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Supervisors’ Safety Responsibilities

Originally posted by Chris Kilbourne on December 24, 2013

Supervisors play a key role in workplace safety. According to Oregon OSHA, supervisors have five main safety responsibilities. It identifies these in its Safety and the Supervisor training instruction guide.

  1. Provide safety training. Training must create awareness of safe behavior, teach required skills for working safely, increase knowledge by providing accurate, up-to-dater information about workplace hazards and safe practices and procedures, and shape employee attitudes toward workplace safety.
  2. Provide resources and support. This means making sure employees have the proper tools and equipment, including PPE, to work safely and prevent accidents. It also means conducting job safety analyses (JSAs) to identify hazards, coaching employees to help them learn to perform their jobs more safely, and being available to answer questions, offer feedback, and discuss safety problems and concerns that employees may have. Employees must feel free to come to their supervisor any time they have a problem or question concerning safety or to report incidents and hazards without fear of blame or retaliation.
  3. Enforce safety policies and rules. This begins with supervisors’ responsibility for informing employees about policies and rules. It means providing constructive feedback when supervisors see employees taking shortcuts or not following safety requirements. It may also involve administering consequences for breaking rules and violating policies.

According to Oregon OSHA, a supervisor should consider these issues before he or she disciplines employees for violating safety rules:

  • Has the supervisor provided adequate safety training so that the employee knew what he or she was doing was against the rules?
  • Has the supervisor provided adequate resources and support to ensure safe behavior?
  • Has the supervisor consistently and fairly enforces safety rules and policies?
  • Has the supervisor provided adequate supervision to ensure that employees are working safely?
  • Has the supervisor provided leadership and set a good safety example for employees?

A “yes” to all five questions means discipline is probably justified, although you will likely want supervisors to discuss the matter with you before taking action.

       4.  Oversee work. Supervisors are responsible for the safe conduct of the workers they supervise. Oregon OSHA says that providing adequate supervision means observing employees at work to make sure they are performing tasks safely, conducting safety inspections to identify and correct hazards, and analyzing incidents (including near misses) to find causes and take corrective action to prevent future incidents and injuries.

       5.  Demonstrate safety leadership. Leadership means more than just setting a good example for employees. It also means inspiring employees to take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of co-workers through every communication and interaction between the supervisor and employees. A good leader encourages employee-driven safety and knows that the work group is only as safe as each employee. A good leader is proactive rather than just responding when something goes wrong. A supervisor who is a good leader guides and shapes safety performance rather than just giving orders and criticizing inadequate performance.