Ten Rules to Improve Safety Leadership


Good leadership in safety and occupational health within the Navy helps differentiate the best performing commands from the rest. Such a healthy safety culture fully supported by leadership at all levels pays great dividends for commands and the Navy as a whole. The following guidance for leadership is taken from the Army’s Leader’s Guide to Civilian Safety.

No one is in a better position to influence worker safety than the leader. If you provide employees with proper guidance, training, and development of good work habits, they will perform safely whether or not you are in the area. The safety culture of an organization is often described as “what people do when no one is looking.” Leaders drive safety culture by setting the example, encouraging and rewarding safe performance, and by not rewarding or tolerating short cuts and unsafe acts.

  1. Know and care for your personnel. In a sense, you have two families. Care for your people as you would care for your family. Be sure each worker understands and accepts his or her personal responsibility for safety. Know their training status and their qualifications. Verify knowledge and skills level of new employees, regardless of whether or not they have been previously certified in a certain area. Consider individual abilities when assigning job tasks.
  2. Know the rules of safety that apply to the work you supervise. Never let it be said that one of your people was injured because you were not aware of the required safety precautions. Know your equipment, its capabilities, and its condition. Checklists and publications are available to guide you.
  3. Anticipate the risks that may arise from changes in equipment or methods. Evaluate the impact of equipment changes or modifications, timeline and schedule changes, seasonal and weather changes and personnel assignments and skill levels. Changes in one or more of an operation’s conditions can introduce new hazards or increase risk, if not addressed. Seek and use expert safety advice that is available to help you guard against new hazards.
  4. Encourage your staff to discuss with you the hazards of their jobs. A job hazard analysis is a good tool to discuss specific tasks, equipment and safe procedures at the start of an operation to ensure you and your personnel understand the requirements, procedures and equipment to perform the tasks safely and efficiently. Be receptive to the ideas of your workforce. They are a valuable source of first-hand knowledge that can help prevent mishaps.
  5. Assign sufficient and qualified people and equipment to get the task done safely. Do not allow shortcuts. In the long run, shortcuts do not save time or money.
  6. Follow up on your instructions consistently. Provide positive reinforcement of safe behavior by recognizing employees who use personal protective equipment and follow safe procedures. See that your people use the safeguards provided. Routinely spot check their work. If necessary, enforce safety rules through disciplinary action. Left uncorrected, unsafe performance becomes the accepted standard. Frequent excuses for poor safety performance include: “We’ve always done it this way.” “No one has gotten hurt yet.”
  7. Set a good example. Demonstrate safety in your own work habits and personal conduct. Do not be a hypocrite in the eyes of your staff. Set and enforce high operating standards in every part of your operation. Safety is a by-product of professionalism, of doing the job right the first time and every time.
  8. Investigate and analyze every mishap, however slight. Develop corrective measures to prevent similar mishaps. Corrective action following a minor mishap or near-miss may be an opportunity to avoid a major mishap. Where minor mishaps go unheeded, crippling major mishaps may strike later.
  9. Cooperate fully with those in the organization who are involved in employee safety. The safety professional, industrial hygiene and occupational health staff work to help you identify and protect your workers from injury and health hazards. Their purpose is to help you get your job done safely. Maintain awareness. Do not relax your vigil and become complacent when everything is running smoothly.
  10. Remember, mishap prevention is good business and increases mission readiness.

Mr. Geiger worked in the Shore Safety Programs Directorate of the Naval Safety Center, where he served as the occupational health and industrial safety division head.

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