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June 13, 2019
Safety 2019: Integrating OSH into business processes
By Taylor A Lewellyn, JD, Senior Legal Editor - EHS Training

Is your safety program managing risks or managing outcomes? That was the challenge posed by Peter Susca, principal of OpX Safety, in his session called “It’s Bigger than Safety: Integrating OSH into the Business” on the final day of Safety 2019, the annual conference of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) taking place June 9–12 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

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Susca urged his audience to take a different approach to managing their organizations’ occupational safety and health (OSH) programs by aligning with the company’s mission to facilitate good-for-business safety solutions. Because strong businesses and solid safety programs are correlated and cannot exist independently of one another, safety professionals should no longer treat safety as an independent variable. Failures in an organization’s culture, systems, processes, and decision-making create risk. If not identified and controlled, this can result in unwanted outcomes in all operational aspects: financial, quality, customer satisfaction, employee retention, and safety. If safety professionals want to foster successful OSH programs, they must use the symptoms they see in the safety realm to prevent damage to the core of the business and advocate for the value of safety as an indicator of core business health.

OK, but how?

So, what exactly does integrating OSH into business processes entail? Susca recommended following these steps:

  • Move from managing outcomes to managing risk;
  • Increase your safety program’s value to the business;
  • Appreciate a wider spectrum of risk;
  • Identify processes where risks intersect;
  • Focus on the business value of process improvement; and
  • Keep it simple.

A process is the way purposeful activities are carried out or the way decisions are made. Processes can be formal or informal and usually involve a series of steps and activities. Because processes are the nexus of all business and safety risks, identifying the processes where these risks intersect and focusing on the business value of process improvement are perhaps the most critical elements. Safety professionals in particular can have the greatest impact on a business’s core processes, so Susca suggested concentrating their efforts in the area of process improvement.

Evaluating your company’s processes

To identify whether a facility’s processes deliver the risk level it wants or whether they need improvement to strengthen both the business and the safety program, Susca advised attendees to determine if each process:

  • Has clearly defined performance expectations;
  • Has defined ownership and customers;
  • Aligns with the performance expectation;
  • Has user buy-in to the approach;
  • Is a good fit in the company’s culture and environment;
  • Is repeatable;
  • Is measurable and predictable;
  • Is reliable and durable; and
  • Is auditable.

If a process does not meet any one of these criteria, safety professionals should focus on business-driven solutions and production improvements, with safety as a welcome by-product. Otherwise, better safety practices could be added to a bad work process, which would be counterproductive for the overall health of the company.

Managing risk

Only once the business’s processes have been refined and improved can a safety program move from managing outcomes to managing risks. Susca argued that measuring outcomes, which in the case of a safety program equates to injuries, is the worst possible measure for rating safety. In his estimation, if a business wants to avoid and prevent injuries, it shouldn’t rate its safety program based on the number of injuries it has had. By improving fundamental business processes to enhance safety, an organization can transition from finding and fixing problems to understanding and preventing them. As a result, safety professionals will help further integrate their OSH programs into their businesses, increase the perceived value of the programs overall, and evolve their safety culture from one of basic compliance to one that achieves a high standard of safety performance.

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