Among the companies and institutions we have worked with, many have demonstrated what we would call excellent safety performance. They consistently apply their efforts and sound safety practices to achieve substantial safety outcomes. We have also seen that among these organizations there is a distinct set of "extraordinary" performers; organizations that take their safety performance to a discernibly higher level. These organizations tend not only to surpass the outcomes achieved by their counterparts, they are distinct for another reason; for them safety occupies a wholly different, and some would say unconventional, place in the organizational scheme. They see safety as a performance leader, and actively engage it as such. This paper examines the difference between excellent and extraordinary safety performance, the importance of creating extraordinary safety, the requisite factors for achieving that level of performance, and the implications it has for organizations.
Exhibit 1. Data from a meta-analysis involving 73 organizations showing safety improvement results (available in full paper).
A five-year meta-analysis of 73 long-term clients revealed an interesting trend in improvement in incident rates. While all sites involved in the study showed remarkable improvement each year, the top 25% of these sites showed a yearly incident rate improvement that was significantly higher. This raised a question: what is it about this group that accounts for such a difference in improvement rates? What does the subset have or do that accounts for such accelerated improvement? In other words, "What is the difference behind excellent and extraordinary safety performance?"
Excellent safety performance protects an organization's employees and assets. Extraordinary safety performance uses excellent safety as a starting point for high-functioning generally. Extraordinary safety performers tend to sustain a zero-harm workplace culture, effectively prevent work-related fatalities, and leverage safety as a vehicle for creating a high-performance organizational culture. Interestingly, the road from excellent to extraordinary need not be a long one; once they have done the hard work of becoming excellent safety performers, organizations have acquired the requisite raw materials needed to become "extraordinary" performers. What's needed to make the transition is, first, forming the intent to become extraordinary and, second, developing an understanding of what that means and how to get there.
Achieving excellence in safety performance in the first place is not easy. It requires a concerted effort to align safety objectives with organizational resources and will. In our experience, this forms the foundation for extraordinary performance. Both excellent and extraordinary performers share a common starting point; they see good safety as the right thing to do. The question then becomes not so much why should an organization aim for extraordinary safety, but why not? Extraordinary performance is an extension of the work already begun, it is the work of optimizing the existing quality and reach of safety performance, and as a result, it is a way of solidifying the place of safety in an organization.