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.

Safety: Behavior or Motivation

I was recently at my final residency. Part of this process was to complete my dissertation research plan. The discussion around my topic about safety was talking about the theory behind the process of safety psychology.

On a complete side note, I did learn that with a qualitative research plan the theory is really something that gets built into the process as the research is conducted and not as a basis like quantitative research.

Back on topic: One of the discussions in my group was if I was studying behavior or if I was studying motivation. This whole discussion turned my thoughts upside down. Since I first began in safety over twelve years ago, I have been told that changing people’s behaviors was the ultimate goal of the safety professional. What if for all this time, I really should have been seeking to create motivation not change behavior. Mind blown!

With this new way of looking at how safety should be integrated into a organizational culture, it begins with the most simple thought: why do people need motivation to be safe? The over simplified answer is that going home whole should be enough motivation for anyone. Yet national statistics show that there are still 4,500 people a year that never go home to their families at the end of the work day. There are still too many people needing medical attention just by going to work. The real answer is much more complicated and infinitely more varied.

When evaluating motivation for safety, I personally subscribe to the Mazlow’s Hierarchy model. I feel this explanation fits the Occam’s Razor approach of being the most simplified and easiest to understand. The hierarchy shows that safety is the second key motivator of people. The first motivation is physiological: food, shelter, warmth, etc. In modern society, this need is met by having a job and affording a place to live and food to eat. So, the motivation for someone to have a job to meet their physiological need is greater than their motivation for safety. In my experience, this holds to be generally true.

Looking deeper at the motivation of the workplace, the comparison of the major metrics of business is safety, quality, delivery, and cost. Employee’s get very different messages when it comes to these and how they are motivated among them.
For example:

The site is able to have zero quality defects for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to meet all production targets for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to meet all cost metrcs for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to have zero safety incidents for a day = An expectation of the job
Another Example:

An employee misses their quality target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their production target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their cost target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their safety target = Probably nothing happens. They have found a work around to potentially help compensate for quality, production, or cost. They are seeking the most primal motivation of the physiological need.

Additionally with safety, the unsafe action statistically will not lead to an immediate injury. Someone could perform an unsafe act multiple times that would not lead to a direct injury. The more the act is performed, the more the individual becomes accepting of the risk. Ultimately though, risk will create a hazard and potentially an injury.

All that said to simply summarize that this whole time I have been wanting to change behaviors when really I need to be seeking to create motivation. As a safety professional or as a supervisor or as a manager, what can we do to create the motivation for our team to go home injury free? There is no simple answer. There is no silver bullet approach. Even though it is not all about behavior, there are cultural components and norm setting that has to occur to create that motivation for the team.

So here is a closing thought exercise: Look at the way your team is motivated and the systems that are in place to motivate, what behaviors and culture is it creating?

Understanding Safety Norms

In psychology a Norm is a shared set of beliefs among a group in which there are behaviors that are and are not accepted. The group evolves to have a set of do’s  and don’ts that are established for how they should act in their environment. Research suggests that people will change how they behave based on the perception of the group or situation they are involved with.

Here are two basic and very simplified examples.

  1. When a group of friends get together they find that they always sit in the same places. The social norm for this group becomes to continue that routine.
  2. When someone goes to a friend’s party, they notice many people dressed in blue. At the next party, they decide to wear blue

In example one, the friends create a social norm. In example two, the person perceives the social norm and changes their behavior to match. The key point in example two is that perception creates the behavioral change. The party group may just have a coincidental use of the color blue. The person changes their behavior because they think that blue is the accepted norm even if it is not.

In safety, social norms can be powerful tools for both positive and negative behaviors. Another double edged sword is that once a norm is in place, it takes significant effort to create the cultural and behavioral changes to modify the norm.

Safety people have heard the stories of how crafts people are not really doing their job until they get their first shock, cut, burn, flash, etc. These are cultural norms that are created through the belief that people have to earn through experience. They need to feel the negative before they can understand the aspects of working safe. What happens, though, when the minor lesson learning injury turns into a significant injury or death? The only difference between a first aid and a fatality is luck. The norm creates unnecessary risk.

From a different standpoint, a new employee is trained that there is a full time safety glasses policy. During the on-the-job training, he notices that occasionally others do not wear their glasses all the time. The new employee makes the decision that during a task that has a higher risk of eye injuries to not wear his glasses. This results in a first aid to his eye. During the investigation, it is discovered about the new employee’s perception of the safety glass policy. The investigation then expands to ask those that he was training with about their use of safety glasses. Let’s assume that the culture of the organization is generally positive. The investigator learns that there are times were people feel that safety glasses are really not needed, so they choose to be lax with the use. When the question is asked about the specific task that led to the injury, the employees state that they always wear their glasses performing that task because of the higher risk. The new employee perceived the social norm and put himself at higher risk because of it.

This example is pertinent because it shows how social norms can be perceived and create unanticipated risk. Because the new employee did not know about all the risks, he made assumptions about the process and what would be accepted. This also shows how important mentoring is with a new employees. It is important that the policies are followed. This also speaks to assuring that if a policy is in place, it should be enforced fairly and consistently. Most likely, the supervisor knew that the employees had a habit of removing eye protection during certain tasks. The more the supervisor allowed the team to keep removing the glasses, the more it reinforced the social norm.

Now let’s look at the less dramatic and more powerful social norm using the same scenario. A new employee is hired and is trained on the full time use of safety glasses. As he is being trained, his mentor always wears his safety glasses. When they need to be cleaned or replaced, this is done in a safe area and completed properly. When the new employee sees someone without their safety glasses, he also sees that either another employee or the supervisor promptly uses the chance for constructive coaching about eye safety. The new employee perceives the social norm and always wears his eye protection. He never has a first aid.

So . . . which scenario takes the most energy to create that kind of culture? Yep, the second one. Which scenario creates the most employee engagement? Again, the second. Which scenario would be the one most likely to have the higher quality and better delivery metrics? The award goes to number two. A culture that has a discipline to self-coach and self-correct for safety will also use those same tools to drive all the company metrics. The positive social norm can create behaviors that benefit all aspects of the business. Social Norms can be powerful for a company to utilize and understand.