Safety CAN Be Cool

Posted on December 16, 2019

Cool looking safety goggles
Today’s Buzz is by Clay Campbell, Administrative Supervisor for the Downers Grove Sanitary District. Connect with Clay on Twitter and LinkedIn
What I’m Listening To: Holiday Classics Station on Amazon Music
What I’m Watching: Home Alone on Disney+, I’m not even going to link it because…c’mon.
What January looks like: Getting some nice travel in to the Carolinas and New Orleans

If you’re REALLY interested in picking up a set of the awesomely cool goggles above…check them out here.

All joking aside – we’ve turned another corner recently in my organization. One more area to innovate. To improve. To raise the bar.

In 2012, I had made a hard push on making safety at the District a priority. We tasked an individual in our Maintenance Department with safety responsibilities, called the State Department of Labor in to perform an advisory inspection (a nice no-”gotcha!” resource where they try to help inspect your facility and identify areas where you can improve), and started kicking the tires on personal protective equipment (PPE). It seemed like we really had traction with our policymakers, several of our supervisors seemed to have “bought-in” to the idea that safety should be given the same level of attention as preventive maintenance, citizen engagement, strategic planning and others. Our Mechanic with “Safety Coordinator” responsibilities really helped to move the organization forward – we were just starting to grasp the things that we needed to prioritize and develop – but after only two years (2014) that employee transitioned to a different department where he could excel at something else altogether. I’d love to tell you that we found someone else that was just as passionate about making the District safe and kept the momentum going, but it wouldn’t be true. Without a champion, safety got packed away in the organizational broom closet.

cartoon broom closet

Fast forward to 2019. Over the last five years, numerous workers compensation injuries had plagued our workforce…our PPE got older…our safety initiatives went nowhere. I was tired of safety committee meetings where the heart seemed to be in the right place for the employees appointed to serve, but our progress resembled a canoe paddling upstream against the current. Enter Jane (not her real name). Jane was hired in 2018 in a temporary part-time position working on a major document imaging project for our organization. While certainly capable of accomplishing this project, I knew that Jane could do so much more for the District. In 2019, Jane wrapped up her project and I knew it would be a travesty to lose a talented employee that could be retooled to meet other needs in our organization.

In June of this year, our Maintenance Supervisor and I discussed the possibility of Jane becoming a Safety Coordinator for the District. We had agreed many times over the years that it could totally be a full-time gig for someone to focus on safety in our organization, but if anything we needed an advocate that could be completely dedicated to safety and not subject to reassignment or distraction (as is often the case when government tries to do more with less).

Jane accepted our offered position of Safety Coordinator for the District and settled in. Like any new role, it took her several months to acclimate, start viewing our various organizational challenges through those “safety” lenses, and to gain the confidence to be decisive in organization-wide safety initiatives. Jane has been amazing. She has brought new momentum and energy to the way we view safety and the role it plays in our employees’ daily experiences. Talking about safety has become en vogue. Employees have felt validated, engaged and newly committed to making my workplace…their workplace…better. Safety culture doesn’t evolve or coalesce overnight – it’s iterative like any of the other modern-day agile processes out there. The key for us is that we are making forward progress and at a pace unforeseen before on safety matters.

I actually look forward to our safety committee meetings. Safety budget? Killing it. Going to bat for new hard hats, fall protection, or a Safety Data Sheet management system? Nailed it. It’s been possible because we are embracing one of Ron Swanson’s more famous quotes, “Never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing.”

By dedicating safety matters to a specific individual, equipping that employee with the authority to make decisions (probably most important of all), and supporting the role with resources – there’s already a noticeable influence on the way our organization integrates safety into its various layers of public service delivery.

I used to shudder when I thought about safety and my unit of local government. Not because I find the topic of safety lame or disgusting, but because it reminded me how we weren’t giving it the attention it deserved. In many workplaces, it’s easy to become jaded or skeptical of change occurring – perhaps this is even more true in government. Fresh perspective…new blood…whatever you would label it, the dynamic has shifted and I’m excited to see where this takes my unit of government. Being a safer public servant means you can focus fully on the work we’re here to do – going above and beyond to serve the public.

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