Most companies have an aspiration to be leaders in safety, to dramatically reduce trailing indicators and share their improvements both internally and externally. In the beginning, it's easy to make improvements: assure that policies and guidance are in place to support compliance, focus on areas of easy improvement and put basic monitoring and communication in place. In other words, companies start out by harvesting the "low hanging fruit". Most of this initial effort is owned and accomplished by the health and safety team, at the local, regional and corporate levels. And make no mistake about it, this process is satisfying.
After these initial successes, however, every company reaches a plateau. For many, this is about the time that the recordable injury rate dips below 1.0. At this point, many ask "Now that we are good, how do we get to great?" In other words, how do you take your company to the next level, in a sustainable way? The answer is that the next step to greatness requires changing the fundamental business culture. Obviously, this is neither an easy task, nor one that happens overnight.
This paper outlines the steps undertaken by one global manufacturing company in its ongoing quest to achieve a "Zero Harm Workplace". The focus is on "Zero Harm" rather than "Zero Accidents" because the former is a proactive approach that places the power, responsibility, and ability to improve in the hands of the employees. Consequently, employees become the team members who ultimately identify and eliminate hazards and lower the overall workplace risk level. In contrast, "Zero Accidents" focuses on the outcome (or trailing indicators), with limited ability to control them. "Zero Harm" focuses on the presence of safety, while "Zero Accidents" focuses on its absence.
In any organization, culture drives safety performance. Consequently, a change in culture must precede a significant change in safety outcomes. What is culture? Merriam Webster defines it as "the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time; a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc. or a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)." Culture is the way individuals interact and connect, the way they dress and the way they behave. Changing a culture requires commitment and vision, and multilevel engagement.