By Brian Gurnham, Chief Operating Officer
As I was diligently observing the body counts in each of the 3:30 sessions at this year's National Safety Council’s Congress and Expo, I was struck by the overflow crowd in “3 Potential Strategies to Enhance Your Safety Culture,” so I sat in. Whether developing a culture of safety continues as the elusive Holy Grail or there is newfound interest borne out of the tragedy in the Gulf, I don’t know, but it took an extra 5 minutes to find more seats.
Dr. Earl Blair from Indiana University presented his three most important strategies based on extensive reading and his experience in facilitating labor management safety-related negotiations. His first strategy is to “Work toward a 100% Reporting Culture.” The focus should be on developing openness around injury and near-miss reporting, as well as encouraging workers to identify and report unsafe conditions. “Don’t insult your employees with a slogan” said Blair, making immediate reference to “All injuries are preventable” and “No injuries are acceptable.” “Most employees don’t believe it, and it’s more likely to be harmful.” He cited examples of underreporting based on fear of retaliation and how these slogans focus on the downstream (injuries), how they don't present ways to improve, and how they are frequently not much more than feel-good catch-phrases for management. Blair was careful to point out that there is a difference in the belief that injuries are preventable and the slogan. “There is nothing wrong with a vision of no accidents, just don’t evangelize,” he cautioned. As far as developing the culture, Blair suggested developing trust, making reporting easy and reporting everything, not retaliating, making reporting anonymous whenever possible, and making follow-up actions very visible, because people want to know they were listened to.
Strategy number two: Develop Safety Awareness with Meaningful Safety Rules. Blair cited companies where safety procedures were so voluminous and complex as to be “unknowable.” He recommended making rules dynamic, inviting participations from workers in their development, making rules practical and relevant, monitored and enforced, effectively communicated, and continually improved upon.
The final strategy was to help leaders understand how to consistently act to develop a safety culture. “Most CEOs are very bright people,” said Blair, “but they don’t know how lead in this area.” Safety professionals must help teach leaders how to develop the culture. Safety is a very complex web of processes, systems, and people, and the best solutions presented focused on observation – LBWA (lead by walking around) –monitoring the workplace and, most important, listening to workers.
As Blair said in conclusion, “Developing a Safety Culture isn’t rocket science – it’s much more complex than that.”