A Solution to Measure (and Improve) Safety Culture
Finding and fixing is the measurable heart of safety culture improvement.
- By John Easton
- Apr 01, 2011
Safety culture is a hot topic for many of today's organizations. A positive safety culture helps organizations achieve their ultimate goal of achieving better safety performance However, the process of understanding and improving a safety culture can be daunting. It is not uncommon for a company's leadership to look at their safety culture and ask:
- Do we have a good safety culture?
- How do we improve it?
- How do we measure it?
These questions can be difficult and elusive to answer because, like any culture, safety culture is built around many factors, including attitudes, accountability, leadership, and other "soft" components that cannot be easily measured. However, it is also strongly defined by another, more measurable factor: finding and fixing problems. By focusing on this key element, organizations can gain meaningful insight into the health of their safety culture. Why? Because when you measure your finding and fixing performance, establish accountability, and take action on findings, you are demonstrating commitment to providing a safe workplace. This in turn leads to positive employee attitudes toward safety and a healthier safety culture.
How a Single, Automated Database Improves Finding and Fixing
Finding and fixing is not complicated. It is identifying problems or hazards and then figuring out a way to fix them. The best way to do this is by tracking the right data efficiently, which is best achieved by using an automated safety data management system. Many organizations, however, still employ any number of systems to track finding and fixing activities. These could include paper files, spreadsheets, home-grown databases, and other potentially cumbersome systems. When data is stored in such a disparate manner, it is difficult to obtain the "big picture" needed to assess progress. While management may feel as if it is promoting a positive safety culture within an organization, the inability to effectively manage findings can have a detrimental impact on an organization's safety culture.
The data management system you utilize should allow for efficient data entry, seamless workflows, configuration that can align and change with your business processes, and strong reporting capabilities that will allow you to extract and analyse information as needed. Such a system will prove to be an invaluable tool for effectively managing safety data, and thus, enhancing your safety culture. (Some organizations choose to build such a database in-house but these projects can often become delayed, cumbersome, and draining on resources. An off-the-shelf system is usually a much more efficient solution.)
Let's evaluate the ways in which an automated safety system can be leveraged to support the main components of good finding and fixing. These components are:
- Understanding the Healthy Balance
- Standardizing an Effective Hazard Identification and Correction Process
- Effectively Prioritizing Actions Based on Risk
Understanding the Healthy Balance
It is important for an organization to balance its tendency to find problems with its ability to fix them. If the scales tip too much one way or the other, the effect can be detrimental to the company's safety culture. By placing too much emphasis on finding problems, and not having the appropriate resources to fix them quickly and effectively, an organization will likely find itself with an apathetic and disengaged workforce. In such environments, it's not uncommon to hear workers say "Why suggest that safety enhancement, nobody will ever fix it" or "It takes forever to get anything fixed around here." Each time a negative statement like this is uttered, the safety culture foundation suffers another crack.
On the other hand, not placing enough emphasis on finding hazards can also tip the scales. You may be familiar with the saying, "If we have no problems, then we have a problem." An organization needs standardized programs and systems to identify hazards in the workplace and then subsequently mitigate them. Solving problems is the essence of improvement. Furthermore, if employees see action being taken on problems they've identified, they will feel engaged and confident about their company's dedication to worker safety and will be encouraged to continue actively participating.
To understand what the balance is at your organization, it comes down to having reliable information on your inputs and outputs. By using a single, automated safety data management system, you'll easily be able to extract information that will tell you how healthy your balance is. Some key metrics you can use to track your finding and fixing balance are:
- Number of items found at each risk level
- Number of audits performed vs. targets
- Number of audits by area, auditor, and/or topic
- Number of safety observations
- How long items took to fix
- Number of open/overdue corrective actions
- Number of open/overdue corrective actions by area
- Total number of safety corrective actions by area, time range, etc.
Standardizing an Effective Hazard Identification and Correction Process
Most large organizations use various methods to identify hazards, including incident investigations, audits, inspections, and suggestion programs. However, the data collected is often stored in different places and formats, which leads to poor data integrity and inconsistent business processes being used by your OHS team.
With one automated safety data management system, organizations can streamline and standardize workflows and data collection. As a result, you'll be able to extract better information and make more informed business decisions. Here are some of the benefits of using an automated safety system for your hazard identification process:
- Standardize the collection, storage, and retrieval of hazard information
- Allow employees to anonymously report incidents from stand-alone stations placed throughout the workplace to kick start the incident investigation process in the main database
- Conduct causal analysis of the hazard so preventative or system-wide actions can be considered along with more immediate corrective actions
- Automate e-mail notifications to ensure responsible individuals and departments are aware of their assigned actions and the corresponding completion status
- Generate reports to monitor completion statuses and ensure fixes don’t fall through the cracks
Effectively Prioritizing Actions Based on Risk
No organization has the resources to fix all of its hazards immediately. The key to good risk management, then, lies in prioritizing actions based on risk and allocating resources accordingly. But how do you identify risk priority if your data is being tracked in various places and formats? It likely takes hours, even days, to organize the information that will tell you what actions to take and when.
Using an automated safety system, hazards can be easily prioritized to ensure resources are used to fix highest risks first. You'll be able to generate reports that feed into your own standard reporting methods, making it easy for you to communicate risk information to your team. Whether you use bulletin boards, structured weekly meetings, company dashboards, etc., you'll be able to effectively share information that will help your company prioritize risk. With a good automated system, you'll be able to:
- Compare all data at once, within one system, instead of comparing inputs that come from across different systems and formats
- Sort and group risks as needed in order to identify and list risks by area, department, time frame, hazard type, etc.
- Use a dashboard to highlight the reports that are important for your specific business – an effective reminder that keeps priorities front and center. The dashboard can be configured to pop-up every time you log-in to the system.
The Bottom Line
Organizations will always be talking about safety culture and how to improve it. As we have established, however, understanding the state of your safety culture is not the unattainable "white elephant" it is perceived to be. Through a well-organized approach to finding and fixing, facilitated by an automated safety data management system, an organization can effectively set targets for safety performance and monitor progress. This will go a long way towards promoting a healthy safety culture. Your automated system will help you improve finding and fixing and will give you the tools you need to make informed business decisions. Your safety culture will be all the richer for it!
John Easton is a CRSP and MHSc (Industrial Hygiene). He currently works as the Safety Product Manager at Medgate Inc., a leading provider of integrated Health and Safety Software Solutions. He previously worked for 12 years at Toyota in various Health & Safety roles including Industrial Hygienist, Safety Specialist, Project Lead for Toyota Safety Management System, and Assistant Manager. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 519-304-3471.