This month and in next month’s July column, we’ll study 20 essential elements of a safety system. You can assess the current status and need for improvement in any of these categories by using audits, interviews, perception surveys, or other tools.

1 - Accident investigation

A good safety system deals positively with the investigation of accidents and thus minimizes any attempt to cover up causes and effects. A high positive score in this category indicates a program in which a thorough investigation is made and supervisors and employees freely discuss causes and circumstances.

In a quality accident investigation process, the search for cause goes beyond identifying the unsafe act and condition; it searches for multiple causes including weaknesses of the management system. It also searches for the reasons that unsafe acts are committed, the causes of human error.

In addition, a quality accident investigation process is not designed to find fault or assess blame.

2 - Quality of supervision

In a good system, supervisors are perceived to be performing certain tasks related to accident prevention in a competent manner. Generally these tasks include:
  • Providing safety orientation for new employees.
  • Recognizing and/or rewarding safe work behavior; regular contacts.
  • Effectively handling employee concerns about personal matters.
  • Discussing accidents and injuries with employees involved.
  • Discussing goals for safety performance with employees on a regular basis.
  • Showing, by the emphasis they put on safety, that they are personally concerned
  • Regular observations and inspections.

Low positive perception in this category can mean several things. It could mean that supervisors turn over too rapidly to be effective. If coupled with a low score in supervisory training, it could mean they simply don’t know what to do to be effective.

Most likely, however, a low score here will indicate a lack of accountability.

3 - Alcohol & drug abuse

In a good program, an effective means of dealing with alcohol and drug abuse is a necessity. An effective program has the following:
  • Employees with problems are not allowed to work and are perceived as being dealt with effectively by supervisors and the company program.
  • The employees’ program is visible and is credited with helping to eliminate alcohol and drug abuse on the job.
  • Supervisors are trained in how to spot and how to deal with abusers, both what and what not to do.
  • Educational programs are available to all employees.

4 - Attitudes toward safety

The following are attitudes and behaviors generally recognized in a good safety climate:
  • Management considers safety to be important.
  • Supervisors are seen as paying adequate attention to safety and getting support from management in that regard.
  • Employees see management’s effort to run a safe operation as “fair” and “effective.”
  • Employees support management’s safety efforts and take an active interest in their unit’s safety performance.
  • Risk-taking is discouraged at all levels of the organization.
  • Supervisors have a positive attitude toward safety performance.

The attitude score is a reflection of the effectiveness of other parts of your safety system. Your system must aim at behaviors — attitudes are the result. Good attitudes result from the management systems that effectively influence behaviors of management, supervisors and workers.

5 – Communication

In safety matters, it is essential for communication to go in both directions:
  • Employees regularly receive information on —
    • Cost, frequency and type of accidents
    • Hazards of the operation they perform and safe methods of operations
    • Goals for safety performance and unit standings
    • Safety rules and operating procedures
  • Supervisors are perceived to be knowledgeable on safety matters.
  • Supervisors and management regularly receive information on what is working and what isn’t; what problems exist; what are the solutions to those problems; what procedures are needed; which procedures are not needed, etc.

6 - New employee orientation

A good safety system is supported by employment practices that reduce the chances that new employees will have accidents. Some of these include:
  • Stressing safety policies in employment interviews
  • Hiring only those fit to perform duties
  • Orientation and training which stress the safety aspects of a job
  • Assignment to work with safe employees
  • Observation and reinforcement of work behavior

Since the effectiveness of your selection practices is severely limited by law, the emphasis today must be more on what occurs once the employee is on the job — and the efforts to ensure his or her safety and the effects to ensure his or her future safe behavior.