Q: In our construction company, production is king. Every year the head guy gives a rah-rah pitch at the beginning of the season on "work safe and go home to your families" and then the shortcuts begin. Toward the end of the season, things get worse, as the weather window for outside construction narrows. Employees take increasing risks.
Last week we had a horrible accident, and as a result, one of our biggest clients convened a meeting and chewed our top managers' backsides. Our managers made big promises and told our clients they've mandated me to achieve a zero incident safety culture. I should be excited because for years I've been singing the unheard safety song in our company, except I don't think top management really means it. I don't want to be the whipping boy when safety gets in the way. So I'm trying to decide -- should I stay and tackle this or should I exit now?
A: If you stay, you can do tremendous good.
Given your concerns, start by having an honest discussion with your company's managers concerning what it means to give safety priority. For example, because safety takes priority over production, employees need to feel empowered to stop any unsafe job without repercussion -- regardless of what it means to production targets or deadlines. Are your managers willing to support this?
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Let your managers know that once they ask you to walk out on the safety limb, they can't saw it off, nor can they leave you and it to bend under the weight of empty promises. If you're right that your managers won't commit to the hard, consistent work needed to achieve a zero accident rate, you'll see problems surface quickly.
If your managers say they commit to safety, the hard work begins. As Einstein said, "you can't solve a problem with the thinking that created it." In a company that wholeheartedly embraces safety, everything changes.
For employees, working safely becomes a condition of employment. Even one mistake places an employee, his or her co-workers and your company at risk. New employees need full orientation. Seasoned employees need reminders because those who become used to performing tasks can turn off their internal risk sensors.
If you want zero incidents, you need to create a culture that reminds everyone to "stay alert" and "if you see it, you own it." Every employee needs to focus on safety at all times. Employees and supervisors need to know that anyone who sees an unsafe act can stop the job first and asks questions later.
I urge you to give this your best shot. You may save a life.
Q: Some of our employees connect every Friday evening at a local bar. Two of our supervisors also go over there at 5:30 p.m. As a perk, we reimburse the supervisors and the employee of the week for their first beer. Last Friday, things got raunchy and our employee of the week got into a fight with a supervisor's lady friend over a remark. Our employee got hurt and gave us her emergency room bill and apparently expects us to reimburse her. Should we?
A: By rewarding your employee of the week and reimbursing your supervisors first beer, you've created a work-related social event that gives you potential liability for what results. At the same time, if you reimburse this employee, you open the door to reimbursing others who get injured when fighting.
Before you decide, get a clear picture of what happened. Did your employee start the fight or did she simply fend off the other lady? Also, check with your insurance carrier as your employee's injuries may be covered by workers' compensation.
Once you have all the facts, you have multiple decisions -- should you pay her medical bills? Does she merit discipline? Should you pay for an appetizer and not a beer? Or potentially bring in food for the whole team.
w Lynne Curry is a management trainer, consultant and president of Alaska's The Growth Company Inc. in Anchorage. E-mail her at lynne@thegrowthcompany. net.