By Rich Gaul, BWC Safety Technical Adviser
Leadership is the key to creating the organizational change necessary to achieve a world-class safety culture. What is safety culture? Culture is like the wind: you can’t really see it, but you see the effects it has on everything around it. Although you may not be able to see the culture, its presence is very palpable and it influences behaviors and attitudes throughout each workplace. Top management’s commitment, support and attitude about safety will determine what type of safety culture exists in your workplace.
A recent study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) analyzed safety processes and management factors in organizations with high, low, and exceptionally low incidence rates and found significant correlations between safety results and the core management competencies of the organization. The study concluded that “Management commitment to safety is the major controlling influence in obtaining success.”
According to safety expert, the late Dr. Dan Petersen, “Leadership is crucial to safety results, as leadership forms the culture that determines what will and will not work in the organization’s safety efforts.” If leadership is the key to success or failure – top management will either lead the safety culture change or they will be the barrier that prevents it.
It is not enough to simply change objectives, create superficial gimmicks or artificial excitement around safety. A world-class safety culture can only be a reality when safety is fully integrated into the executive mission and the line management organization. Enhancing overall safety in the most efficient manner requires the adoption of a systems approach to safety management.
A systems approach to safety management is the application of engineering and management principles, criteria, and techniques to achieve an acceptable level of safety throughout all phases of a system. It involves a detailed evaluation of and changes to the operational systems, structures and processes that drive organizational performance. This process includes goal setting, planning, documentation, and regular evaluation of performance to ensure that goals are being met. Systems safety necessitates a cultural change in an organization so that “safe operations” is the objective behind every action and decision by both those who develop and oversee procedures and those who carry them out.
Systems safety does not involve imposing an additional layer of oversight or regulations on the organization. Rather, it is an organizational shift that is seamlessly integrated into the routine day-to-day operations. Systems safety takes a proactive approach to safety management that goes beyond the prescriptive audits and checklist-based inspections to develop procedures and indicators that anticipate safety risk. Safety responsibilities are spread throughout all levels and segments of the organization. This increase in the number of people engaged in safety activities makes it less likely that a hazard will go undetected and possibly lead to an accident. System safety recognizes that human and organizational errors can never be entirely eliminated and seeks to reduce them by developing a safety-oriented culture.
For additional information or assistance with your safety management system, please check out our web site at http://www.bwc.ohio.gov/ and go to the safety services section.
- The impact of management’s commitment on Employee Behavior: A field study – American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE)
- Safety Management: A call for (R)evolution by Larry Hanson – Professional Safety: Journal of the American Society of Safety Engineers
- Aviation safety management systems as a template for aligning with business strategy in other industries. By AJ Bayuk, Creative Ventures International LLC., 400 South 2nd Street, Suite 402_B, Philadelphia, PA 19147
- Shaping a Safety Culture by Andrew D. ShamRao, Ph.D.
- Integrating Safety Into TQM by Dan Petersen