September 2014

As chief elected officer of the Society, ASSE's president promotes the advancement of the Society and the safety profession, and represents ASSE before members, other relevant professional societies and various governmental agencies. Professional Safety shares his latest thoughts on the Society, the profession and its practice.

Read past messages in the President's Message Archive.

President's Message - January 2005

SH&E professionals should give back the control to the those who should be the owners—the senior management team.

2004-2005 ASSE President Gene Barfield, CSP

Who Owns Your Safety Program?

I often ask the SH&E professionals at ASSE chapter and region events, “Are you in charge of your company’s safety management program?” Then, I say, “If you raised your hand you need to give up your job.” This statement typically causes confusion. The question is not meant to embarrass; it serves to illustrate that most SH&E professionals believe it is their duty to ensure that safety is managed effectively. I believe SH&E professionals should give back the control to the those who should be the owners—the senior management team.

Safety should be a vital part of a company’s mission, but it should also be a part of the total corporate system of operation. Safety and employee health, as well as stewardship for the environment, should be core elements of a business plan, inseparable from productivity and profitability. To have an effective safety management system, senior management must be the driving force. When safety is separated from business operations, it is removed from the total business plan. Safety then becomes a stepchild of the business plan rather than an integral element. Senior management should own the safety elements of the business plan just as they own the elements of productivity and profitability. Senior management should also hold managers and supervisors accountable for safety in addition to productivity. Productivity performance goals are set by senior management. Safety performance goals should be set by management as well.

SH&E roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for management should be formulated by management for management. Safety performance should be monitored just as productivity and profitability goals are monitored for each department of the company. The corporate SH&E policy statement should outline the expectations of senior management, supervisors and employees.

SH&E staff should provide the necessary tools and guidance to senior management. This guidance should be provided in business language that is easy to understand. Avoid communicating in safety terms and acronyms; instead, use words that management uses on a daily basis. Acorporate safety management plan should use business logic and logistics. Acorporate business plan uses standard business techniques such as plan, deploy, review and improve. These same terms should be used in the safety management plan. The cost of safety should not be measured in terms of noncompliance, but in terms of return on investment. When the cost of accidents is measured in dollars, then management can understand that safety is an investment in profitability, not just a business expense. This is not to say that management cares only about profit. Most senior management executives realize that people are the most important investment and are concerned about the safety and well being of their employees. Yet, as SH&E professionals, we often communicate only the cost of noncompliance to management, not the positive impact an effective safety management system can have on the total corporate bottom line. We also tend to take ownership of safety away from management and do not allow the effective implementation of techniques and skills they use to manage productivity and profitability. In future columns, I will further detail the elements of planning, deploying, reviewing and improving the corporate safety management system. Until then, remember that management owns safety.

Gene Barfield, CSP