The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

How to Transform a Poor Safety Culture

Graham Marshall - Thursday, September 08, 2011

Over the years I've worked with a lot of organizations with shit-house (Aussie term = "not very good") safety cultures but who have had a genuine desire to make real and lasting changes in order to reach a more mature form of safety culture.

It is my belief that any organization, regardless of its current level of safety culture maturity can make the changes necessary to reach "World's best practice" in safety performance - provided they follow a good plan.

I realize, however, that starting the EHS improvement journey can seem like an overwhelming decision with what seems like no possibility of success.

Here are my tips on what I've seen work with the organizations I've assisted over the previous 15 years.

Firstly, start really, really small.

Develop and stick to a planning template which ticks off micro- and short-term targets.  Targets need to be immediately achievable. 

Start as small as what will happen in the next task over the next ten minutes.  What do we aim to achieve in the next hour?  What is achievable over the course of this morning?  What is achievable over the whole day?

Setting and achieving realistic simple hour-by-hour and day-by-day goals is positively reinforcing.

Secondly, start with the "safety one-percenters".  You'll need to check my blog posts in January and February 2011 for more information about these.  In a nutshell, however, safety one-percenters are the low-hanging fruit of the safety world.  They're the easy to achieve targets that are almost impossible to stuff-up. 

Getting quick-wins becomes positively reinforcing.

Thirdly, once you get the easy to achieve and immediate daily targets being met over a sustained period, slowly build up to harder to achieve stretch targets and over a longer time-period. 

Establish safety targets for the whole week. 

Note that these targets can be both leading- as well as lagging-indicators.  A leading indicator would be a completed JSA for each defined higher-risk task over a whole week.  You might expect to receive 15-20 individual JSAs for review by Friday.  A lagging indicator might be a whole week worked with no recordables.  Either way, they're both good targets to aim for.

Fourthly, continue to build harder- and harder-objectives over longer- and longer-periods of time.

Within a few months you might begin to talk about monthly safety goals.  After a while it will build to annual goals. 

Before long you'll find you have five- and maybe even ten-year safety plans being discussed.

But start really small - overwise it'll all just seem overwhelming to most folks.

If you start small, you'll find the longer-term safety culture ambitions take care of themselves.

This slow process of "accumulation of good practices" will go almost unnoticed but one day, you'll wake up and realize you've built a World-beating mature safety culture.

I'm happy to talk more about improving safety culture performance so feel free to use the "contact us" page to get in touch with questions or suggestions.

I wish you good luck in your efforts.


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