Management systems and corporate culture have been some of the most requested conference topics for the past few years. Which is more important? Are they necessarily independent of each other? The author and his associates have been assisting companies in the implementation of VPP and OHSAS 18000 management systems since 1992. In that time, they have visited over 250 sites assessing, measuring, instructing and training corporations and Federal agencies in the development of both management systems and culture.

Since 1982, OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) has been identifying both leading companies and defining safety management systems and culture. In 1989, they published their Program Management Guidelines, a compendium of what it takes to put in place both a culture and management system. Since then, there have been numerous updates published, and a number of similar efforts to define management systems (OHSAS 18000, ANSI Z10, etc.). However, there are many factors that define an organizations culture, and now even more there are dozens of publications that attempt to define a safety management system. In addition, behavioral scientists have first lauded and now accepted the limitations of worker only behavioral processes, and are focusing on management behavior, or culture. Employee perception surveys, culture surveys, etc. have become part of the H&S world, not just the human resources world.

While they are generally thought of as two distinct and separate concepts, there are probably more similarities than differences. This presentation is designed not to answer all of your questions, but to provide food for thought in helping H&S professionals understand the relationship between systems and culture.

What Are Management Systems?

Dan Petersen, the guru of safety management systems, has described unsafe acts and unsafe conditions as symptoms, symptoms of management system deficiencies. Systems can be described as a group of interaction, interrelated or interdependent elements forming or regard as forming a collective entity. Worded another way, a system is a group of processes that interact and work together to provide an efficiency. Processes are a series of actions, changes or functions that bring about an end to result. A process means: to put through the steps of a prescribed procedure. A process is NOT a program. In order for workers to behave in a safe or risk adverse manner, which ultimately eliminates exposure and incidents, management must create a culture where safety is a value, not just a priority. One of the ways they do that is by committing to, and ensuring that processes are in place, and that they become a system. Others have described management systems as Plan, Do, Check, Act (OHSAS and Z10). Management folks have used the definition of planning, organizing, directing and controlling for years. Malcolm Baldrige defines it as a series of benchmarking and continuous improvement. There are now 24 different safety management systems either on the books or in draft form as this is written.

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