For many years my client relied on rules, procedures, and safety programs to engage employees in adopting and practicing safe behaviors. This strategy was met with some success, but fell far below the expectations of managers and employees. And then reality hit home. Two very serious accidents in six months created a period of self-examination - everyone knew something was missing and changes were needed.
What was missing was commitment, ownership, and intrinsic employee motivation to embrace and practice safety everyday. At the time, the company’s culture did not influence, encourage, or motivate employees to believe or trust that safety was valued by the organization.
For safety to become the most valued trait, employees needed to trust that management’s actions would be consistent with its words. Safety needed to be more than a slogan; it needed to be management’s primary consideration.
The solution was not to develop more rules and programs; it required a change in the culture to one that authentically valued safety. The first step in this transition was for management to unequivocally commit to a process of change. Most importantly, they needed to convey the WHY—why was the organization changing? — and it needed to come from the heart.
The Shift – Safety is Our Keystone Value
The process of transitioning from a procedures and programs approach to a culture of safety began when management created and committed to a new Safety Charter. The charter articulated the organization’s dedication to safety and clearly articulated how management would fulfill this commitment.
However, words, principles, and documents are only as valuable as the actions they inspire. With the Safety Charter, a system was created that would engage employees in a continuous process of improvement, accountability, feedback, and dialogue. This process would become the organization’s Vital Signs System, a means of continuously checking the strength of the safety cultures’ heartbeat.
Listening to the Heartbeat of the Culture
The Vital Signs System is made up of Five Pulse Points, which are structured re-occurring meetings and sessions in which employees and managers have the opportunity to engage with each other in open and honest conversations. In these meetings, they can discuss the positive and negative experiences, perceptions, and concerns they have about the growth and health of the safety culture.
Description of the Vital Signs Systems
The Vital Signs system is designed to provide regular feedback from all employees. This helps management monitor and improve the functioning of all safety programs, and helps them gauge employees’ levels of commitment and engagement.
The system utilizes a process of generative feedback, input, and assessment through a structure consisting of five components, or pulse points:
Site Safety Committee (1): A multi-disciplinary group of employees that review input generated from employees, engagement sessions, and other relevant sources. Serving as a safety advisory group for site management, it establishes priorities and coordinates and implements initiatives and policies to address safety issues and concerns.
Site Monthly Safety Meeting (2): A site-wide community meeting held to inform, update, review, and communicate relevant safety performance information. This is a meeting in which managers role model their commitment to the Safety Charter, specifically its values and principles. A key function is to establish the reasoning and context for upcoming activities, changes, priorities, and expectations that have been set by the Site Safety Committee.
Safety Engagements (3): Engagements are a critical link between management and line employees. Engagements are weekly small team/department meetings that encourage discussion on safety topics and invite feedback on safety issues. A key function of the sessions is to assess employee engagement with safety, listen for concerns affecting safety performance, clarify policy and procedures, and focus on activities that were identified as priorities or expectations in the site monthly safety meeting and the site safety committee.
Managers Safety Dialogue Sessions (4): Organizational leaders/managers are the embodiment of the safety culture. Therefore each manager’s degree of commitment, consistency, competence and caring for the intent, spirit and behavior required and expected by the Safety Charter is paramount to the viability of a healthy safety culture. The dialogue session provides the opportunity for managers to assess the commitment amongst their peers learn from each other’s experiences and share best practices and concerns.
Employee Vital Signs Sessions (5): These are meetings of various employee groups that convene with the express intent of soliciting and listening to each other’s experiences, concerns, appreciations, and suggestions regarding the safety culture. The site’s management and the Site Safety Committee review each group’s feedback for appropriate responses and actions.
Programs Manifest the Culture
A positive safety culture utilizes a number of leading indicator safety programs and initiatives, which serve to:
· Increase awareness and understanding of safety risks and hazards (Near miss reporting)
· Prevent safety incidents from occurring (Job Safety Analysis & Management of change process)
· Implement a robust employee identification of risks and hazards program
· Engage all employees in being proactive and accountable for their personal safety practices and for their co-workers and contractors (Vital Signs System.
· Train managers and supervisors on the art and science of listening, inviting feedback and input and responding.
These programs derive their meaning from the Safety Charter and the culture, and can be used to assess the level of ownership and commitment to safety by employees.
Six Steps Summary:
No slogan, practice, rule, procedure, or program is sufficient to create, maintain, and sustain a safety culture. A safety culture requires a full commitment to values and principles that apply to all employees. These values motivate desired behaviors to achieve a vision.
• Face the reality that rules, procedures and programs are not a substitute for culture
• Examine and assess your culture for inconsistencies. Is saying one thing , but its actions convey something different.
• Establish the direction and commitment for change through a Safety Charter process.
• Create a Vital Signs System (Flywheel) to build and sustain the momentum of the change process.
• Train managers and supervisors in the art and science of listening, inviting feedback and input and responding.
• Implement, improve and emphasize programs that are designed to articulate the values and the principles of the culture
For this company, the impetus for change came with the realization that rules and programs do not make a culture. The organization’s Safety Charter, which is the heart of the safety culture and sets expectations for all employees, was where this change began. The Vital Signs System was the flywheel that provided continuous feedback and input, making employees critical stakeholders in their safety culture, and it’s what keeps the company’s momentum for growth and improvement moving.
In concert with the leading indicator initiatives, the Safety Charter and Vitals Signs System created a proactive safety culture, which sustains employee engagement, commitment, and ownership to this day.