In any business venture, we get results through careful planning of activities and through measuring not only the results but the activities that the people undertake to get those results. The creation of safety excellence is accomplished in exactly the same way.
I’m currently preparing a report for a client and I’m listing the things I’ve observed at their various workplaces when I visited over a two-week period. My personal observations and the discussions I had with over 1,100 employees and contractors will be categorized into the areas of discussion listed below. What I’m recommending to my client isn’t really different than what I would recommend to any company that wants to excel at achieving safety results for their considerable efforts.
Here are some of the high-level recommendations for the client and I would ask that you consider these for your company.
(1) Make safety activities personal for everyone. To measure is to motivate. Everyone in the company needs to help create safety. Everyone — from the CEO to the lowest paid employee — needs to have personal activities to assist in the creation of safety and a culture of safety that not only holds people responsible for the creation of safety but holds them accountable by measurement. Normally, this is done through objective setting and measurements during performance reviews. Make safety activities measurable and then hold everyone responsible for doing those activities through performance reviews.
(2) Shift focus from ‘prevention’ to ‘creating safety’. Do the things that have been proven to create safe environments and behaviours. Work on those activities that have high payback. Shifting from the negative measurements of loss and injury will empower the workers to create safety rather than avoid injury. It’s an important distinction that companies achieving safety excellence understand.
(3) Identify and make critical behaviours habitual. Select behaviours that you want to become a habit and work on strategies and tactics with your employees to get those behaviours to happen naturally — not unlike wearing a seatbelt, which has become a habit for most of us. A common example of making something habitual is taking medication or vitamins on a regular basis. Following the ABC — activator, behaviour, consequence — model of human behaviour, the first thing one needs to do is to activate the new behaviour of taking the pill. Leaving the pills in a place where you will notice them will increase the chances that you will remember to take them. Experiencing the consequences of being healthier and having the internal feeling of doing something positive for your health will be a natural consequence of the regimen. It is extremely important to choose these behaviours with your employees. Simply giving them a list of behaviours without allowing them to be part of the decision process leads to less than stellar performance.
(4) Increase the use of tools/equipment inspection checklists. For us to be safe at work, it’s essential that we use the right tools and that those tools are in good working order. The right equipment to do our work is essential. Serious injuries and fatalities happen because of people using the wrong equipment for a critical task or when the equipment used is not up to standard. Each time we do an inspection, we should ensure that everything we need to do our work is in place.
(5) Increase the observations of safe/unsafe behaviours. The real benefits of behaviour observations are the discussions they create — not the “observation cards.” Far too many companies gradually shift their goal to the number of observation cards. Use praise when you can and coaching discussions when needed.
(6) Improve the number and quality of safety discussions. Have great safety discussions and meetings. We can do this by first defining what a great meeting would look like, and then go about creating meetings that happen the way we designed them. Participants in the meeting need to have the power to give input into the meeting process and content. Without their input, these meetings have little chance of achieving the expectations of the participants. Make the participants responsible for the design and quality of the safety meetings that are held.
Creating safety is much different than preventing injuries and loss. When companies change their focus to better align their safety activities to their business processes, their safety outcomes improve.
There’s an old saying that’s been attributed to a number of famous people, and it goes like this: “Do what I do and you’ll get what I get.” I usually like to give credit for the statement to Edwards Deming, who not only taught us how to improve production, but that if we use the same approach and processes, we’ll get much improved safety results.