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.

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.

Building Meaningful Work Relationships: Part 4

Building meaningful work relationships is vitally important for not only being successful but also creating contentment at work. One cannot succeed by being alone in the workplace. There has to be some relationships for either creating opportunities to share experiences and to relate to the struggles that come with the position. Being part of a group at work helps in distributing a workload, getting advice, and creating an understanding of the workplace.

Personally, I have found that having a core group of “go-to” people is critical to not only my success but also my sanity. There are unique challenges with every organization whether it be with understanding the practices or navigating the culture. By having a people that you can share those experiences with, it can help ease that uncomfortable feeling. Those go-to people can also share their experiences to help gain understanding of how to proceed. Sometimes, there might be ways to better navigate the cultural waters. Other times, there has to be an acceptance of how things are. It is through these relationships that these ideas and be vetted. Sometimes just knowing that other people are having the same struggles or going through the same experience is enough to help regain confidence and purpose.

When someone is struggling with an issue or waiting to gain control over a situation, they may choose to join a support group. To a certain level, there should be key relationships at work that act as an internal support group. They can be there to lift you back up, give you guidance for success, or be a sympathetic ear when it is needed most. These relationships can also be a good dose of reality when it is needed most. Again, I will speak from experience. There are times I need to be told to suck it up, move along, and stop whining. Your go-to people should also know when that type of motivation is needed.

IMG_1275 copyIn this series of posts, we have looked at attachment theory and how it can apply to building work relationships. In this post, the fearful typology will be explored. This is a situation where a person would have a negative model of self along with a negative model of others. This is a difficult typology to overcome. This is a person who is not engaging others and they are not allowing others to engage them. The fearful status can be rooted in a variety of issues. It can be the work and the inadequacy of the work, it can be fear of engaging other people, it could be a fear of failure, it could be a fear of rejection, it could be a fear of maintaining the relationship, etc. etc. etc. This typology in a workplace has to take time for deep and meaningful introspection. There has to be an individuals understanding of self and what drives the fear and negative model of self and others. Maybe there was an event that led to the behavior.

In this case, it is important that the individual gain the understanding that having work relationships can be a very positive aspect of the job. The fear can be replaced with an understanding that they may not be alone in the situation. If the fear and negative model is strictly a work practice, then building a relationship can be about becoming a more productive and emotionally healthy employee.

There is always some level of stress that comes with a job. Stress on its own is not altogether a bad thing, but it can be a very negative aspect when it is not managed. Here is a link to an article/interview about stress. The key finding was having that support system. Fear can create even more stress in a workplace. Not only does a support system help build positive models of self and others, it also acts as a stress manager. Finding individuals at the workplace that can relate, speak the same language, and have some understanding is a strong beginning to building meaningful work relationships.

The background information comes from the Third Edition of Broderick and Blewitt’s textbook “The Life Span.” The photo of the chart is taken from the same text. The theory is Bartholomew’s Adult Attachment Typology Model.

Typologies of Safe Behaviors and Safety Programs – Part 4

These sets of posts started with the idea that a safety system has both behaviors and programs. The idea is to categorize what a system would look like if either were high or low. At the same time, I was in a developmental psychology course and started to see how there were similarities in the Maccoby and Martin’s Four Parenting Styles and the Baumrind’s Three Parenting Styles. As discussed in the three previous posts, the process for me to get from point A to point B may have been coincidence, luck, or something in between. I still found the theory interesting. I have conducted no research to formally support these thoughts. It is more of a thought game to be played based on behaviors and psychological theory.


In this post, I am exploring an environment that has both virtually no programs and no behaviors a.k.a Neglectful.

From the parenting aspect, the neglectful category scores the worst of the four in studies. It is also called “hands-off” parenting. “Neglectful parenting can also mean dismissing the children’s emotions and opinions. Parents are emotionally unsupportive of their children, but will still provide their basic needs. Children whose parents are neglectful develop the sense that other aspects of the parents’ lives are more important than they are. Parents, and thus their children, often display contradictory behavior. The parent and the child will never come to an agreement because the child will be resentful and the parent will show a demanding, with great authority side.”

In the safety example of programs vs behaviors, there are many similarities that can be theorized. Certainly, a work place in which there are no safety programs in place and the company and employees show no interest in creating safe behaviors, there is a recipe for disaster. These are companies that have catastrophic losses and extremely high injury rates. Because of the lack of safety systems, there may be many issues that go unreported until they do become catastrophic. In this safety environment when concerns are brought up, there is no concern or follow up. The company may provide basic PPE such as gloves, ear plugs, safety glasses, and locks for lockout tagout. But, there will be a lack of training and the PPE provided will be the most cost effective regardless of effect. Another indicator of a neglectful environment would be where earplugs are on a box fastened to a wall, but there has never been any effort to conduct sound monitoring or create a hearing conservation program. Another indicator of the neglectful environment would be that the PPE is provided, but no one is using it. The programs do not enforce the policy, and the people don’t care enough to try. There is no effort from either side. When there is effort it is short lived and has no follow through or sustainability.

In a similar fashion to the parenting style, the neglectful style is contradictory in many terms. There is never consistency. One day the safety glass policy is the most important event in the company. The next week, they can’t afford safety glasses but everyone needs to be wear ear plugs. The programs come in starts and stops with no sustainability considered for the process.

The greatest issue with this style is very similar to the parenting style: The employees become resentful and the company becomes increasingly authoritative with a heavy handedness for perceived behavioral issues. A good worker (high productivity) may never lockout a piece of equipment, but a perceived poor employee could be fired for an ear plug policy that has never been enforced. In the safety realm, this might also be considered the “flavor-of-the-month” safety program.

Neglectful safety environments are dangerous. There are little to no protections for employees. On the flip side, as a safety professional, I would not have to worry much about working for a neglectful company as they would never hire a safety person. They do not have a desire to change nor do they want to face the harsh reality that the lack of safety systems perpetuate the lack of safety behaviors. I could also theorize that in a neglectful environment quality of product, cost controls, and other basic systems are non-existent. They manage for the short term and hope for long term results. Sometimes in market rich environments, these systems can be sustained simply because the product or service is in high demand.

Overcoming a neglectful environment is difficult. For every year the systems did not exist, it will take 6 months to a year to build them and the culture that comes with it. For example if a safety system has been neglected for 10 years, it will take 5 to 10 years to build it. The key word is “culture.” The programs can be written. The training can be conducted. The critical step is that the company and employees have to keep investing in the programs until it becomes the way of doing business. There will be tests, trials, and revisions. The goal is to maintain the overall course of the change.

The first step is program creation, detailed training, and feedback systems. The focus should be on quick wins and those that gain big wins. A plan, do, check, act process works best with each program. Those programs that help eliminate the biggest risk should be at the top of the list.

Slide1The view is for the long term. The goal is to create trust in the work force, sustainability in the programs, and long term continuous improvement. It is a long road, but in the end it makes the company better and protects its people. Overcoming a neglectful safety environment can be done, but is has to be done systemically with a view for the long term.