2004 National Safety Survey: Our Annual Survey of Safety and Health Managers Finds Many Coping with Lean Environments and Enlisting Top Management, Supervisors and Employees in the Effort to Eliminate Workplace Injuries and Illnesses

By Minter, Stephen G. | Occupational Hazards, July 2004 | Go to article overview

2004 National Safety Survey: Our Annual Survey of Safety and Health Managers Finds Many Coping with Lean Environments and Enlisting Top Management, Supervisors and Employees in the Effort to Eliminate Workplace Injuries and Illnesses


Minter, Stephen G., Occupational Hazards


It's not hard to find common ground among respondents to the National Safety Survey. Safety and health professionals work in a demanding world of too few resources, multiple responsibilities and constant change. But while the pressure can be intense, many respondents are also finding that they can adapt--at least over time--to these changes and continue to develop effective, efficient programs that prevent injury and illness and provide value to their organizations.

Nearly 70 percent of the respondents to this year's survey have full-time EHS responsibilities. For the others, job duties range from quality assurance to purchasing to building maintenance. One safety manager reported that his other duties included IT and network management. While he doesn't do safety full-time, "it seems that way." Many respondents were human resources managers who have safety and health as one of their responsibilities.

EHS work may be demanding, but 84 percent of respondents said they intend to stay in the field until they retire. The vast majority cite altruistic reasons. "It's very satisfying to help find better, safer, healthier ways to accomplish work," said one respondent. Others mention the variety of issues and tasks in their jobs as stimulating and interesting. A supervisor of environmental health and safety said: "When I come to work in the morning, no matter what is on my to-do list, I really don't know what I will wind up spending most of my day with. I learn something new every day and I love learning new things."

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For the minority, safety presents either a stepping stone on their career path or something they find unrewarding. Said one safety coordinator: "I have been given this responsibility out of company need, not my choice. I have a hard time being heard and taken seriously since safety is not a management concern but more of a necessity. I am not empowered to make change." A supervisor of safety and regulatory compliance in New York said safety was not enjoyable. "I feel constantly isolated and fighting an uphill battle. There is a lack of concern by supervisors to take responsibility for their part in ensuring the safety of their staff."

A sense of organizational support for safety helps separate the safety "haves" from the "have nots." For example, 94 percent of the respondents who described their organization's safety and health programs as "world class" or "very good" said that top management in their organization provided active and visible support for safety. Conversely, 63 percent who said their programs were average to poor reported a lack of active top management support.

With large corporate safety staffs becoming a rarity, the safety manager (or department) can no longer operate in isolation and simply demand compliance with government regulations. Success requires management support, responsibility and accountability among supervisors and employees, and an appreciation for both the physical and psychological components of safety. Our interviews with survey respondents underscored these tenets.

Taking the Lead

Each of Weyerhaeuser's 16 business lines has a "safety lead," notes Chris Redfearn, manager of health and safety technical services, but he clarifies that that safety specialist is really a support person for the executive managing each business. "They are responsible and accountable for results in safety," he said. "We also hold all employees accountable for their own safety."

The road map for Weyerhaeuser's safety activities is the Health and Safety Exchange, a safety management system and audit tool. "For 51 weeks of the year, it is a guide to the effective implementation of safety management," explained Redfearn. "For one week, it is an audit to check how well you are doing."

There are about 600 questions in the audit. For each question, there is a set of guidelines that explains its intent and what the audit is looking for. …

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