“Tight is tight,” my old shop teacher would say. “If you overtighten you’ll strip the threads and it’s damaged and can’t be repaired.” Most of us that have used a wrench have stripped or overtightened something and when that happens, there’s no going back. The same thing can happen when applying safety—too much, too often, and too strong can cause damage that’s difficult to repair.
The Torque Wrench Principle
A torque wrench allows a specific amount of torque or angular force to be applied—not too much or too little, just the right amount. Likewise the goal is to apply safety in the right amount. Too little and expectations are not clear or safety is undervalued. Too much and safety becomes background noise or something to avoid. How much is the right amount? That depends on quite a few factors including the type of industry, the workplace culture, and even the personality of the messenger. Let’s take a look at some primary areas of safety where too much or too little can have a big impact on success.
- Training: With training volume takes a back seat to quality and relevancy. Don’t waste an employee’s time providing training that doesn’t have a direct bearing or application to their daily tasks. If you’re going to pull an employee off the line for training it better be a solid learning experience. It’s actually disrespectful to ask an employee to sit through a training session where the instructor can’t relate, is inexperienced, or otherwise can’t engage the learner in a meaningful way.
- Communication: Be safe, be safe, be safe! How many times can someone be reminded of that before it lacks meaning? Weekly, daily, hourly? Less often, but by the right person and an impactful message, carries greater weight than anything else. Senior leadership must demonstrate a commitment to safety as a core value by their actions. The workforce doesn’t need a constant cheerleader just someone they respect, one who understands their challenges, and is there to lead by example.
- Discipline: Fair and consistent is the road to success when it comes to discipline. For some, safety is a journey and yelling at a worker for using a ladder the wrong way does more damage than seeing it as a teaching moment. Most discipline should be administered in an escalating fashion to effectively change behavior. For those that can’t see the value in safety and will never get it the door is the final destination.
So how do we know if we’re applying too much or too little safety pressure? The symptoms may look the same and therefore it’s difficult to distinguish if it’s a case of too much or too little. Here are some likely ques:
- When it comes to safety, silence is not golden — safety silence is not good. When people complain, voice concerns, or even praise each other they show that they care. When they are silent the caring and engagement may have stopped. Or perhaps an employee has “checked out” from over-exposure to safety messaging and is no longer receptive to doing what is asked.
- Inspections and observations appear to be penciled whipped, lack detail and comments, or are incomplete
- Near-miss reports have dwindled to zero
- A lack of volunteers for safety related activities like the safety committee
- Poor turn-out for safety initiatives that require participation like completing a safety perception survey
- Compliance with procedures or practices are not being followed at a more frequent rate
Finding the right amount of safety for success can be difficult. The personalities that make up the workforce are usually wide and varied and understanding how to effectively reach each of them can be a tall order. It’s usually safer to apply pressure slowly than to overtighten too quickly.
About Dan Hannan: Dan Hannan is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and has been practicing safety for twenty-four years. He is presently the Safety Director for Merjent, an environmental and social consulting firm serving the world’s leading energy and natural resource companies. Merjent consultants have decades of specialized experience on pipeline projects, including planning and feasibility, environmental permitting, construction compliance, operational compliance, third-party analyses, stakeholder engagement, and technology solutions. Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.