Understanding the direction that a safety program is headed, or why it’s moving in that direction, requires an understanding of how the program has evolved over the years. The successes and failures; mission and manpower changes; and of course, the regulatory changes are all contributing factors, instrumental to moving forward.

Early on, with many written safety programs, most of the emphasis is placed on regulatory compliance. This approach most often manifests itself as workplace inspections and accident investigations with “at fault” findings being the result. This type of safety program will yield a certain amount of positive results as it lowers injury cases and rates. Often, this becomes the basis of a corporate safety program for too many years with injury rates being maintained at an acceptable level with very little fluctuations or progress being made.

As corporate safety programs evolve and injury statistical data begin to reveal a lack of progression, senior management will begin to survey and assign rate lowering goals. In turn, these actions will require a change in tactics by the safety team. Typically, this is the time frame when monthly campaigns, posters, and safety trinket handouts become prominent. These tactics are designed to gain the attention of the workforce in an effort to get the community thinking about safety. While this is not a bad thing, it does not address the real issues such as the lack of understanding, safety's tangible role throughout all systems and processes, and its value to all members of the organization.

At this point, decisions must be made to dramatically change the fundamental concepts of the safety program aimed at progressively driving injury numbers down each year. This begins with a tracking mechanism or program which will enable safety personnel to log nonconformities, assign corrective actions, and track them to completion from cradle to grave. This system should also offer real time data trending so statistical information can be provided to senior management at any time. Additionally, it should provide senior management and supervisors at all levels with the ability to view up to date trends at any time from any work station. With the ability to actively monitor up to date trends and identify problem areas and processes, safety programs will quickly gain the ability to be more precise with more efficient focus of efforts.

Another major change to the program should come about through the implementation of a solid and robust safety management system. This system must include a mechanism for employee involvement at all levels of the organization which is a key element towards long term sustainability and continuous improvement. A time proven successful method of encouraging employee involvement is the creation of collateral duty safety positions. These collateral duty personnel should be well organized and provided with regularly scheduled meetings designed to be a platform for information dissemination, problem solving, trend analysis discussion, and best practice sharing. Collateral duty safety personnel should also be provided with increased training opportunities and clarity of job functions. In turn, these efforts will increase their capabilities and provide employees of all levels with a go-to person better able to assist with work center specific safety issues such as hazard identification, job hazard analysis (JHA) creation, and nonconformance remediation within a timely manner.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, safety personnel need to change the way they interact with all levels of employees at an organization. In other words, we need to change the way we do business. Fundamentally speaking, the safety team needs to move away from reactionary, compliance based operations and move toward a more proactive, cooperative approach. Realizing that safety should be process based and that process improvement is the only viable way forward and forces the acknowledgement that people are in essence a process component. Understanding that concept changes the focus from “at fault finding” to a process failure effort. To illustrate, if an employee makes a mistake, the reason for the mistake is almost irrelevant. The process should be analyzed, the mistake identified, and improvement opportunities to prevent future reoccurrence implemented. During this time, the search for other failure opportunities or ways to make the process more efficient should also occur. In addition to better working relationships across organizational work centers, this philosophy will also forge partnerships between safety and other subject matter experts such as Industrial Hygiene, Fire, Environmental, Maintenance, and Continuous Process Improvement (CPI).

The harsh reality is that no safety person, no matter how educated or experienced they may be, can make an organization become a safe place to work. It takes a partnership forged through cooperative efforts, a team rooted in trust, and progressive efforts from every member of the organization to continually strive to be a little better every day. Without the adoption of this fundamental safety philosophy, even the best written programs will stagnate.