In honor of #NationalSafetyMonth, we’re bringing you a special edition of our Meet Our Experts series. Nate Cook is the Health & Safety Manager for our Yale Cordage and I&I Sling facilities. Every day, he collaborates with our teams around the nation to create safe, healthy workplaces that promote well-being and foster continued success and growth. 

This week, we sat down with Nate to talk about what it takes to build a strong safety culture and how he’s using innovative initiatives to modernize practices. 

Why is safety so integral to a successful team culture?

If we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we find that safety is the second building block just above physiological needs. If we don’t have a working environment where our employees feel safe and comfortable then we will never be able to build a cohesive team culture. By empowering employees to be a part of the safety process they receive skills and knowledge that allows them to be advocates and leaders in the areas they know best. The goal of this is to show to our employees, and to some extent our customers, that safety is not secondary to building world-class products, but is in fact an integral part of our production process.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a safety leader?

To always be able to have an open dialogue about safety with our team members. I am always amazed to hear the insight our team members can provide. A safety leader’s role should not be to simply reference OSHA regulations and dictate what needs to be fixed. Our job is to help connect our employees with information that allows them to identify hazards that may affect them, and then work with them collaboratively to address those hazards.

What are some of the initiatives you and your team are implementing to boost safety practices and awareness?

We are forming our safety culture around the concepts and philosophy of Human and Organizational Performance or better known as HOP. The primary purpose of HOP is to equip our team members with the knowledge, tools and support to identify error likely situations and work with the company to prevent them and learn from them if they do arise. We have also started implementing the Total Worker Health framework established by NIOSH. Our goal with this program is to ensure that our team knows that we value them as a whole person and not just as a worker. With this program, we look to equip our team members to be safe and healthy at work, as well as in the home. Lastly, we are actively implementing a continuous improvement program around Risk Management. This program looks to continuously improve our machinery safety, PPE, ergonomics and material handling programs, among others. All of these initiatives take the approach that a safety program shouldn’t just be about regulatory compliance but should also be about creating a program of workforce sustainability that ensures our employees can be safe and healthy throughout their time with us. 

What advice do you have for employers looking to improve safety culture at the workplace?

Safety professionals and business leaders tend to be incredibly passionate about their ideas and expertise. This passion for business or for safety is incredibly valuable and should never be discouraged, but it should be managed. As leaders it is critical to remember that at the end of the day every worker is a unique individual with family, friends, hobbies, experiences, knowledge and interests that go far beyond one workplace. By acknowledging this, leaders can work together with their employees by having open and constructive dialogue that acknowledges that an employee and leader may not always see eye to eye, but the leader will always listen to their concerns, always explain their decisions and always admit when they were wrong.