"A good supervisor wears many hats," says WSPS territory manager Sandy Ash. "Coach, mentor, employee and employer advocate, production coordinator, HR liaison, health and safety specialist... It's a big job requiring this 'superhuman' to be all these things at the same time."
Ash knows, in part from hard-earned experience as a supervisor who began with no formal training - "I was 25 years old at the time. You think you know the world, but I didn't know what I didn't know" - and more recently as a health and safety professional who understands the integral role supervisors play in creating a safe and healthy working environment.
How workplaces can help supervisors fulfill this role was the topic of a session led by Ash at WSPS' recent Partners in Prevention 2016 Health & Safety Conference & Trade Show. He engaged delegates with examples from his own experience, as well as questions that explored various aspects of supervisors' health and safety responsibilities. Here are some highlights.
1. Have your supervisors received the training needed to fulfill their health and safety responsibilities?
The Occupational Health and Safety Act expects supervisors to be the front-line guardians of healthy and safe workers, and a critical component of your workplace's Internal Responsibility System. Does your supervisor training program achieve this?
2. Do they understand what the hazards are?
If you're a supervisor, you need to know so that you can advise any worker of potential hazards in your workplace. The stakes are high. Nobody wants to look at themselves in the mirror every day for the rest of their life and know they could have done something better.
3. Do they participate in developing and updating hazard inventories?
The best inventories - an assessment what we do, how it could hurt us, how badly, and what we need to do to protect ourselves - will come from your own empoyees because they understand the hazards. With a really solid hazard inventory in hand, you can ask people above you for a budget to support control measures, and they'll deliver it. Without a hazard inventory, how can you know what precautions to take?
4. Do they participate in workplace inspections? Do they keep notes and maintain records? Follow up?
5. Have they been trained to respond to emergencies? Are your supervisors comfortable with what they're supposed to do? Have they participated in drills? They have to be ready. Incidents don't always happen in the middle of shift hours.
6. Do they know how to interact with an inspector?
Do they know what to say and what not to say?
7. Do they lead by example?
Any worker with aspirations will try to demonstrate their supervisor's behaviour. "What's important to my boss is important to me.'
8. Do they correct unsafe behaviour, recognize safe behaviour, and reward speaking up?
Do they coach? Take time to say, 'Good job'? If someone brings a hazard to their attention, do the supervisors thank them? Same with work refusals, another opportunity to investigate a hazard that may have been missed. Do they have time in their day to spend on the floor observing workers?
9. Do your supervisors have communication tools and techniques they can draw from?
Do you share with them hazard alerts, lost-time injury frequency and severity reports, safety newsletters? Do they have the skills and resources to conduct daily toolbox meetings? Pre-shift meetings? Do they distribute pre-shift checklists? Are the results reviewed and acted on?
10. Do they share information with other supervisors and departments?
Do they capture lessons learned? Share hazards or incident reports with other supervisors?
How WSPS can help
If you've identified any gaps in the support you provide supervisors, we can help. Here's how: