Create & Sustain a Safety Culture
March 9, 2020

Safety in chemical operations, or any industrial setting for that matter, should always be top of mind, and we should never miss an opportunity to reinforce best safety practice behaviors with ourselves, coworkers, visitors to our facilities, family in everyday life, or whomever we may encounter.  

We are all familar with safety articles: make your work area safe, follow SOPs to work safely, use your PPE, and use it correctly, etc. Considerable effort and focus is placed on generating constant and timely reminders, informative articles, and teaching tools to remind us to be safe out there.  We even use reminders in our toolbox meetings and as a start to other company meetings. 

So why then, are we still struggling to make the workplaces safer than they are today?  

There is considerable evidence advocating behavior-based safety as a key driver to safer workplaces. Because, even with all of the effort and focus to keep safety at the forefront in the execution of our daily work activities, 5,250 workers still died on the job in 2018! That should be unacceptable for any company, irrespective of the sector, in an advanced economy.  This means that, on average, more than 100 deaths a week, or more than 14 deaths every day. That’s 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. 

Specific to the Chemical sector, OSHA statistics show:

FATALITIES (2018)
INJURIES WITH TIME AWAY (2018)

Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the four main causes of safety incidents industrial settings are:

•  Human Error

•  Improper Training

•  Machine and Equipment Failure from defects

•  Improper Maintenance

Additionally, statistics reveal that 80% to 95% of incidents are caused by at-risk behavior, something wholly preventable. We accept the fact that the frequency of injuries can be reduced through behavior with continuous positive reinforcement. 

In organizations where safety performance is truly world-class, there are commonly shared characteristics: 

•  Safety programs engage the entire workforce, from leadership to the shop floor, with total participation.  Safety wears no stripes, from the operator to the CEO; everyone is open and accepting of safety intervention coaching.

•  Engaged behavior-based safety teams move the needle on near miss, reportable, and recordable incidents.

•  Behavior-based safety programs are progressive and drive proactive behaviors.

All of this is geared to reminding us that safety is not just important; it is critical! It is something we care deeply about, and it is a behavior we want everyone to adopt and be instinctive in everything we do.  We want to see everyone focused on their core tasks, accountabilities, responsibilities, and be productive and efficient in the execution of their roles, but to do so within a safety envelope that is essentially transparent. Safety first should not only be a nice poster on the wall but the priority in every workplace.

Here’s how a global-operations executive for a chemical manufacturer summed it up: 

The term “Behavior” means the way people act in a predictable manner. To accomplish this, management must create the Safety Culture in which employees behave as expected every time.  Creating and sustaining a safety culture is a key responsibility of management. Three components are needed to create and sustain a Safety Culture: Leadership, Work Process, Process Safety. 

LEADERSHIP

Leadership means providing employees with the right tools to do their jobs. Training them in the procedures and behaviors to perform their work in a safe manner. Coaching them and provide feedback on an on-going basis to create the expected performance. Setting performance expectations and holding employees accountable. Celebrating the achievement of milestones and recognizing the employees for good behavior.

WORK PROCESS

Work Process have two components: 

1. Safety procedures must be accurate, and employees must be able to execute their work according to them every time. It’s part of the expected behavior. If the procedures are not updated or inaccurate, they must be corrected. If equipment modifications are needed, they must be implemented. 

2. The second part of the work processes is how behaviors are managed by supervision and providing them with the tools to supervise the employees adequately. At the same time, employees must be given the tools to ensure they can execute their work safely.

PROCESS SAFETY

It is the responsibility of management to provide their employees with a safe place to work. The equipment they operate must be designed, constructed, and maintained in accordance with existing laws and regulations to ensure employees are safe.

Since we all know the benefits of Behavior-Based Safety programs, how can we truly ensure success and deliver world-class safety performance?

There are no short-cuts in delivering the full potential of a true behavior-based safety program. Success is an outcome of determination, purpose, and intent to deliver real behavior change. Behavior change is difficult, according to a recent HBR article, up to 75% of change management initiatives fail to deliver the desired outcomes. Our experience demonstrates that most behavior-based safety programs fail because they rarely get the organization beyond compliance, people are only doing so to comply with instructions from leadership. As with all initiatives, the initial surge of focus and effort eventually begins to wane, and people’s behavior falls back into old habits. Change management is a critical component in driving the desired outcomes from any BBS program or any programs for that matter.

People need training, coaching, and one-on-one observations, to move through the change process from compliance, understanding, Internalizing, and truly owning the change.  They then begin to continuously practice and exhibit the designed and desired behaviors both as individuals and a collective.  Once at this level, they feel empowered to act on their own to intervene and coach anyone they encounter, positively and productively.

When a critical mass has achieved this level…CONGRATULATIONS, it’s Institutionalized!