Hiring your first Safety Director

| Featured News, OSHA

The time has come for your organization to add a full-time Safety Director to your staff; whether you have arrived at the point by an OSHA citation or a traumatizing accident or loss of life, there are many factors to consider when looking for a candidate. The level of expertise, education level and experience you will get depends on the salary you can afford. The more experience and education you require, the higher the salary must be offered to get that candidate. However, there are other characteristic that should be considered when looking for that first time Safety Director. We have all had experience with the new hire who “looked good on paper” but did not live up to our expectations.

First, let’s assume your candidates have an acceptable background in safety and health with several years of experience in the field. What are some of the other characteristics you should be looking for in that new Safety Director? During the interview process they should demonstrate considerable communication and interpersonal skills. These skills will be needed to talk to a worker and convince them of the need for following safety protocols. Will this candidate be able to overcome the typical push backs they encounter from employees or supervisors? You know the drill: “we have never done it like that,” or “they already know to be careful.” A good safety director should be able to dispel those negative beliefs in a positive and effective manner. His/her assertiveness with employees should also be readily seen when they deal with upper management.    Nothing will invalidate a safety policy more quickly than if an employee sees that management does not have follow those same policies. This director will have to tactfully ensure that the highest levels of management are held to the same level of accountability, as that first day new hire. During the interview they should not appear to be a push-over, who just wants to get along with people, or a safety bully who just wants to enforce rules.  The candidate for the position should show an attitude and a determination to create a safe workplace and clearly state that all accidents are preventable. Any candidate who accepts that injuries are just part of the job is not a person you want in your organization. Developing a zero accident culture is not only priority but should be a core value for any safety professional.

When selecting a candidate for the position, a major consideration is whether to hire from within the organization, to look for person outside the organization, or even outside of the manufacturing field. Hiring internally would ensure the new safety director knows the hazards associated with manufacturing processes, and is familiar to the management team. However, people typically will do what they have always done until someone shows them something different or new. Bringing in someone from outside the organization or “field” may bring fresh ideas or practices that could improve the safety culture at your facility.

Now let’s talk about how management should support this new safety position. The Safety Director in not just a “safety cop” looking to enforce rules or an “ambulance driver” who’s task is to take injured employees to the clinic and ensure that they get back to work as soon as possible. Management should see this person as a corporate officer with the ability to make policies; and possibly overrule supervisors, if their professional judgement indicates there is an unsafe condition or behavior.  This position should also have a yearly budget to effectively fund any upgrades to personal protective equipment, provide timely training to employees and finance implementation of any needed engineering controls. This budget should support bringing experts into the facility to assess hazards relating to noise or chemical exposures, if the new director does not already have that expertise. A critical program for any safety professional will be developing a new hire training system, establishing safety teams and developing self- inspection protocols. These goals will require management to fund employee activities not directly related to production goals. Taking production employees “off the line” to address safety issues will show management’s commitment to developing an effective safety program; however, associated costs must be factored into the yearly budget. Another factor to take into consideration is, like most organizations, people are sometimes assigned various jobs within an organization. The safety person may be assigned other duties in the organization. These tasks should be minor and not interfere with safety related functions.

Finally, hiring your first Safety Director may seem like you’re adding additional overhead to your organization, but a good safety program is a profit center not a cost center.  The prevention of accidents leading to injury will reduce medical costs, workers’ compensation insurance premiums, and any costs associated with lost productivity. Any reduction in cost translates into a higher profit margin for the organization.