When you refer to safety at your company or your plant do you refer to it as a safety program or safety process? Most refer to it as a safety process since a safety program has a beginning and an end, and a safety process is continuous.

Safety must be continuous because many factors can impact an organization’s safety performance. These factors can and do occur anytime. One of the leading factors in accident causation is change.

Stages of evolution

The development or sophistication of a safety process is an evolutionary one that takes time to implement and mature. It typically goes through a number of stages until the peak of safety performance is reached. These stages, in order, include the following:

1) Issues management,

2) Compliance management,

3) Risk management.

These stages may not be obvious; however, all organizations that place an effort on safety go through them. The implementation of these stages is typically progressive in nature. Some may not reach certain stages and stay in a particular stage, however all three stages must be in place in order to have an effective safety process.

Putting out fires is stage one of culture development.

Stage one: Put out the fires

The first stage is issues management. It deals with the ability to manage safety issues as they arise. These issues can come from anywhere at anytime. They are usually the result of inefficiency within the organization to address safety matters in an immediate, timely, and effective manner.

Examples would include addressing constant safety complaints from employees, high frequency, or similar injuries and illnesses that occur in the workplace, OSHA complaints being submitted, targeted OSHA inspections, OSHA citations, similar unsafe conditions raised by safety committees or workers on a consistent basis, costly workers’ compensation claims, and legal matters associated with accidents in the workplace.

These are items we would not anticipate to be common occurrences under a controlled safety process but they must be managed and addressed. Some organizations may spend all their time dealing with these items without taking a more proactive approach to prevent their occurrence. The safety issues that arise are considered lagging indicators of a safety process performance because they are the results of the safety effort that is currently in place.

Standing up to OSHA scrutiny is stage two.

Stage two: Appease OSHA

The second stage is compliance management. This deals with a site’s ability to manage compliance with all state and federal OSHA regulations as well as local and national safety and health related codes (e.g., ANSI, NFPA, NEC, etc).

Compliance with safety and health regulations is a constant and costly effort. Although the focus of this stage primarily addresses workplace conditions, other considerations must be made such as routine training, safe procedures and work practices, exposure monitoring, medical surveillance, records, etc. All of these items are requirements in certain regulatory standards. In order to reach compliance there must be systems in place to address all aspects of the regulations.

Regarding the workplace itself, efforts must be in place to address changes, modifications, and new additions to the building structure, equipment and machinery that occur. Knowledgeable individuals must be available to participate in decisions made that address safety and health compliance. These individuals must take an active part to address compliance-related items before equipment or manufacturing process begins. Compliance management is important to providing a safe and healthy work environment to employees. This is a basic and fundamental principle to injury and illness prevention. Additionally compliance with regulatory requirements helps to avoid costly OSHA-related activity.

Managing risk is stage three.

Stage three: Manage your risks

The third stage is risk management. This deals with the site’s ability to manage risk and hazards before they result in injury or illness to the employee. Companies or plants that have reached this stage will have sound safety management systems (SMS) in place that address risk and hazards through many different approaches. This would include but not be limited to training, inspections, hazard assessment and mitigation techniques, safe operating procedures, employee involvement and accident investigation. All considered elements of a SMS that must be customized to the organization’s needs, adopted by an organization, and implemented fully.

The actions taken within the risk management stage are generally leading indicators of a safety process performance. These are the actions that will affect performance through prevention and drive the safety process to continuous improvement.

Finally, it is important to emphasize that an effective safety process that has reached a risk management stage is one that has developed over a period of time. Effective support and buy-in, changes to organizational structure and personnel, and performing the required actions all can have a profound effect on the timing of each stage’s implementation. The process must be provided with oversight and monitored on a regular basis so that all actions required are performed. Also sites must take the time to build upon their newly developed competencies as they refine and implement each of the stages.