Why Your Next Safety Program Will Fail: A Call for Change Management

Guest Blog Post by Dr. Chuck Pettinger, Implementation & Change Manager at Predictive Solutions

Many of you often face the seemingly insurmountable task of creating and maintaining a strong safety culture though varying economic conditions, ever changing employees and increasing schedule demands. There are many common examples of initiating culture change like training and education, incentive programs, employee engagement initiatives like Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) and other types of audits, inspections and/or observations. Although quite commonly done, many organizations struggle to maintain the momentum of new programs, which then become short-term initiatives lovingly referred to by your employees as the “flavor-of-the-month”. Why do so many safety programs fail to reach their intended outcome of preventing incidents? Why do so many safety programs start off strong, yet lose momentum when not being driven by the safety professional? One of the primary reasons many safety programs fail is because they are viewed as “programs” – short-term initiatives that have a “shelf-life”. Often lacking is a cohesive vision and the accompanying strategies to achieve that vision. To avoid the dreaded “Flavor-of-the-month” phenomenon, many organizations simply need to follow a structured improvement process and move away from the “program-du-jour”.

When organizations attempt to make a “step-change” in their safety performance by building, redesigning or enhancing safety processes, many fail to engage strategies for maintaining and sustaining the initial momentum. The Safety Step-Change methodology outlined below can help ensure success. This structured process follows three phases: 1) Creating the climate for a Step-Change, 2) Enabling the Step-Change, and 3) Sustaining the Step-Change.

Creating, Enabling, & Sustaining: The Safety Step-Change Methodology

1) Creating the Climate for a Step-Change. The key to obtaining long-lasting sustained improvements is first creating a climate for change. Without proper preparation, change efforts will have a limited hold at best. Thus, creating the climate for change is one crucial step organizations need to invest in heavily. Before organizations implement any change, there needs to be a sense of “urgency” developed around the upcoming efforts. Without urgency, people are more likely to keep doing “what we’ve always been doing” and then keep getting what they always have been getting. Secondly, to steer the change, there needs to be a design team built of change-leaders comprised of formal (as well as informal) leaders, from different levels in the organization, who are willing to “stick it out” to see the change become a reality. Lastly, the design team needs to create a vision to give focus to their efforts.

2) Enabling the Step-Change. Once you gain the urgency, develop a team and set the vision, you are now ready to enable new initiatives. The newly created vision becomes the Change Team’s “call-to-arms”. To create a Step-Change in safety performance, the Change Team needs to now create “strategies” that would enable the vision to become a reality. Once strategies are created, developing tactical plans that fall in line of the strategy are the next team activity. Creating the VSP (vision, strategy & plan) is an integral part of sustaining process momentum. To clarify, visions are bold and ambitious; like our company vision at Predictive Solutions: “To eliminate death in the workplace by the end of this century”. Strategies are also bold, but narrower in focus and enable the Step-Change. For instance, to achieve our vision, one of our strategies is: “To save lives by predicting workplace injuries”. The “plan” portion of the VSP is more tactical and activity based – what are we going to be doing differently. Once the VSP is created, the new process (a “plan” from the VSP) is rolled-out and communicated. The Change Team then needs to set goals for success, think about short-term celebrations and create a “Contingency Plan” for when things don’t go as planned.

3) Sustaining the Step-Change. Any organization who has implemented any new initiative is faced with the same challenge: sustainability. In the past two decades, safety has undergone a plethora of new “programs” and any new initiative is simply seen as the next “flavor of the month”. Many employees, who are inundated with such programs, believe that if they wait long enough, the new initiative will soon be replaced by the next “better and more improved” program. The key to sustainability is creating a “process” that does not have a beginning and an ending (like a program), but evolves with the culture and is truly a continuous improvement initiative. So, to anchor the change within the culture, “planned spontaneous” small-win celebrations are needed to sustain momentum and gain the “fly-wheel effect” to keep the urgency and keep the employees engaged in the new initiative.


To avoid the “flavor of the week” syndrome, a call for using change management techniques is needed. Not only will this Safety Step-Change methodology help ensure success and sustainability, you will be using business tools that should be familiar to senior level executives and help you strengthen the idea that the safety department can be value added. These efforts will help organizations create effective, sustainable solutions that will make getting hurt on the job as old fashion as using Excel to track your inspections, audits and observations!

Chuck Pettinger

Written by Chuck Pettinger

Implementation & Change Manager at Predictive Solutions

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