This article will explore both sides of the important topic of success and failure in the context of safety program management. The model is an eight-step approach adapted from transforming an organization as presented in two management books by Harvard Professor John Kotter. In both texts he indicates that several organizations have used the model as a step change for success. Safety management and business management have many things in common, this article will discuss these in the form of a roadmap for safety, health and environmental improvement.

Why Ask the Question - Do Safety Programs Fail or Succeed?

The numbers of injuries, illnesses and incidents have been the historic bellweather for the success or failure in safety and health programs. These safety metrics are typically reported in the form of frequency and severity rates. For many years safety programs have used these numbers for goals of the program outcome. If a frequency rate is above or below an industry index the program has failed or needs improvement or is a success. The definition of fail is- to not succeed, be unable to do or become what is wanted, expected or attempted; come out badly. Failure is defined as the fact of failing or lack of success.

It goes without saying that safety program manager wants to succeed. Success as noted above is based on a steady decrease in the numbers. In some cases the workers compensation experience modifier is also used as a standard for program success. There is a major downside to this approach. A single significant circumstance or event can impact this number in a negative manner for three years. A safety manager of a large social service agency has a decrease of the experience modifier as her as her performance indicator. A decrease in this metric is important but it is easily impacted in a negative fashion as a result of a single failure.

Examples of Organizational Failure

In his commentary on the Chernobyl Disaster, Dietrich Dorner stated, "failure is when someone did not perform a task that he (she) should have performed. Note that the word "safely" or "in a safe manner" is implied in this statement. Although the task that Dorner described had a significant or serious consequence. Any task that is not performed in a safe manner can have a serious consequence. Henry Petroski in his review of engineering disasters describes failure in a slightly different way. He says 'failure appears to be inevitable in the wake of prolonged success, which encourages lower margins of safety." He also goes on to state " failure in turn leads to greater safety margins and hence, new periods of success".

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.