Five Steps to a World-Class Safety System

With adequate commitment, it can be easy and rewarding, both personally and professionally.

IN our time, it's hard to find a company that does not seek the tools to develop a world-class safety system. Now more than ever, businesses understand one of the most vital components of success is protecting the safety and health of their employees.

Not only does employee safety provide a work environment of high satisfaction, but it also provides a competitive edge in the market, allowing companies with low injury and illness costs to produce and sell product at a lower market price than their competition.

Safe work environments are often found to produce high quality products at high production rates, as well. It sounds easy . . . and, well, it can be.

How do you build a world-class safety system? With adequate commitment, it can be easy and rewarding, both personally and professionally. Try applying the following Five-Step Safety Plan for Success at your organization to start reaping the benefits!

Step One: Assessment
Assess the culture in the organization. This assessment should begin at the management level because employees will adapt their work practices in accordance with what management desires. Of course, nobody wants to get hurt, and companies do not want their employees to get hurt. Unfortunately, many times the true message sent to employees from management does not reflect this principle. This is more apparent when an organization does not quantify safety measurements having impact. Measurements with impact include employee participation with safety, behaviors, safety inspections, etc. These will be discussed later in this article.

An appropriate culture assessment can take the form of perception surveys, direct questioning, or observation. Observing the workforce is best completed by spending time at each job function, in direct observation as well as participation. To truly identify with a job, working that job is vital. Completing the appropriate training currently offered, observing the employee at work, then working at the job personally will provide you with the knowledge necessary to determine where safety fits into that position. Be wary not to spend too much time here. Basic information is all you need.

While working on the job, be sure to ask questions of the employee to gather information about the job and to understand the employee's perceptions of the safety culture. This is critical to building a trusting relationship with the employees who are performing the jobs. Use questions that will glean information on the performance measures of the job and how the employee achieves success in his/her work. Do not make judgments of the information you gather at this stage, but be sure to understand the facts of the culture perceived. In effect, you are evaluating the safety culture set by management without asking direct questions about how employees perceive management's dedication to safety.

Note: In many union environments, performing the job is not acceptable. In these organizations, you need to observe the worker thoroughly and ask appropriate questions to gather information. Observe perceived worker output and energy usage with ergonomic measurement systems such as the NIOSH Lifting Equation and commercially available software programs.

Once these data are collected and you have a solid understanding of the job and performance characteristics, review the management systems. Start by collecting information on organizational goals, objectives, performance measures, and training documentation. These will provide a background of what the organization shows as important for success. Review the training for content and delivery. Determine training deficiencies. Review performance measures set by management.

Look for the safety aspects included in reviews. Many times, safety performance measures are a vital part in reviews but managers are not adequately trained in evaluating these measures. Query the managers to determine how safety performance measures are evaluated. What tools are used to determine whether safety objectives are met? Review the safety objectives set by the organization and determine whether adequate resources are made available to meet these objectives. Assessment is a necessary first step because your analysis ultimately will dictate how much time you spend on the following steps. The assessment will provide the information as to the depth of training necessary, the involvement of the organization with safety, and expectations, roles, and responsibilities for safety. Basically, the assessment will be used to map the remaining steps.

Step Two: Safety Program Responsibilities & Key Roles
Based on the information obtained from Step One, a review of the assessment information should be conducted with top levels of management. Because safety is often viewed as a function of one person (the safety professional), many managers are not aware of what is expected of them with regard to the safety system. Developing safety program responsibilities for all levels of the organization provides a foundation for building the safety system.

You should develop safety program responsibilities along with key management team members to assure appropriate commitment. This is done best with a Safety Steering Team.

Safety Steering Team
Devise a team of key members within the organization. Keep the membership small, though; it should be limited to the general manager (or the highest-level manager on site), safety (and environmental) professional, engineering manager, production manager, human resources manager, and quality manager. The team's purpose is to devise an organizational safety strategy, a developmental plan with measurable goals, and the timing to achieve those goals.

