The Evolution of Safety Auditing

There are many ways that safety programs are audited and evaluated. There are some that are internal to the organization or site and there are others that are used external. Some companies use the idea of intra-site auditing where safety people from other sites perform a documented audit on another site. Year-over-year there are rotations among all the sites. The other choice is the organization chooses to hire an external auditor on a contract to perform these evaluations. There are also opportunities to leverage the organization’s loss prevention or insurance company to assist with performing or coordinating audits.

As a safety professional, it is easy to enter a site an find multiple unsafe behaviors or conditions. From a strictly technical standpoint, there are always opportunities for improvement. The reason an audit should be conducted is to get an idea of where the total compliance attitude sits on the organizational scale. Getting lost in the trees and forgetting that the forrest exists does not create benefit.

Regardless of how an audit is performed, there are some basic items about an audit that gives indications about the performance of the audit team, the site behavior, and the organizational culture. I have created a scaled list of how an audit should give insight to the organizational compliance.

Poor performance = few findings. High complexity

When a site is still developing the audit should be focused on big ticket items like: creating a lockout program, training employees on hazard communication, performing personal protective equipment surveys, and creating written programs. Inundating the site with lists and lists of detailed items is not helpful in this phase. They should be focused on simply developing programs. It is the idea that something is better than nothing. The natural cycle of continuous improvement will help the details become addressed.

Medium Performance = high findings, low complexity

When a site has become the typical performing organization, the transition begins to see more punch list style items. Depending on the overall performance of the site, this will drive the number of those items. The major items of program creation are gone. In their place is a list of items that need to be completed to enhance compliance such as labeling specific bottles, updating placards, and

Good performance = Few findings, low complexity

One of the best auditors I know has three categories of findings that he creates as part of his process:

Nonconformities are findings where the program is not implemented or not followed

Deficiencies are where the program is in place but there are elements that are not up to the standard

Opportunities for Improvement are where the auditor finds ways that the program can be improved and is fully in compliance.

A good performing plant will be mostly focused on the opportunities for improvement. The complexity will be low, there will be minimal findings, and the goal is to keep the momentum rolling. The site has many good aspects of the program, but even a good program can go bad if it does not seek continuous improvement.

Overall, the process of auditing is value added when it is properly scoped, controlled, and helps create improvement in the process. The sake of auditing for auditing sake is overall a losing prospect. The audit program should have a governing policy and process that should be followed. There should be a defined outcome and mission statement for the audit. It is through planning and a focus on improvement that the audit program brings true value to a safety organization.

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Cognitive Dissonance in Safety: Part 2

There different paradigms that are all parts of the overall cognitive dissonance theory. This post will focus on the Belief Disconfirmation Paradigm. This aspect focuses on belief. When someone believes in something and yet is faced with facts that do not support their belief, they have two options. They can either change their beliefs or they can find ways to not only reinforce their belief. Usually the reinforcement of the belief leads them to find people and groups with similar beliefs and leads to attempts to persuade others to join the group. Essentially, they are disconfirming the facts through a stronger belief.

In a non-occupational safety item, the use of seatbelts is an interesting evaluation of this paradigm. Studies show that seatbelt usage will decrease the risk of death or serious injury in an automobile accident by up to 50% (CDC Information). I will use the state of Kentucky as an example. As of 2011, it was estimated that only 82% of the state’s residents used seatbelts (NHTSA Information). It should be noted that Kentucky is a state with a seatbelt law. Since the time of the law the state has seen an increase of 16% greater usage of seatbelts.

So why is it that we know that seat belts save live and is a law yet approximately one in five choose not to wear them? Now for a bit of personal commentary: I have noticed when facing someone who is non-seatbelt user they will instinctively tell a story of a time where they think a seatbelt may have created a situation where someone would have been seriously hurt while wearing one. They may also give names of other people who do not wear them. This is an example of Belief Disconfirmation.

This occurs also in occupational safety. There are ways that this can be overcome. Education is key, overwhelming information that will help in giving people the facts and truth about the risk and how to mitigate that risk. People need the right tools to make the right choices. As a safety person, I cannot assume that people are simply choosing to make the unsafe choice. The first plan should be to make sure they have been equipped with the right information to make a informed a proper decision.

This can also be a case where safety rules do come into play. The makes the choice for compliance clear. Like in seatbelt usage, Kentucky saw the greatest increase in usage once compliance was a law. With that said, a rule alone is not enough. Education is still the critical path. There has to be an understanding of the benefit of the rule and how the rule helps in keeping people safe.

Overall, the process is to help not only present information that would reduce dissonance but also help equip others that might be influence by the belief. The goal is to create opportunities for people to see the facts and understand the process for personal and organizational safety.

Cognitive Dissonance in Safety

The next series of posts will focus on a social psychology theory called Cognitive Dissonance. This series could also be called “Maintaining and Changing Safety Attitudes.” When people encounter information that goes against what they believe, a mechanism in their behavior makes them want to find a way to maintain the current belief.

Here is a very generic example that would demonstrate the theory in practice. An experienced safety professional comes to a new company and realizes some equipment does not have lockout-tagout information posted. Even more so, no one is locking out the equipment when performing minor maintenance or unjamming. After the equipment has instructions created, the training begins. During the training, the safety person encounters significant pushback from employees.

Typical responses would be:
“This will take too long”
“We’ve never had any trouble”
“Why do we need this now”
“This will add too much work”
“We will never have time to make the product”
“Another example of safety slowing things down and causing problems”
“We’ve never had much trouble with these machines”

Just to make the story more interesting, let’s also assume that there have been minor finger amputations and OSHA citations from the same/similar equipment. All information points to that the change to make the equipment safer as a good thing and yet they are firmly resistant to the improvement

Now let’s add a new aspect. During this training, someone else in the room speaks up, “at my last job we had to lockout everything every time. This makes sense to me.” The safety person takes this opportunity to talk about the injuries associated with the equipment and the OSHA citations. Now people cannot believe that they had never had those procedures in place.

This is the heart of cognitive dissonance. When someone is confronted with facts that differ from their belief, they create inconsistencies with the facts so that they can maintain their prior beliefs. It is not about presenting the facts. It is about to modifying attitudes and behaviors. There are various facets of the cognitive dissonance theory that can be explored in regards to safety and how to overcome those thoughts from a negative perspective while enhancing the positive. Cognitive dissonance can be a tough process or it can be a new method of motivation.