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Why are safety professionals most often not respected in the workplace?

Why are safety professionals most often not respected in the workplace?
Why no Respect of Safety officer in workplace

Why are safety professionals most often not respected in the workplace?




Ideally, the primary task of HSE professionals is to develop and promote a positive safety culture in the organization to prevent dangerous events that can harm people, property, and the environment. They always think about the safety of others, try to protect the company by helping to comply with legal obligations, represent the company as the safest place to work, and therefore help to strengthen the brand value of the company but still why are occupational safety professionals often not respected? why shop floor people hate HSE officers?
We have interviewed fire, occupational health, safety and environmental professionals who have over 20 years of experience in almost all types of businesses, including the power, oil and gas exploration and production, oil refinery and petrochemical, metal and mining, chemical plants including fertilizer, construction field, EPC, etc. to find out the causes of not getting respect in the workplace. We found that most HSE professionals are not respected in the organization because they do not contribute directly to the company's production process and therefore do not generate revenue for organizations. This may not be the case for all HSE professionals worldwide, but most of the time we have found that HSE professionals are not respected in the workplace.
Here, we try to explore the reasons why occupational safety and health professionals do not get respect in the workplace, and in the end, we suggest some best practices for gaining respect in the organization.

Production is the business's top priority

Businesses must generate income, make profits, ensure sustainable growth, and keep them on the market for a long time. Because if someone wants to do business, it is only for profit, not for social service. Therefore, most of the time, HSE continues to be a showcase and to only meet legal obligations or to attract investors by presenting that our company is safe to work with.
Company management never says that safety is not a priority, but it is acceptable that profit is the first priority. The company did not start for safety, obviously, to make a profit, but yes, for a sustainable business, HSE plays a vital role, in the event of a serious accident such as a fire, an explosion or fatality, the business can stop or collapse. Management is very aware of this and that’s why, it insists on setting up the best HSE system, but nevertheless, HSE cannot be a priority, and that is the only truth.
HSE is support services, although it helps prevent business losses but does not directly contribute to generating income for the organization, it is difficult to recognize it as a priority. Therefore, it is one of the reasons why HSE professionals do not obtain respect in the organization.

Line managers mindset: negative safety culture

At some point, due to past experience or lack of HSE commitment from top management, front-line managers guide their supervisors and ultimately engineers and workers that HSE is limited to comply with PPEs only. Therefore, supervisors, engineers, or workers who believe that safety professionals should only monitor PPE such as hard hats, gloves, safety glasses, and safety shoes, do not interfere with process or technical safety.
Even at some point, when safety professionals advise supervisors on corrective measures, responsible production in charge raised the problem of delay in their operational work and management indirectly supports it. Then there is a degradation of the HSE inspection report presented by a safety professional and, ultimately, of the messages disseminated among staff and workers, this becomes the foundation of a negative safety culture in the workplace and then the shop-floor peoples stop to attach importance to respecting the HSE, and not respecting the safety professionals.
So, if the top management is not committed to HSE, it is visible in the workplace and people cease to respect safety professionals.

Wrong performance appraisal method

Safety professional must manage both the senior management as well as workers of the company for the implementation of the safety management system. In many organizations, performance of safety officer is assessed based on link between the safety officer and the number of people who hate him, ie. they think that if people hate him at work, it means he really does a great job. Because most shop-floor people don’t like someone advising them, interfere in their work and if safety officer is advising them to correct the unsafe act or unsafe condition, then they start complaining to management,  it means he is doing his work sincerely.

Comparing safety officer with police cope

At one point, people just think that safety professionals are like police cops who always want to regulate people's safe behaviours by interfering their routine work. If the safety professional behaves in a more friendly manner, he cannot effectively implement the safety system. He must not bias anyone, at some point, if he imposes penalty or issue warning letter against safety violation then people start to upset him.
HSE professionals’ job is very tough, they have to convince the management to set up a robust safety system by implementing disciplinary action procedures and safety promotional plans simultaneously. There may be a problem, when he want to appraise someone for his commendable safety compliance, the rest of the people are disappointed and say they are biased and if they penalize someone for a safety breach, supervisors say they are attacking his people.
The safety professional must therefore always manage the conflict. Therefore, too good a relationship and too bad a relationship with people at work are against him. It is very difficult for him to manage all such different types of peoples.

De-motivational peoples in site

When safety professional suggests good safety practices, he need to have solid support. At one point, when he suggests best safety practices, people may consider that this is not feasible and, if they do not suggest anything, they say that the safety officer is incompetent. And in either case, he can lose his reputation and people start to hate him.
When the safety officer inspects the site and spends more time at the workplace, people feel uncomfortable and when he does 2-3  visit a day, he may not to be very visible. The role of the HSE professional is therefore very difficult. Therefore, he must be more skilful to manage peoples and demonstrate the quality of leadership. He must be self-motivated, because very few people like to motivate him. He must be calm and show great maturity at work.

