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"Safety performance is a reflection of a company’s efforts to control loss. Not satisfied with your safety efforts and achievements? Making change happen for the better is like peeling back the layers of an onion to get to the core issue," says Dan Hannan, Corporate Safety Director for Merjent, Inc.

Not Satisfied With Your Safety Performance?

The Value Proposition

Losses are not good for business.  Injuries or property damage cost money and threaten sustainability in a number of ways and often result in bad morale, lost productivity, lost customer opportunities, and higher insurance premiums to name a few.

Safety performance is a reflection of a company’s efforts to control loss.  Performance can be measured by a number of different metrics, both leading and lagging, including injury frequency and severity, effectiveness of safety messaging, and verification that process and procedures actually work.  Not satisfied with your safety efforts and achievements?  Making change happen for the better is like peeling back the layers of an onion to get to the core issue.  Each layer pulled away represents supporting parts of a company’s safety management effort, such as the development of policies and procedures.

So what’s at the core?  It’s the human element and the freedom of choice to, for instance, by-pass a machine guard to get a task done a little quicker.  To influence or persuade one’s opinion to make a good choice often involves improving the perceived value of safety.  Where personal risk tolerance is allowed to be exercised, the organization performs poorly as if everyone is not singing off of the same sheet.  Signs and symptoms of failure to effectively communicate safety expectations and value include:

  • All employees, including management, are not held accountable for their actions
  • Praise and discipline are not fair and consistent
  • Expectations are not effectively communicated
  • Management does not lead by example and reinforce the value of safety (walk the walk)
  • Procedures and/or training are ineffective
  • The company’s beliefs, values, and practices or its “culture” is not understood and fails to serve as a leading principle

Peeling Back the Layers

Changing decision-making behavior for the good starts by looking at how expectations are communicated and what is the most influential way of reaching workers.  What type of a safety message is delivered, from whom, and how is the message received?  To answer this question requires an understanding of the roles, responsibilities, and relationships within the organization.  The following need to be answered before a performance improvement plan can be prepared.

  • What is the current state-of-safety in the eyes of the workforce? Do they think the current safety programs are effective or a joke?  Do they receive regular feedback on their efforts or are they in the dark?  A perception survey provides insight into what the workforce thinks and believes about its safety processes and culture.  The survey requires that questions be carefully crafted to accurately identify the current safety pulse of the organization.
  • Understanding the organizations hierarchy including roles and responsibilities allows for an understanding of how information flows and the lines of authority and accountability.
  • What are the real problems? Small group or one-on-one discussions with a cross-section of the workforce helps reveal contributing issues like labor-management discord, poor communication, management styles, and misaligned priorities like valuing production over safety.  Backstories and festering issues can be revealed and are often very helpful.

About The Author

Mr. Hannan is the Corporate Safety Director for Merjent, Inc., and environmental consultancy in Minneapolis, MN providing services to the oil and gas industry. Feel free to email Mr. Hannan with comments or questions at dhannan@merjent.com. Visit Merjent, Inc. at www.merjent.com.

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