It's not possible to be world class in safety performance unless your organization manages safety as a whole system - not in pieces. A piecemeal approach has different strategies competing with each other for mindshare and resources. Some people push behavioral safety, some push ergonomic design, and so on.

It's not an easy chore to help a management team to take on a systems-thinking approach to safety leadership. Typically, the management team has limited time and the organization has limited resources. People ask themselves, "What one or two things am I willing to commit to?"

If you're getting resistance from a line management team to the idea of seeing safety as a whole system, start a conversation around the question, "What do we really want to accomplish here?" If the organization sees safety as a critical business need for the long-term sustainability of the operation (which I think it is), then managers may be more open to a systems approach. If some minimal level of performance is sought merely to achieve compliance, a less than optimal safety strategy will be intentionally chosen.

So what strategies should Rplay' together in a systematic approach to managing safety? Experience tells me that they must include - but not be limited to - the following:

Ergonomic assessment and improvement

This includes looking at current tools and processes, as well as processes that ensure effective design of new tools. This is a huge opportunity to include everyone in the organization, not just a few Rergonomic experts.' I can't stress this enough. And follow-up in a reasonable amount of time is absolutely critical. It's not enough to know the score, it's necessary to improve the score (lessen risk to prevent injury).

Behavioral safety

This can take many forms. Most people are familiar with the safety observation and feedback process. The intent of the process here is more important than the exact method used. You want everyone in the organization participating, conversing about, and feeling ownership for safety. Engage people in conversations about safety - it's a way for both individuals and groups to find meaning and purpose in safety.

Management sponsorship

This, too, can take many forms. Excellent practices I've seen include:

  • Walking around talking to employees about safety issues;
  • Starting all meetings with safety first on the agenda;
  • Ensuring that planning and review processes cover and discuss key safety metrics;
  • Giving personal safety stories or RSafety Shares' and showing safety is important personally; and,
  • Holding people accountable, including management, for their safety results.

Organizational accountability

Rewards and reinforcement processes should be tied to expected safety behavior and results. What is your organization really accountable for? What really gets rewarded?

An organization that does not cause tension and accountability for safety can work all it wants on other strategies. But it will not achieve its full potential for injury-free performance.

It's essential that safety plans are in place at all levels of an organization. If the senior management team owns a plan, but individuals on the floor are not documenting who on the team is doing what and by when, the plan won't work.

What moves an organization is not the management team. Rather, an organization is changed when everyone can see what to do and acts in a coherent and organized manner toward the goal. The ability to do this, and the intelligence to complete this, are in the organization, not on top of the organization.

Information systems

If you want an organization to stay at status quo, leave your safety information systems intact the way they are. If you want great strides in improving safety, then you must change the way information about safety flows through the organization. At one of our sites at Hewlett Packard, I asked the 70 members (mostly management) in the room, "What are your safety results?" Only two people knew the organization's lagging metrics (OSHA case rate). What would it be like to watch a sporting event where the score was only available after the game ended? That's the game many of our organizations are playing today with safety. In organizations with excellent safety records, everyone knows the score.

Job descriptions

The primary driver for safety improvement must be the line management team. Leadership of the organization must be sponsoring and actively engaging personally in a safety mentoring role. The safety professional is not the primary advocate for safety. He or she brings expertise and an ability to continually help research and develop safety programs and efforts. But energy must first come from line management or the safety system will have mediocre results.

Leading and lagging metrics

We must quit talking only about OSHA rates. We must first talk about a Safe Acts Index (behavioral safety output), Participation Percents (behavioral safety and ergonomics), an Ergonomic Risk Index, and so on. Then we should review, over a longer time period (quarterly or bi-annually), the correlated decreases in our lagging metrics such as the OSHA total incidence rate and lost workday case rates.

We've got ourselves deeply caught in a paradigm that has us thinking and acting in a machine-oriented, piecemeal approach to improving safety performance. This is far from effective and causes key priorities to compete with each other, rather than support each other. The end result? Long-term dissatisfaction in safety as organizations fail to achieve their safety goals. A systemic approach, over time, gives organizations the opportunity to have no one hurt while working on the job.

By Bob Veazie, production manager, Hewlett Packard, Corvallis, Ore. Bob is responsible for behavioral safety implementations at five inkjet business sites worldwide, and is also the leader for Hewlett Packard's corporate-wide behavioral safety team. This article represents Bob's experience and may not reflect the view of Hewlett Packard.