If a survey were conducted of all plant managers, it would likely find that safety is a priority. It might also discover that most have standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place for complying with safety standards, most provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for their employees, and most maintain formal safety training programs. The survey results would also indicate that performance gaps exist. Unfortunately, accidents still occur and accident rates may even continue to rise.
A Safety Culture Has Roots in Trust
A company can change attitudes about good safety habits by building trust-based relationships at every level. When top-level management demonstrates that it values workers more than the statistics that equate accidents with lost dollars, everyone notices. Combining the commitment to those values with resources energizes and empowers effective integration of safety at all levels.
Trust grows with a different approach to accident reporting, and each injury situation presents a learning opportunity. However, a trust-based safety culture refrains from blame, or making examples of employees. Instead, trust-based relationships encourage workers and management to have honest conversations that focus on examining risks and solving problems.
Develop Humility as Part of Your Safety Culture
Accidents can occur anytime, in any location and to anyone. Growing a safety culture requires a combination of active listening and positive reinforcement.
Eliminating at-risk behaviours and bad processes involves engaging all stakeholders and actively seeking opinions and improvement ideas. Rather than passing judgment or punishing incorrect behaviours, an active safety culture recognizes each worker’s contribution and responsibilities to facilitate helping the team succeed.
As safety teams work to solve the root causes of problems, humility allows team members to share lessons learned and to explore effective solutions. Treating a worker who has had an accident with dignity and respect sends a powerful message throughout the company and encourages honest conversations that can power your safety culture. The same worker can emerge as a new advocate and leader fully supporting the culture.
Ask the “Five Whys”
Examining risks and solving problems require process analysis. Teams of employees charged with the responsibility for preventing accidents should carefully consider the processes that created the environment for the accident. In some instances, safety teams may find that processes did not exist, that workers did not follow the appropriate processes, or that processes did not align with safety standards.
A safety team consisting of management and workers may want to use a form of root-cause analysis called the “five whys” when evaluating accident cause-and-effect relationships. The “five whys” technique prompts safety teams to employ deductive reasoning, examine processes, avoid quick conclusions and emphasize causes rather than symptoms. Team members define the problem, ask questions to fully expose the problem and develop possible solutions.
The fifth question leads us to the root cause of the accident and to a change in the processes followed for upgrading systems and updating related process databases. The use of the “five whys” encourages a comprehensive approach that goes beyond symptoms and helps to build a team approach to solving the root cause of the accident.
Take a Fresh Look at Training
A safety-first culture that prioritizes accident prevention begins with building employee knowledge about hazards in the workplace. A safety training programs often misses the mark if the program fails to address the specific needs of the trainees and actively engage their feedback. In assessing education and training needs, your safety teams should ensure that workers can build their experiences into:
• Identifying training needs and learning objectives;
• Creating a learning plan;
• Selecting the training methods; and
• Evaluating the effectiveness of the training.
A successful training programs presents resources relevant to worker responsibilities. Training program best practices include providing specific content about national safety standards, company procedures, risk assessments and accident reporting.
Instructors can use this information as a baseline to:
• Define the goals workers should accomplish post-training;
• Identify correct safety behaviours for standard operations and emergencies; and
• Establish performance standards.
Training becomes more relevant through the assessments given by workers and constructive feedback offered by instructors to trainees about their learning progress.
Include Employees in Your Fundamental Approach
The same management principles and practices that apply to operations, finance and quality systems apply to safety. Safety policies establish accountability through effective operational procedures. A strong safety culture engages employees when establishing policies, procedures, and practices that respond to standard operational activities or emergency responses.
Your systemic approach to safety should involve workers in developing communication channels about site safety and control plans, work rules and procedures. Your approach should also establish a framework for emergency responses built around an incident command system that manages operations during an emergency and applies the skills of specialist employees and support staff.
Good safety management includes the capability to document procedures and investigate accidents. As you encourage proper record keeping, include workers in maintaining permits, having the right PPE in place, analyzing the reasons for accidents, and implementing corrective actions. For example, your safety team can influence the culture by involving employees in daily inspections of the workplace to ensure compliance with organizational and national safety standards.
Believe in Your Safety Culture
The word culture connects beliefs, attitudes, and values to the need for achieving a safe workplace. While achieving a safety culture requires engaging every employee, changing the workplace culture and committing to new attitudes and values take time and continuous effort. Some employees may not accept the value of a safety culture.
Management must consistently communicate with all stakeholders that accidents are an unacceptable part of doing business. Overcoming these and other barriers requires a commitment to change that will likely take several years to fulfill and then sustain. The belief that change can occur, and that long-term management commitments to the safety culture will yield lasting benefits.
Ted Cowie is Vice-President Sales, Safety and Industrial Products for Motion Industries. Before joining Motion in 2013, he served as Executive Vice-President at Elvex Corp., and as President and COO of Safety Today, Inc., between 2000 and 2011. Ted has served on the Boards of the Safety Equipment Distributors Association (SEDA) and the Safety Marketing Group (SMG).