The returns to be got from a successful safety culture programme implementation are huge. Tangible, ongoing safety performance improvement; better employee engagement; higher productivity – what’s not to like?!
With the stakes so high, you’ll want to avoid the pitfalls and get the best you can from your safety culture programme. Each of the following are issues that we’ve seen impact negatively on a safety culture programme in the past – ‘red flags’ to watch out for and mitigate as much as is possible. Let’s take a look.
How much do the leaders in your organisation value safety and to what extent are they committed to the safety culture programme? How much are they perceived to value safety? The latter is one of the key predictors of the likely success of an organisation’s safety culture programme. It’s based on what leaders regularly do and say.
Soft signals – such as how managers express concerns about unsafe behaviours and how/whether they comment on safe behaviours – can play a major role in embedding safety throughout an organisation. The consistency and authenticity of leaders at any level in the organisation is crucial to building a strong safety culture. Employees will quickly get a sense for the relative importance of safety in the organisation by the extent to which leaders talk about and are seen to genuinely value it in comparison to, for example, production and profitability.
How well does your organisation react to and learn from incidents and near-misses? Better still, what is your organisation doing to proactively identify what could be done better?
A successful organisation needs to eliminate any barriers to reporting and any ‘weak links’ in the follow-on incident investigation and close-out chain:
If employees feel uncomfortable reporting an incident or a safety concern – or if a frontline improvement team fears their input will be ignored – you have incomplete incident and near-miss data. Complete data are important because if things go unreported, you can’t investigate what is going wrong and why. The same applies to audit findings – if these are simply filed and forgotten, rather than fed into an improvement system that tracks progress, they’re good for nothing.
Assuming things are reported, next take a look at the quality of your incident investigation. Perhaps the most common issue here is a failure to get to the root cause of an incident.
If you’ve arrived at the conclusion that ‘behaviour was the cause of the incident’, you haven’t got to the root cause!!
Let’s look at a quick example – someone reversed into a pile of pallets and damaged the fork lift truck. So the cause of this is they didn’t look behind before reversing… right? Well sort of – that’s the immediate cause. But why didn’t they look behind? Were they fatigued? In a hurry? A momentary lapse? Did they look at the reversing camera, see it had mud on it and then assume all was ok? The fix for all those scenarios is very different:
How close to the root do your incident investigations get? If your organisation is just pulling off the top of the weeds rather than pulling them up from the roots, take a look at our Incident Investigation Training.
The end goal of incident investigation is to support the business in preventing future accidents and ultimately improve employee wellbeing and productivity.
So whilst it is crucial to get to the bottom of what happened, it’s just as crucial that remedial actions are implemented. If people are not completing their actions, that in itself is a high potential incident – something has gone out of process and if it’s not fixed promptly and effectively it will lead to a belief that “it’s not worth the effort because nothing ever gets done”. And it won’t be.
It’s not uncommon for different organisational priorities to clash. If people are cutting corners because they’re too busy; if incidents are occurring because there was a deadline that had to be met and there was no other way to do it – you have a mismatch between safety and other operational constraints.
To move beyond broad safety compliance and avoid getting into a system obsessed state, it’s crucial that valuing safety becomes embedded in every part of the organisation – ‘it’s the way we do things around here’. In a fully integrated safety culture, safety best practice is embedded in everything that the organisation does. That means every line manager ‘owns’ safety – rather than it being a ‘bolt on’ done by the safety department.
A lack of ownership and accountability is one of the most common reasons for actions not being implemented – and as a result, for programme failure.
Ever been assigned an action without being present? Is it commonplace in your organisation that everyone is too busy to cover off their actions? If this sounds familiar, you’ll probably have noticed the impact it has and the messages it sends about the importance of actions being thoroughly implemented.
Who doesn’t like a bit of recognition now and again? As human beings, we have an innate need for knowing how we’re doing and getting some recognition when we do well. A lack of feedback and recognition is a common theme in sub-optimal safety culture programmes.
Consider how an employee might feel if the only time they get recognition is when they make a mistake. Safety conversations should recognise safe behaviours as much as they challenge unsafe ones. Likewise, if you’ve set up a frontline improvement team but there’s no acceptance of its recommendations or recognition of its achievements, you may struggle to get fresh volunteers to join.
Two of the strands in our employee engagement model are Caring Managers and Esteemed Employees. The two are inextricably linked – and it needs to be genuine. When thinking about recognition and trumpet blowing, make it more than a gimmick. Make it authentic.
Research indicates that to be motivated, employees need to:
- know what they have to do
- know how to do it
- know why they have to do it
- value the outcome
Number four is the difference between having to do it and wanting to do it. With the former, all you have is compliance; with the latter, you have compliance AND engagement. Giving appropriate recognition is one valued outcome (there are many others!). What desirable behaviours might you want to positively reinforce? How might you seek to positively reinforce them?
Gaining traction across the organisation for a new change programme is often a challenge. This is particularly the case if previous initiatives haven’t been as successful as you’d have liked. In particular, things can get very stale if it’s the same people who are involved/driving programmes/elements within a programme – ‘the same usual suspects’.
One fantastic way around this problem is to get a frontline improvement team up and running. Once the team get a couple of successes under their belt, they then co-opt a couple of new people in with new ideas and insights. If it’s working well, people will want to be part of the action and volunteer. Ring the changes and ensure you keep things fresh!
As we noticed at the beginning of this post, the returns to be got from a successful safety culture programme implementation are huge. If you’re embarking on a safety culture programme and aiming for outstanding results, contact us to discuss your project and how we can help you avoid the pitfalls – and instead achieve tangible, ongoing safety performance improvement, better employee engagement and higher productivity.
Resilient People in Resilient Organisations
Our specialist culture change consultants work with organisations across the globe to create a culture of safety and wellbeing. We harness the impact of improved leadership & engagement to create organisational resilience and optimal health & safety performance. OCAID stands for Organisational Culture And Individual Development
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Cultural Safety | Behavioural Safety | Engagement & Wellbeing