The Alignment Fallacy
Whilst many companies have a safety policy and there is a genuine commitment to employee health, safety and wellbeing at the corporate level, this does not necessarily translate into operational practice. This is referred to as the ‘Alignment Fallacy’. Specifically, in theory, company policy, goals and values translate into strategic management decisions, then middle management decisions, and finally operational decisions. It is assumed that employee goals and values are congruent with company goals and values, which should result in consistently safe behavioral choices at the coalface.
In reality, however, there are often mixed messages at the middle management and frontline supervisory levels. Whilst policy may say ‘Safety First’, other messaging either overtly stated or implied, communicates that production comes first. As a result, employees can perceive production to take precedence and this affects behavioral drivers that lead to shortcuts and risk taking to get the job done.
The Alignment Fallacy is exacerbated by accounting practices which work against ‘Safety First’ messaging. There is a financial conflict between profit and the costs of managing risk. In addition, it is not possible to account for all the costs of poor risk management or the full benefits of effective risk management. In accounting, human capital is treated as expenditure not an asset therefore the benefits of training are under-estimated and insufficiently valued as a risk mitigation strategy.
Accordingly, overall management systems contain weaknesses in terms of non-alignment with the ‘Safety First’ message. Examples include reward systems based on production bonuses and individual performance evaluations that are output focused without weighting to effective risk management and demonstrated leadership.
Safety vs Production
The operation level is where the conflict between safety and production is most evident. For instance, the frontline supervisor is responsible for safety and production within management systems that do not necessarily support both roles concurrently. If a shift supervisor fails to achieve production as a result of fixing all safety and maintenance issues that have arisen on the shift, he/she is accountable. If production is pushed to the detriment of safety and an incident occurs, he/she is also accountable. The frontline supervisor faces a dilemma which is inherent in the role within businesses that do not have risk management as the primary driver of production, quality and incident mitigation.
The figure below illustrates the Alignment Fallacy with alignment in theory on the left cascading company policy, goals and values to the operational level. On the right, messaging is diluted as decisions are made down the organizational hierarchy and weaknesses in the management system erode ‘Safety First’ and other performance-critical policies, goals and values.
Work Health and Safety Work Health and Safety Alignment
Figure 1: The Alignment Fallacy, Adapted from Mol, T., 2003, Productive Safety Management, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford.
The consequences of failing to address the Alignment Fallacy are poor risk management and an unhealthy culture. Symptoms include production centricity, risk-taking behavior, poor operational decision making, deficiencies in leadership and lack of heartfelt commitment to the success of the organization.
How to Achieve Alignment of Production and Safety
A number of issues need to be addressed to achieve alignment of production and safety:
- Understanding how production environments encourage risk-taking behavior and the relationship between such behavior and the real (as opposed to the imagined) culture.
- A shift away from ‘safety’ per se (as safety does not exist for its own sake) to managing risk to achieve safety, quality outputs and production concurrently.
- Review of management systems to identify and rectify areas of non-alignment for instance, paying contractors based on production targets and concurrently expecting no shortcuts to safe work practices.
- Review of management behaviors such as decision-making practices, to ensure leaders have the tools to pursue optimal outcomes and that their decisions are defensible both legally and from a business objectives perspective.
The Alignment Fallacy was published in Productive Safety Management, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford 2003. The next article will present the ‘Entropy Model’ which explains how to manage risk to achieve production, quality outputs and incident mitigation concurrently. The ‘Entropy Model’ is the second key tool of Productive Safety Management. It will be re-released in the upcoming publication, Safety Leadership and Professional Development, American Society of Safety Professionals, June 2018. For a preview of the Entropy Model, click here >
Tania Van der Stap, Founder and Principal Director of Align Risk Management
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 Parsons. 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.
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