement for Health & Safety Advisors. Why? You must create health and safety programs, safe work practices, procedures, toolbox topics, safety meetings and bulletins that are intriguing and engage the reader. WOW! Talk about pressure. Knowing where to get the correct information and having the creativity to make that information appealing to your audience is the key to your success.
#17 LACKING GOOD COMMUNICATION SKILLS REQUIRED TO DEAL WITH PEOPLE – If you have an aversion to communicating with all different types of people, this is not the career for you.
#18 NO COMPASSION – If you’re a ‘suck it up’ kind of person, this is likely not the career for you. Whether it’s warranted or not, sometimes you’re required to have compassion for a person or circumstance you typically wouldn’t. It may be an unintentional injury or a genuine question that seems to be just for the purpose of asking. Providing workers, supervisors and management with what they need can be demanding, unrewarding and at times…annoying. But the ultimate goal is the protection of workers and the organization. At times both need compassion, understanding and guidance.
Clearly this career is not for anyone. It takes education, conviction, commitment, compassion, respect, strength and creativity. It’s also amongst the most rewarding. Health and Safety Advisors are to be proud of the support, guidance and direction they provide their respective organizations that lead them to success.