A Safety Challenge

The site manager for a facility which had been the flagship in safety performance for a Fortune 500 company was very concerned about the lack of improvement in the site's safety performance over the past three years. There were high expectations from corporate leadership and senior management for continual improvement in safety performance and metrics. This particular location had been a leader in safety performance improvement for many years, creating procedures, policies and programs at the site, which the corporation had adopted throughout its entire organization. Many of the corporate safety managers had worked at this particular site over the years. A chart was proudly displayed at the site showing the step-change reduction in recordable injuries, which had occurred when a behavioral observation program had been introduced several years before. The site's injury statistics were a fraction of the industry average. However, safety performance at this site had hit a plateau three years ago, and it seemed nothing the site manager tried, from TQM approaches to preaching could break through this resistance to continued safety improvement. The observation program, which had been so successful in past years, had lost steam and repeated attempts to restart it were unsuccessful. The workforce became resigned to the fact that injuries were just going to happen, yet remained unsatisfied that a certain number of people would get hurt seriously enough to warrant treatment from a doctor, and inevitably, a permanent disability would result.

The only appropriate commitment regarding safety performance is the elimination of worker injury

We're not alone…

Industry continues to make great strides in eliminating unsafe conditions. Overall, great strides have been made as frequency and severity of injuries have also decreased significantly over the years. Clearly, the vast majority of injuries in the workplace today result not from unsafe conditions, but from unsafe behavior or acts, something often referred to as the " human factor." Still, in spite of these strides, most companies are not satisfied with their safety performance. People continue to get hurt, no matter what the cause, frequency or degree of severity. Companies want to work and operate Incident and Injury-Free. However, very few companies who have been working diligently on safety for an extended period of time, report a continuing significant decrease in injuries. Some companies have actually seen a trend reversal, experiencing an increase in injury frequency. For many other companies, while safety performance has not regressed, safety performance has remained stuck at a plateau, with little or no progress in reducing injuries.

Because the " human factor" causes the vast majority of incidents and injuries, it follows that there is a lot more work to do on the people, or the subjective, side of safety. Working on the subjective side of safety is straightforward. First, safety efforts must reach and engage people's hearts and minds - this is most often the job of leadership. Second, the subjective aspects of safety can be managed and must be managed.

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