Incompetency may dislike HSE professional

The competent HSE professional is very important to develop and implement a positive safety culture in the organization. Must be a good leader, a strategic planner, knowing the legal requirements, an OSH risk management expert, an incident investigation expert, a good communicator, diplomatic time, management self-control and a good team builder
Safety professionals must manage all disciplinary people, from technical to non-technical. Technical peoples may include mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, instruments, production, process, operation, chemical engineers, etc., so when the HSE professional wants to suggest a safety recommendation, he must explain it in respective technical language, otherwise he will not be able to build a reputation i.e. he must have a basic understanding of all of the technical discipline.
When he wants to suggest safe practices for storing chemicals in the warehouse or storage area, he must speak in chemical expert language or in the language of the store and shipping. Sometimes he has to deal with the administrative and human resources team for training, competency and traffic control.
The bottom line is that he must deal with all disciplined peoples and convince them to set up a safety management system. But a person cannot have knowledge of the whole discipline, so how can he build a good reputation.
All of the above skill requirements are necessary for the HSE professional. Knowledge can be acquired from books and the Internet, but the skills required to manage people, conflict management, convincing management, convincing people from top to bottom, etc. requires great maturity. He has to demonstrate his level of maturity in the workplace, and most HSE professionals fail, so they cannot build a reputation in the organization.

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HSE qualification through corresponding courses

Many Safety professionals are HSE certified by qualifying correspondence courses. Some internationally recognized correspondence courses organize 5 to 8 days classroom training and they believe that 8 days training is sufficient to create an HSE professional. The strangest thing is that now all of these 5 to 8 days classroom trainings are optional with video clips or a webinar.
Just think, by participating in 2 to 3 webinars, without any practical knowledge, read 2 to 3 books of HSE knowledge within 2 to 3 months and finish the exam, get the HSE certificate or the international diploma in occupational safety and health is enough to create quality HSE Professionals. How they develop the quality of leadership, how they practice management, who will teach them conflict management, who will teach them patience. What about the level of maturity and technical skills? Whether this qualification can be compared to a college diploma or an engineering degree certificate.
Another important thing is that there is no relevant basic qualification required to be admitted to these corresponding courses. Everyone can be admitted, whether technical or not, many people working as workers, because they do not have a diploma or degree, they became responsible as safety practitioner by qualifying international general certificate in occupational health and safety.
Such an HSE qualification of international distance learning fails safety officers to demonstrate technical and administrative skills and therefore fails to build a reputation in the organization. This can be the main reason why people don't respect the safety officer in workplace.

Impractical and rigid thinking

Many HSE professionals works as police officer, follow the rigid system according to company standard procedures, and don't think practically. They do not understand the difference between standard procedures and best practices. Many safety officers focus more on the compliance of PPEs in the context of maintaining discipline and complying mandatory safety rules in the workplace.
At some point, they ignore the discomfort or practicality of PPE. For example, during the hot summer, some workers engaged in bitumen road construction work, became dehydrated due to excessive sweating, and felt very uncomfortable with the helmet. The hot bitumen added more heat to their working environment, and eventually the workers took off their helmets and continued working. Now the safety officer came to the construction site and asked about the helmet, the workers reported on the situation, but the safety officer issued a warning letter against non-compliance of the safety procedure.
Now, in this case, who was right and who was wrong. Some people can favour workers, and someone can support the safety officer. Many reflections can arise on the reasons why they plan to work in such an environment, why they did not carry out a risk assessment, etc., but all this is not relevant.
Businesses must have priority; safety must be parallel to work i.e. safe work. If there is an not insignificant risk of head injury that is tolerable due to very low exposure to the hazard, then why is the helmet required for this particular job? Although it is written in the procedure, but should be based on the situation, it should be more doable. Otherwise, people will not respect HSE professionals.
Second example, there was a routine inspection of environmental compliance by an HSE professional, observed a fuel cane (capacity of 30 liters) on the ground at the workplace, he took a photo and included in the report as environmental non-conformities, he presented the non-compliance report at the meeting of the management committee. The meeting chairperson asked about the awareness of peoples about requirement, whether the engineer in charge refused to implement his recommendation, replied "no" and lost his reputation.
Of course, this was a non-compliance against fuel storage and the prevention of the soil pollution standard. But was it really necessary to highlight such non-conformity at the meeting of the management committee? Was it so serious noncompliance? whether responsible engineer fails to take corrective measures seriously? Such immature behaviour and rigid thinking of the HSE professional may be responsible for the loss of respect in the workplace.

