Safety Culture Excellence®

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There is No Stasis in Safety

May 1st, 2013

There are two strategies in safety that don’t work; one is doing nothing and the other is trying to maintain the status quo.  The sad truth is that safety is constantly either getting better or getting worse.  It would seem logical that keeping a constant level of effort toward accident reduction would result in a relatively constant result.  While this can be true in the short term, it seldom continues for multiple years.  Many organizations get a wake-up call when, after a few years of relatively low accident rates, they have a rash of accidents they didn’t expect.

Much of this thinking is the result of relying too heavily on lagging indicators to evaluate safety performance.  Periods without accidents can appear to be the result of safety efforts when in fact they are simply luck.  Low-probability risks do not cause accidents with every incidence, and it can take time to play out the results of such risks.  Lagging indicators will accurately reflect the risk level over time, but usually too late to respond effectively.

The two ways to overcome this problem involve developing leading indicators and implementing continuous improvement.  Leading indicators help to evaluate the amount of effort and change that is happening in safety activities.  Continuous improvement simply means that the organization must maintain a healthy sense of vulnerability and constantly target new safety improvements.  The journey to safety excellence is long, but can be effectively taken a step at a time.

-Terry L. Mathis

Terry L. Mathis is the founder and CEO of ProAct Safety, an international safety and performance excellence firm. He is known for his dynamic presentations in the fields of behavioral and cultural safety, leadership, and operational performance, and is a regular speaker at ASSE, NSC, and numerous company and industry conferences. EHS Today listed Terry as a Safety Guru in ‘The 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS’ in both 2010 and 2011. He has been a frequent contributor to industry magazines for over 15 years and is the coauthor of STEPS to Safety Culture Excellence, 2013, WILEY.