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Strengthening Your Safety Culture

Since safety cultures consist of shared beliefs, values, attitudes, and practices of the organization they create the atmosphere upon which we operate in. Your organizational culture will either empower your organization to create positive results or it will create negative results.

If your organization is grappling with some the common organizational roadblocks listed below what can you do?

  • “It will never happen to me”
  • "What's in it for me"
  • Competing priorities – production/mission prevails
  • Overwhelmed with the workload
  • Double standards
  • Fear & lack of trust
  • Poor communication and listening
  • Them vs. us attitudes
  • Not willing to take personal responsibility
  • Shifting blame
  • Lack of consistency & follow through - past efforts fade away 

Any process that brings all levels within the organization together, to work on a common goal that everyone holds in high value, will strengthen the organizational culture. As people work together, create a positive outcome, communication, trust, self-esteem, ect., can’t help but be improved.

Worker safety and health is a unique area that can do all of this. It is one of the few initiatives that provide for significant benefits for the front line employee. As a result, buy-in can be achieved enabling the organization to effectively implement change. Obtaining front line buy-in for improving worker safety and health is much easier than it is to get buy-in for improving quality or increasing profitability. When the needed process improvements are implemented all three areas typically improve and a stronger culture is developed. It can support continuous improvement in all business areas, not just safety and health.

The following represents major processes and milestones that are needed in order to successfully implement a change process for safety and health. It is intended to focus you on the process rather than individual tasks. It is common to have a tendency to focus on the accomplishment of tasks, i.e., to train everyone on a particular concern or topic or implement a new procedure for incident investigations, etc. Sites that maintain their focus on the larger process to be followed are far more successful. They can see the “forest from the “trees” and thus can make mid-course adjustments as needed. They never lose sight of their intended goals, therefore, they tend not to get distracted or allow obstacles to interfere with their mission. The process itself will take care of the task implementation and ensure that the appropriate resources are provided and priorities are set.

Obtain Top Management “buy-in”—This is the first step and it is essential that it is accomplished. Top managers must be on board. If they are not, safety and health will compete against core business issues such as production and profitability, a battle that will almost always be lost. They need to understand the need for change and be willing to support it. Showing the costs to the organization in terms of dollars (direct and indirect costs of accidents) that are being lost, and the organizational costs (fear, lack of trust, feelings of being used, etc) can be compelling reasons for looking at needing to do something different. Since losses due to accidents are bottom line costs to the organization, controlling these will more than pay for the needed changes. In addition, when successful you will also go a long way in eliminating organizational barriers such as fear, lack of trust, etc. Issues that typically get in the way of everything that the organization wants to do.

Create labor “buy-in” for the needed changes by building an alliance or partnership between management, your union (if one exists) and employees. A compelling reason for the change must be spelled out to everyone. People have to understand WHY they are being asked to change what they normally do, the benefits of doing so, and what it will look like if they are successful. This needs to be done up-front. If people get wind that something “is going down” and haven’t been formally told anything, they will tend to naturally resist and opt out.

Build Trust—Trust is a critical part of accepting change and management needs to understand that this is the bigger picture, outside of all the details. Trust will occur as different levels within the organization work together, communicate and begin to see success.

Self-Assessments/Bench Marking—In order to get where you want to go, it is essential to know your starting point. A variety of self‑audit mechanisms can be employed to compare your site processes with other recognized models of excellence such as Star VPP sites. Visiting other sites to gain first hand information on how you compare is invaluable.

Initial Training of management-supervisory staff, union leadership, and safety and health committee members, and a representative number of hourly employees. This may include safety and health training and any needed management, team building, hazard recognition, communication training, etc. This provides you with a core group of people to draw upon as resources. It also gets key personnel onboard with needed changes.

Establish a Steering Committee comprised of management, employees, union, and safety staff. The purpose of this group is to facilitate, support, and direct the change processes. They provide overall guidance and direction and, avoid duplication of efforts. To be effective, the group must have the authority to get things done.

Develop Site Safety Vision, Key Policies, Goals, Measures, and Strategic and Operational Plans. These materials provide guidance and serve as a check-in point. They can be used to ask whether the decision you’re about to make supports or detracts from your intended improvement process?

Align the Organization by establishing a shared vision of safety and health goals and objectives. Upper management must be willing to support by providing resources (time) and holding managers and supervisors accountable for doing the same. The entire management and supervisory staff need to set the example and lead the change. Successfully creating change is all about leadership.

Define Specific Roles and Responsibilities for safety and health at all levels of the organization. Safety and health must be viewed as everyone’s responsibility. Line management must take responsibility and be held accountable for safety and health performance in the same fashion as they do production and other core business functions.

Develop a System of Accountability for all levels of the organization. Everyone must play by the same rules and be held accountable for their areas of responsibility. Signs of a strong culture are when the individuals hold themselves accountable.

Develop Measures and an ongoing feedback system. Drive the system with upstream activity measures that encourages positive change. Examples include, the number of hazards reported or corrected, numbers of inspections conducted, number of equipment checks, JSA’s, prestart-up reviews conducted, etc. While it is always nice to know what the bottom line performance is, i.e., accident rates, over emphasis on these and using them to drive the system typically only drives accident reporting under the table. It is all too easy to manipulate accident rates, which will only result in risk issues remaining unresolved and for future more serious events to occur.

Develop Policies for Recognition, Rewards, Incentives, and Ceremonies. Again reward employees for doing the right things and encourage participation in the upstream activities. Continually reevaluate these policies to ensure their effectiveness and to ensure that they do not become entitlement programs.

Awareness Training and Kick-off for all employees. It’s not enough for a part of the organization to be involved and know about the change effort but the entire site needs to know and be involved in some manner. A kick-off celebration can be used to announce it’s a “new day”, to recognize and publicize changes to date, and to seek buy-in for any new procedures and programs.

Implement Process Changes via involvement of management, union (if one is present) and employees using a “Plan Do Act Check” type of process. The SafePath Master Control Plan provides tools for creating, publishing and providing a central access point to all of your critical safety documentation.

Continually Measure Performance, Communicate Results and Celebrate your Successes. Publicizing results is very important to sustaining efforts and keeping everyone motivated. Everyone has a need to be updated throughout the process. Progress reports during normal shift meetings allowing time for comments back to the steering committee opens communications, and also allows for input. Everyone needs to have a voice; otherwise, they will be reluctant to buy-in. A system can be as simple as using current meetings, a bulletin boards, newsletters, email, etc.

On-going Support—reinforcement, feedback, reassessment, mid-course corrections, and on-going training is vital to sustaining continuous improvement.