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Personal Protection - Storage, Maintenance and Care (Sep/Oct-12)
Machine Safeguarding (Jul/Aug-12)
Is Your Lockout & Tagout Program Working? (May/Jun-12)
Getting Familiar with OSHA (Mar/Apr-12)
Is Your Piping Systems Properly Marked? (Jan/Feb-12)
Accident Prevention, Does Your Company Have An Effective Program? (Nov/Dec-11)
Defining FR – Flame Resistant Fabrics (Jul/Aug-11)
OSHA's Flammable & Combustible Liquids (May/Jun-11)
Safety & Health Program Check-up (Jan/Feb-11)
OSHA Is My Friend (Nov/Dec-10)
OSHA Standard for Control of Hazardous Energy Sources? (Sep/Oct-10)
Lockout/Tagout Program (Jul/Aug-10)
Safe Handling of Compressed Gas Cylinders (May/Jun-10)
What You Should Know about OSHA and Plastic Working Machinery (Mar/Apr-10)
Fasten Those Forklift Seat Belts (Jan/Feb-10)
My Back Hurts (Nov/Dec-09)
Fall Protection Program (Sep/Oct-09)
Accident Prevention & Investigation (Jul/Aug-09)
OSHA & Machine Safeguarding (May/Jun-09)
Carbon Monoxide Hazards (Mar/Apr-09)
OSHA Electrical Safety and Training (Jan/Feb-09)
Free Forklift ANSI Standards (Nov/Dec-08)
Worksite Fire Emergencies (Sep/Oct-08)
Machine Safety (Jul/Aug-08)
Ladder Safety (May/Jun-08)
Is Your Company on OSHA's Hit List?
OSHA Notifies Workplaces with High Injury and Illness Rates (Mar/Apr-08)
Safety Means . . . Never Having to Say You're Sorry (Jan/Feb-08)
Flammables and Combustible Liquids (Nov/Dec-07)
Designing-In Safety NOT Retrofitting Safety (Sep/Oct-07)
Back Safety and Lifting (Jul/Aug-07)
Machine Guarding (May/Jun-07)
Your Hearing Keep it for a Lifetime (Mar/Apr-07)
Light Up the Holidays the Safe Way (Nov/Dec-06)
Would You Risk Your Employee's Life? (Sep/Oct-06)
How to Control Workers' Compensation Costs (Jul/Aug-06)
Compliance with 70E Electrical Standards (May/Jun-06)
OSHA Is on the Move (Mar/Apr-06)
Workplace Violence (Jan/Feb-06)
The Aging Workforce (Nov/Dec-05)
The Safety Paradox (Sep/Oct-05)
Machine Guarding (Jul/Aug-05)
Effective Risk Management (May/Jun-05)
Safety Is Everyone's Business (Mar/Apr-05)
New Year's Resolution Safety (Jan/Feb-05)
Safe Driving (Nov/Dec-04)
Terror In The Skies Revisited (Sep/Oct-04)
How They Got Hurt (Jul/Aug-04)
In-Plant Air Monitoring & Analysis (May/Jun-04)
Safety on the Job and Complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act (Mar/Apr-04)
Link to Article Archive (Jan/Feb-04)
A Supervisor's Duty (Nov/Dec-03)
Machine Safety – Are Your Machines Safe to Operate? (Sep/Oct-03)
Summer is Here (Jul/Aug-03)
Working Safely On Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklifts) (May/Jun-03)
Does Your Safety and Health Workplace Program Contain All of These Elements? (Mar/Apr-03)
Methylene Chloride (Jan/Feb-03)
Safety Signs & Labels - Does Your Facility Comply? (Nov/Dec-02)
Indoor Air Quality (Sep/Oct-02)
When OSHA Arrives (Jul/Aug-02)
Facts About the Occupation Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) (May/Jun-02)
Workplace Fire Safety (Mar/Apr-02)
OSHA 300 Form (Jan/Feb-02)
Preparing for Disaster (Nov/Dec-01)
How Much is a Life Worth? (Sep/Oct-01)
Material Handling Programs (Jul/Aug-01)
It's Up To You To Protect Your Skin (May/Jun-01)
When You’ve Been Handed the Responsibility for Safety (Mar/Apr-01)
A Fresh Look at Machine Safeguarding (Jan/Feb-01)
Safe Work Habits (Nov/Dec-00)
The Importance of Material Safety Data Sheets (Sep/Oct-00)
Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (Jul/Aug-00)
Lockout/Tagout Program (May/Jun-00)
OSHA Violations, Citations and Penalties for 1998 (Mar/Apr-00)
Erogonomics and Machinery Safeguarding (Jan/Feb-00)
General Machine Principles (Nov/Dec-99)
SAFETY SOLUTIONS
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SAFETY SOLUTIONS: The Safety Paradox

