PETERSEN'S PAGE: A harsh climate for safety
Are these trends real? What has been the impact on safety performance? Few safety performance measures can tell us how well the various elements of our safety systems are doing in todayâ€™s environment.
Some injury figures (fatalities, minor injuries) show improvement over the years, but they donâ€™t tell us why. Other injury figures (lost-time injuries) show much less improvement and donâ€™t explain the lack of improvement.
What do employees think?One measure that does give us a picture of why we are improving or not improving and which elements of safety systems are working or not working is the perception survey.
Over the years we have done surveys of all kinds of organizations. Overall scores and scores for each safety system category allow us to make interpretations which we can communicate back to each organization on what safety system elements need improvement.
In recent years more than 160 companies have been surveyed. All levels (employee, supervisor and management) are surveyed, allowing us to see if there are perceptual differences between levels (and there always are). We believe this does give a picture of how companies have fared with their safety efforts in todayâ€™s climate â€” as judged by the people who really count, their hourly employees.
We have come to believe over time that a score in a safety system category at the hourly employee level below 70 percent positive should suggest the need to look more closely at what an organization is doing. Three of ten employees donâ€™t think it is working very well. A score below 60 percent positive is a real red flag â€” something needs help.
How are we doing?Compiling data from 160 different organizations, we do see a pattern of similarities among companies in terms of safety system element effectiveness. For instance, we are not highly successful as a rule in three categories that score on an average below the 70 percent positive (hourly positive response only) level: Discipline (61.5 percent), Recognition (61.9 percent), and Inspections (62.3 percent).
How are we doing in todayâ€™s safety systems? In supervisory performance categories we are a little weak at 66.7 percent positive, as perceived by the workforce. In management leadership, perceptions score a little better at 75.6 percent positive, and employee participation scores better at 75.8 percent positive perceptions.
So it seems our leadership and management, while not great, are still a lot better than our supervisor-led management systems (inspections, discipline, recognition, etc.) These perception scores should be much better if these systems actually forced supervisory performance through crisp role definitions, good measures of performance, and adequate rewards for that performance. This is accountability, and itâ€™s lacking in many organizations.
Much has been learned about what determines the effectiveness of a safety system in recent years. Culture is the key. Employeesâ€™ perception of the culture of the organization dictates their behavior; and thus the culture determines if any element of the safety program will be effective.
Culture is established not by written policy, but rather by leadership; by day-to-day actions and decisions; and by the systems in place that ensure whether safety activities (performance) of managers, supervisors and work teams are carried out. Culture can be built positively through accountability systems that ensure performance and through systems that allow, encourage and get worker involvement.
Finally, culture can be validly assessed through perception surveys, and improved once the organization determines where it is they would like to be.
REFERENCESKerr, S., â€œOn the Folly of Reading A, While Hoping for B,â€ Academy of Management Journal.
Petersen, D., â€œSafety Management: On Strengths and Weaknesses; An Update,â€ Professional Safety, December 2004.