When I say safety culture, what comes to mind?

When you think of your organization approach to safety, what picture comes to mind? As a safety professional or someone who is committed to safety, take your personal opinions away. Take the 50,000 foot view of the culture. If your safety climate had a mascot what would it be? What would it look like? Was it good? Was it bad? Was it funny? Was it sad?

 

Your organization is a series of micro cultures of the pockets personal experience. The individuals working each day are a key determination of how that culture functions and its motivation. Here is another vision question: On any given day, how you categorize or picture the typical leader in your organization? What is their mascot? What is their theme music?

 

These are strange questions, but they create an interesting outcome of what your safety climate is telling you and how that culture is affecting key results.

 

I love the lean process. Here are a few quotes from W. Edwards Deming that will help illustrate the point that I have not yet made. 🙂

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.”

“Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting”

 

In my experience, there are really four key organization that are present based on the people that are leading those pockets of influence.

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The Superstar

The Evader

The Accepter

The Burnout

 

I hope that we can all agree that a safety person or even a safety team cannot be the key safety cultural influencers in the organization. It is the leadership and the front line supervisors that make those decisions and drive the safety climate of a site, company, or organization. Each day with each decision, the safety culture is shaped and molded into the presentation and personality of those leaders.

 

Now think of which of these four categories your supervisors fall into. What about the company? What about the organization? How does each feed into the other? How do these traits affect the overall safety system that is in place? What does it mean for the future of the safety system?

 

I have lots of questions. These are the same questions that I ponder each day. It is through understanding that we as safety people can start to make adjustments in how we manage. This drives the evolution of the safety systems.

 

For the next few months, I will focus more on these drivers of success and/or accepters of failure, some of the tools I have used, and some of the adjustments that can be made to help adjust, improve, or accelerate the culture of the team.

When Your Safety System is not a System

There are times where a company will seek to implement a safety program. They will create all the necessary programs, procedures, meetings, audits, employee committees, and many other processes that they feel have made other companies successful in safety. They will even brand all the programs as their safety management system or process. The trouble, though, is creating the linkages that actually makes the safety system functional. Just having all the parts of a system, does not make it work.

 

A functional and successful safety program actually needs to be a system of components that work with each other and communicate effectively across one another. Imagine a human body with no nervous system. It has everything it needs to be alive and working, but there is nothing that makes everything work together. There is no harmony. There is no communication.

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The model provided is not extensive map of everything that makes up a safety system but is a representation of how everything needs to interact in a way that is functional. Each piece is equal to one another and has to complete a communication loop with all the other functional systems. It is the safety management system itself that acts as the bond between the items.

 

The idea of a safety management system is quite ethereal in talk, but exceptionally valuable and tangible in practice. I have personally seen organizations that have all the components of a safety management process but the system was not there. Auditors would come in, see all the pieces, and yet feel there was something just out of their grasp that was not right. Here is my shameless plug: This is where an experienced safety professional is invaluable to an organization. They are the ones that personify the system in action. They create those communication bridges and help make the system functional.

 

So what are some of the ways that safety management systems fail to function? I am glad you asked:

  • Lost in translation: The management system is the great interpreter of the all the parts. The Emergency Response Plan has to be able to talk to the Management Review in a language that they both understand. I remember early when the ADAAA was enacted. The workers compensation laws were affected. The idea was that if there was a job that a restricted employee could perform, the organization would make an “offer” for the temporary position. This created quite the confusion with the HR team on their version of job offer. There had to be someone to help each understand the other. With that idea in mind, does your safety management system help to allow each part be understood by the other?
  • They just don’t talk anymore: Each part has to communicate with the other. Does the change management program ever talk to your KPIs? If so, how? The best way is to map it out. Take each part of your management system and make a grid across the top and bottom. In each intersection there should be some methods or process that facilitates communication between each item. This can be a time consuming project, but it is exceptionally revealing in the functionality of the system.
  • There is no feedback: Communication is a two-way street. One part of the whole cannot simply dictate to the other. They have to be giving feedback to one another and improving from that communication.

 

A safety management system is vitally important to the overall health of the safety programs. Unfortunately, there are times where that system can cease to function effectively. When a situation arises where it seems that everything is in place but something does not feel right; take a moment to assure that your system is communicating.