Thought Leadership

The 6 pillars of safety

October 19, 2012
The Safety function wasn’t designed in most organizations, it evolved.  Unfortunately when functions evolve they tend to organizational artifacts staffed by people who are long on activity and short on results.  But given the opportunity to reengineer the safety function, what would you do? Where would you make changes? What would you keep and build on and what would you throw on the scrap heap?

6 Pillars of Safety

Process Improvement
Hazard Management
Risk Management
Incident Investigation

Given that I have spent a fair percentage of time, effort, and intellectual energy helping organizations through this particular exercise, I have strong opinions on the subject (I know, I know, a strong opinion from ME? Impossible.)

In my experience there are six basic elements, pillars if you will. (I find it interesting that the analogy of pillars is so often used when in today’s architecture actual pillars are so seldom used).


Even though I have devoted so much digital ink to evangelize the need for expertly designed, developed and delivered training, I feel the need to drone on about it yet again.  Beyond the obvious, and oft repeated, need for worker to possess the core skills required of their jobs, training is also essential for workers to participate in problem solving, understanding the subtle nuances of their jobs, and to truly internalize the risks associated with their jobs.

Training should be a damned sight more formalized than most safety people believe. Training should be tracked by the safety professional—not just safety training—all training.  Safety professionals should work with the training professionals to assess the risk points of the job and together craft learning solutions that address the areas of greatest risk.

There should be a specific focus on hazard recognition so that all workers can vigilantly approach the identification and containment of the hazards of their work areas.

Process Improvement

There are some who advocate for a greater relationship between Lean Principles and safety; I say that really isn’t any meaningful difference between the two.  “What profiteth an organization that leaneth itself but loses safety” or something like that.  In my expansive experience you can’t lean out a process without making it safer.  Lean is about taking processes to a place of peak efficiency and you can’t reach the zenith of efficiency without making a process safer.

Process improvement should include specialized programs like 5S and Total Productive Maintenance which directly relate to worker safety and topics like Kan Ban and Poke Yoke that are indirectly related.

Hazard and Risk Management

Forget the imbeciles who debate behavior versus process; it’s ALL about hazards, mouth breathers.  Hazard identification, containment, and correction collectively are the cornerstone of any effective safety effort.  Hazard management begins with an in-depth understanding of ones job which is initiated by basic skills training but is continued via the intimate and holistic knowledge of a process that can only come from work experience.

Hazard management is essential because for an organization to assess its risk of injuries it needs sufficient data to analyze.  Hazards need to be collected and tracked in a database.  A multi-disciplinary team should continually review the hazard as a population and look for patterns and trends that provide insights into the overall robustness of the operation.

Incident Investigation

Incident investigation is rooted in the understanding of how the process works and where the risks of process failures lie.  A strong incident investigation needs to be more than simply a body count drawn to a hasty conclusion.  Effective incident investigation mirrors hazard management in its ability to feed the organization the information it needs to make tough choices and to draw inferences about the risk of injuries workers face from process failures.

Read-Across is also an important element of incident investigation.  Read-Across is the practice of determining other areas where a similar issue that caused an injury may exist in other areas.  By sharing the findings of a incident investigation with representatives of another area, the overall safety of the organization can be exponentially improved.


Too few organizations have any real strategy for safety.  Safety strategy involves taking a big-picture look at the safety of the workplace.  Safety strategy development should establish periodic reviews of policy to ensure that anachronistic rules, policies, and procedures do not jeopardize worker safety.  Safety strategy should also look at industry trends,

A good safety management process bridges the gap between different functions, but a great safety management process erases those gaps altogether. The organization of the safety function can and should differ from industry to industry and from company to company, but that does not obviate the need to have something in place for each of these pillars.

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