Paramount is management

Is Your Safety Program Under RAPPs?

Today, so many companies are looking for that "secret recipe" to success. We have all seen programs come and go, whether behavior based, committee driven, or metric measured (stats), these programs have done well to engage safety throughout industry. But what does it take to move forward, to push the envelope, to attain your company's goals? In the last 25 years what have we learned? Simple! That there are three glaring aspects of any safety program that must be dissected, defined, and disseminated throughout an organization for any level of success to be attained. Those aspects are Responsibility, Accountability & Proactive Participation (RAPP), each of these aspects being equal in weight and value. The absence of any one can and will hinder an organizations ability to proliferate a sustainable safety culture. This article can serve as a simple guide outlining the basic elements needed when organizations focus on creating a progressive safety culture.

The Model
Do you have a RAPP Model? Is it short, concise, comprehensible, and to the point? At a minimum, the model should outline the following:

Responsibility based on an "Excellence Driven Philosophy"

  • We will pursue a proactive culture based on open communication, participation, and ownership. Management will constantly emphasize: "We are here to produce our products as safe as possible and you can make a difference!"
  • Responsibility is shared - safety is 24/7.
  • It is not that "Safety is #1," a tired and transparent slogan; rather, "Our Employees are #1," which is our key to sustainability.

Deeply engrained should be the belief that operating safely results in a marketable advantage. As such, we will responsibly manage our processes and products demonstrating our commitment towards health, safety, and environmental stewardship….

The level of management support, employee participation, and accountability will determine the success of any program. However, challenges do exist. All too often, management's complacency can be the greatest challenged facing the safety professional. It is the "daily grind" that fosters inattentiveness, at-risk behaviors, and detail omissions. For those who have recognized the detrimental value of complacency, an adaptive philosophy has evolved:

A safety culture based on "Injuries and incidents are preventable." A concept supported via three tenets:

1) Our performance can always improve.
2) We will use leading indicators, including near misses, to find proactive measures to protect our employees, the community, and the environment.
3) When a failure occurs, we will acknowledge it, analyze it, correct it, and share the solutions to prevent future occurrences.

The 24/7 Culture
Successful companies have realized that safety doesn't stop at the gate. Safety is a commitment both on and off the job. The hardest aspect of a 24/7 culture is the individual's ability to attain self-awareness, in that "everyone is responsible" and "the actions of one can affect the company as a whole." All actions, no matter the scope, can have both positive and negative repercussions. This is where companies must actively demonstrate a genuine concern for safety by pushing responsibility down to the lowest possible level in the organization through:

  • Active participation
  • Active solicitation of problems and solutions
  • Empowering decision-making and solution implementation

When asked, employees all too often feel that the company is the only responsible party in the equation. Fact: From the beginning, OSHA recognized that employees are just as responsible for safety as the employer. A typically forgotten section (b) of OSHA's General Duty Clause states that "Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct."

No matter at what level in the organization, senior management has to be tasked with establishing clear expectations, fair and consistent policy, and sound programs that meet or exceed regulatory compliance. This includes the responsibility to create safe operating procedures for activities and processes not covered by specific regulation; all of which must have an identifiable level of consequence or repercussion when deviations or non-compliance occurs. Management of change triggers for training/retraining, and consistent disciplinary guidelines must be an integral part of any management system.

Paramount is management's responsibility to clearly define the rules. If there are certain actions or activities that will warrant immediate discipline, those must be spelled out in black and white. This is especially true for written policies that have been identified as serious offenses. These typically relate to operations or procedures that when disregarded can result in loss, serious injury, or death. Discipline must follow a strict management policy that is equally and fairly applied. All too often, management systems award discipline at the drop of a hat. Accountability and discipline are not the same; they should be addressed separately.

A culture based on accountability will foster employee interaction, allowing them to recognize their mistakes without repercussion. Through positive counseling/intervention, supervisors, managers and even peers can then assist in determining the course of action or changes to be implemented in order to eliminate similar occurrences in the future.

The environmental health and safety process has evolved as a philosophy consisting of individual participation, environmental influences, and accountability. Accountable safety philosophies have become an integral part of corporate strategies, disseminated company-wide, being continually monitored and measured. Companies are finally realizing that safety is more than the traditional metrics of injury and illness rates, property loss, workers' compensation, expenditures, etc.

Today, continuous improvement is the driving force behind many successful programs. In order to sustain continuous improvement corporations must set realistically attainable goals which foster ownership through the desire to succeed. It is the active participation, management ownership, and innovative solutions which will drive continuous improvement to flourish throughout the company.

