Do incidents have to be inevitable? Through education, communication and cooperation you can stay a step ahead by correcting issues before they lead to accidents or injuries.

Someone gets cut on material being processed. Someone else slips and falls on an icy sidewalk. Another person runs a forklift into a rack while retrieving product. Incidents occur, but do they have to?

How can a workplace go from hoping another incident doesn't occur to actively eliminating hazards and preventing incidents?

When we are reactive, we're one step behind. We've not seen that issue or need, and we're not even aware that there's a problem. Conversely, proactive is one step ahead. It's actively looking for issues or needs and correcting them before an incident occurs.

How do we become proactive? There are three things that must occur to transform a company from reactive to proactive: education, communication, and cooperation.

Education: The "Why" of Safety

The first step is education. Safety, although commonly stated, is not common sense. Safety is learned, and to become proactive, we must educate ourselves and our employees.

This means investing in training. It is our responsibility to teach employees about hazards they'll face at work and how to protect themselves (i.e. employees must wear safety glasses in the machine shop), and that is where most companies stop. Legally, they have met the required minimum, but to become proactive, a company must go one step further and educate employees in the "why" of safety.

Without the "why," employees are left with only a command to follow, a rule. With it, employees are actively engaged in safety and empowered to apply their knowledge in other areas. So your employee in the machine shop who has been educated in the "why" of safety now notices that there are other hazards in the workplace where safety glasses might help to prevent an incident.

Communication: Who to Tell

The next step is communication. Now that your employee has applied his knowledge, he must tell someone. Here is an area where many companies break down.

How can you help your employee get the word out?

First, make sure employees know who to go to with safety suggestions. Is it their Supervisor? Plant Manager? Safety Coordinator? Whoever it is that employees go to, coach them to be ready to listen, talk about and/or ask about safety. If leadership doesn't talk about safety, no one else will either.

Second, ensure that there are multiple reporting methods: face-to-face, safety meetings, email, phone calls, voicemail, even a suggestion box. Promote them on bulletin boards, in email and on your intranet.

Third, always follow up on suggestions. The issue communicated must be validated. Always thank the employee. Also, keep the employee informed of the status of his suggestion as well. Nothing kills initiative like ignoring it.

Cooperation: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

If the suggestion is found to be of value, how does a company make it come to fruition? Cooperation.

Typically, multiple parties must unite under this common goal. Management must allocate funds and organize meetings. Maintenance and engineering must designate time and manpower. Safety coordinators must do research and keep tension on the projects. And all of this must occur while your company still functions at optimal efficiency.

The Dilemma

We do not put a high priority on proactive safety because, while still important, it does not seem as pressing as the report that is overdue, production that is behind or the delivery that is missing. That remains true until someone gets hurt, which is why reactive safety is so common.

Becoming proactive is not easy. The good news is, just as this article is laid out in three steps, your transition can follow the same process. Take the pulse at your workplace. Are you doing step one well? If so, check steps two and three. Wherever you fall short, that is where you start your campaign. Begin today and meet incidents head-on with anticipation, not consternation.