There are some simple truths in the world of safety management. Some of those truths are based on the natural order of logic and practicality. We know that every company that is getting excellent safety results for their safety management efforts didn’t start out that way. They had to take a journey of discovery and creation that got them to where they are now. I call it the Safety Continuum. I first introduced this observation in my book The Emperor Has No Hard Hat – Achieving REAL Workplace Safety Results.
Every company at this very moment is somewhere on their journey to safety excellence. They are somewhere in their Safety Continuum. Some are just starting and are busy gathering the fundamental tools they need on their journey. Companies typically develop their safety program by documenting their intentions to operate safely in a safety program policy manual. The manual usually contains the company’s internal responsibility system details, as well as the forms to use and the directions to follow to accomplish the desire of being a safe company. Some companies are refining and refitting already somewhat successful activities. Some are at the point where, because of what they are actively managing, their places of work are going very long periods of time without injury and illness to their workers. Wherever your company is in your evolution, there are natural steps for you to take to increase your effectiveness and efficiency.
The Famous Bell Shaped Curve
I’m not aware of any scientifically supervised studies that would independently prove exactly where different companies are at in their evolution. I do know that your employees know where you are, and if asked they will tell you. This is the power of the perception survey. Given the opportunity to answer anonymously, without fear of reprisal, employees will tell you the truth about what they think and do about safety. For this to be successful, you would have to establish a safe environment for them to tell you the truth. If it wasn’t safe to tell the boss there are short comings, then the short comings will be there, but never openly discussed. It’s a bit like having everyone in a room with an elephant and nobody is talking about it. If you look at the illustration (see Figure 4), the graph does not represent any real data- only the theory that the normal distribution bell-shaped curve is alive and well in the world of safety management. This representative picture of the theory tells us that some companies aren’t managing safety very well, and some companies are excelling. It also indicates that the vast majority of companies are somewhere in the middle of their journey. I’d like to believe that in our industrialized society with our laws and our moral compass, the curve is skewed to the positive side and that more companies are further along heading for excellence than are not.
I can tell you with some confidence that some portion of the corporate populations are purposely not complying with the minimum safety standards. The people running these companies are, quite frankly, idiots, and I would love nothing better than to read that the local OH&S government enforcement agencies are writing these companies orders to improve and prosecuting them for violations. I hope that the ones not getting the point will have their actions escalate to a point where they are put out of business. I have no compassion for theses criminals.
The next groups of folks are those people running companies that are what I refer to as reluctant compliers. I have a get deal of compassion for these folks who don’t yet realize that doing safety for the government is not the best way to operate your business. They simply don’t have all of the fact to realize that managing safety actually makes your company thrive. They are just in need of a bit of information and some coaching. All will be better for these folks in the future.
The third group is made up of those people running companies who have evolved passed doing just the minimum, and realize the real value of managing safety. They are spending some of their resources to improve their capacity to do their work in a safe and healthy manner. These folks are finding binders with safety elements and procedures. They are minimizing their safety hazards and training their people to work safely. These companies are on the road to excellence. Even if there are some rocky roads ahead, they are at least heading in the right direction. I believe the vast majority of companies are in this phase of their evolution. In fact I believe if you are reading this book you are no doubt thinking about this stage or the next one. You see, when you reach this stage and have built all of your procedures and developed all of your policies and completed all of your audits (perhaps for several years) you will become dissatisfied with your progress because it will have stopped. You can only get so much out of this stage. Your frustration will grow with your lack of progress. You will have nagging injury trends and be frustrated by not knowing what you can do next. It’s for this group of managers that I wrote “The Emperor Has No Hard Hat – Achieving REAL Workplace Safety Results”-those folks looking to improve.
The fourth group is the collection of companies who have decided to actively chase safety excellence. They have developed their plans and have realized they need to change what and how they manage safety. They’ve started to integrate their efforts. They are working on the Integrated Safety Management System (either my model or another one). They have moved from saying that safety is number one to realizing that safe production is number one. This is a very exciting group to work with as they are inspired and on the path to excellence. They see major headway as a result of their efforts and have started working longer and longer time periods without any downgrading incidents. Injuries and damage are finally in control and there are lots of reasons to feel good about what they are doing. Employees are truly engaged in creating safety. Safety is practical! By the way, these companies are GREAT places to work. We know that because their employees will tell us that they are!
The final stage exists when you know that how you handle safety is essential to your company’s success. Your company actually starts to share stories of everyone’s successes, and these stories start helping other companies recognize the potential of thinking about and managing their safety efforts in a positive way. You’ve arrived and are what many would consider world class! Now you need to constantly learn and improve your safety culture.
So don’t feel frustrated. Recognize that you need to try and move forward, and you will see that today isn’t forever and that doing different things will get you different results. You’ll realize that there are some very practical things that you can do to improve you safety outcomes.