Picture this, it's an average winter morning in the Midwest and there was an ice storm overnight, leaving the sidewalks and roads covered in a sheet of ice. I was in the school drop-off line waiting my turn and watching all the kids hurry into school. I noticed a certain spot on the sidewalk was particularly icy as I observed many children slip and fall on that same spot. Don’t worry, I don’t believe any of them were injured because they all got right back up and kept going, no tears that I could see (I guess that is an advantage to being low to the ground).

I pointed out the window and told my kids to watch out for that spot on their way in because it looked really slippery. They both nodded and got out of the car to make their way into the building. I couldn’t see whether they heeded my warnings or not, I hope so.

After exiting the drop-off line I couldn’t help but think about all those kids who fell (it was at least 10), so I parked my car and went into the building to raise the concern with the school staff so that some sort of safeguard could be put in place. The school agreed to put cones around that spot to deter other children from walking there.

I share this story because it made me think about Value Capture’s mission, “Habitual excellence, starting with safety.” Keeping staff safe is the ultimate sign of respect. Here are some things that leaders can do to champion safety.

Talk about Safety Regularly

First, leaders should be talking about safety regularly. At Value Capture, we start each meeting with a safety briefing that encourages staff to be on the lookout for risks and share any safety risks they may have encountered recently. Sometimes the meeting leader will remind us to use all five of our senses to alert us of potential risks.

Like many parents, I often tell my kids things like “be safe,” or “be careful.” I probably use these phrases so often that they fall on deaf ears. So now I am taking learnings from our safety brief and changing things up. Trying to point out potential risks to my kids, as in the scenario above when I was more specific by saying, “Do you see those kids falling on that slippery spot? Make sure to walk around it so you don’t fall too.”

If you don’t talk about safety regularly with your team, find a way to do so.

Lead by Example

You must lead by example. This shows your team that you are committed to keeping them safe. It is important for leaders to demonstrate that they are acting in a safe manner and to speak up when they see unsafe conditions. Think of safety as a precondition to all work; it is more than a priority, it is a necessity. Demonstrate this thinking in your actions so that others in your organization will follow.

In the above situation, I was the leader and I made sure to point out a risk when I saw it. I also went the extra mile and brought the situation to the attention of the school staff so they could address it.

Address Safety Issues Immediately

Leaders need to address safety issues immediately and insist that others do the same. This reinforces that safety is a priority and is not taken lightly. When you step in and address safety issues right away you will also have a better chance at solving them to root and ensuring that the same issue does not arise again.

In the example of the dangerous ice spot, I did my best to address the risk immediately by doing two things. One, I pointed out the risk to my children. And two, I took action by raising the concern with the school staff. The building engineer came up with safety measures and implemented them quickly. This was a countermeasure. To truly solve the problem further action should be taken. For example, the building engineer could walk the sidewalks prior to students arriving and set cones, or maybe there is damage to the sidewalk that creates a condition that makes that spot icier (if this is the case then repairing the damage would be the way to solve to root).

Spread Learning to Others

Once a safety risk has been mitigated, it is important that the learning about root causes and prevention be shared with others. Hearing about experiences and prevention measures will help others be proactive about safety. It will also reinforce the goal of keeping staff safe. It is important to share not only the countermeasures put in place but also the root of the problem and how that was remedied.

In this example that I shared, there was no real evidence of sharing the learning. This could have started with something as simple as a kid who fell warning the next person who came by. Or even a kid using their observations of seeing someone fall to alert themselves to the fact that there was a risk of slipping. Maybe the building engineer spread the learning by checking for other icy areas or notifying the school district of the issue and how it was managed so other schools could do the same. And hopefully, try to treat ice in problem areas in a different way.

Healthcare leaders have the role of championing safety in their organizations. Looking out for the safety of your staff is the ultimate sign of respect, which is the foundation of habitual excellence. Remember to talk about safety regularly, lead by example, address safety issues immediately, and spread the learning to others. 

Learn more about how the habitual excellence framework can help you address the most fundamental issues your organization is facing.  

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