Who is responsible for improving your safety systems and performance?
The biggest challenge I see facing those companies who are struggling to improve their safety records is simple. In these companies, safety improvement is seen as being the responsibility of the safety professional, the safety department, or someone else other than the front line supervisor (the process owner). In these organizations, EACH process leader (also known as a supervisor or manager) IS NOT required to identify and correct the safety concerns that exist in their area on a consistent basis. Such work is left up to the safety professional. They might have safety measures in their performance expectations, but rarely are these supervisors expected to demonstrate HOW they changed the work systems they are responsible for in order to make improvements happen. They count on the safety people or the engineers (or threats and fear tactics) to make them look good at the annual review. This is not a sustainable, or recommended, approach by the way.
The need for safety improvement may show up as a sentence or two in their job description, but how do they approach their jobs each day? Look at how they spend their time, and listen to the types of things they say when they talk with their people. How much of a safety focus do you see? Such behavior is a cultural problem, but it is also the leverage point for making significant safety gains.
The Key to Driving Positive Safety System Change
If you want real safety improvement to happen in a fast and sustainable manner, you have to do three things. Begin by changing the job descriptions of each process owner to include specific safety responsibilities. Second, monitor safety performance from both a lagging indicator (incident rates) and a leading indicator (at risk behavior rates) perspective. Third, require each owner to PROVE HOW they are consistently changing their work systems in order to obtain better safety results. Don’t tolerate poor performance. If a process owner is not meeting job expectations, provide coaching and support for at least year, but expect quarterly improvement during that time. If the desired changes are not practiced consistently within a year, help them find a different role to fill.
Keep improving! Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems