Posted on: December 14, 2011 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

A safety climate survey in a chemicals business unit in SA, found that only 60% of workers believe that ‘zero harm’ is possible, while 25% disagree.

On this question, 15% of workers are undecided. A related question in the same workplace attitude survey, revealed that workers are not confident of absolutes.

To the question; “Is it possible to do your job 100% safely?” The responses were only 40% yes, against 30% no and 25% unsure, implying that the majority of workers are not confident on ensuring zero harm.

Dr Jacqueline Bosman presented a paper on incident investigations and safety climate in a chemicals company, on behalf of her colleagues Sonet van Schalkwyk and Pierre Calitz, at OHS Summit Africa in Sandton in November 2011. An extract from her presentation is posted below.

Surveys reveal key HS issues

A business unit safety climate and culture transformation journey design included an overview of survey data from 2008 to 2011, including a Barrett Survey, SAEHWS, customer surveys, and focus groups.

These issues had emerged from the surveys:
• Trust, honesty, integrity
• Recognition
• Bureaucracy
• Discrimination and fairness

Zero Harm is a strategic imperative at the chemicals business unit, implemented by way of programmes named FOOT, COST, and SAFETY.

Focus groups were held with employees that were injured and were part of an investigation process over the past 12 months, as full day, off-site sessions. The process was designed to obtain a quantitative and qualitative overview of their experiences.

Blame cycle prevents learning

A blame cycle was revealed, typical of incident investigation processes in many industries and organistaions. There are links between trust levels and incident investigations;

• Reduced information flow, reduces trust
• Blaming ‘human failures’ precludes further diagnosis or root cause analysis
• Low morale
• Latent organisational weaknesses persist
• Flawed defenses and error precursors
• No organisational learning
• Blame focuses on individual consequence management, or inappropriate consequence management.

Typical blame cycles are also described by James Roughton and Nathan Crutchfield in ‘Job Hazard Analysis; A Guide to Compliance and Beyond’ (Butterworth-Heinemann, 2008).

Investigation versus analysis

Accident investigation is not the same as incident analysis.
Accident investigation typically includes;
One safety professional investigating
Reactive sequence only after serious injury
Fault finding
One root cause emphasised
Piecemeal approach
Aimed at avoiding similar failures
Conversation is stifled
Management changes site factors that they perceive
Solutions are applied narrowly
Evaluation focused on injury rate.

Incident analysis typically includes;
Safety team analyses
Proactive sequence to analise near hits and first aid cases
Fact finding
Many contributing factors are found
Systems approach
Aimed at achieving general success
Conversation is encouraged
Workers recommend site changes
Solutions are applied broadly
Evaluation focuses on participation.

Quantitative results

These questions were asked of respondents, and the responses are cited in percentages;

• Do you believe you have the ability to influence your business unit’s RCR? 90% yes.
• Do you have the resources to do your job safely? 90% yes.
• Is it possible to do your job 100% safely? 40% yes, 30% no, 25% unsure.
• Do you have the skills and knowledge to do your work safely? 90% yes.
• Do you have the resources to do your job safely? 80% yes.
• Do you believe our policies and procedures contribute to a safe work environment? 60% yes, 30% no, 10% unsure.
• Do you believe leadership really cares about your safety? 60% yes, 30% no,10% unsure.
• Do you believe that leadership is honestly committed to safety value? 50% yes, 40% no.
• Do people report near misses? 80% yes.
• Do all incidents get reported? 80% no.
• Is zero harm possible? 60% yes, 25% no, 15% unsure.
• Is your work hazardous? 25% yes.
• Do you feel safe at work? 50% yes.
• How regularly does safety dialogue take place? 50% daily, 25% weekly, 8% monthly.
• Is productivity more important than safety in your work area? 15% yes.

A study by O’Toole (2001) found that employee perceptions of a safety system are related to management’s commitment to safety, which, in turn, is related to injury rates.

Some workers hide incidents

According to volunteered comments from some respondents, the investigation experience is more traumatic than injuries and incidents. Some workers feel that management is focused on factors that are irrelevant to the incident, and that management is defensive.

Their colleagues started hiding incidents following their injuries, because of the way that they saw they were treated. This response could be described as vicarious learning.

Most workers did not experience ‘care’ at work. They feel disengagement and an intention to quit following incident investigations.

Attitudes to training and BBS

Some workers fail some courses intentionally, because they are afraid to write permits. Commenting on the chemicals business unit’s behaviour-based safety (BBS) system, some workers said they wanted more feedback. Language is an issue to some workers, who need information to be translated.

Safety performance based on perceptions

Dramatic safety improvements have been made in the last couple of years, yet many organisations have reached a ‘glass ceiling’ or plateau in terms of their safety performance.

Employee perceptions of safety leadership are a key leverage point to break through this safety glass ceiling.

We know from focus groups that perception of leadership requires attention. We know from empirical evidence that this perception can have a strong impact on safety performance.

Safety leadership includes consistency in enforcement of rules. Dealing with safety related matters requires credibility, which is built by;
• role modeling
• visibility
• treating safety related matters with priority and urgency
• recognising good safety behaviour.

Leaders should maintain a production and safety focus, and facilitate safety discussions versus ‘telling’, in line with adult learning processes.

Leaders should provide safety coaching , conduct incident analysis instead of accident investigations, and resort to disciplinary action only when intentional violation occurred, as also found by James Reason.

The roles of human resources specialists are essential in improving safety performance beyond the current plateau.

• This report is an extract from a presentation by Dr Jacqueline Bosman, titled ‘Incident investigations and safety climate in a [chemicals company] unit, on behalf of her colleagues Sonet van Schalkwyk and Pierre Calitz, at OHS Summit Africa in Sandton in November 2011.

PHOTO; Cover image of a book by Dr Jacqueline Bosman and James Ramakau, titled ‘The Relationship Between Job Insecurity, job satisfaction, affective organisational commitment and work locus of control’. Dr Bosman and two other colleagues applied industrial psychology applications to a safety culture survey at a chemicals company.


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