This article is titled Foundation for Safety Excellence but it grew out of an article I wrote over twenty years ago titled "5 Stages to World Class Safety". In that article I set out to answer the question "How good is your safety program?" by identifying the five stages an organization passes through on its way to world class safety performance. I've seen a lot in the last 20 years and I've since refined my answer. Here's what I said back then.

Determining the quality of your safety program is a lot trickier than it might appear. Some people think it's a numbers game. They think if there aren't a lot of injuries and illnesses, then the program must be good. If there are a lot of injuries and illnesses, then the program must be bad.

If only things were that simple! Equating the number of accidents and illnesses with the quality of the safety program is confusing cause and effect. It also overlooks the role of luck - good and bad

- in workplace safety.

The journey to attaining world class safety performance starts with a clear understanding of:

  • Where you have been

  • Where you are today, and

  • Where you are going if nothing changes.

When you understand these things, you can determine the changes you need to make and the path to take to achieve your goal.

Then—Five Stages of a "Good" Safety Program

Where is your program right now? (See Exhibit 1.)

(Exhibit in full paper)

Stage 1: Realization

This stage is marked by high injury rates and workers' compensation costs. Employees are at high risk of injury and the company at high risk of liability. The direct costs of lost time injuries eat away at profitability. All of these factors exert pressure on management to "do something." Audits are conducted to identify areas most in need of improvement.

Stage 2: Traditional

In this stage, companies make it a priority to develop policies and procedures. This is also when the education process begins. As yet, the organization has had no success in changing behaviors. Employees and management continue to do what's convenient without regard for safety. Steps taken to identify and address hazardous conditions have resulted in higher production and overhead costs. Machine maintenance and repair, shielding and guarding derive from a reactive - "we'll fix it when it's broken" - approach by management.

Stage 3: Observation

During this stage, management initiates an observation-based safety program in addition to the traditional program. Management is driving the improvement process with little to no employee involvement. Managers spend more time on the production floor or the worksite "observing" for hazards. Compliance is at the forefront of their minds and better documentation and recordkeeping are a priority.

Stage 4: Empowerment

Management and employees now share responsibility for assessing risks and preventing injuries. There's joint accountability in the education process.

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