Helping or Hurting: Do Safety Observations Work?

“The boss will be doing safety observations today.” What do you think your worker’s immediate reaction is to that statement? Unless you work in a family-owned business, it’s likely, not positive, and maybe not even then. They are probably filled with dread, and it’s not because they’re unsafe workers or you’re a terrible supervisor. It’s because your collective experience has shown that this will probably be a waste of time for everyone involved. Safety observation visits from leadership don’t add any value, especially when it is a hurried attempt to meet a quota or check a box. Without an organized approach, in-field engagement probably doesn’t positively change the organization. What does an organized approach to in-field oversight look like? For starters, you need to know “when” and “how” to engage.

When is the right time for a safety observation? Identifying what NOT to do might be a good place to start. Does this look familiar? You do indeed have to meet a set number of field observations. You spend the week chained to your desk by emails, conference calls, and all sorts of administrative work. By the end of the week, there is little time for a thoughtful approach to engaging with the workers. It becomes nothing more than a drive-by event, just enough to check that box. Find something to correct, find something to reinforce, go back to your desk, and put it on the report. It’s not great, but it’s what you have to do with your limited time. You need to schedule the time and make it sacred. Look at the work schedule and determine which activities are going to give you and your workers the most bang for the buck. Commit to that time and try not waiver. There will be shifting priorities and emergent work, but make missing a high-value engagement the exception, not the norm.

Now that you have the “when” carved out start preparing for “how” you are going to engage. There are a number of approaches, but some basic principles tend to hold true. To keep it simple, so you can focus on adding value rather than getting bogged down in the process, we use the acronym COACH. Communicate, Observe, Acknowledge, Change, and Help. There is a great amount of detail around each of these attributes, but in the interest of brevity, we will cover the 10,000-foot view of each one.


This is the Coach communicating with their team job-specific expectations, the big picture importance of their work, specific stop-work criteria, and his/her role in ensuring safety.


Observe the behaviors (not results), recognize areas for improvement, and stay in their leadership role (not grabbing a tool and “showing ‘em how it’s done”?


A is for acknowledge. The Coach recognizes proper behaviors with specific, timely, and personal positive reinforcement.


By change, we mean the Coach leading organizational change by promoting the use of human performance standards and expectations to improve the overall team.


And now we arrive at help. The Coach helps, by listening to concerns, asking about job challenges, and working toward solutions.

As we’ve mentioned before, effective Management is a critical part of the REMEDY process for true culture change. The frontline leader is the person in the best position to see the worker behaviors (RE) and recognize the latent organizational weaknesses that need to be addressed (ED). They are the glue that holds it all together and must be given all the tools necessary to ensure continued success.

Looking to give your team the proper tools? Reach out to us today, and let’s get started on improving your company’s human performance.

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