An Inauspicious Beginning
Upon entering the Safety profession, I had no idea of the obstacles I would face. However, hardly any of my fellow employees seemed to know any more than I did about Safety Management. Upon inquiring about the scope of the job, I was told, “You’re the Safety Guy, you figure it out.” My inability to ignore a challenge inspired me to get started. However, my first challenge was the discovery that the organization had no formal safety control process in place. I quickly realized that I was indeed, “The Safety Guy” and I was on my own.
Unfortunately, most of my fellow employees believed that I alone was responsible for safety. As a result, my days were spent responding to myriad safety issues throughout the huge complex. In my naiveté, I accepted my role, since that was the way it had always been done. However, I began to question that concept as increasing demands for my services failed to improve our dismal safety performance.
Perhaps inspired by military SOPs, I began recommending what I thought were practical changes to outdated safety procedures. With my supervisor’s full support, we embarked on a program to introduce revised procedures to the organization. Our efforts met with varying degrees of acceptance. However, this accelerated my quest for knowledge, particularly in management and alternative safety concepts. These efforts eventually began to positively impact the facility’s safety performance, which was noticed by others in our parent organization.
Recognition and Reward, But More of the Same
My belated entry into college during this period eventually earned a BA Management degree. My reward involved transfer to a larger facility with responsibility to restore effective safety controls to another failing system. Success in that effort was followed by transfer to the organization’s newest facility to establish the safety management system. However, I was again, essentially on my own in developing the concepts and operational procedures that would direct those efforts.
The Door Opens
An offer to direct Mazda’s initial North American manufacturing facility’s safety system forever altered my professional safety focus. But, even though resources were promised to establish the premier industrial safety program in America, I envisioned repeating previous efforts.
Orientation to Mazda’s Production System
My thinking abruptly changed during my first Japan visit, when I was introduced to Mazda’s Safety & Health Management System. I was struck by the fact that details of the SHMS were presented by personnel who were not members of the Safety Staff. It soon became obvious that the SHMS was fully integrated into all aspects of the all-encompassing Mazda Production System. Further, its implementation and maintenance had become a primary responsibility of management throughout the organization.
These facts starkly contrasted with my former employment, where individual departments appeared to pursue uncoordinated goals solely devoted to production. Also, the Safety staff acted as mentors by providing tools and methods used by line personnel to manage safety.
During morning sessions we studied individual SHMS details, while afternoons were devoted to observing their implementation by line personnel. I was awe-struck to discover that our observations always confirmed that the written policies and procedures were being implemented exactly as they were specified.
On the last day of my orientation, I met with the senior executive responsible for the start-up of operations in the U.S. When he asked, “Now that you’ve seen our system, what will you do in our new plant?” I replied that I would attempt to establish Mazda’s SHMS exactly as it was designed. That greatly pleased him. But then I added that I could only do that if I was given the appropriate support and resources. Hearing the doubt in my voice, he bolted from his chair and pounded the desk shouting, “No! You do not understand. You must do this!” He then assured me that the company was committed to providing whatever resources were necessary to ensure the success of the program.
The opportunity to direct a committed professional staff with top management’s unconditional support, enabled us to facilitate management’s efforts to achieve their safety objectives. At that time, total participation by the entire organization arguably resulted in one of the most effective Safety Management Systems in North America.
The Mazda and subsequent Safety Management Systems consulting experience led directly to the founding of KRIHOS International. Our primary focus is the continuing development of Management Systems software, which enables users to readily establish, implement and maintain EHS management systems for any type of enterprise.
In future articles, I will provide more detailed explanations of the benefits of Safety Management Systems and provide examples of ways to simplify the process. My goal is to share what I’ve learned and to discuss the concerns of other health and safety professionals. I welcome your questions and input.