Occupational safety and health management has taken on many faces over the years. Some approaches have worked well but many have produced only short term or mediocre safety performance improvements. This paper will examine many traditional safety activities and recent contemporary approaches utilized by business for improving safety performance. It will conclude with discussing ways organizations can engage line management for achieving safety and health excellence.

The traditional approaches, when used collectively, have produced significant safety improvements in the workplace historically. However, most organizations have used them individually and somewhat intermittently. Safety excellence was not attained or sustained. For example, many felt that having a safety program was the answer, but later determine that loss-producing incidents were only a symptom of a much bigger problem than a safety program alone could fix. Others felt that top management commitment was critical, but in most cases, found that it was nothing more than lip service, providing little substantive basis for safety improvements. Still other historically felt that the path to safety improvement was to integrate safety into the production process. But they too, have realized that in most organizations, it was usually "Up a hill slow, down a hill fast; production was first and safety was last," as opposed to a true integration of safety.

Some organizations believed that first line supervisors were the key to improvements. Unfortunately, they learned that this so-called key couldn't open any doors because supervisors were at the "symptom level" and not at the "solution level" in an organization. First line supervision had little ability to make organizational and cultural changes for company-wide safety performance improvement.

Many organizations traditionally handled safety efforts and activities via a safety committee. Unfortunately, "safety by committee" in many entities became an excuse for indecisive and uninvolved management. Other companies stepped up safety training as the answer to safety problems. But over time, they, too, came to the realization through incident investigations that insured employees, in most cases, knew and understood the rules and procedures, but simply did not follow them. They concluded that more training would not cure enforcement/compliance problems.

Some organizations focused their efforts on incident investigations, but history has again taught us that these investigations rarely found true root causes, and rarely produce substantial changes to alter root causes if, in fact, they were identified.

Nearly all organizations historically used safety inspections to seek out safety improvements. But these inspections usually served only to examine and document symptoms of a systemic management problem. Some also learned that these inspections provided OSHA the justification for large fines, in some situations due to employers having knowledge of uncorrected hazards.

Some companies felt that aggressive safety goals were needed to spark safety performance. They rapidly learned that zero incidents were unachievable and that numeric goals alone could not produce results. They also learned that goals without objectives and objectives without accountability were a major barrier to safety excellence.

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.