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October 23, 2012
Leadership and Continuous Improvement: Closing the Gap Between Safety as a Value and Safety Culture

There is a gap between the value of worker safety and the culture of safety in many organizations. Closing the gap is a theme frequently discussed this week at the 2012 National Safety Council Congress and Expo in Orlando, attended by several thousand safety professionals, executive managers, and other professionals involved in both worker and public safety.

3 recognized leaders in workplace safety discussed how they are closing the gap between safety as a value and the culture of safety in their organizations, and how business leaders can successfully implement strategies to continuously improve safety in their organizations.

Dan Cockerell, VP of Operations at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts’ Hollywood Studios, said that employees are always looking to see if leaders are telling the truth. Are they doing what they say they are doing and going to do? He said Disney is addressing this at several levels.

At the executive level, the President at Disney has held small group meetings with all leaders in the company to allow them to explain their concerns and observations about safety, a more informal but direct way to highlight and address concerns than through written reports or emails.

At all levels of the organization, Disney integrates safety priorities with business priorities. He sent safety managers in to operations to listen to workers. At Disney, as with most workplaces, workers were very reluctant to speak up about safety problems in front of managers. The culture in the workplace discouraged that type of communication. The solution was to send safety managers in to work areas and encourage an informal conversation with workers about their jobs, not bring a compliance checklist. Workers were encouraged to tell stories about situations in their workdays that could or did lead to an injury. In these meetings, managers also encouraged discussions about safety practices at work that could be implemented at home. Discussions about safety and home as well as work demonstrated a concern and commitment to the safety of the workers and their families and not just the company’s concern for productivity and reducing compliance risk.

Mr. Cockerell said he follows 4 principles that help foster a good safety culture:
1. Practice safe behavior personally
2. Be courteous and respect workers, stay positive with all communication
3. Stay in character—always demonstrate by example
4. Use time and resources wisely

Concerning safety meetings—use safety meetings to collect information from workers about workplace conditions and situations that could lead to injuries, and use the meetings as an opportunity to discuss the situations and ways to improve safety.

Finally, follow up. Mr. Cockerell thanks people who do things that demonstrate safe behaviors and actions.

Jeff Ruebesam, VP of Global Health, Safety and Environmental at Fluor Corporation, spoke about his company’s use of leading indicators to measure employee engagement, continuous improvement, and as a way to evaluate manager’s performance toward safety goals. His company employed the indicators at both the site level and at the executive/corporate level.

At the site level, he tracked and analyzed trends of the following indicators of safety:

  • Training
  • Job safety analysis of the activities of work crews
  • Hazard recognition and elimination (find and fix)
  • Weekly and daily inspections
  • Near-miss reporting

Near-miss reporting was difficult to measure because workers feared retribution if they reported a potential safety problem. It got easier after managers gained the trust of workers by demonstrating there would be no consequences of such reporting, made it easy and simple to report, and managers made it a priority.

At the executive/corporate level, indicators that were measured included:

  • Program development and coordination
  • Management action—monitoring site operations and consistently administering a system of rewards and consequences of actions
  • Completion of employee training, communications with employees, and culture initiatives
  • Execution of activities in the field

Executive compensation formulas include metrics for safety performance.

When asked what are the top 3 actions he thinks any CEO should take to improve safety:
1. Physically show up on the shop floor to talk to workers—word spreads quickly through the company that the leader is engaging with workers.
2. Establish consistent measurements of performance and hold people accountable for them.
3. Express pride in the safe performance of their workers to the general public and/or the rest of their industry.

Frank Sherman, President of Akzo Nobel, discussed his overall business strategy concerning safety. His focus is to embed safety within all the business priorities and strategies of the organization. At his company there is a “golden” principle: Any employee can stop production work if conditions are unsafe.

Mr. Sherman emphasized 4 ways a business leader can close the gap between the value of safety and the culture of safety within an organization:
1. Keep it fresh—keep restating the safety message, using the language and vocabulary of workers.
2. Look at your industry and learn from their safety successes and mistakes.
3. Stay humble—be open to learn from others.
4. Keep raising the bar—for example, respond to near-misses with the same urgency as an accident.

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