Performance Improvement Ideas

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"How to create a safe and productive workplace:"

October 16, 2009 by Mike Strawbridge


Many times it seems that the only way to create a safe workplace is to send every one home and close the doors. Potential hazards abound in all places where goods are produced and services are rendered.  Here are five simple steps for creating a safer and more productive work environment.

 Step 1.

Identify what you don’t want:

First of all get to know what it is you are trying to avoid. You are most likely trying to avoid having injuries. You don’t want lawsuits and fines. You also don’t want to loose productivity to implement the program.

Begin by identifying the most common hazards and types of injuries or illness in your workplace. Look at your OSHA log or other records to see what types of injuries you have had in the past. Remember that what has happened in the past will happen again unless proper preventative measures are taken.

Interview employees to see what potential injuries may have gone unreported. Take a look at the workplace yourself to see what minor injuries are occurring that the employees think are normal and not to be reported.

Monitor the supplies in the first aid kit. What supplies do you have to replenish the most? Where are they being used?

Next, identify the most common cause of injuries and illnesses in workplaces similar to yours. Study the available data on similar industries. Talk with other safety professionals in your industry about what injuries they most commonly experience. Try to learn form their mistakes as well as their successes.

Finally, do an assessment to see what potential sources of illness or injury can be found. Make your own assessment by walking around and observing. What to you see that might cause a person to get hurt? Also, get a team together and look at the workplace together. Identify as many possible sources of injury or illness as you can identify.

Step 2:

Decide what you do want – a safe and productive work place.

Now that you have a list of potential sources of injury and illness you need to take steps to protect workers from the hazards identified. Or at least protect them from the most severe and most likely to occur incidents.

Begin by prioritizing your list. You will have identified many potential but highly unlikely potential events in you assessment. A good place to begin is with things that have actually happened. The logical place to start is with your most common type of injury or illness.

Look at all the ways that you can think of to eliminate the hazard or at least reduce the potential for it to cause severe problems. Keep in mind that the safest workplace is where nothing happens. This is also an unprofitable workplace. Find solutions that allow the workplace to continue to operate in a productive manner or these rules will not be followed when you are not looking.

Step 3:

Get clear about what you are trying to accomplish:

Step back and look at the overall picture. You are in business to produce a product or provide a service. It is your duty to perform this task in the safest manner for your employees.

Identify any issues that may be blocking you from implementing your preventive measures. Do your potential solutions cause even more problems? Get feedback from the people who are actually doing the job to see just how effective that your ideas are. If possible, perform the job task yourself to see if your procedures or equipment are actually effective in preventing the potential consequence.

The better your understanding of the jobs that need to be done, the better the results you will achieve.

Don’t assume that employees want to get hurt and that they don’t want to follow safety rules. Make sure that the rules are compatible with performing the job.

Give clear instructions on what to do not just what not to do. Make sure that you are very clear in how a job is to be performed. Train employees in the desired procedure and audit them to see if it is being followed. If employees are taking shortcuts or not following the procedure, find out why.

Make sure they understand the importance of following the correct procedure. Adjust the procedure if necessary to ensure that they match how the employees actually do the work.

Step 4:

Get a clear vision of what your safe work environment looks like.

Know for sure what you are trying to accomplish. Make these measurable goals.

Report daily on the positive aspects of the work. For example, if you have twenty people in a department and one gets hurt, don’t report one injury, report 19 people worked safely.

Complement workers on doing the job right. Stop unsafe behavior instantly when you observe it even if it means shutting down a production line. Make sure workers know the importance you place on their safety.

Make sure every one has the same vision of a safe and productive work place. Practice making this vision real with everyone each day.

Step 5:

Let go and let the workers do their jobs. Allow them the freedom to express their opinion on hazards and what is the safest and most productive way to get the work done. Don’t try to micromanage the safety situation. If your instructions are clear and your procedures are workable, then all you have to do is sit back and let the system run itself.

Continue focusing on the positive aspect of your program. Focus on the things that work and do more of them. Note the things that don’t work and avoid them. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out why they did not work, just let go and try something a bit different.

Finally, a formula for success:

Don’t assume you know everything. Get to know the work the employees are doing and work with them to create new ways to develop a safer, more productive work environment together. Don’t get stuck in trying to force a particular method on your employees. Do what works for them. Let the system evolve naturally.

Let the employees know through your actions that you care about them and their future. By producing more product in a safer and more profitable manner, all parties benefit.

Mike Strawbridge October 16, 2009

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