The team will provide necessary resources, capital, direction, and strategy to achieve the goals. It will ?steer? general safety practices, with details to be developed at the plant level. It is important that members of this team buy into the strategic plan for achieving safety success within the organization.

The team initially benchmarks measurable safety aspects such as incident rate, severity rate, types of incidents reported, types of jobs producing the incidents and other aspects that your organization tracks for safety. (To get the necessary buy-in and while developing safety program responsibilities, it will be necessary to coordinate management safety training courses. Management safety training will be discussed later in this article.)

Other activities of the team include developing systems to measure the success of the overall safety system (i.e., a Safety Scorecard system). Often, companies focus on measuring lagging indicators (measurements that are the result) rather than leading indicators (measurements that produce results). Lagging indicators such as recordable incident rate or lost work day incident rate still hold a place in the measurement system and should be tracked. However, you also need a strong emphasis on leading indicators. That is, track safety participation from the workforce, inspections of facility and equipment, housekeeping, training, and corrective action completion. Through tracking of leading indicators you will see the lagging indicators improve.

The Safety Steering Team is an essential component of a successful safety system. This team of management leaders shows visible top-level commitment to safety through developing, approving, and implementing the systems described above.

Safety Involvement Team (Safety Committee)
The Safety Committee is another valuable piece to the pie, but too many plant safety committees aren't effective. This is not to say the committee is not busy or committed. Typically, the structure of many committees is such that committee members become frustrated. They complain "nothing ever gets done," and even non-members share this frustration.

The safety committee can be a great asset to the overall safety system, but that asset has to be used effectively. It is important that committee members receive adequate training in conducting effective meetings, as well as understanding general safety and health topics. As part of this training, outline roles, responsibilities, and committee expectations/bylaws. This may include a committee mission statement.

There are several aspects that may need to be outlined with the committee.( Not all committees need the same things to be successful, so this article will not detail all the possibilities.) It is important for the success of any safety committee to set the following in place:
* Roles and responsibilities of the members (hourly employees should be leaders).
* The committee's expectations of its members.
* Meeting minutes and agenda are posted and communicated to members.

Following the training regarding effective meetings, begin brainstorming safety ideas (i.e., priorities for the committee). For example, have each member provide two or three safety-related projects that he or she would like to see accomplished. Review the list to determine which projects the committee feels it can directly control. The committee should not concentrate a great deal of effort on projects (i.e., work orders) that are not in the direct control of the members. Some good project ideas for the committee may be the development of safety training sessions, plant safety communication systems, or equipment safety reviews.

Once an agreed list of about three to five items is created, begin providing additional training to members in safety topics. Usually this can be accomplished through the safety professional's training, by sending committee members to external training seminars/conferences, or through networking with other companies. Scheduling plant tours and meetings with safety committees of another organization are invaluable. Keeping the safety committee focused on issues and projects the members can directly accomplish or control is a key to success.

Avoid creating a "safety list" of items that need to be accomplished. For the most part, the items are maintenance work orders or management system flaws, and safety committee members don't have the authority to direct this work.

Step Three: Management Safety Training
Management safety training was mentioned earlier in this article. This is so important and, typically, highly needed in most organizations, that management safety training is a separate step in the Five-Step plan.

Line management is one of the major keys to the success of a safety system. Without line management support, responsibility, and accountability, the success of the safety system will be left on the shoulders of the safety professional. As anyone in this situation knows, this makes success extremely difficult, if not impossible.

It makes sense that line management be highly responsible and accountable for safety. After all, line managers are responsible for product quality, production rates, and employee management. Why should safety be any different?

It often seems safety takes a back seat to line management. Not because there is no commitment; the more common case is that line managers do not have the knowledge or skills to be successful in implementation of the safety system. To hold line managers responsible for the success of the safety system, a great deal of training is necessary. This training is needed for the system as a whole, not only to educate line managers in various safety topics. That is, managers must be trained in system tools such as incident investigation skills, corrective action development and tracking, safety scorecard measurements, safety program responsibilities, and more.