How HSE professionals can earn respect in the workplace

1. Be calm, don't be biased, listen well and don't immediately react to any complaints or criticisms.
2. Many times shop-floor peoples demand and complain about not getting quality welfare facilities, not getting PPE, etc. Some of them also try to teach you the real meaning of safety, some may try to teach you the responsibility of safety manager, some superiors comments  like safety is the responsibility of the safety manager, some may say they don't have the time for safety "I am operation in charge, whether to focus on plant operations or just think about safety", and many more irritating comments.
There may be a complaint about welfare that might be not relevant to you, admin department is responsible for that. Similarly, compliance and the provision of PPE responsibility lies with work supervisor, but as you are safety officer, worker may ask you, then don’t get irritate, Just listen and resolve the problem with their supervisor. If the supervisor is not listening, discuss the problem with the facility in charge, give them some time to resolve it. If the problem is not resolved, present your observations of non-compliance at the safety committee meeting.
3. When you observe unsafe act and unsafe condition in the workplace, try to correct it at the same time in coordination with the supervisors or the responsible engineer. Try to build a good relationship by helping them.  Provide practical technical solution rather to strict on standard procedures. Provide them with an alternative solution to support their work without compromising the safety of people and plants.
4. Always keep 2 to 3 PPE such as a dust mask, safety glasses, earplugs with you when you are onsite inspection. Try to catch some workers without PPE or with damaged PPE, then correct it by offering a new one. It will help you to build a strong relationship, a reputation and showcase your caring and kind nature.
5. When the worker is doing work, try to support him in his work to simply show that you are a very helpful person, just say – how are you.. all ok.
6. Try to make friends, try to show them that you care a lot about their safety. You are the only person who takes their health and safety seriously and can take care of all people. Communication is very important, start the conversation with "Hi" and "Hello", then politely communicate your concern.
7. Before implementing a sanctions regime or an administrative disciplinary action procedure, start by implementing a motivation regime. Convenience management for a bi-monthly motivation program in the form of a small symbolic gift. Highlight the safety recognition of the people in the workshop at safety meetings and post their names on a bulletin board as "Safety Champion of the Month" or "Safest Person of the Week". Try to advertise your efforts to start a safety promotion activity for people, but at the same time give credit to the people in the workshop by appreciating them.
Some time you have to be a diplomat. Hand over the symbolic gift / prize through their responsible supervisor or engineer and at that point you simply give the responsible engineer credit that he does a wonderful job and is very safety conscious.
8. Then slowly start the penalties system or the implementation of disciplinary action procedure. Start with a warning letter such as a yellow card, an orange card and a red card, gaining confidence in the management.
9. For a while, you must be very strict in order to comply with safety requirements such as work at height, work in confined spaces, hot work, electrical isolation, excavation work. Don't allow risky work at any costs, no problem if time demands. For the moment, this can create conflicts in the workplace, but don't worry, it will help build your reputation over time as a true safety professional. You should not be too strict or too casual person, because when you are too strict, it can create conflicts and a dose of too informal approach does not show the seriousness of your safety concerns. Always prefer strictness more than casual approach with technical solution to build a good reputation in the workplace.
10. Do not be very rigid on certain minor safety non-conformities such as the compliance of PPEs like dust mask, safety googles, gloves for general use and a high visibility vest. Of course, all PPEs are very important and must be worn by everyone inside the workplace. But assess the work environment and the associated risks, if the risk is tolerable, do not insist too much. Always focus more on technical safety, this will help you build your reputation.
11. Be practical and demonstrate your technical skills, always focus on best practices and be flexible in standard safety procedures. Do not try to enforce or talk more about legal obligations to shop-floor peoples, this should be limited to senior management.
12. Enjoy a coffee and breakfast with a responsible engineer, supervisors and shop floor peoples. Manage friendship with them but be strict with your profession. Do not highlight a minor safety non-compliance to senior management, try to resolve it in the shop-floor, but if there are serious concerns, take it very seriously and try to resolve it without any delay.

Conclusion
The reputation of HSE professionals depends purely on their skill in conflict management, behaviour, quality of leadership, and technical competence. Occupational safety and health qualification through the corresponding courses without supporting a basic technical qualification such as a university degree or diploma will not help build reputation in the organization.
If senior management does not take HSE implementation seriously, then it is very difficult to develop a positive safety culture by HSE professionals and it is very difficult to build their reputation in the organization.

HSE professionals must be tactful and demonstrate their skill and competence in a more practical way, rather than being rigid about rules and regulations. They must understand that they are to support companies to generate income without compromising HSE compliance. They should be strict on serious matters, but they should be flexible on minor matters and should try to correct the unsafe act and unsafe condition immediately in the workplace, rather than highlighting top management at the safety committee meeting or other forum.

360training.com is the largest provider of Environmental Health & Safety training. Sign up today and save up to 50% off safety training courses. Hurry, offers end soon!
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