I recently read a brief article regarding the former Captain of “The Best Damn Ship in the Navy.” The article, an interview with Capt. D. Michael Abrashoff, formerly Captain of the USS Benfold (shown below), specifically focuses on his view that safety must be a top priority in any workplace. As he says, even on a ship safety is something that you cannot just “order.” Rather, safety is something that has to be part of every individual’s daily thinking — from the Captain all the way down to the lowest ranking sailor.
Captain Abrashoff’s perspective is useful for any workplace leader or any HR professional with responsibilities for workplace safety — and his point would be that every leader and HR professional has that responsibility. The Captain offers some points worth considering and taking to heart in creating or reviewing your own safety program:
- Creating a culture of safety is a must.
As he notes, even the Captain of a ship cannot “order” safety. A belief in the importance of safety becomes a “culture of safety” when it permates everything. Everyone has to feel the importance of doing every task safely.
- When employees are injured, they don’t feel safe and that affects performance, not just medical costs.
Safety affects the success of the organization as a whole. It cannot be compartmentalized or just made a facet of certain actions or obviously dangerous situations; it must be considered in everything that is done and recognized in everything that is not done too. Safety impacts the bottom line in more than just lost work time, medical costs and workers’ compensation claims.
- A safety culture takes actions, not just words.
Captain Abrashoff not only scheduled training on safe practices and improvements, but he attended the training and participated in the initatives right along side everyone else on the ship. By sending the message that safety considerations applied to everyone, he helped communicate the right message. As he says, “Every sailor knew that I felt their safety was a top priority of mine and not just lip service.”
- Any sailor could stop any process if they thought safety was being impaired.
- Any sailor had a direct line to me if they thought their chain of command wasn’t sufficiently concerned or didn’t see what they were seeing.
These two concepts are key to an effective safety program. Employees will not believe there is a real commitment to safety if they have no role in it or if they are required to proceed with any action they consider unsafe. Knowing they have the right to say “stop” and that they can go to the top if they need to — even in a super-heirarchical organization such as a branch of the military — underscored that the Captain was serious about safety. That made the workplace safer.
While a Navy ship is not your regular “workplace,” the lessons of Captain Abrashoff’s experience offer great guidance to HR professionals and leaders in any workplace.