Posted on: February 23, 2011 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0
Francois Smith, managing member of Saacosh.
Francois Smith, managing member of Saacosh.
Francois Smith, managing member of Saacosh.

Diagnosing safety management systems and performance, should be supplemented by a safety culture survey.

Performance data is essential for performance improvement, yet it does not provide information needed for world class safety.

The value of preventive information relies directly on safety culture measurement methods, writes Francois Smith, managing member of Saacosh.

Two common safety climate or culture measurement tools, are incident statistics and system audits. Incident statistics are limited because they focus mainly on consequences of mistakes, revealed by chance of circumstances.

Program or system audits only reveal information about hard factors such as compliance, inspections and investigations, but do not measure equally important soft factors such as employee satisfaction and management trust.

Even combined, the traditional measures do not identify all key factors needed to achieve world class safety. Few companies achieve world class safety when they measure only visible results of the values that drive attitudes and behavior of employees.

Making safety visible

Safety is an ubiquitous concept. In some industries, like commercial aviation, safety is so much embedded into the organisation that it can be difficult to see what the general concept of safety means.

Most people see safety as personal well-being of stakeholders, including immediate functionaries and owners. Some add integrity of the business and assets. We could view safety, and safety management, in a more active way.

I see the creation of a safe environment, as allowing ‘dangerous’ activities to be undertaken successfully, which means without harm.

Safety is more than a passive, well-meaning notion, like ‘do no harm’. It has to be actively managed to allow advantage or profit, like all human endeavor, like hunting, cooking, construction, or aviation.

Oil, gas and petro chemistry is naturally dangerous due to massive energies involved in product components, and processes of production, transport and use.

Risk is the name of the human game. Even white collar enterprises like banking involve risk and potentially massive loss. Organisations that manage their risks best, make the most sustainable profit. Those that fail, are forced to scale down.

Safety culture extremes

There are a number of ways of achieving high levels of safety, ranging from systematic and highly controlled tasks for containing hazards, to creating an organisational culture wherein everyone is personally involved in ensuring safety, like Du Pont’s interdependent culture.

Both extremes are safety cultures, based on different values. A natural progression of cultures was described by Westrum in 1991, leading to a true Safety culture. Achieving this ideal organisational state is not easy one, but benefits outweigh costs.

Safety culture offers particular advantages in reducing system time and paperwork devoted to safety. Most safety management functions in immature organisations result from a lack of trust, leading to over- management and systemisation.

Safety culture elements

Every organisation has some common, internal characteristics that define its culture. These characteristics usually become invisible to members, but may startle outsiders.

Culture contains static values or beliefs, and dynamic, operational modes that express and test those values.

In the book ‘Leadership Is an Art’, Max DePree, writes; “The first job of the leader is to define reality.” He argues that corporate leaders have usually not attempted to define safety reality, choosing instead to jump to ‘solutions’.

Using DePree’s concepts, I suggest a threefold process to safety excellence:

  1. Define reality: Where is the company today?
  2. Define a vision: Where does the company want to be?
  3. Define a path: How will the company get there?

Measuring safety reality

SHEQ professionals have long depended on injury statistics alone to reflect a safety reality. Better measures, including perception surveys, are now available to define reality.

Safety excellence occurs when supervisors, managers and executives demonstrate their values in credible action, and involve workers to help improve their system.

Safety demonstration requires daily pro-active behaviour by line managers and supervisors. Missing links can only be corrected when the system holds line management accountable (Dan Petersen).

Safety perception surveys reveal what shop floor employees believe to be effective and what not. Benchmaking surveys in turn, reveal what managers believe. The differences are instructive.

Such surveys have long been used in non safety applications. Rensis Likert was a pioneer of this technique, measuring productivity factors. His evidence suggests that high achievement firms have supportive relationships, use group decision making, and supervise areas of high performance aspirations.

Attitudes toward the company, jobs, boss, and motivation, are also key production and profit factors.

Safety culture maturity model

A perception survey establishes a baseline and prioritises what needs to be fixed. Safety culture or climate has traditionally been measured by questionnaires. Recent surveys focus on organisational maturity, on a scale from ‘unaware’ to ‘resilient’, and scored by value within the relevant level.

A Safety Culture Maturity Model was developed by Saacosh to measure organisational maturity level in terms of the characteristics of High Reliability Organisations (HROs). The model contains five iterative stages of maturity, identifying weaknesses to remove and strengths to build on.

In the early stages of a Safety culture, Level 1, Unaware, and Level 2, Reactive, top management believes accidents to be caused by stupidity, inattention, of willfulness, and that they could influence safety. Immature managements communicate their primary production goals, with safety mottos tagged on.

At Level 3, Calculative stage, systemic and bureaucratic foundations are laid for acquiring beliefs that safety is worthwhile in its own right. Deliberate procedures force officials to take safety seriously, while individual beliefs lag behind corporate intentions.

Safety culture requires adoption of sufficient technical procedures, but bureaucratic culture typical of Calculative safety culture is ‘comfortable’ and may detain further progress.

At Level 4, Proactive, the organisation tackles safety issues with resources. At Level 5, Resilient, the organisation manages safety without complacency, while continually improving its efforts.

Resilient organiations have many characteristics that are essentially ant ibureaucratic, since hierarchical structures break down in high tempo and high trust operations (LaPorte and Consilini, 1991).

Culture survey budget

Safety saves loss and makes money, but some organisations do not even try to measure or develop their safety culture. The reasons, ironically, are cultural;

  • Unaware organisations just do not care.
  • Reactive organisations think there is no better culture and discredit anyone who claims that better performance is possible.
  • Calculative organisations are comfortable in bureaucracy, even if they know that improvement is possible.

Proactive and Resilient cultures are probably easier to attain in smaller organisations. Large bureaucracies require active motivation to advance beyond their cultural niche.

• PHOTO; This report is based on a full and referenced article, titled ‘Does safety climate surveys add value?’, by Francois Smith, managing member of Saacosh.


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