In the first two posts of this topic, I discussed the fact that a good safety system comes at the expense of hard work. Just like any habit or cultural change, it takes time, effort, and desire. I have never found the silver bullet approach to create a sustainable safety program. Simply stated, a robust safety program takes compassion, consistency, and continuous improvement.
This post focuses on the consistency aspect of the “3Cs of Safety.” Previously, I have touched on consistency as part of the Hierarchy of Safety Needs series. Consistency sounds so easy and yet is one of the toughest aspects of the program. I used the example of someone who is trying to loose weight. The first few days are full of energy and ability. Then comes the day where the person is tired and tempted. The choice comes to drop the diet and return to old habits. When the energy of a new program has diminished and the old habits seem easier and comforting, many return to those old ways. It is critical that with any safety system, that the progress is consistent and sustained.
An organization can be the same way with safety (especially with behavior based observation programs). The new program is rolled out, there is energy and excitement for the program. Then there is trouble keeping the system. There could be cost troubles, manufacturing troubles, quality troubles, or delivery troubles. The organizations make a decision to simply put the program on hold while they overcome the obstacles. Then there is another crisis of some form. The program is put on hold again, just until the issues are fixed. This pattern continues until the whole program is just a memory. It is easy to resist and avoid what is new and time consuming. Once the program is lost, it can easily appear that safety is just one more “flavor of the month” style program.
It takes consistency to keep a safety program functional. It keeping the programs going even when faced with other organizational priorities. Creating behaviors and positive cultures takes consistency in its practice. Again taking the example of healthy living, if the process is not kept consistent the gains will slowly or never be realized.
How can an organization keep consistency in the safety program? My first argument to this point is that the organization needs to hire a true safety professional. For example, a company hires an operations manager to keep a focus on operations. A company hires a shipping manager to keep a focus on shipping. A company hires an HR manager to keep a focus on the people resources. Why would an organization think that without a safety manager that they would be able to keep a sustained focus on safety. For a safety manager to be effective, they have to create a sense of consistency, technical knowledge, business acumen, and bring a true position of leadership. If a program has to the potential to slip or be less consistent, it is the duty of the safety manager to remind the organization of the its importance. There is also a duty to find ways to make the program more sustainable, consistent, and easier to implement. One of my big complaints of the safety profession in general are there are too many “safety cops” and not enough organizational leaders.
Consistency is vitally important to keeping a compassionate safety system on the right path and moving forward. A good program is only as good as the length of time that it can be sustained. If today and organization is going to put into place a program to protect employees, the employees should be able to with some certainty guarantee that the program will still be functional a week, month, year, ten years, etc. The same applies in reverse. An employee should know with great certainty that when a legitimate safety concern is raised, that the organization will address that concern with urgency, adequacy, and most important consistency.