In today's world getting to a recordable rate of 1 injury per 200,000 hours worked or .5 is no longer good enough. Most organizations have set their sights much higher and believe that zero is the only acceptable goal. This is the right goal! The question is, can organizations realistically attain this goal within the current business landscape? As organizations—and employees—are required to do more with less, the demands of maintaining performance, let alone accelerating it, can seem overwhelming.
Fundamentally, changes in on-the-ground dynamics speak the most to the challenge in getting to zero. The thinning manager/supervisor to worker ratio, and increasing demands on the individual worker, mean that traditional leadership methods and cultural status quo are no longer sufficient; organizations need to create an order of magnitude change in the type of leader—and the type of culture-they develop.
Changes across industry have created a world that is infinitely more complex and varied than in the past. Companies are demanding more out of each worker than ever before, with less supervision. Downsizing, mergers, buyouts and closings all contribute to increasing noise in the system and an environment that is less stable and certain. Safety procedures have multiplied in most organizations, sometimes in response to the goal of getting to zero itself. Pressure to cut administrative and labor costs are leading companies to increasingly rely on third party contractors. The workforce is aging, presenting new challenges to engagement and personnel management. Getting to zero in this environment should sound daunting—and these are only the major issues.
Clearly adding layers of additional programs is not the answer; most organizations are already drowning in procedures. The next level of performance requires that we strategically leverage existing systems and rethink our approach to safety functioning. For example, do we see safety as discrete activity of a handful of safety professionals, or do we treat safety as a key business function in which everyone plays a role? The latter level of performance is proved by what is sometimes called the "3:00 AM test", that is on the third shift, when no supervisors are around and the outside influences for acting safely are minimized, does the employee work safely or not? In the "3:00AM" organization, employees frequently approach each other independently around safety concerns, and move safety issues up the chain of command, even when the news may not be received well. Employees at all levels have ownership for safety outcomes. In other words, the culture itself drives safety functioning.
In order to leverage our existing systems, it is helpful to understand how safety outcomes are created. The primary activity of safety initiatives, whether at the site or corporate level, is to reduce the level of exposure that occurs in the workplace. All safety activities, mechanisms, programs, and measures are inherently linked to this fundamental task.