The Two Aspects of Safety
Safety performance has two components: the safety program and the safety process. The safety program is involved with regulatory and compliance issues. The safety process consists of those elements within the organization that are helping or hindering the safety program. Optimal safety performance requires both an efficient safety program and a supportive safety process. A company can have an excellent safety program but unless the safety process actively supports its efforts, safety performance will probably be far less than it could be. Those elements within the safety process that help or hinder the safety programs are known as organizational and psychosocial factors. Once these factors are identified, assessed, and acted upon, there will be greater efficiency and effectiveness of the safety program.
To reduce and ensure low incidence rates, both the safety program and the safety process should be addressed simultaneously. The synthesis of compliance and cultural perspectives gives the organization an evidence-based direction in which to progress to achieve higher safety performance.
A comprehensive safety initiative goes beyond safety and involves personnel in the many levels of an organization, from managers to employees. If everyone in an organization is to be responsible for safety, everyone has to be involved in the new direction.
Lagging Indicators versus Predictive Analysis
For many years, safety has relied on one primary measurement to define its status: lagging indicators. However, lagging indicators, after-the-fact results, give no detail on how or why the untoward event occurred. They do not provide a realistic interpretation of the level of safety performance in a company. More importantly, they have no predictive ability or value.
As observations identify safety program work practices needing more attention, a cultural perception survey identifies those psychosocial factors within an organization that impact the safety process. By coordinating the expertise of safety program and safety process professionals, measurable action items can be developed that streamline safety performance into a more effective and efficient process for the entire organization.
Safety has moved beyond a solely compliance orientation. In 1994 the author’s PhD dissertation, a three-year nationwide study on the effect of corporate culture on injury rates, demonstrated that the most predictive factor of safety performance was the way in which employees were treated, or psychosocial factors.1 For the last 20 years scientific research has been increasingly demonstrating that these psychosocial factors play a major role in the level of safety performance. Psychosocial factors refer to the psychological response of employees to their work and working conditions, as well as to their social interactions at work. Specific factors include elements such as communication, employee recognition, employee development, employee involvement, high job demand, low control, and work-life balance, among others. The American Psychological Association is encouraging adoption of measures to increase workplace psychological health. The European Union and Canada have incorporated psychosocial factors into their safety management systems.
In addition to analyzing various aspects of the safety program, the cultural survey also examines the organizational and psychosocial factors of the organization. These factors include the organizational structure, the importance of occupational safety and health, communication, management and employee behavior, safety responsibility and accountability, and employee involvement.
The first two of the four Safety Truths that reduce workplace injuries developed by Predictive Solutions have a direct correlation with the safety process, or cultural component, of safety performance.2 These two Truths, 1) more safety observations leading to fewer accidents and 2) the inclusion of observers outside of safety resulting in lower accidents are strengthened by the research on cultural factors. 1) If there are more safety observations, this means that there is more interaction between employees and other organizational members. This interaction can lead to greater communication which, in turn, can result in more trust between the respective parties. 2) If employees outside of the safety profession are also doing observations, they will bring different perspectives to the observation process because of their positions, each with its own respective priorities and responsibilities.
Going from Here to There
To go from where one is to where one wants to be involves some degree of change. In order for any change to be successful, people have to want it to occur. This oftentimes happens when people realize there are better ways of doing what they do. If they are dissatisfied with the current status and have confidence that improvements are attainable, change is more likely to occur.
Organizational changes generally have to come from within. They usually cannot be imposed from the outside. When people are instrumental in the changes that are being made, through their ideas and insight, they then have ownership of the process. In this manner they themselves become part of the changes.
Organizational change involves almost everyone. Managers articulate visions, values, and goals. These should be communicated in such a manner as to be understood and be meaningful to all employees. In the process, communication skills will be enhanced and closing the gaps between and among various organizational members will begin. This new awareness leads to a change in human performance throughout the organization, including that of safety performance.
Safety professionals can no longer afford to treat safety in isolation, as if it is not part of the organization. To achieve its best performance, safety should be assessed in the context in which it exists. And that context is the organization. To assess one aspect alone – either the safety program or safety process – will provide an incomplete assessment. As a result, opportunities to increase safety performance will be missed.
1 Erickson, J.A. (1994). The effect of corporate culture on injury and illness rates within the organization. Dissertation Abstracts International, 55 (6).
2 Predictive Solutions. Predictive Analytics in Workplace Safety: Four 'Safety Truths' that Reduce Workplace Injuries.