We know that most of us don’t like to be bounded by a set of rules around our actions and our behaviors; however, there is no sustainable safety culture if there is no operational discipline.  

Simply stated, operational discipline (OD) is “doing the right things right all the time.” OD drives transformation of paper programs and plans into tangible outcomes and results that prevent injuries, incidents and near misses. 

You’ve got to have these

Here are 11 characteristics that must be present to achieve the level of operational discipline necessary to support zero-injury/incident performance:  

  1. Leadership by Example - “walking the talk” in a visible and consistent manner; modeling the expected behavior.
  2. Sufficient Capability and Capacity - amounts necessary to support the level of safety performance leadership has demonstrated it expects; resources and skills.
  3. Employee Involvement - active participation by everyone in safety-related meetings, events and programs; participation is expected and publicly recognized.
  4. Active Lines of Communication - up, down and across the organization; integrated contact networks; permission to speak truth to power.
  5. Strong Teamwork - collaborative and integrated at all levels with aligned objectives.
  6. Common Shared Values - focused on safety and operations excellence with the goal of zero injuries and unwanted incidents.
  7. Up-to-date Documentation - procedures, records, recommendations; formal Management of Change process in place and fully utilized.
  8. Practice Consistent with Procedures - work tasks conducted as written/planned with zero deviations.
  9. Absence of Shortcuts - jobs done the right way every time; continuous improvement process in place and active.
  10. Excellent Housekeeping - orderliness and consistency in all areas; use as a leading metric and indicator.
  11. Pride in the Organization - develops as a result of demonstrated strength in other OD characteristics.

Audit your OD dimensions

 To ensure the operational disciple foundation is in place and functioning to sustain your “zero injury” safety culture, routinely audit the state and status of the 11 OD dimensions. In our experience, it is better to self-audit so you can best understand any issues from a local culture perspective and develop resolutions that will be the most effective.  

A key objective of the self-audit is to quickly complete an improvement cycle so safety and operational improvements can be rapidly advanced.

Use a team approach that includes a cross-section of the organization based on role and function. A team leader facilitates and coordinates the assessment.  Once team personnel are selected with management input, some basic grounding/orientation should be provided. All team members must fully understand basic concepts of operational discipline -- and the intent and desired outcomes of the self-assessment process. Ideally, management will instruct and participate where needed.

We recommend a pre-work step of gathering current state data. This helps determine your level of operating discipline. Transparency is essential. Your intent is not to create an additional data generation or collection system, but if one does not exist, you might need put one into place. Keep it simple.

Rank each element

Each of the 11 elements of Operational Discipline should be evaluated using a numerical scale. Self-evaluate each item and identify the most appropriate ranking based on the following criteria (or similar) via a discussion within the assessment team:

  1.  Not addressed in current state; 
  2.  Significant gaps or components missing; 
  3.  Partially in place with multiple opportunities for improvement;
  4.  In place with minor opportunities for improvement;
  5.  Fully in place with strong results.

Based on the ranking, determine what improvement opportunities, if any, will be targeted. This may include a goal to substantially improve one element where significant gaps were identified, or work on multiple recommendations that extend across several elements.  This is decided based on perceived benefit, existing priorities, and available resources. Focus on several key opportunities to upgrade site systems and performance. Don’t generate a lengthy list of administrative action items. 

After the assessment, determine how to best share the results with stakeholders (employees, customers, shareholders, and the community). Open communications and detailed follow-up, even with the longer-range items, is crucial.

Don’t drift backwards

Absent the right leadership and strong operating discipline, organizations tend to drift back toward their original state. This tendency can be reversed by having the OD elements in place combined with committed leadership.  

Here’s how to assess the current state of your organization’s ability to achieve and sustain  injury-free performance.  See how many of the following questions you can answer “yes” to: 

  1. Does your organization accept that all injuries are preventable? 
  2. Does executive leadership “get it,” and are they providing “felt” leadership? 
  3. Are there standard, IT-supported core work processes? 
  4. Does the organization exhibit a high degree of operating discipline? 

If you answer “yes” to two or more of the questions, you are on your way toward embracing the rigor of Operational Discipline. If not, start to work on “getting to yes” for all four questions.  

You can expect costs to go down as safety improves; product quality to improve and maintenance moves toward predictive vs. reactive. If your safety performance isn’t meeting your expectations, consider looking at improving Operational Discipline. It won’t be an easy journey but one that can be very rewarding.