From the crew’s perspective, the only question was that of
work completion, leading the crew to believe that the UGR
of working in an unsafe trench is acceptable by leadership
as long as the work is done in an expected time. This simple
example demonstrates the power of the unspoken.
According to authors Thomas Krause, Donald Groover, and
Donald Martin, “All components of an organization’s safety
fabric lend themselves to senior leaders’ influence and intervention. The decisions leaders make, the things they say,
the systems they implement and oversee, and the value they
place on safety with respect to other objectives affect:
• “Work practices and sustained behaviors that increase or
• “The level to which the culture supports safety objectives
and activities; and
• “Workers’ own interest in safety and safety activities.” 5
“Creating an organization that eliminates fatalities and life-altering injuries cannot be delegated. It requires the integrated involvement of the entire organization from the CEO
to each worker.” 6
Whether written or unwritten, a standard management meeting agenda usually emphasizes what will be accomplished, and
how those accomplishments are directly influenced by how
the leader communicates different items to his or her team –
that is, how a leader asks questions.
“I noticed we are going to be making a critical lift next week
in a congested area. What can we do to ensure no one will be
in the lift zone during the lift?” asks a PM of the superintendents at a weekly construction meeting.
“I noticed that our latest safety data shows an alarming
increase in unsafe equipment being used on our sites. What
can we do to ensure our teams have equipment that is safe?”
asks a president of his vice presidents at the monthly executive meeting.
“We are going to be working at heights. Do we all have the
proper equipment and have we identified the proper anchorage points to prevent any of us from falling?” asks a supervisor
of his crew during a daily pre-task planning meeting.
Through these types of questions, not directives, a leader is
able to demonstrate to everyone the importance of safety.
When a leader communicates and asks questions, it shows
what he or she is interested in. And what interests my boss…
What Can Leaders Do?
DON’T BE BLINDED BY YOUR STELLAR OSHA
Keep your eyes open and understand there are UGRs at play
and hidden precursors present. Support initiatives in your
organization that look at risk potential rather than OSHA
recordable status to prompt more engagement by the management team.
Develop a SIF metric and keep it in perspective: “…it is critical not to oversimplify the SIF exposure rate or reduce it to a
number on a chart. The SIF exposure metric is different from
all other safety statistics. The gravity of SIF events demands
attention to the complex set of factors that drive them. This
is why leaders must frame it as an ‘awareness’ metric rather
than a performance metric.” 7
SUPPORT & LEAD INITIATIVES THAT FOCUS ON
HAZARDOUS ACTIVITIES & IDENTIFYING PRECURSORS
Whether you have a behavior-based safety, a formal audit,
or a project review process, take an active interest in it and
participate. Michael Mangan, Vice President of research and
development at BST, suggests four focuses to blend SIF into
your Behavior Based Observations and to consider in project
1) “Align observation sheets with SIF exposures. In many
potential SIF incidents, the worker is engaged in a high-risk situation (such as working at heights) in which
management controls are inadequate, missing or not
complied with. Therefore, observation sheets must
include not only behaviors, but also conditions and
2) “Give your observers specialty training. In high-functioning behavior based safety (BBS) processes, observers
are trained on safe and at-risk behaviors and how to
give feedback. For SIF-potential observations, additional
training is necessary to observe for high-risk situations
and to be able to effectively interview the worker on the
exposures and management controls.
THE GRAVITY OF SIF EVENTS DEMANDS ATTENTION TO THE COMPLEX
SET OF FACTORS THAT DRIVE THEM. THIS IS WHY LEADERS MUST FRAME IT
AS AN ‘AWARENESS’ METRIC RATHER THAN A PERFORMANCE METRIC.