Safety in Your Project Plan

As the New Year starts off, project teams are being formed to manage the planned work ahead.  Most organizations are hierarchical meaning people report to a more senior person and the progression continues up to the President/CEO who reports to the Board of Directors, commonly referred to as the Board.  The Board reports to the company stockholders comprised of employees and public shareholders alike.  With each management level there is increased scope (span of control) and responsibility which can usually be identified by job title and can be clearly defined by signature authority.  The word ‘manager’ somewhere in the job title is the cognizance that any/all issues should be addressed, however there are some responsibilities such as ‘Safety’ that every company employee shares equally by contributing to a safe work environment.  The manager cannot do it alone neither can anyone else.

The ‘staffing’ manager has that first level responsibility for safety in the area or with the persons reporting to them or both.  If a potential safety concern is identified, it’s an expectation the staffing Manager will address it and resolve it accordingly.  Let's not forget that Safety also includes Ergonomics so a computer monitor placed to low or too high in reality requires the same attention and due diligence as a large coffee spill in the middle of a tile hallway.  Both have the potential to injure an employee causing lost time and medical attention.

In the first paragraph where I stated, the word manager somewhere in the job title’, did you put the words program or project in front of it after reading it.  Did I imply that the program or project manager, who typically manages a team who’s members are comprised from various hierarchical departments also responsible for the team safety either in the area or by individuals.  Some might argue ‘yes’ the program and/or project manager though perhaps not having direct reporting authority of the team members is still a manager and should act upon a safety item or anything else serious the same as a manager should?  The other view could be that the program/project manager advises the team members’ direct manager of the issue as they should handle it.

Each situation can be different and the earnest goal should be for all persons involved to resolve and eliminate the safety issue.  For program/project managers we can apply a simple logic or think of it in this context:

a)      It is the Program/project managers responsibility to ensure the project meets/exceeds chartered goals

b)      The project has a better success rate in meeting those goals if the project executes/runs as smoothly as possible.

c)      Risk management and mitigating risks as much as possible will contribute to a more smoothly run project.

d)      People (team members) getting injured (ergo) is a real risk and should be managed as part of the project.

e)      The longer the project duration, the daily work hours, and/or the higher the pressure for the project completion timing, the higher the risk can be for  people to get injured.

f)       If the risk is realized – people/resources may become unavailable therefore impacting the project.

It makes sense then that the “people” portion of managing this (we don’t want our people getting hurt) is the staff manager and the program/project manager’s equal responsibility.  The program/project manager can also contribute to workplace safety by initiating proactive safety measures during the project lifecycle as follows:

1)      Treat all team members as if you were the reporting or direct manager. In other words if a team member reports a safety problem then stop and act upon it.  This can be as simple as a conversation stating their hands are hurting from typing a lot (possible indication of carpel tunnel syndrome) to observing work from a too low or high placed computer monitor.

2)      At the initiation or explore phase of the PLC (Project Life Cycle) the Program/project manager can add ‘Safety’ along with other key areas.

3)      As project plans are developed, a ‘Safety Plan’ can also be added.  Sure a construction project most likely would have one but a software development project most likely would not.  However if the project work to be performed is developing code then should not the PgM/PjM ensure all computers are set up ergonomically correct, there are no wire management issues, and any other safety concerns are addressed.  Safety could also be incorporated into the project risk management plan.

4)      A safety review is a part of all program/project phase gate decision approval reviews.

5)      At the start of each project team meeting, the PGM/PJM or by team member rotation could do a brief 5 minute safety subject presentation.  It can be one slide and appropriate by season i.e. ice safety in winter and swimming pool safety in summer.

In conclusion the program/project manager needs to ensure a ‘channel’ to the project team members  is available for safety communiqués and awareness.  Though probably over reactive to ‘pepper’ safety checks into PM working documents and devote a lot of agenda time in team meetings but include safety / ergonomic reminders where it might be most beneficial to keep safety awareness/conscious high throughout the project.  Program/project managers need to partner with the staffing managers to ensure a safe work environment for all.