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3 steps to more efficient business through safety

It’s widely accepted that better safety leads to increased efficiency; less downtime plus healthy, focused staff always means better productivity, whatever your industry.

Yet despite our moral obligation to prevent injuries, some people still act like it’s a choice between either efficient performance or outstanding health and safety.

Paul Baldock is former Health and Safety Manager for Nestle Purina Petcare and he believes you can have both. Not only that, after 15 years nurturing cultures where safety directly improves efficiency, Paul can prove that the two are inextricably linked.

“One of the reasons we were so successful at Nestle Purina Petcare was because everyone at every level understood and took responsibility for safety. That frees you up as a safety manager to concentrate on continuous improvement.”

1. Nurture instinctive safety leaders

Good leaders are usually self-selecting, says Paul yet they can be encouraged to step up to a challenge when posed with this powerful proposition:

“Why do businesses get such different results? Because their cultures are different. And who decides what the culture is? Leaders. Therefore by definition leadership teams decide how many people are going to get injured.”

It’s a premise Paul now uses with JOMC clients to inspire what he calls “lightbulb moments” – when someone realises the connection between their authority and the direct effect it has on the wellbeing of their teams.

He argues that this realisation creates infectious enthusiasm in leaders which then spreads to everyone else – the essence of all strong culture change.

“Once they get it they drag everyone else along with them. If you can latch onto those men and women who get that lightbulb moment then that’s your route to success.”

2. Define whose responsibility safety really is

Paul suggests a simple test to find out how far along your organisation is on its culture change journey:

“Ask someone: ‘what do you do if you spot a problem?’ If they reply ‘call the safety manager’ then you know you have a challenge.”

He suggests that the safety manager should be more correctly regarded as a guardian of the standards, facilitator of continuous improvement and source of specialist advice. Whereas the management of safety is just another part of every leader’s day-to-day job, at every level.

Stick people propping up an arrow that rises upwardsOnce staff adopt this shift in attitude, you can get on with your main objective: inspiring a shared vision and motivating staff to take ownership of it, instead of being distracted by workaday process.

“So your biggest challenge is to get people on board with that shift in mindset.”

3. Devolve innovation and ownership

Paul uses the example of speed cameras to illustrate why forceful diktats rarely have lasting effects on unsafe behaviour. When drivers see a speed camera they initially slow down to comply, but as soon as they pass it most people resume driving above the speed limit.

“People hate being told what to do. That’s why you hear desperate managers say ‘how many times do I have to tell them?!’ You can’t change culture by force. You need to deal with the underlying attitudes, values and beliefs behind unsafe behaviour.”

Traditional management practices might reprimand poor behaviour or punish it with punitive measures, but that simply forces it underground where it’s harder to resolve. To initiate lasting culture change it must emerge from staff themselves.

To inspire this, invite your staff to devise safe solutions to the problems they face in the line of duty – ones they understand more deeply than anyone else. Paul suggests you always do it on their terms:

“Get people to reflect on their behaviour, ask how a great role model might act in a given situation. Then it becomes their idea, not yours.”

And that, as Paul’s point illustrates, is a founding principle of lasting culture change. When staff feel engaged, trusted and involved in the process of continuous improvement, they’re more likely to keep at it. And what logically follows is staff who stay focused and well, fuelling sustained growth thanks to a more efficient business.

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