You’ve just replaced your safety manager and now your new safety manager (or consultant) wants a new safety program? Not an uncommon scenario and in some cases, it might be the best thing he does for your company. But before you give him the go ahead, here is food for serious thought.
The field of safety management, particularly in North America, is very well populated with trained safety professionals who are essential to ensuring company safety expectations are communicated and carried out in the field. However, if that role brings with it a brand new safety program, it’s time to ask some hard questions.
If you look to other areas of your company, like accounting, purchasing or personnel, how often do new managers or consultants bring with them completely new programs? Not many because these programs and their associated policies are typically “owned” by senior management. In other words, the programs have been selected to manage essential functions that are not well-served by change, except where a proposed new program has been thoroughly vetted through a change management process. That process would examine the proposed program for its real value, identify potential impacts, recommend mitigation plans and demonstrate to senior management (and potentially the board of directors) the need for the change.
Safety programs are no different, but we have seen many examples where small to mid-sized companies willingly adopt new programs based on the incoming safety manager’s or consultant’s recommendation, rather than as a result of a thoughtful analysis of what exists versus what is being considered. While our software(LibraSystem and ScorpioSystem) is often the new program being considered, we have also seen it go the other way. From a sales perspective, we love to see our programs picked up by new clients, and we hate to see our programs replaced by someone else’s. But in every business, change is sometimes necessary, so we accept the ebb and flow.
However, when we hear that a company that has been using one of our programs or something comparable to it, is convinced to drop it in favor of something a new safety manager or consultant “likes better,” alarm bells start to go off, or at least they should for that company.
Liking a program is important, but it’s not a particularly tangible or measurable value. Answers to the following questions, however, are measurable and should be used to assess the real value of a proposed change of safety program.
- What’s wrong with the current program?
- Can the problems be resolved without wholesale change?
- What’s good about the current program?
- Do the positives outweigh the negatives?
- How well is the current program known and used throughout the company?
- How will staff and, in particular, front line workers react to being told they have to learn a brand new program?
- How long will it take to develop and roll out the new program and what happens in the meantime?
- How will the new program be vetted? How much confidence do you have in the information it provides? Is it current? When was the last time it was updated?
- What’s the new safety manager’s track record at other companies? Has he been successful at rolling out new programs? Did he stick around long enough to prove the program he’s recommending was successful?
- Do senior management and directors stand behind the current program? What will they need to convince them to stand behind a new program?
- Senior management is ultimately responsible for any failures in a safety program, so does a complete change of program increase or decrease that risk?
- What happens if the safety manager or consultant leaves during or after the development and implementation of the new program? Will there be someone who knows enough about it to carry on, or will you be faced with accepting yet another program with the next new safety manager or consultant?
Beyond these questions, there’s also the very real value in consistency that often gets overlooked. Knowing that all employees and workers are using the same practices, procedures and forms across the company is important, particularly through major staff changes. And for any company required to submit its program for review by ISNetworld, PICS, ComplyWorks and other registries, or who are COR or SECOR certified, major program changes can result in major headaches.
As we explored in Health & Safety Program Cost vs. Profitability Part Two: What does it actually cost to write and maintain a health and safety program? starting a new program from scratch is an extremely time-consuming and costly process that keeps your safety manager in front of a computer instead of in the field where he has the greatest impact. Making the decision at a senior management level to adopt one program, own it and stick with it through staff changes provides substantial value through consistency and by sending the message that it is equal in importance to the company’s other major management programs.
So the next time you are asked to consider changing your safety management program, red flag suggestions to dump your existing safety program in favor of another, particularly a program that has to be custom developed. Do your homework to understand the true costs, benefits and risks created by such a significant change and then confirm that your senior management will stand behind your decision.