Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Riding the Quality Horse

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Riding the Quality Horse

Article excerpt

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, IN RESPONSE TO COMPETITION from Asian and European products, new energy and motivation have permeated the U.S. business community. The Total Quality Management (TQM) movement has provided a framework within which American business is able to tighten up its corporate cinch and ride to new levels of performance. In so doing, businesses are not only able to recover, but extend their market position.

Elements of TQM philosophy include: employee empowerment and involvement; cross-training for broader use of each employee; management determination and commitment to quality concepts; clear articulation of goals, objectives, and expectations; assessment of performance; identification of impediments; thinking "outside-of-the-box"; accountability and benchmarking against the best-in-class using relevant metrics; and continuous improvement of processes and re-engineering.

As businesses all across the country from General Motors to the smallest "mom-and-pop" taco stand -- saddle up the quality horse, environment, safety and health (ES&H) professionals should (and do) use quality principles to ensure a concomitant improvement in their organizations' ES&H programs. There is no organizational activity for which a better fit can be imagined than the application of TQM to ES&H programs.

Employee empowerment and involvement. Most organizations with successful ES&H programs have identified mechanisms for employee involvement. These may include committees of management and nonmanagement workers, hotlines for reporting problems, and employee inclusion in facility inspection or accident investigation activities. The basis of employee involvement is the TQM belief that no one knows a task or process better than the worker most intimately involved in it; and no one knows the possibilities for improvement in the work better than the employee that does the work. Clearly, significant opportunities for ES&H improvements can be realized by tapping into the worker's understanding of the tasks to be performed. Additionally, as each worker understands his or her role in identifying and eliminating or controlling hazards, earlier attention to the problem can prevent an accident or near-miss incident.

Cross-training for broader use of each employee. This element of TQM is based on the principle that an employee who has a broad understanding of the whole process will better appreciate the impact of individual input to the system. Thus, cross-trained employees who understand their effects on the system will be able to identify ES&H concerns upstream and downstream of their own task. Also, improvements in the process at the employee's point of influence will not merely shift exposure to the hazard up or downstream.

Management determination and commitment to concepts. Every ES&H management course begins with the importance of management commitment and program support. Although worker behavior may be heavily influenced by enlightened self-interest, active management attention to support of the ES&H objectives of the organization must be present to achieve success.

Clear articulation of goals, objectives, and expectations. Management must define and communicate goals, objectives, and expectations if workers are to sort through competing priorities. In addition to clear statements of expectations, management's actions must support its words ("walk the talk"), so that there is no doubt as to the importance of how ES&H compares with meeting production schedules.

Assessment of performance. …

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