February 25, 2019

Safety: The Nagging Issue

One of the premises that safety management has been built on is that the WORK CAN ALWAYS BE MADE SAFER. Is this premise true? It’s assumed that there are always opportunities for improvement (OFIs). This has been a driver for additional layers of risk assessment before anyone has even lifted the hammer and placed the nail to make contact between the two.
The safety profession has poked and prodded at the work and the people who do it, micro-analyzing tasks and, as rightly pointed out by Safety Differently advocates, this has come at a cost in terms of bureaucracy and professional credibility of the discipline.

5 Productive Safety Systems Considerations

From a Productive Safety Management systems perspective, there are also other considerations:
  1. Do inefficient safety management systems, by consuming excessive time disproportionate to the actual risk of the work, create a greater risk in the form of production, productivity or schedule pressure?
  2. How does this production pressure risk affect management decision-making?
  3. How does this risk affect worker’s behaviors individually, collectively as a team dynamic and organizationally?
  4. What impact does production pressure risk have on the company culture?
  5. Over time, how would entrenched production pressure affect continuity of production, the quality of the work undertaken and HSE performance?
What I’m proposing is that pushing margins of safety to perceived higher levels of assurance may, in fact, be less safe in the bigger picture because of ‘risk transfer’. Once major hazards have been addressed and robust safety-critical control systems and monitoring are in place, what real gains are there is prescribing further marginal risk controls to competent workers? In fact, I’d suggest that this is counterproductive to the desired culture.
It reminds me of a personal story that I’ll share to put you in another person’s shoes. When I was 15, I sat an accounting test along with about 350 other students in the district. I received the highest mark, 96.5%. When I went to collect my test paper, the teacher showed me that she had deducted half a mark because of a spelling error! Marked down for spelling on an accounting test? For all intent, surely, I was verified as highly competent. Wasn’t that enough? It seems not as the teacher had spotted an OFI.
Let’s now consider, how we regard competence in the workforce through safety programs. It’s common for organizations to use behavioral-based safety observations (BBSO) carte blanche for their workforce including qualified personnel who are therefore capable in the management of the risks of their work. Qualified means verified as competent. Therefore, they are not an at-risk group from a skills perspective. BBSO programs are often justified on the pursuit of OFIs, however, thought is not given to other risks that may be introduced if the target participants are skilled in the work they’re employed to do?

4 Productive Safety Culture Considerations

From a Productive Safety Management culture perspective, these are some of the key considerations:
  1. What message is being conveyed about trust in the workforce’s competence when implementing these BBSO programs?
  2. How carefully has management considered workforce perceptions of the program i.e. constructive versus patronizing, bearing in mind that personnel may hold quite different views covertly than overtly?
  3. Who conducts the observations? If these are part of managers’ key performance indicators, is there confidence that this formal process builds trust more effectively than self-driven, care and concern? Is the program doing good or harm for the desired culture?
  4. If the BBSO has been introduced because there’s evidence of behavioral issues ie personnel may be competent but that’s not the same as compliant, then what is the root cause? If it’s under-resourcing, production pressure or lack of leadership, the BBSO will only exacerbate the issues.

8 Risk Profile Principles

Before introducing any behavior or culture-based program, understand the risk profile of the workforce. Here are a few principles to follow:
  • Beware the desire to ‘fix’ people.
  • ‘One size’ doesn’t fit all.
  • Engage and leverage the capability of competent personnel:
  • Provide leadership opportunities
  • Give multiple means for personnel to have a voice and to be active in sustaining quality work
  • Show genuine appreciation
  • Upskill where there are competency gaps.
  • Use communication tools and techniques with the end-user in mind eg don’t assume everyone is IT savvy or that all managers and supervisors are extroverts and love a jolly good safety conversation!
  • Build in positive mental health into safety programs where possible by reducing bureaucratic burdens and stressors such as lack of role clarity, poor management of change and work-related pressures.
  • If you’re a safety professional, don’t feel the need to have all the answers. Be a champion of the ‘dumb question’ that gets a constructive dialogue started.
  • Step out of the detail regularly to take a ‘helicopter view’ of the business’ risk profile. Where are the real OFIs for good planning, teamwork, effective communication, leveraging capability at the operational level and taking practical, risk-based actions by the people who do the work.
The endless quest for micro-OFIs equates to safety nagging. Effective risk management and development of leadership capability will benefit your organization much more than indulging in trivial pursuits.
Tania is an international author specializing in managing risk to improve productivity, quality work and HSE performance. She has extensive experience in Australia across diverse industries.
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For more information about ALIGN Risk Management’s ½ Day Effective Risk Management Program and 1-2 Day Leadership Programs, contact Tania at tania@alignstrategic.com.au

Tania Van der Stap is the Founder and Principal Director of ALIGN Strategic Management Services Pty Ltd established in 2002, after having Productive Safety Management published internationally by Butterworth-Heinemann. The publication presents a strategic, multi-disciplinary management system for hazardous industries that ties safety and production together.
From 2002 to 2012, Tania provided HSE consulting services to Chevron’s Gorgon Project, Monadelphous, Baker Hughes, Fortescue Metals Group and Worley Pars
ons. Thereafter for 5 years, Tania took a HSE Manager’s role with AngloGold Ashanti Australia where she made significant improvements taking the department from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘proactive’ on the HSE journey.
In late 2016, her company was rebadged to ALIGN Risk Management specialising in HSE Consulting and Risk Leadership Programs for managers, supervisors, HSE professionals and workers. Her chapter on ‘Risk Leadership – A Multi-Disciplinary Approach’ has been accepted by the American Society of Safety Professionals and will be published in Safety Leadership and Professional Development ahead of the ASSP’s 2018 Safety Conference.

In addition to Productive Safety Management being a substantial, refereed publication, Tania’s credentials include academic qualifications in Commerce and also Public Health and Safety.

Van der Stap, T 2018. ‘Risk Leadership – A Multidisciplinary Approach’ in Safety Leadership and Professional Development. American Society of Safety Professionals. USA. Mol, T. 2003. Productive Safety Management. Butterworth Heinemann. Oxford. (Note: Tania Van der Stap is the author of this publication)
© 2018 Align Strategic Management Services Pty Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on ALIGN’s Risk Leadership Program and Consulting Services, contact info@alignstrategic.com.au

ALIGN Risk Management specializes in Productive Safety Management, and believe HSEQ systems can be efficient, cost-effective and ensure continuity of production.

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