Are the actions, priorities and values within your business aligned? Who owns safety? Are your incident responses eliminating hazards and risks?
In companies touting safety as their overarching value, employees see safety outsourced to the safety department. Operations discusses safety as a priority following production, on-time delivery and quality.
Within such companies, employees believe that safety practices eliminates risks. However, following an injury, more PPE, policies and procedures are doled out. Where is the behavioral integrity (BI)?
BI, Safety Ownership and You
BI exists in organizations with aligned reinforcement between observed communications and actions.
Managers feel the lack of BI when unions support safety but obstruct attempts at improvement. Employees notice missing BI when leaders claim safety's importance, but do not reflect it in their actions.
A lack of BI results in the suffering of trust, relationships and workplace safety culture. Furthermore, progress stands still.
Often, good reasons are behind resistance to change or placing attention outside what matters most. However, people remember actions — not the good intentions.
The author and keynote speaker Stephen R. Covey reminded us:
"We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions."
The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson also humorously advised:
"What you do speaks so loudly, I can't hear what you're saying."
In other words, it is how we spend our time and what we do that matters the most to others.
Safety Ownership in the Workplace
So, who truly owns safety in your organization? Is it safety personnel? Employees or unions? Operational leaders or the executive team? Is safety eliminating risks or just creating more paperwork and PPE requirements? Most importantly, what data supports your answers?
Organizations with mature safety systems and culture have these answers readily available. Others realize that many people trust data over opinions; they collect data points with the end-goal of helping others realize BI's importance.
Doing so — besides being the right thing to do — makes business sense. These two metrics majorly concern operationalizing safety ownership and focussing on engineering out hazards and risks. Consider the responses both in proactive, preventative efforts and reactive efforts following an injury, accident or incident.
What percentage of safety improvement action items (proactive or following an incident) delegate or escalate to: safety staff, safety team, operations supervisors, site or group management, or executives?
Who is assigned what? Answer "Who owns safety?" by looking at who is responsible for improving performance and culture.
Subject-matter experts can answer technical insights, including: what are the existing or modified safety roles, responsibilities and results (Safety RRRs)? Which new action plans involve which organizational levels?
You may not look for an equal ratio of ownership at all levels, but the ratio you find is insightful.
The percentage of action items placed into the hierarchy of controls: elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, or PPE
Eliminating hazards effectively controls them, and assigning more PPE is the least effective method.
When proactively identifying hazards and risks (for example, through observations, audits, inspections, suggestion forms), or when an incident occurs, which control is leveraged in the following corrective actions?
Ideally, every company would eliminate risks, but we know this is not always possible due to capital or time constraints, or we just haven't found a solution yet.
Never forget, when we say, "Safety first; Safety is our most important priority or value; Safety is everyone's responsibility," employees will watch the actions that reinforce or refute this. Behavioral integrity will either be demonstrated or dissolved.
Rather than forming an opinion of where your organization stands in this regard, go collect some data. Your strategy will be better focused and your culture will respond accordingly.
Keep reading: What is the Heinrich Pyramid in Safety Management?
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