So the safety professional has a duty to provide the tools to the line management for successful implementation of the safety system. This can be done through regular management safety training sessions (training retention improves if sessions are spaced out over time). The training sessions should incorporate system topics, as well as detailed information on OSHA standards that can be applied directly to the work environment through management area inspections.

Step Four: Employee Training
Just as important as management safety training is the workforce's training on applicable safety topics. Avoid (as much as possible) training solely through videos. Besides becoming boring to employees, they do not allow for valuable interaction during training. (Sometimes video training is very effective, just be careful using it as your only means for training.)

A combination of methods can be effective. That is, use computer-based training followed by regular line management "safety talks" with the department (5-10 minute daily/weekly talks) covering the same topic. Training provided by hourly workers (i.e., safety committee members) has been very effective. More details on this method below.

Safety Week
Safety Week is an example of a safety training "week" of activity. Safety committee members work prior to Safety Week at developing company-specific training materials (video, PowerPoint presentations, digital photos, etc.) on a variety of safety-related topics. Then, during Safety Week, the committee members present safety training to all other employees in several staggered sessions of training.

Coordinated during the week are guest speakers or trainers (e.g., a fire extinguisher live demonstration, CPR & first aid, etc.).

The concept of Safety Week is highlighting safety training to all employees. Feedback from employees who are trained is high. Trainer feedback on the experience and increased knowledge of the material are extremely high. Rotating the trainers each year only further increases the knowledge of the overall workforce with regard to the safety topics.

Step Five: The Safety Plan
The final step to developing a successful safety system is to develop a safety plan. Safety planning is necessary to provide a phased approach to achieving safety success. As with any other business plan, the safety plan should be developed with input from key functional areas, communicated throughout the organization, then regularly reviewed to ensure the plan is effectively being met.

First, produce objectives for safety. Objectives are based on the company's goals. What are the goals in safety? What measures will be put into place to achieve those goals? Once goals are established, objectives must be determined to support achieving the goals. The objectives must be attainable, yet aggressive. The objective also must "fit" into the overall business plan, considering production, quality, and engineering.

Knowledge of necessary safety systems is required to set goals and objectives. Who will determine the goals and objectives? Key members of the management team need to be involved for this determination. This team needs to review current safety concerns and decide where the company's safety program should be both the short term and the long term. This is best accomplished with the Safety Steering Team discussed in Step Two.

Avoid lofty goals (e.g., an incident rate below 3.0) in the safety plan. Although these are common goals and may be used, often they are lagging indicators. Instead, goals should focus on measurable, leading indicators that, when successful, will produce a lower incident rate. Measurable goals could include items such as completion of required safety training, completion of job safety and ergonomic analyses, participation in safety, or immediate incident notification and investigation. The principle here is "what gets measured gets done."

Safety plans should include items that are regularly needed for the system foundation (e.g., compliance, training), as well as items to build for future success (behavioral safety tools, job safety and ergonomic evaluations). The plan should be flexible, but not too flexible. That is, be prepared to modify the plan during regular meetings with the Safety Steering Team, but do not sacrifice achieving successes.

This brings us back to Step One: Assessment. The assessment tool is driven by the plan and at the same time measures the accomplishments of the plan. Assessments also may show where the plan needs to be adjusted in order to achieve success.

This Five-Step Safety Plan for Success can be applied to any environment and will produce successful results. Keep in mind that becoming successful in safety may not be "just this easy," but significant improvements can be achieved. This is not a plan that stops; it is a continuous improvement process. At least annually, the same five steps must be applied, reviewed, and modified where necessary. The safety plan may be reviewed and modified more often as determined by the Steering Team or as a part of corrective action from a significant incident.

* Step One: Assessment
* Step Two: Safety program responsibilities & key roles
* Step Three: Management safety training
* Step Four: Employee safety training
* Step Five: The safety plan
Using this Five-Step system, you can implement a world-class safety system and see success in the safety aspect of your business.

This article originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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