What is truth when it comes to safety?
The regulation-oriented data tells us a part of the story with respect to training, incident records, safety meetings, work orders, policies/procedures and the like. Observations add a bit more insight to what our people are actually doing when they are occasionally being watched/evaluated by others.
However, this is mostly surface data that lacks the depth and engagement to fully understand the real safety culture on the frontline, where risks are encountered every day.
Two ways to gather information
The regulations and observation processes fail to capture the attitudes, beliefs and ideas that are in operation every day between the ears of our workface people. Knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of frontline safety requires one-on-one contact with the hourly employees and their frontline leadership. In my experience, there are two good ways to gather this kind of safety culture information.
Use a safety perception survey that leads to quantitative data on what frontline personnel believe about important aspects of the workplace safety culture. Typical safety issues evaluated by the survey include processes like hazard control, incident investigation, new employee orientation, supervisor safety performance and management credibility. It is quantitative data, because there is a resultant number which indicates how strong or weak the employees feel these fundamental safety processes are as implemented by the organization. This kind of safety culture data goes beyond what is available through the evaluation of regulations or observations data. And yet, there is another step which allows an organization to dig even deeper into the frontline safety culture.
Perform one-on-one interviews and small group discussions that are structured to engage the employees and reveal more in-depth information about the safety reality on the frontline. The interviews do not ask yes/no or rank order questions, but rather is structured along the lines of “tell me about a particular issue or practice.” This kind of detailed discussion reveals what the quality improvement approach personnel call “The voice of the customer.”
Finding gaps, determining priorities
With this kind of safety data, an organization can more readily determine where the biggest gaps are in issues like communication, safety contacts, training, etc. In turn, this greatly helps a safety steering team decide what to work on first in the organization’s efforts to make sustainable safety culture and performance improvements.
My advice: heavily weigh the input of the frontline hourly and supervision workforce, and be very clear in your communications that the voice of this group is driving the areas of your safety culture and performance improvement.