What happens if your company experiences a serious injury to an employee? Usually, the management commitment to a safe or safer work environment is an immediate verbal commitment. How long does the commitment last? Just until the workplace chatter of the accident and the injured employee dies down? Are there immediate workplace safety mitigation projects that are funded with very few questions asked?

This scenario is too often true. It seems as though management and employee willingness to participate in the extra safety awareness efforts immediately following a serious incident gradually fade. Pressing concerns of production or financial viability take precedence, and it is a challenge to maintain preventive efforts in an atmosphere where concern gradually wanes until the next injury. Most managers agree that this form of reactive management in response to unpredictable events is not desirable and produces a work environment where firefighting gets the attention at the expense of long-range planning objectives. A lot of money is spent trying to fix the problem, but it cannot be fixed because it is not a problem, it is a paradox or polarity, neither of which can be resolved, only managed.

Paradoxes or polarities are sets of opposites that appear to be in conflict, but are both needed for success. Examples abound in safety—“cost effectiveness” versus “preventive maintenance,” “planning” versus “getting the work done.” A company cannot focus exclusively on one and neglect the other without negative consequences.

Addressing polarities starts with being aware of them, and acquiring the skills to discuss and balance these situations so that an organization can enjoy safety and productivity, quality and cost effectiveness. Facing polarity would be easy if management were faced solely with choices between wrong and right. Many times the choices management faces are right and right and then the choices become more difficult. For example, a company I worked with recently experienced severe fire damage. The plant manager decided to cancel an important safety meeting due to the fact the workers were working an extensive amount of overtime to try to get the plant back into production mode. The safety manager argued that the meeting should have been held because many of the risks to be addressed would be even more prevalent during the intense months of overtime that were to follow. Who was right in this scenario? Who was wrong? Is there a simple answer? Is there one judgment when no accidents happen, and another if accidents do happen? This polarity of task versus safety creates the perception of a moral and ethical conflict that leaders often face. How they address this dilemma influences the opinions people hold of them. A leader who communicates ethical responsibility is viewed as inspiring, motivating and caring; a leader who does not is viewed less favorably.

The ability to understand and explain polarities increases a leader’s effectiveness in addressing the underlying ethical and moral dilemmas that so often cause conflict between business and safety priorities. This has significant implications for the perception of management’s commitment to safety.

Perception by employees of management’s commitment to safety is paramount. In numerous surveys employees’ perception of management is a strong commitment to production, although when questioned, management perceives they are committed to safety over production.

Perhaps the true source of failed implementation and results is not lack of management commitment, but mismanaged polarities, misunderstanding the phenomenon of polarity itself, and the inability to speak intelligently about the ethical dilemmas underlying these polarities. Polarities such as safety versus production or quality versus cost arise each day from all directions. Addressing them starts with being aware of polarity, and acquiring the skills to discuss and balance these situations so that an organization can enjoy safety and productivity, quality and cost-effectiveness.

Leaders who are able to talk intelligently about the ethical issues that underlie polarities are better able to inspire and motivate employee commitment to safety. Organizations recognize that culture is the most promising area to focus on in order to improve performance.

Teaching the polarity principle as part of safety leadership development is a promising strategy for addressing these cultural issues. Polarities are not problems that can be solved and stay solved. Gray areas such as balancing production and safety must be addressed as often as necessary. Leaders are the catalyst to helping people accept and manage the many conflicting priorities while maintaining an excellent safety record. Sound and strong leadership is the resolution of the safety paradox.

For more information, click on the author biography at the top of this page.

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