As noted in our previous two columns on this subject, developing an actionable safety plan is covered in three parts.  First Actions was explained in Part One (October 2017 ISHN) and Core Actions detailed in Part Two (January 2018 ISHN).  The rest of this column focuses on Sustaining Actions.

  1. First Actions include essential actions and activities needed to jumpstart the change process. These include staff and scheduling, and need to be executed in a precise order.
  2. Core Actions are the primary components necessary to provide the functioning capability to lead and to manage the changes.
  3. Sustaining Actions enable the changes in your safety effort to become “the way people work.”

So what have proven to be the most effective actions to accelerate and sustain safety improvements?  Here are our top four. The numbering here continues from the previous column, and is not meant to be a prescriptive sequence.

Action 13:  Establish second- and third- party audit processes to assess progress and identify needed changes/improvements. 

In addition to your organization’s first-party audits, second-party cross-organizational reviews should be established and formally scheduled.  In addition, an annual contract with a knowledgeable “outside” resource should be established to perform comprehensive third-party audits on some regular basis.  This ensures a “not invented here” negative mindset related to safety improvements does not impede progress.

Action 14:  Schedule regular reviews of implementation progress and performance results for senior leaders. 

These reviews should be part of the normal course of business reviews and should be interactive.  It is also very helpful if Leaders Safety Standard Work practices can be emphasized as part of the reviews.  A starter list is shown here:

  • Include safety in all formal face-to-face contacts;
  • Schedule opportunities to engage members of the line and participate in safety discussions and audits regularly; 
  • Communicate safety commitment frequently;
  • Demonstrate priority for safety excellence when business demands challenge focus;
  • Recognize excellent safety performance formally;
  • Promote leaders who are strong safety performers;
  • Provide quality resources to achieve safety excellence; and
  • Follow all safety rules and guidelines.

Action 15:  Establish strong operating discipline so the right things are always done right.

Operating discipline – always doing things safely – should be the easiest aspect of project management and facility operation to get right.

But investigations of real-world incidents and injuries suggest that this is often not the case.  While root cause analysis shows that unsafe actions and behaviors are the primary cause for incidents and injuries – not equipment or facilities – in the real world, people take risks and short cuts due to cost, time, and production deadline pressures.  This tendency, combined with a corporate cultural bias toward assuming “incidents with a low probability of occurring, even if they potentially have a high negative impact, aren’t worth worrying about because they will probably never happen,” can set you up for disaster.  Companies with zero-incident safety records adopt and strongly enforce the following operational disciplines:
  • Lead by example
  • Provide sufficient, capable resources
  • Involve all employees
  • Communicate up, down, and across the organization
  • Foster collaboration, cooperation and teaming at all levels
  • Shared common values
  • Maintain up-to-date documentation
  • Ensure practice is always consistent with procedures
  • Eliminate  shortcuts
  • Demand excellent housekeeping
  • Build organizational pride

Action 16: Formalize a continuous improvement process and supporting system to accelerate and sustain your safety improvement process.

Without exception, the most successful continuous improvement processes are based on measurements of leading indicators, which can provide predictive “early warnings” about potential hazards and incidents. If people recognize and act on these early warnings, they proactively make course corrections to prevent injuries and incidents.

Tracking leading indicators requires having the right and timely, accurate information flows.  They are typically organizationally specific, but all share the following general characteristics:

  • Simple and closely tied to the outcomes;
  • Objective and able to be reliably measured;
  • Consistent  interpretations;
  • Broadly applicable across all operations; and
  • Easily communicated.

Leading indicators that have proven to be extremely useful to businesses seeking to improve safety include:

  • Audit program quality;
  • Process hazards reviews analysis;
  • Emergency response plan;
  • Near-miss reporting and analysis;
  • Employee attitudes and perceptions;
  • Quality and quantity of employee suggestions;
  • Training plan scope;
  • Compliance standards and guidelines;
  • Safe and unsafe acts indices; and
  • Quality of housekeeping

Embed safety into the way people do their work. This is the fundamental framework needed to continue the progression of a safety culture from reactive to sustainably proactive. A good way to accomplish this is to establish standard, core work processes that provide the critical elements of a proactive safety culture. This work is well-suited to the use of the Process Improvement Team (PIT) approach.

Process Improvement Teams (PITs) use a seven-step methodology outlined below. The team must be staffed with people sufficiently knowledgeable of “what works” in the current culture to be able to assess change specifics as well as possible timelines. Normal staffing levels are five to seven people led by a line manager.

  1. Analyze the current state/process;
  2. Map the current process (if present);
  3. Design future state and/or process;
  4. Develop future process map and implementation procedure;
  5. Gain approval for new process and procedure;
  6. Pilot the new business process; and
  7. Implement and/or rollout the new process system-wide.

The work of leading an organization to create and to sustain a culture where zero injuries are an everyday reality is never over. It can never be delegated.  Absent the right leadership, there’s a pronounced tendency for organizations to drift back toward their original state. How would you assess your organization’s potential to deliver outstanding safety performance?  See how many of these questions you answer “yes” to:

  • Does your organization accept that all injuries are preventable?
  • Does executive leadership “get it,” and is it providing “felt” leadership?
  • Are there standard, IT-supported core work processes?
  • Do your IT and HR systems promote and support collaborative work and decision-making processes?
  • Does the organization exhibit a high degree of operating discipline?

If you can answer “yes” to all these questions you are on your way to world-class safety performance.