Integrate Safety System Approach into Daily Operations

By Jonathan Jacobi July 20, 2015

Here’s a drill that might sound familiar. The corporate office—or some regulator—calls to announce an audit or assessment. Following the call, a series of short-notice meetings ensue to direct activities aimed at momentarily cleaning up the operation to maximize assessment scores.

The sprint leaves an organization tired and beleaguered, and for what? Window dressing, a façade, a ruse—however you describe it, it’s not sustainable and it’s harmful to culture. Last minute cleanup efforts often result in lackluster scores; even winning assessment scores are a bad thing because they perpetuate the cycle of management by assessment.

No one wants to look bad or unprepared. There are obvious reasons why managers end up being managed by assessments, but health and safety needs to happen throughout the year, not just before audits and assessments.

Organizations need to break the cycle, even if this means showing performance in its most raw and unimproved state.

But don’t be shamed into improvement by external auditors. Instead, perform honest self-assessments, make assessment results visible, form teams to refine processes, assign accountabilities, set goals, and then measure, recognize and reward upstream activities that lead to downstream results. In other words, implement a sustainable systems approach that provides credit for work well done and never leaves an organization wondering how it’s going to be ready for the next assessment.

Safety System Approach

A safety system approach is nothing more than a quality systems approach applied to health and safety management. There are efficiencies to be gained managing health and safety like other areas of the business. When health and safety is considered part of the business, like production and quality, it’s less likely to be prioritized away as a matter of convenience and more likely to be integrated into day-to-day activities.

Getting an ongoing systems approach off the ground begins with selling the approach to site decision makers. They are going to want to know about the benefits, the overall plan and resources needed.

Consider putting together a matrix to match up safety system accountabilities with names of department representatives for each assessment topic. For instance, maybe representatives are needed from shipping and receiving, production, and maintenance to represent the topic of powered industrial trucks.

Multidepartmental teams representing each topic standardize best-practice processes with measures of effectiveness and interact regularly to review progress and disseminate lessons learned and other information.

Organizations properly implementing the approach can reach new levels of transparency including the transparency needed to recognize and reward activities performed to ensure incident-free work (not just awards for incident-free work which is possible through happenstance and underreporting).

Health and safety professionals serve as advisors to teams. Because teams are allowed to own safety, and safety has been defined as a series of ongoing activities and accountabilities, when audits or assessments happen there is no need for emergency cleanup.

What’s more, health and safety professionals no longer need to do all of the talking or be worried about what operations personnel might say during audits and assessments. Health and safety professionals can be assured that when auditors and assessors are onsite, site representatives will be capable, knowledgeable and even proud to speak for the processes they helped implement.

Jonathan Jacobi is a senior environment, health and safety advisor with UL, a global safety consulting and certification company headquartered in Northbrook, Ill.

Copyright 2015 © UL. All rights reserved.​


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