When Safety Systems Work Well

I recently had the opportunity to do an assessment with a company that is a safety culture exemplar. At ADI, we work with a lot of companies that have sophisticated safety management systems, but this organization’s system is like a well-oiled machine. The safety subsystems function well on their own, and (importantly) work in concert with each other and other non-safety systems. And, as many readers know, when you get safety right, production, customer service, and general business success follows.

So why was I there? Well, like all companies that do safety well, they are always looking for ways to improve. I was able to suggest a few improvements, but mostly I positively reinforced all the things they were doing well so they know what to keep doing. 

What do they do well?

  • Clear, deliberate, and consistent messages (both words and actions) from all levels of leadership about the importance of safety.
  • Safety metrics that focus on preventative activities and very little on incident rate.
  • Good Catch and Near Miss reporting systems that positively reinforce reporting through social reinforcement and through improvements made based on the reports.
  • A firmly embedded Stop Work system that is regularly used by even the most junior members of the frontline.
  • Frontline Safety Committees whose suggestions are implemented, leading to all frontline employees believing they have a voice in safety.
  • Leader observations that are used to recognize what is going well and discuss opportunities for improvement.
  • Constructive feedback that starts with asking rather than telling and a heavy emphasis on discussing the reasons why safety behaviors are important.
  • Incentive systems that do not encourage underreporting.
  • An incident investigation process that clearly focuses on learning and prevention, not fault-finding.

What is the net result of these well-functioning systems? TRIR and LTI below industry average, great retention in an industry that typically has high turnover, and employees at all levels who report feeling cared for, listened to, valued, and trusted. 

This organization nailed it. They figured out the critical elements of safety culture and they relentlessly focus on doing them well. If you ever wonder whether it is possible to achieve a great safety culture, it is.

Posted by Judy Agnew, Ph.D.

As senior vice president of safety solutions, Judy spends her time helping clients create sustainable safety cultures. She also helps clients with strategy execution beyond safety, and general management and leadership improvement across cultural and generational differences.