Safety Culture

shutterstock_254892376Are you ‘Safe by Accident’? This is one of the central questions of a book I’ve been reading – “Take the Luck Out of Safety: Leadership Practices that Build a Sustainable Culture,” by Judy Agnew and Aubrey Daniels. As the title suggests, the book is designed to help develop leadership practices to build a sustainable safety culture. Being involved with hazardous waste, this is something of paramount importance at ACT Environmental Services, so I think it’s worth taking an extended look at the concept.

Just as in any company’s attempt to improve safety, I am sure you have implemented NUMEROUS safety programs, trained on SEVERAL topics and utilized more than a few safety talks. You may believe these have had a positive impact, but unfortunately, the measure of that impact may be flawed. If you were to chart your Total Case Incident Rate (TCIR), you may have stayed below industry average, but having a low incident rate is NO guarantee that you are SAFE. Even in organizations that work under sometimes hazardous conditions, at-risk behavior remains. Unfortunately, this will result in accidents – it’s a question of when, not if. You may have stayed below industry average by sheer luck…you were SAFE BY ACCIDENT!

As a safety manager, you might feel you are fostering a strong safety culture because you have all of those safety programs, training and safety talks, but, most of all, because you have not had any recordable injuries or fatalities. However, there might be managers or supervisors within your company that are sabotaging your safety efforts. An example of such might be a supervisor overlooking “minor” infractions of safety rules in order to ensure cohesion and not “upset” his or her direct reports.

The systemic overlooking of these minor infractions becomes apparent when a safety infraction leads to an injury and someone asks the question: “Why did you do it?” to which the employee answers: “Because I’ve done it that way before, and my manager was standing there when I did it.”

In 1988, after the incident at Chernobyl, the report of the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group (INSAG) coined the term “safety culture.” The phrase and concept behind it were quickly embraced. While approaches to workplace safety have been refined over the intervening years, this definition from the INSAG report continues to ring true:

“The safety culture of an organization is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies and patterns of behavior that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organization’s health and safety management.

Organizations with a positive safety culture are characterized by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety and by confidence in the efficacy of preventive measures.”

Safety programs, policies and training alone won’t create a positive safety culture. You need leaders who have ownership and intense involvement with all of their employees who also have the ability to deal with competing priorities. This will take a great deal of time and effort on everybody’s part, but the rewards far outweigh any problems that might arise.

~ From the Desk of Krista Wood Harsono, Director of Compliance

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