Create a culture of accountability

October 1, 2007
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Face it. Your policies and a check-in-the-box compliance mentality aren’t helping to drive safety performance results. You might have plenty of foremen and all the correct components and processes in place, but the health of your culture — how everyone thinks, believes and acts about your organization’s safety reality when no one is looking — is what’s going to have a greater impact on your safety performance and success.

And before you start thinking about deficiencies in the labor pool and the effectiveness of your supervisors, consider this: a company’s ability to achieve “the impossible goal of zero injuries” is a direct function of management’s will to do so. In other words, everyone is responsible for his or her own safety. A safety culture, to quote safety-culture pioneer Dan Petersen, is defined as the way “it is around here.” A highly developed safety culture includes involvement and ownership of the relentless pursuit to find a safer way. In this type of “zero” culture, no one tolerates the status quo.

Criteria to make it happen
For a sustainable world-class culture to emerge, consider the following criteria:

1) Management is respected and viewed as credible because they walk the talk.
2) Safety practices and behaviors are lived on a daily basis; nothing less is tolerated.
3) Financial decisions demonstrate that we care about the well-being of our people.
4) Upstream safety metrics and recognition drive performance expectations at all levels of the organization.
5) Workers have a role in problem-solving and decision-making.
6) A high degree of trust and confidence exists between management and workers, workers and supervisors.
7) There is openness of communication; people are always willing to speak up whenever they see something isn’t right.
8) Workers receive positive recognition for appropriate safety actions.

Champions & disciples
Ultimately, it’s your job as the safety champion, and that of your disciples, to gain management support for the introduction and usage of the same proven principles and practices that successful organizations have been using to heighten quality and delivery. This includes our defining the appropriate tasks, ensuring adequate training, measuring performance (task completion), and rewarding excellence.

It comes down to accountability
If “define, train, measure, reward” doesn’t sound familiar, it soon will. Some companies are just now realizing its impact on driving safety performance. In committing to a system of accountability, you’re replacing the foreman’s burden of “keeping people in check” by creating an environment where workers do the right thing when no one’s around.

If management continues to believe supervisors or safety managers are responsible for safety, you’re set up to fail. This kind of paradigm change from the “safety cop” to a culture of performance will require a certain amount of “risk taking” as you and your team break out of the status quo.

As someone who works with people dedicated and impassioned about delivering safety excellence, I’ve become a fervent advocate of delivering positive reinforcement for the completion of appropriate safety-improvement activities. For a safety accountability system to work, it not only has to be integral to getting the work done right and on time — all the time — employees need to be credited on a frequent and regular basis for “safety do’s.”

In other words, “what have you done to make your work area safer?” Job performance depends on the “do’s,” more than the “don’ts”. Taking it a step further, it only makes sense to have employees at all levels of the organization hand in bi-weekly lists of “safety do’s.” If they don’t, they’re going to hear about it during their next review.

With a healthy high-performance culture, behavior observations, policies and procedures become a secondary influence.

After all, culture is as distinct and alive as the people who show up for work every day. How everyone performs their jobs and recognizes safety’s role “without even thinking about it” — day after day, every day — becomes part of the organization’s DNA!

SIDEBAR: “Level 6 Safety”

The evolution of a safety culture:

Level 1: Reacting
The first level is a system built solely around compliance programs and reacting to the incidents that have already occurred.

Level 2: What we see
The next level includes observation programs, such as regular job safety analyses and near-miss reporting.

Level 3: What we do
Introduce accountability — ways to shift energy more on measuring what gets done, rather than incidents that already happened.

Level 4: What we believe
Recognize and seek out ways to impact the cultural realities of what people value. Without looking at what people believe, it is nearly impossible to create an environment of sustainable improvement. Heightened safety decisions begin happening without having to think about them.

Level 5: How we engage
Effective data-driven safety teams establish a commitment to sustainable continuous improvement. Built-in or systemic measures that pertain to personal development not only keep people accountable, but also engage and drive to always get better.

Level 6: How we lead
At Level 6, safety is no less important than profitability and productivity. Safety is part of the enterprise-wide DNA.

Source: CoreMedia

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