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Expect the Unexpected

- February 20, 2015 by Ken Helfrich (View all posts by Ken)

“Expect the Unexpected” is a statement that I’ve started using when training managers and supervisors. Namely because I believe management teams should take a broader, 360 degree view when it comes to safety.  The gist of this is that to truly protect employees, managers have to open their eyes to opportunities for safety improvement.

This concept is easily applied in the workplace using your management team or even safety committee members.  As your management team walks through your facility, a quick glance at certain items and processes, or a broad overview of an area can allow them to identify concerns and opportunities for improvement. Additionally, this process provides overlapping layers of protection for areas where employees and customers interact, since by protecting one you are really protecting both.

For this process to be successful, management has to remember that anything is possible and view operations with fresh eyes. Often, when reviewing an injury with a client, I get a response that is some version of  “I never thought that could happen.” Now, I know I’m not always the fun one at the party, but I really don’t enjoy pointing out signs that if picked up on could have prevented a serious injury.

So how do you help prepare your team and management to expect the unexpected? I recommend that clients start with the below exercises:

  • As you enter an area or department, pick a safety topic to focus on, such as guarding, housekeeping, or body mechanics. Is there opportunity there?
  • Try entering the each area from different directions to see if changing your point of view reveals an opportunity that you hadn’t noticed before. Also be sure to view the process from the point of view of the employee for each task in the process.
  • Stop and watch the workflow. Do you see any areas that bottle neck? Any areas where employees are stepping over each other?
  • Assign a safety topic to each manager or supervisor, and ask them to walk through the facility and look for an opportunity to change the process.
  • Switch it up the next month.  Rotate the safety topics among the supervisors and then compare the results of each inspection.  What did one person see that the other didn’t?
  • Consider engaging line employees and safety committee members in this process to really get different perspectives.

Remember, you’re not only looking for typical safety concerns (that is a safety inspection), you are looking for the unexpected—an electrical cord that hangs off the side of a counter, a missing handle on a drawer, rubber mats that don’t stay in place, light fixtures that hang too low, a hard hat worn backwards.  Do you see where I am going with this?

Keep in mind that there are also opportunities to celebrate. Recognition is a great motivator.  For my next post on this topic, I’ll focus on how to showcase and highlight the departments and teams that are truly prepared for the unexpected.