This article discusses the importance of measuring safety Culture, a method for doing so, and the role that a well-designed and closely monitored inspections program can play in both measuring and disseminating a culture of safety in an organization.
It is the very vagueness that we attribute to Safety Culture that makes it intimidating to measure quantitatively. However, as with any aspect of organizational function, measuring your progress on implementing and/or perpetuating a culture of safety is crucial to success – and can, in fact, help provide the clarity necessary to make it feel achievable. But how?
A good place to start when thinking about how to measure safety culture is to reflect upon how we identify it – seemingly intuitively – when we see it in action. Consider some of the most obvious characteristics that would make anyone say, “Wow, they’ve got a culture of safety!”:
- Employees are confronted when exhibiting unsafe behavior in the workplace
- When changes to process are discussed, employees / managers bring up any safety issues that might arise
- Upper management supports safety efforts through resource allocation as well as inclusion of safety in company values
- Employees participate in safety tasks and efforts
Of these characteristics, the last is the most easily measured across an organization. So, we propose one suitable way to measure a culture of safety in an organization is through active employee participation in safety tasks. When more employees are performing safety tasks, one can logically conclude that the organization’s safety culture has improved. While not the only indicator of safety culture, it seems to be a reliable and achievable gauge. And, the flip side of accepting employee participation as an indicator for safety culture is that building a safety culture can potentially be achieved through engaging employees in safety efforts.
Putting it into action in the safety inspections program
Safety inspections are an easy place to start for both creating and measuring a culture of safety. Inspections are often simple and easy to perform, require involvement of more people than sit directly within EH&S, and benefit from regular performance. Thus, it is a program that touches on the elements of how we recognize a safety culture – widespread involvement, regular and structured involvement, employee identification of risks and employee suggestion for improvement. For those employees that are involved, the act of performing safety tasks makes them more aware of and engaged in issues related to safety.
With a disseminated inspections program in place, a much larger cross-section of the organization is thinking about and responsible for safety efforts. Now it’s crucial to measure that people are, in fact, performing their assigned inspections. So, the first step to measuring a culture of safety is to track the completion rate of inspections, and the percentage of employees performing them. By improving these two rates you can reasonably conclude that you have improved your culture of safety – for example, if your organization measured a 60% completion rate for inspections in 2013, with 4% of the non-safety population contributing, and improved to 80% of inspections completed in 2014, with 9% of non-safety employees contributing.
This measurement can prove problematic if those employees “completing” their inspections are checking off their list without actually performing the necessary inspections – in that case, the numbers would indicate a culture of obedience, rather than a culture of safety. So an important third measurement would be to correlate the efforts in the inspections program with relevant safety outcomes. If your employees are simply paying lip service to their inspections responsibilities, and are checking the boxes without performing the inspections, you are unlikely to see a notable impact on outcomes. However, if the employees actually are engaging with their responsibilities, you can expect to see a decrease in injury and near miss rates.
For those organizations with employees simply checking the boxes, it’s important to reflect upon why they aren’t taking the inspections more seriously. There are two likely reasons for their lack of effort: (1) barriers to completion, and (2) the belief that their effort is nothing more than bureaucratic, and that it won’t actually impact the safety of their colleagues. Here are a few ideas for how to replace a culture of obedience with a culture of safety in an inspections program:
- Make sure inspections are simple to complete and submit – automation is almost always more efficient, and often a better experience for the employee.
- Provide contact information for the safety team in case of questions or concerns.
- Always close the loop! Every implemented corrective action should be reported back to the individual who first identified the need for it. Employees are more likely to stay engaged when they know their effort creates change.
Ideally, every organization would have a strong culture of safety. However, some EH&S programs create a barrier to success by failing to concretely define the concept of a “safety culture,” and lacking clear steps to take to implement or improve the culture within the organization. By utilizing employee participation in safety efforts as a measurement for safety culture, EH&S leaders can quantify and gauge the success of their safety culture – and an inspections program can provide the ideal vehicle to make it happen.
3 metrics for measuring safety culture through an inspections program:
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