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Getting Inside the Mind of a Top Safety Manager

Originally posted July 01, 2013 by Lisa Stringfellow on https://www.duralabel.com

24-Year Safety Veteran Shares What it Takes to Succeed

In every field, certain individuals rise to the top for their ability to see the big picture and convey their vision to others effectively. And so it is among safety managers.

Steve Pomponi, CSP, has 24 years of experience in safety and risk management. For the past six years he has served as a managing partner of Consulting Safety Managers (CSM), leading safety assessments, pre- and post-loss safety management system implementation, and educational courses. Prior to joining CSM, Steve was a corporate risk manager at a 6,000-employee company. His leadership achieved a 72-percent reduction in workers’ compensation costs and an 83-percent reduction in auto insurance costs—saving the company more than $4 million.

We recently got together with Steve to find out how a truly successful safety manager approaches the job. Here’s what we learned.

DuraNews: What does a really good safety manager know that other safety managers might not know about?

Steve Pomponi: When I was working on a safety turnaround at a facility, I was confident my advanced degrees and certifications would pave the way. I quickly realized no one cares what you know, until they know how much you care. Really good safety managers build relationships with people and win over individuals to their safety approach one at time, rather than forcing safety onto their subjects. Individuals have different personalities and learning and communication styles. The really good safety managers are patient, adapt their message to the personality, and keep making contacts with stubborn persons using different safety processes and methods until the individual learns the safety mindset.

What are the most important aspects of your job?

Helping companies build effective safety management systems that protect frontline workers and supervisors. Many companies and safety practitioners are superficially focused on injury rates and paper-based safety programs that they forget the basic value of safety:  protecting the worker. The best safety managers make safety easy for workers to apply. And they customize safety processes for the unique hazards and tasks faced by their workers.

What’s the most productive thing you do each day?

Developing, improving, or verifying the processes within the safety management system (SMS) that maintains the workers’ protection during their work tasks.

How much time per day is spent on paperwork?

Too much. In the safety profession there’s a lot of non-value added time that safety professionals have to devote toward recordkeeping, compliance, workers comp claims, administration, progress reports, and internal databases. This takes away from the value-added time that safety professionals could be spending with workers doing risk assessment, safety training, and safety observations.

How do you juggle all your jobs?

At the end of the day I write my objectives and to do list. Then I prioritize the list based upon the four quadrants from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I do the high impact tasks through lunch when my energy is greatest and I do the less important tasks during the afternoon. Also, I don’t let the email and cell phone beeps distract me. I set aside time in the morning, mid-day, and evening to check emails. If it’s that urgent, the person will call or stop by my office.

If you could change the industrial environment, what changes would you make?

I’d wave a magic wand that would get everyone to understand the importance of marrying production and safety together. Too many companies still focus on production with safety limited to when it’s convenient. We believe safety should be a value. The difference is simple, priorities change based on what’s happening that day, but values never change. At Consulting Safety Managers, we teach our clients to integrate safety into their daily production routine so it becomes a part of their value system and culture. Our clients have proven that safe production is achievable without hurting revenues or operating profits.

In your opinion, is the industrial environment getting better or worse?

Slightly better overall. Companies are learning the value that safety brings, even though it doesn’t show up on the balance sheet in an obvious way. Until we make risk assessment and safety part of the daily production routine, American industry will continue to see only small decreases in workplace fatalities. The bottom line is 13 workers are fatally wounded on the job each day. America’s industries and safety professionals still have a lot of work to do.