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Head to Head Interview: What are the Top 3 Issues Facing Safety Managers in 2019?

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In this IMPROV® Learning Head to Head, two expert military safety professionals share their views when asked, “What are the top 3 issues facing military safety managers in 2019?” Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.

Commander Hatch, USN is the Safety Officer of a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Officer Frank is the Safety Director of the public shipyard where the aircraft carrier is currently undergoing an extended maintenance period.

What is the biggest issue facing military safety managers in 2019?

Hatch: The single biggest issue I have is weaving safety into the culture of the ship’s crew. We have no trouble getting people to think about what they need to do to get the ship out to sea and launching and recovering aircraft efficiently, but it can be tough to get them to remember safety management is right up there with every other aspect of mission accomplishment as a priority.

Frank: One of the biggest safety issues for civilians working on ships in the shipyard is blending standards with the Navy crews. Every ship has a different set of norms that they bring to the shipyard. For us to operate onboard ships alongside the crew, we have to maintain the standards but at the same time recognize that it’s their ship. If we can get everyone on the same page with safety early in the ship’s time in the yards, I think it really helps everything fall into place and keeps us on schedule.

What is the second biggest issue?

Hatch: The second biggest issue I have is keeping my CO engaged with the most pertinent safety issues we’re facing today rather than the broader safety performance of the ship. It means so much more to the sailors to see the CO engaging directly with the details of safety than me as the Safety Officer. For example, right now we’re doing a lot of welding, so that means spaces on the carrier surrounding the welding site must be cleared and the welding has to be fully enclosed. If I see sparks and correct that issue, it’s expected. But if the CO takes the time to stop and correct a safety issue like that, word gets around quick that he’s serious about safety.

Frank: One key obstacle I have to overcome with my many supervisors is keeping them away from what I call, “Talking in slogans.” We have posters to say, “Let’s think about safety today.” I tell the higher-ups what I think the safety issues of the day are and try to get them to include those specifics in their interactions. It has much more impact when the Deputy Director of Operations for the shipyard says, “There’s a pallet of unlabeled HAZMAT on the pier right now,” at a meeting than something like, “I think our safety culture is good.”

What is the third issue facing your unit?

Frank: It’s a good problem to have, but one major issue I have is harnessing the resources available to me, not resource scarcity. It’s the opposite of when I worked at a private shipyard. Just about everything you could possibly want is available somewhere around this shipyard; it’s just a matter of knowing how to make it available.

Hatch: At least in the Navy and especially in aviation, we’ve done a pretty good job of centralizing safety training. I think we learned our lesson some time ago that money and time spent on safety is more than balanced out by money and time we don’t have to spend replacing broken equipment and people.

The issues that face military safety managers are similar to those facing safety managers from around the globe. Creating a comfortable safety culture, emphasizing the importance of safety to employees and obtaining safety resources are on the top of the to-do list for many organizations. The team at IMPROV®Learning can help you resolve these issues and more. Do not hesitate to request your free trial today.