Although battling inertia to transform a safety culture is a difficult and daunting challenge, it's an achievable goal. The following example illustrates how an organization applied effective strategic planning - with volunteer cross-functional committees - to enlist the support of upper management, prioritize safety-improvement goals, and establish a change process that will help them to achieve a sustainable zero-incident workplace.

Safety as a key to good business

Most organizations may say they value life and limb, but the brutal reality is that many find it difficult to commit necessary capital, processes, and empowered employee resources to safety. A multi-year plan to improve quality, production and delivery (customer service) is expected by most organizations. A strategic approach to achieve greater market share keeps departments headed for common goals. Quality assurance dedicates ongoing processes to reach zero-error performance, and the vision for customer satisfaction benchmarks extend well beyond regulatory requirements. By comparison, safety is often relegated as a chore - important, but not mission critical nor does it employ the same business focus as cost, quality and customer service.

Organizations that limit their safety plans to compliance training, observation programs, and recognition initiatives typically fail their safety performance. Too often, the approach to safety is more tactical than strategic. It involves few decision-makers versus many, and measures undesirable outcomes (injury statistics) versus positive (culture excellence) performance characteristics. Such a shortsighted, short-term approach keeps organizations stuck at a static injury-rate plateau. Some even refer to it as faux safety.

Why don't companies leverage proven "business-school" processes to achieve safety excellence? Why not apply strategy and planning tools to attain best-of-class safety? The fact is that these tools are readily available and we can apply them to safety successfully. A growing number of organizations that make a safety paradigm shift are able to benefit from their new safety performance and impact all aspects of the organization. The difficulty, of course, is getting started and overcoming the status quo - educating and getting traction. But once the effort breaks through, the advantages can be profound. Not only will companies begin to consistently experience safety's integral relationship with quality, production, and delivery, they will also begin to see how strong safety performance significantly impacts the bottom line.

How are organizations able to make a change? They can start by applying the same proven strategic planning tools that have been growing businesses for decades. The following is an example.

Identify the Vulnerabilities

While injury and incident data - injury rates, types, audits and other downstream metrics - are readily available and a good place to start, a true assessment of the health of a safety culture demands an entirely different set of diagnostics and tools, which include:

  • Self-Assessment with the Safety Maturity Grid

  • Indicators of Impending Doom

  • Roundtable discussions

  • Personal interviews

  • The Safety Perception Survey

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