Top Training Challenges: How do you get management support for safety?

Top Training Challenges: How do you get management support for safety?

Jill James

Jill James

Chief Safety Officer

Jill James brings an unrivaled perspective on risk, regulation and liability. With 14 years of experience as a Senior OSHA Safety Investigator with the State of Minnesota, and nearly a decade in the private sector as a safety program manager, Jill is a passionate advocate for training ROI.

The following is an excerpt from our on demand webcast, Troubleshoot Your Training—Live!, hosted by Chief Safety Officer Jill James and Dr. Todd Loushine.

Jill James:

Okay, well, I think this is ... In my own personal 20 years of doing this, this is where I've failed and succeeded both. Failures, if we want to talk about failures and what didn't work, when I first left the government space and got into private sector, I was working as a safety professional in a medical clinic setting. It was the first time anyone had ever really ... A safety professional ever been in a medical clinic before and they didn't really know what to do with me. Having come right out of a government space, my mind was in a totally different place. I was building all kinds of reasons to do things based on laws and things that would satisfy the attorney general's office. You can't do that with the CEO.

So I was safety cop literally because I had a badge for 12 years and so I thought I could just come into the private sector and be a safety cop too. But guess what, that doesn't fly very well with the person who's signing your paycheck. So when I was trying to say, well, you have to do it because the law says, that didn't work. The other thing that didn't work, an advice I guess I'd give is be your own voice to your management team. Don't rely on someone else to try to tell your story for you. So I was relying on a different supervisor to bring things to management structure and it didn't work. It's like playing that telephone game, by the time the message gets there, it's a totally different message.

So bring brief, being to the point, triaging your ideas that you want. Triaging meaning what's the worst outcome that could happen, where is the biggest risks for employees to be injured and the costs associated with that and being able to bring that data to a management structure is where I found my most success when I was successful which I was in dealing with my C-suite in one of my last jobs and that was really bringing data forth and that came from workers compensation, claims rates and trend and that wasn't putting out everything that was going on but it was really cherry picking the worst of the worst to bring to the management team to show them the severity of injuries that could occur, the frequency of them and the cost associated with them and then what would be an investment to eliminate those issues.

Was it a time investment, was it a monetary investment, was it something that needed to go into capital improvement so you could change that dynamic in the workplace?

Dr. Todd Loushine:

I teach a lot of advance classes in safety management and one of the foundations is demonstrating the value of safety. So who are we trying secure buy-in and support from? Management. What language do they speak? Money and profit. I mean, they want to make decisions based on data. So the more data you can put in front of them, so projection charts, return on investment, things like that, that is what will going to make them salivate and want to invest in a safety program. However, you have to gauge their safety IQ. If they don't really understand what safety is, if they just look at it as trying to reduce the number of the amount of penalty dollars we get from OSHA, they're not viewing it properly.

Because as far as what safety does is we try and provide predictability and stability in the operations. So that there isn't a failure, there isn't an accident because those things increase the overall cost of operation. In order to keep the lights on and the doors open, that cost certain amount of money. When people get hurt or something breaks unpredictably, that costs money because you have to also make up for it. It can also shut down an operation which now reduces sales or delivery. So we have to be, put them in a mindset that the things we're doing are trying to keep things running smoothly and we contribute to the bottom line. We can maximize profit by minimizing operating cost.

So if you can look to your work comp data, say maybe five, 10 years out and do trending analysis so you can work with your work comp carriers too because part of your policy is usually they give you so many hours of assistance. You can look at your OSHA 300 logs. You might even be able to notice that, geez, even though we promote workers to report things, they're not reporting things. Well, that's an indication of something we're going to talk about a little bit later when we start talking about safety culture and things like that. So what you're trying to do, what you need to do is make a business case for safety and there is ... There's a lot of information out on the web. There's an OSHA pays element on the OSHA website. You can go to NCCI which is the National Comp Carriers. They've got some data and reports there.

Then there's great stuff on the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) website. But National Safety Council, they also have great information. So does Vivid. So there's a lot of resources you can tap into in order to make a well justified argument for investing into safety. I'll just use a quote from Benjamin Franklin here and that is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and I know we see that in safety. Jill?

Jill James:

Right. So I had mentioned at the top when we started I just finished reviewing 100 safety award applications and that many of them had the business case listed in their award application when they are talking about ... Because one of the questions they have to answer is management support and what have they accomplished in the last year. So many of them were making the business case exactly with the data that Todd was just talking about, particularly around injury reduction and trends and where they were making improvements and how it saved the company money in the long haul. So they were making the business case and so that's definitely there.

I think it would be remiss of us to not address one piece in this management buy-in support. This isn't going to apply to everyone who's listening but there might be one or two ears out there who are so frustrated and have been banging their head against the wall for years or a very long time and really don't know where to turn at this point. Todd and I have both had the ability to have some really pretty awesome mentors in our career and he and I have talked a little bit about this in the past as well and we both shared a mentor a piece of our career who encouraged us to move on. Sometimes when you're in this job, it's time to move on to something else.

The great news is there's a lot of openings in the safety profession right now if you have the ability to make those changes. So if you really feel like you've given it your best and you can't get any further and you need permission to start moving somewhere else, that's not something that you should take off the table. That's not something that's going to apply to everybody listening today but sometimes you need to hear that. I know Todd and I in our careers had needed to hear that we shared a particular mentor who said to me one day when I was really struggling years ago, he said, "Jill, you took this job thinking that you are going to be grooming the horse and making it ready for show and making it pretty everyday and you're making things better," and he was using this horse analogy.

He said, "But you really are in the back of the barn shoveling crap, right?" I'm like, "Yeah." And he said, "How long are you going to be wiling to do that?" That made me move on. I've had another mentor who did the same thing a while ago. Todd, I don't know if you want to chime in on that or not but sometimes it's a message people need to hear.

Dr. Todd Loushine:

You're exactly correct. But I think people want to try to stick it out as long as they possibly can as well and give it all the try. I'm actually like Jill, I'm actually mentoring someone right now who's in that situation that he actually brought me in to try and help convince management on what they need to do, how they need to contribute and management is just digging their heels in. So now I'm working with him just to find out how he can remain happy and productive where he is until the next good position comes along and that's just a fact of life.

Jill James:

It is one of the realities of this career as there is with so many others.