Can you predict safety culture

I commute about an hour one-way for my job. It is open road travel so I have time for thinking and listening to books. I am a huge sci-fi buff. So, my recent addiction is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series. In the series, a mathematician names Hari Seldon has created a new science called psychohistory. This science is able to predict the patters of large groups of people to be able to see how society is to react and even predict large milestones of the future.

While listening the series, it really made me think that as a safety person, how can I predict where culture is going and how various stimuli would affect the safety climate of an organization? What if I could even go beyond the typical leading and lagging indicators or even population surveys of safety culture questions? Could there really be a way to absolutely predict where a culture is going?

On a more individual level, I have seen where similar events at a work place create very different futures. When I browse through news articles about injuries or environmental releases, there are those companies that change the way they do business when those extreme stimuli occur. And then, there are those that appear to never get their act together. Why is that? Leadership is a very quick and mostly truthful answer. It is the leaders of an organization that set the path and tone for where the culture will go next. If they do not take a stand to make a definitive change, then change is hard to create.

Beyond the leaders, though, are the people who make the change, or lack thereof, real. It is through their work and deeds that safety and environmental issues are handled first hand. They have power to make change at the grass roots level. So, from a predictive standpoint, back to square one. The culture of an organization is more than a leader and it is more than the people. Culture is as tangible as it is intangible. Culture is both qualitative and quantitative. Culture is as simple as you believe it to be and as complicated as the people who make it up.

Even though there is no one-size-fits-all approach to measuring safety culture, here are a few ideas that can make the process more transparent and hopefully better to predict.

1) Is there someone in the organization that is really in touch with the culture and is willing to tell you the hard truths?

It can be easy to allow a few data points to allow an individual to be swayed. Many times I have either under or over reacted to a situation simply because the information I received led to me to think I made the right approach. It is because I have listen to any/all opinions of culture that I heard. I have found, though, that in an organization there is someone who is very observant that has some really good insight to what the culture is feeling. Seek that person out and listen. But never that be the only voice you hear. Let it be an indicator of where to go looking.

2) Do you have an annual culture survey?

Using a Likert scale approach to the overall organization is a good process for trending the culture. A quick ten-question survey once a year can give a different approach to viewing the culture.

3) Are you walking and talking . . . And LISTENING?

The more data that is taken in, the better the process to understand the data can be. It is very qualitative, but invaluable to a safety professional. For example: During a walk, a discussion begins about how nothing ever gets fixed. Using the idea, a statistical measure of safety related repairs is created, published, and reviewed. This can create a culture that no longer feels ignored but empowered to use the process to create more safety repair requests.

4) Are you really seeking to understand the culture and can you control it?

Some of the lessons that a culture will show are tough ones to hear. Sometimes in a large organization, the local culture is being influenced by a larger and harder to handle overarching culture. Nonetheless, we cannot simply throw our hands in the air and give up. One of my favorite quotations is “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” by Mahatma Gandhi. I choose how I am going to react and act each day. Many times I am not pleased with my choice but each day I try harder. Even if we cannot change the large, we must endeavor for make the change we can.

5) Do you have committees that have members that can give voice to the site?

Never underestimate the power of your HSE committees. They have a voice in both as a committee member and when they are out performing their normal duties. As a committee member they should be talking about the culture and opportunity that they observe and hear. When they leave the committee they should be working to make improvements and to be an advocate for the HSE process. Empower that team and use its ability to make change.

We do not yet have an exact science like psychohistory, but we have tools at our disposal to help us engage and measure our culture. It is through the culture that we reach the individuals. It is through the individuals that we make the impact.

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