What I call a “True North Safety Culture” is the point at which an organization aligns to a value and goal of eliminating risk(s)/injuries within an organization, and also aligns mission/vision statements to this goal. In implementing a True North Safety Culture, it is vital that the culture be focused around the employees — also known as employee-centric. “True North” can be defined as your orienting or fixed point that helps keep safety on track. It is your core beliefs, values and principles. Transferred to an organization, these attributes serve as an internal compass for your safety culture.

Development of these three stages or steps in creating the True North Safety Culture will enable a “Safe Enough for Our Families” approach that will work cross-functionally throughout the business. 

Step 1 – Employee ownership

The first stage is ensuring an employee engagement approach that is owned by the employees. While accountability is part of sustainability in this type of safety culture, it cannot be used as the tool to drive change.

In many organizations, employee engagement is over looked because it can be difficult to achieve. My belief is that when employees leave to go to work for the day they have no intentions of getting injured. 

A top-down safety culture can also be related to the stick approach, or where managers are utilizing rules as the change agent. 

Tools in this stage that are successful are OBS (Observation Based Safety) and/or RBS (Risk-Based Safety). OBS is not a behavioral approach but an inclusive working environment approach. Employees alone do not cause accidents and equipment alone does not cause accidents. It is the catalyst(s) from them put together that can cause an accident or employee harm. OBS is an inclusive employee approach to reducing risk and implementing an employee based safety culture.  

Step 2 – Skills training

The next is transforming a training program into a skill development program. Skill development is where the organization and leadership work collaboratively to ensure the employee(s) have the proper skills and that the requirements of the job the employee is performing is competently understood.

The skill development approach is not the typical sit in front of a video or PowerPoint presentation and then sign an attendance sheet. No, it is a collaborative resource investment in the employee(s) and organization to ensure safety is valued throughout the business for world class results.

Step 3 – Safety as a value, not a priority

The third stage is integration of safety as a value not as a priority across all functions within the business. In this stage it is foundationally what the business and organizational vision is built around. It supports a positive work environment that fosters internal growth for the most important aspect in the organization -- the internal customer. 

This stage will develop into creating a brand that is seen by the external customer as second to none in an employee-driven culture. It is common to see a type of system in this stage to ensure harmonization and a clear understanding of what the expectations are; also a production system modeling approach that is capable of assessing each location on a global scale.

I’m a very strong believer in sharing best practices and lessons learned. This is how we are able to learn by knowledge-sharing and opportunities instead of always learning from mistakes. As an EHS professional, I make it my every day goal to continually learn - learn how to be a better leader within my profession and as a person. 

I would like to emphasize this concept is not to develop only a system or program; it is to develop a culture that is long lasting for many years. With this approach, I am confident the guiding principle will be to put the SIMPLE back into SAFETY. Plain and simple, it simply should not be difficult to not hurt our people. It’s together as a “One Culture” approach developing into the True North Safety Culture.