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Business Safety March 25, 2010

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Civil engineers should be familiar with a construction site’s safety hazards. If not, perhaps they need to get out in the field more often; but that’s something for another time. One of the great challenges of construction — or its cousin, mining — is maintaining a “safety culture.” It is not hard to imagine that a roughneck crew of operators or miners

is a tough audience when it comes to promoting safe work practices, personal protection, and engineered solutions. In most cases, a reduced risk of death and injury comes at a cost (sometimes real, often perceived) of lower efficiency. Managers have all manner of carrots and sticks at their disposal to encourage positive behavior.

When I worked underground, one of the clearest illustrations of safety culture had to do with pants. Society has various cultural norms that dictate acceptable practices when it comes to one’s wardrobe. As any parent of a two- or three-year old can tell you, however, it takes some time to indoctrinate these practices and be certain of compliance before leaving the house. Over time, it becomes “natural” to put on pants every day, and, in fact, it starts to become uncomfortable not to have them on.

The same could be said for safe work practices. Our safety manager wanted everyone to feel uncomfortable if they didn’t wear proper gear and follow acceptable practices. In a very real sense, he wanted the crew to feel naked if it wasn’t thinking about risk before undertaking a task.

But when it comes to the “safety” of your business, how seriously do you take it? Business is often compared to a living organism. Cash is its lifeblood, its organs are large divisions and individual employees. In the long run, you seek to extend its lifespan, grow it to maturity, make it a productive member of its industry, and maybe even improve its “quality of life.” We talk of bad morale or ethical lapses being cancers of the organization.

In this context, how carefully are you protecting your business from the hazards of its environment? Are you conscious of how your scarce resources are being used to further your business goals? Have you prepared your organization to handle the ups and downs, or are you feeling naked these days? Dare I say it: Are you walking around with your “pants on the ground“?

There are several methods to address any deficiencies in this area, but any approach comes down to two big efforts: goals and change. Those firms still experiencing difficulty after having had a year or two to react to the economy invariably find themselves lacking in one or both of these areas. Specific strategic goals and an effective change management program are valuable pieces of protective equipment that your firm will need to avoid injury.

Your firm might have very clear goals with respect to markets and long-term growth, but its plans were disrupted by external events. Even worse, there may not have been any clear direction to begin with. As I mentioned last month, some firms have grasped at the concept of innovation to patch up this shortfall. Unfortunately, where goals and change management represent solid security — a helmet and shield perhaps — innovation is at best a good pair of running shoes. It affords flexibility and agility — and may indeed be critical to reaching your goals — but does not guarantee that you aren’t running straight for the wall.

Adopting the concept of a safety culture for your firm is a step toward a consistent, organization-wide acceptance of these business truths. Each employee should feel uncomfortable with any expense that doesn’t help the company meet its goals. Everyone should be wary of efforts that don’t appear to have any goal at all. And whether dealing with project schedules, internal training, or client relationships, the staff should be able to anticipate change and adapt accordingly. Without these protective measures, the business risks severe injury — and even death — at the hands of its own leaders. What are you doing to protect your business from harm?

–from Insider’s View, March 2010

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1. Tweets that mention Business Safety « Project Management Underground -- Topsy.com - March 28, 2010

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jay Rohman. Jay Rohman said: Safety Culture News Business Safety « Project Management Underground: When I worked underground, one of the cleare… http://bit.ly/9dhbsT […]


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