In the manufacturing world, the topic of safety ownership comes up a lot.  For most businesses, the health and safety of their employees is paramount, but manufacturers are faced with a lot of additional challenges due to the nature of the work of many of their employees.  It’s a lot more difficult to get injured on the job when you sit at a desk all day, than when you work on the manufacturing floor.

And that’s what makes safety ownership critical to manufacturers.

For a lot of companies, safety is driven from the “top down.”  Safety initiatives and strategies are developed at the top levels of the organization and then driven down to the plant level.  While not a bad idea in theory, it can lead to implementation problems.  In some cases, new programs can be a bit ambiguous, miss the key safety challenges that need to be addressed, or leave employees on the manufacturing floor reluctant to buy-in because it’s “just another corporate program”.

In some cases, this top down mentality can even force employee participation because they fear consequences, not because they believe in the safety measures.  Any of these factors can undermine your safety program.

So how can you get 100% safety ownership from the corporate office to the manufacturing floor?

It’s a tough proposition, but safety ownership is probably the biggest key to making real changes to your company’s safety culture.  It’s human nature to take good care of the things we feel belong to us, and your safety program must feel as if it belongs to each member of your organization.  It’s as much about shifting the culture as it is about the program itself.

Here are some tips we’ve found helpful for developing 100% safety ownership in our own safety programs.

1. Define Safety Team and Establish Ownership

Each facility should have a its own safety leaders that are responsible for monitoring safety at each manufacturing location.  Along with those in charge of safety at the corporate level, this is your safety team.  This team should have ownership in how the program is implemented, program compliance, and improvements.

The safety team should also understand that this is not a set and forget program.  It’s something that the team needs to live and breathe daily.  There should be an expectation that the program may evolve over time and that they are the ones who will make those decisions for the safety program collectively.

To be clear, this should not be one of those situations where you designate the safety leaders and then turn them loose with the program.  Regular meetings, check-ins, communications, guidance, and coaching should be happening within the safety team.  Each team member should feel as if they are an integral part of the program… because they are.

2. Define Improvement Targets for Each Facility

Team leaders and individual safety leaders at each facility should work together to define targets for improvement at each facility.  You may also have overall improvements that need to be tackled company-wide, but individual targets for different facilities will be what gives each member ownership because it’s happening at their plant.  Safety data, along with input from each of your leaders and plant employees, will help you determine each plant’s improvement targets.

By making your safety goals individual to each plant, and involving workers and team members from each plant in determining the improvement targets, you start to develop buy-in from everyone at that facility.  Employees will have a better idea for why you’re focusing on particular improvements, understand at a more intimate level that the improvements will actually help them at the local level, and feel they have been heard on safety issues.

Employees will help support initiatives they create.

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3. Coach Safety Across Your Organization

Organizational leaders across all levels of your company must reinforce a sense of responsibility for safety to develop safety ownership.  While talking about safety in staff meetings and putting safety fliers on company billboards is great, you won’t get to 100% safety ownership without performance coaching that empowers employees.  A coaching management style helps to reinforce individual safety ownership and creates an environment where continuous improvement is possible.

Creating a coaching management system for your safety program, rather than using a set of directives, helps to empower, enable, and engage employees.  Coaching safety creates safety ownership and gets workers at all levels more involved in the program.  Employees are no longer just following directives, and start taking a more leading role in the safety program.  Coaching shifts the focus to employees and empowers everyone to own safety.

4. Be Constant and Consistent

Once a safety program is established, it’s easy to just let it drift along without much attention.  If you want your employees to have safety ownership, it’s important to keep up the dialog.  Communications about safety, along with coaching leaders and employees, should continue on a regular basis.  There should be no end to safety communications, and it should become part of your company culture.  In other words, it should be talked about regularly and perpetually – even after the program is well-established and running smoothly.  Continuous reinforcement is the only way to get 100% safety ownership in your company.

5. Stop the Come-and-Go Initiatives

Some companies are constantly initiating new programs that are dropped a month or two later.  These kinds of come-and-go initiatives can cause manufacturers a lot of problems and really zap the effectiveness of any new program that are implemented.

None of your employees will adopt a new safety program if they believe it will be dropped or fundamentally changed next month.

6. Make Participation a Positive

Too often, employees are asked to participate in new programs without any incentive to do so.  It’s not enough to just tell employees that safety benefits everyone.  In order to get everyone involved and get 100% safety ownership, there must be incentives for embracing the program.

While these incentives could take the form of bonuses or safety celebrations (X number of days without an accident), there are other types of incentives that manufacturers can explore.  Giving an employee credit for a safety suggestion, leading a safety talk, praising safe employees, stopping the job when there’s a safety problem, calling out poor safety on the floor, etc. can all help to reinforce safety and make embracing the program as a positive.  Employees must feel that their efforts are appreciated.

There’s No Magic Bullet for 100% Safety Ownership

Great safety programs can help your organization accomplish many important objectives, such as raising overall safety awareness or drawing attention to particular safety challenges.  Unfortunately, no matter how exceptional your program is, it is still just a tool to assist you in making changes to your safety culture.

There is no magic bullet or secret way to get 100% safety ownership.  No matter how you approach the issue, it takes dedication and hard work to make it happen.  Changing your company culture and approach to safety takes time, and it must evolve and grow to be truly effective and sustainable.  Changes can begin, and be influenced, from the top levels of your company, but real safety ownership must happen within your organization.

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