This cultural tone must come from the top down. Upper management leadership plays a key role in any cultural change. Safety and accountability must involve everyone. "Accountable Safety" must be a core value, not just an initiative. Every opportunity to talk about safety must be taken. All levels of management must show they personally care, they want others to care, and it takes the team to succeed. Some basic safety management principle follows which are foundational, but are by no means all inclusive:

Safety Management Principles

  • All injuries and occupational illnesses can be prevented.
  • Management is responsible and accountable for preventing injuries.
  • Employee involvement is essential.
  • Prevention of personal injuries is good for business.
  • Working safely is a condition of employment.
  • All operating exposures can be safeguarded.
  • Training employees to work safely is essential.
  • Management audits are a must.
  • All deficiencies must be corrected promptly.
  • Off-the-job safety for our employees will be promoted.

Proactive Participation
Over the years, many systems have been introduced to gain employee participation. Incentives (many of them controversial), safety bingo, milestone celebrations, dinners, and point systems are a few ways in which companies have attempted to bolster employee participation. Many of these attempts actually fall short of establishing a culture based on proactive participation. Those companies who have a proactive culture supported by participation and ownership have done so through one of the most underutilized tools of the safety profession: near misses.

Near miss programs, when constructed correctly, become much more than the perceived task of "self reporting." Near miss programs:

  • Are used as "preventable" measure
  • Are an inspection tool for supervision
  • Are a vehicle for employee/team participation/ownership
  • Are a source for continuous improvement

Ask yourself this question: "Do our employees report unsafe conditions or near misses?" If your answer is "sometimes" or "no," then you are missing one of these two key elements of any proactive safety culture. Participation has to be a "buy-in." Mandating a program does nothing more than create an inconvenience in the mind of the employee, but a program that is driven by the employees will gain overwhelming acceptance.

Safety has to be delegated to every individual in the facility. In return, each employee has to understand that he or she can make a difference. A simple way to achieve this level of awareness is by thinking outside the box: Instead of one safety committee for the whole plant, create department safety committees chaired by the production or department managers. Elect team leaders in different areas on each shift to serve as liaisons between supervision and the employees. This will keep all activities at the department level rather than being lost at the top.

By creating this type of organization, you will involve more employees, be able to respond to problems faster, and involve more members of management. If a system is constructed to use the near miss report as a flag, safety committee members can focus their constructive energy on being proactive rather than reactive. The trick is in obtaining the participation and thus the reports.

By implementing an incentive system based on participation rather than incident rates or goals, you create a motivator for personal gain. We all work to maintain a level of livelihood, not because we define fun as spending eight hours a day with our employer. Incentives can be as simple as gift cards to local retailers, drawn each month from a pool of those employees who participated by submitting near miss reports. Once the team leader has the report in hand, the department safety committee can determine a course of action above and beyond the immediate corrective actions taken at the time of the report. Team leaders, while endorsing the employee's eligibility for the monthly drawings, can follow items to completion.

Incentives should be awarded at the department level. Anyone doing the math can see that their chances of winning in a drawing are much greater when it involves only department employees rather than the plant population. By fixing items as they are discovered or positively counseling unsafe acts, your committees ultimately will reduce the number of potential exposures and at-risk behaviors. When a program is incorporated where employees want to participate and are rewarded for finding hazards or identifying problems, you are building a positive mindset. You can even incorporate a little friendly competition between departments based on employee participation; the options really are endless.

Safety cultures can be difficult to measure. When it is implemented correctly, understanding a company's safety culture will be key in developing different insights on where and how to improve the safety management processes. How a company implements those processes will ultimately affect the level of attainable success.

So what is the secret to success? A measured, monitored, and integrated safety management system is critical to an organizations ability to achieve world-class performance! Leadership, commitment, and employee involvement are key components of a sustainable, progressive safety culture. So – is your safety program really under RAPPs?

John W. Wells Jr., Ed.D, M.S., CSP, is the Senior Consultant/Owner of EHSPR ( and past OHS faculty at Murray State University. As a graduate of Union University (Jackson, Tenn.) and Murray State University, he has accumulated more than 25 years in the field managing programs in the manufacturing, petroleum, and chemical industries, having experience with OSHA's VPP, BST®, Dow's Safe Working Styles©, DuPont's STOP™, along with numerous other programs. As a speaker, author, and practitioner, he continues to evolve his global philosophies assisting companies in building sustainable safety cultures. Contact him at [email protected] or 731-334-1685.

Posted by John W. Wells Jr. on Jan 01, 2015

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