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MSD Injury Prevention Leadership is defined as “The process of agreeing on the desired goals, setting up the team for success, and engaging in discretionary efforts which will drive MSD Injury Prevention values.” This translates into engaging in and maintaining prevention-based behaviors, which then will help others to achieve your organizational health, safety, and injury prevention goals.

Supervisors and employees typically believe management wants them to get, “Product out the door,” at all costs: production, production, and more production. Management typically believes they have successfully communicated the expectation to produce/perform: products/services/tasks safely, and have empowered team members to become safety leaders. In many cases, this “Gap” between management expectations and employee perceptions develops into the placement of blame instead of growing leadership abilities, and building positive relationships. Our goal is to help integrate a true culture of prevention, one which is based upon safety and profitability, where everyone is a safety stakeholder!

Many organizations are often caught off guard, because they rely on injury rate performance to predict future success. As injury data shows, most of these events do not result from unknown or unpredictable circumstances, or from strange occurrences. Life altering events occur when companies: accept deviation as normal, fail to manage prevention control systems, and tolerate substandard processes. In other words, these incidents (and the resultant pain and suffering), were not inevitable. Often, exposures are known and root causes share common threads.

If organizations follow a basic prevention management system, and ensure that prevention methods are vigorously applied, most events could be avoided. Prevention efforts require a committed level of oversight and participation from all levels of leadership, including senior leadership and management. Senior leaders must maintain a sense of vulnerability even when no life-altering event has occurred recently, and especially when lagging indicators look favorable. This is what truly separates the company that genuinely cares about their workforce versus the companies who are concerned with the volume of product produced at the end of the day!

The relative infrequency of serious events may cause them to seem random and thus beyond any reasonable degree of anticipation or prevention. The most serious events result from risks which are: identifiable, measureable, and manageable. The lessons of well-known incidents, such as the Titanic, are that alongside proximate causes of each incident, are an underlying fabric of: systems, processes, and possibly even a culture, which allow risk in the workplace to not only exist, but to persist. This covertly allows risk to even become acceptable, to some degree. If risk becomes acceptable to leaders, it also becomes acceptable to the workforce!

All components of the “Safety Fabric” of an organization, lend themselves to be influenced based on the amount of/or lack of, prevention intervention, by senior leadership. The decisions leaders make, the things they say, the words they use, the systems they implement and oversee, and the value they place on prevention and safety (with respect to other objectives) affect: workplace practices and workforce behaviors (which either increase or reduce at-risk behaviors), the level to which the culture supports prevention objectives and activities, and the interest of the actual worker with regard to prevention and safety activities.

To create an organization which is capable of completely eliminating injuries, these processes cannot just be delegated. It requires integrated involvement of the entire organization, from the CEO to the department heads, to the supervisors, and then to each and every worker!

Among the strongest indicators of prevention and safety performance are workplace culture and leadership quality. Extensive research identifies nine measurable cultural characteristics which, in addition to predicting outcomes (such as the frequency of at-risk behaviors, level of injury rates, and event reporting), have been shown to predict variables indirectly related to prevention and safety, such as: turnover, trust in the organization, trust of employees, innovation, and even creativity. These characteristics are:

  • Procedural Justice (fairness and transparency of the decision making process by Supervisors),
  • Leader-Member Exchange (level of mutual trust and respect between employee and supervisor, ie-employee treated with dignity),
  • Management Credibility (management actions consistent with words),
  • Perceived Organizational Support (employees perceive that the organization values them),
  • Work Group Relations (levels of mutual trust and respect among coworkers),
  • Teamwork (ability of the work group to effectively get things done),
  • Organizational Value of Prevention and Safety (extent to which employees perceive that the organization is serious about prevention and safety performance),
  • Upward Communication (extent to which concerns, suggestions, and ideas flow upward through the organization),
  • Approaching Others (extent to which employees are comfortable speaking to one another about prevention and safety).

How employees perceive these nine dimensions, has been shown to correlate to injury rates. Organizations wherein employees rate these dimensions consistently more positive (across all of these scales), have significantly lower injury rates as compared to those which score more negatively. Leadership influences culture, and culture drives behaviors. Behaviors then influence and drive culture. Like safety rock-paper-scissors.

Our leadership education and training programs, give leaders the information they must know in order to prevent injuries, not only for themselves, but also for the people they are charged with keeping safe and free from harm. Every leader, (all the way up the ladder) receives the same information and training. Once leadership training has been completed, senior leadership will then fully understand the value of our program, which then leads to the approval of future expenditure requests.

The Vision: Management sees their role in maintaining their commitment and the importance of continued support for their chosen leaders, and wants to continue to support the time spent focused on all prevention efforts. Supervisory level leaders are much more confident in their ability to recognize and manage MSD risk and hazards, as well as how to counteract or even eliminate them. Now, they are able to act as a trusting mentor who cares about the positive outcomes of their employees, communicating in positive ways, with every opportunity, each and every day. Thus Injury prevention concepts become weaved into the fabric of day to day activities, not just a “stand alone” safety topic, to be checked off and then forgotten!

Employees see and feel the difference and begin to build trusting and caring relationships with their leaders. Everyone helps the next to achieve:

  • Healthy outcomes and postural efficiencies,
  • Improved employee prevention-based behaviors and actions,
  • All become motivated to maintain efficient postures,
  • The goal of positive behaviors (company wide) begins to take hold and thrive.

This “appreciation cycle” starts with the implementation of our system of prevention, is motivated from all sides, and continues long after we (together with your own safety stakeholders), have built the framework for success. This structure, (once embedded into the core of an organization), makes it difficult for any future leader or supervisory personnel changes, to take prevention off its intended course. Thus, a true and profound organizational shift has genuinely occurred!

The link (influence) of leaders to improved safety efforts may seem obvious, but for many organizations the specifics of safety leadership are anything but. For them, the question is not so much why leaders matter to safety, but rather, what does great safety leadership actually look like? As with other performance questions, the best place to start is with a picture of excellent safety leadership in concrete, behavioral terms.

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