Safety is a Moral Imperative

By Ron Parker
June 8, 2016
FABRICATION
Employees at View safely handle product on the shop floor, fully outfitted in personal protective equipment.

We often hear people say, “Oh well, accidents happen.” And there seems to be a belief among many in the glass and glazing industry that getting hurt is inevitable. This is absolutely false. Every single injury is preventable in glass manufacturing—or any other business for that matter.

Early on in my career, a fatality occurred at the factory where I worked. The only way to describe what happened is to say that it was devastating, and certainly crystalizing. That formative experience and countless others throughout my 29 years in manufacturing leadership—21 of them in the glass manufacturing industry—have shaped my approach to safety and the practices in place at View’s dynamic glass manufacturing plant in Olive Branch, Mississippi.

The most important thing I’ve learned is this: no product is worth risking the health or wellbeing of an employee. As employers, we’re dealing with people’s lives, and there is no greater responsibility. I encourage every company to approach the safety issue from that standpoint, not simply as a precaution or to save on workers’ compensation insurance costs. Safety is a much greater mission—one that can only be seen as a moral imperative.

As employers, if we want to prevent injuries we must work hard to eradicate the almost universal belief/mentality of “accidents happen; it’s nobody’s fault and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Every single accident is preventable. Every single one.

The 5 Most Common Safety Mistakes

  1. Focusing on conditions rather than on the actions, decisions and choices of individuals.
  2. Accepting the mentality that “accidents just happen; there is nothing you can do and it’s nobody’s fault.”
  3. Focusing solely on incidents involving serious injuries. There is always something to learn from near-miss incidents.
  4. Failure to track and record incident data.
  5. Insufficient or non-existent policies and procedures for incident investigations and after-injury case management.

In fact, at View, I don’t allow the word “accident” to be used at all, because I firmly believe the mentality that comes with the word accident is the foundation of inaction and acceptance when it comes to injuries. At View, we use the words “incident” or “injury,” but there are no accidents.

Here are the tactics my team and I have implemented to create a culture of safety:

Safe actions lead to safe conditions.

The only way to stop injuries from happening is through examining the underlying choices and actions. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of injuries happen as a result of unsafe acts (e.g., someone slips on a wet floor because someone didn’t clean up their spill), not unsafe work conditions, which are usually the scapegoat. Simply put, unsafe actions lead to unsafe conditions.

Accountability is key.

At View, we investigate all safety incidents thoroughly with a focus on identifying the decision or action that led to the incident. Management and employees alike are responsible for preventing these unsafe actions and decisions that lead to people getting hurt. The key is to instill a culture of discipline and of personal accountability for our choices and actions. If you have a disciplined approach to safety where people are accountable for their actions, it will carry over into other aspects of the business and resonate with employees as well.

Let data guide your safety measures, not costs.

Successful safety managers need to draw from data that details what has happened in the past and how each incident was resolved. At View, we aggressively track incidents and injuries because data is the ultimate predictor. By poring over data, we’re able to understand where we are vulnerable and how to transform our weak spots into areas of strength.

Similarly, cost should never be the only determining factor when it comes to safety. What is the cost of having the fact that someone suffered a serious yet completely avoidable injury on your conscience? There’s always a way to establish safety measures within a budget, but it takes prioritizing safety measures as highly as everything else.

Parting ways might be necessary.

Many companies are scared to fire unsafe employees, but sometimes they need to. The bulk of safety problems originate from a small subset of employees: 80 percent of injuries happen to 20 percent of people—people who too often fail to exercise sufficient caution. I have parted ways with a number of people for unsafe behavior after giving them multiple opportunities to improve. You either get with the program or need to go. There’s no middle ground when it comes to the safety of others.

Ron Parker is the vice president of manufacturing at View Inc. Contact him at ron.parker@viewglass.com.