Creating safety excellence poses special challenges to organizations with a global presence. Perhaps the greatest barrier to success is the perception that local culture determines outcomes. Comparing safety results by region adds to the confusion; the quality and reliability of injury data varies widely. Many leaders fall into the trap of assuming that the data is representative of the local culture, or that it predetermines future success (or lack thereof). We commonly hear leaders say, "People there just don't value safety," or "Workers in that country aren't very educated (or smart)." These assumptions not only skew the facts, they create a sense of helplessness that undermines the potential for high performance. Just as with productivity or quality, the activities that determine success in safety are consistent across regions. Emerging evidence from hundreds of organizations is showing that the what of safety excellence is consistent everywhere, it is the how that changes.

Premises and Trends

Through data collected and analyzed from hundreds of organizations in over 30 countries around the world, the following foundations have emerged:

  • Operational culture can be assessed, evaluated, and isolated from local cultural conditions.

  • There are nine clear dimensions that are predictive of performance outcomes.

  • These cultural dimensions or characteristics do not vary due to national or local cultures.

  • The reason for this consistency is that leaders decide, and determine, what happens within their operations.

  • Finally, that there are specific strategies and skills leaders can adopt that are effective in ensuring performance outcomes.

In addition to understanding the role of culture, general global trends around workplace safety have also been consistent. These themes include the surprising circumstance that organizations that perform well in safety tend to perform well in production, quality, and profitability… however the reverse is not true. Further trends include culture as an increasing focal point for safety interventions, the view of safety in a systemic framework rather than a programmatic one (a view that promotes the focus on exposure rather than injuries), and the advancement of senior leaders taking on a safety leadership role.

All of these trends point to the increased understanding both of the consequences of safety performance and of the comprehensive nature workplace exposure to injury.

The Role of Culture

Given this set of foundations, an appropriate question is to ask what is meant by culture. Below are two broad definitions, both of which serve this purpose:

"A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to behave" – Edgar Schein "

…consists in patterned ways of thinking, feeling and reacting, acquired and transmitted mainly by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiment in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and their attached values " – Kluckholn

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