Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

November 17, 2014


Keys to effective safety supervision

Man with yellow hard hat and vest, and woman with red hard hat and clipboard

The front-line supervisor is considered by many to play a pivotal role in worker protection. Oregon OSHA's Craig Hamelund offers four tips on how to make safety supervision an effective part of your safety program.

1. Involve new employees in job hazard analysis.

One workplace Hamelund recently visited had developed job hazard analyses (JHAs) for all tasks. JHAs, also known as job safety analyses, detail the steps involved in performing each job safely. The supervisors at this site use JHAs in an innovative way to enhance new-hire training.

As new employees observe a task being performed, they are asked to complete, to the best of their ability, a job hazard analysis, noting the risks associated with each step. The supervisor recognizes that a new employee may lack specific knowledge of the task and the hazards. But asking the worker to prepare a JHA gives the supervisor a baseline understanding of what that person knows. Next, the employee meets with the supervisor who compares the JHA with the "official" hazard analysis in place for that job. The comparison reveals gaps in understanding.

While the practice benefits the new hire, Hamelund says it also helps the supervisor to identify strengths and weaknesses in the worker's safety knowledge. In some cases, a new employee will bring valuable insight from a past job, which may be shared during the JHA process.

2. Encourage employee ownership.

Hamelund also notes a trend toward increased levels of employee ownership, with managers delegating safety supervisory responsibility to the front line. For example (see more in the industry example below), at many sites, supervisors are identifying program champions in areas like fall protection, PPE, and electrical safety. These individuals are specially trained and given supervisory responsibilities. The technique, says Hamelund, "helps solidify the chain of command while getting employees involved."

This is especially effective in construction workplaces. A quick toolbox talk or tailgate meeting before the workday is valuable. But if you add some employee accountability, such as charging a PPE point person with making sure protective gear is in good working order, the impact is stronger.

3.Discipline appropriately.

Another practice Hamelund recommends involves helping supervisors determine if discipline is called for, or if an incident occurred because the supervisor failed to meet his or her responsibilities. The technique is based on the five duties of a safety supervisor, as described in the Oregon OSHA workshop. In order to decide if discipline is appropriate, a supervisor should insert the words "Did I?" in front of each duty as follows:

"If any of these cannot be checked off, discipline is probably not appropriate because it means that the supervisor failed to provide something workers need," says Hamelund.

4. Be visible.

Finally, Hamelund advises supervisors to be present and involved. Be visible, communicate, and act as a resource to those under your supervision, he says. Have the "personality and patience" required to lead. Sure, you have to play the role of the enforcer sometimes. But don't let that part of the job dominate.

Craig Hamelund is a safety specialist and educator with Oregon OSHA.

Adapted from "Keys to effective safety supervision" [, November 05, 2014]

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