Rating Your Company’s Safety Culture

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A company’s safety culture—that is, its attitude and approach to ensuring workers’ health and safety—has a profound impact on the success of its OHS program. But few companies have any idea if their safety culture is good or is undercutting safety efforts. And if you don’t know that there are problems—say, workers believe that senior management doesn’t care about their safety—you can’t do anything to fix them.

Transport Canada has published a quiz by Dr. James Reason that you can use to determine if your company has or is on its way to developing a good safety culture. You can take this quiz yourself but should also give it to your workers. In fact, safety perception surveys like this one are a great way to gauge a company’s safety culture. Click here for information on how to convince senior management of the value of conducting a safety perception survey.

SAFETY CULTURE QUIZ

YES = This is definitely the case in my organization
? = “Don’t know,” “maybe” or “could be partially true”
NO = This is definitely not the case in my organization

1. MINDFUL OF DANGER: Top managers are ever mindful of the human organizational factors that can endanger their operations. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

2. ACCEPT SETBACKS: Senior management accepts occasional setbacks and nasty surprises as inevitable. They anticipate that staff will make errors and train them to detect and recover from them. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

3. COMMITTED: Top managers are genuinely committed to safety and provide adequate resources to serve this end. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

4. REGULAR MEETINGS: Safety-related issues are considered at high-level meetings on a regular basis, not just after some bad incident. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

5. EVENTS REVIEWED: Past events are thoroughly reviewed at top-level meetings and the lessons learned are implemented as global reforms rather than local repairs.          [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

6. IMPROVED DEFENCE: After some mishap, the primary aim of senior management is to identify the system failures and improve them, rather than to divert responsibility to particular individuals. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

7. HEALTH CHECKS: Senior management adopts a proactive stance toward safety. That is, it does some or all of the following:

  • Takes steps to identify recurrent error traps and remove them
  • Strives to eliminate the workplace and organizational factors likely to provoke error
  • Brainstorms new scenarios of failure
  • Conducts regular “health checks” on organizational processes known to contribute to safety incidents. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

8. INSTITUTIONAL FACTORS RECOGNIZED: Top management recognizes that error-provoking institutional factors (such as under-staffing, inadequate equipment, inexperience, poor training, bad human-machine interfaces, etc.) are easier to manage and correct than fleeting psychological states, such as distraction, inattention and forgetfulness. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

9. DATA: It’s understood that the effective management of safety, just like any other management process, depends critically on the collection, analysis and dissemination of relevant information. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

10. VITAL SIGNS: Management recognizes the necessity of combining reactive outcome data (i.e., the near-miss and incident reporting system) with active process information, which involves the regular sampling of a variety of institutional parameters (scheduling, budgeting, fostering, procedures, defences, training, etc.), identifying which of these vital signs are most in need of attention and then carrying out remedial actions. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

11. STAFF ATTEND SAFETY MEETINGS: Meetings relating to safety are attended by staff from a wide variety of departments and levels. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

12. CAREER BOOST: Assignment to a safety-related function is seen as a fast-track appointment, not a dead end. Such functions are accorded appropriate status and salary.   [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

13. MONEY VS. SAFETY: It’s appreciated that commercial goals and safety issues can come into conflict. Measures are in place to recognize and resolve such conflicts in an effective and transparent manner. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

14. REPORTING ENCOURAGED: Policies are in place to encourage everyone to raise safety-related issues and whistleblowers aren’t dismissed, disciplined or discredited.   [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

15. TRUST: The organization recognises the critical dependence of a safety management system on the trust of the workforce—particularly in regard to reporting systems.  [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

16. QUALIFIED INDEMNITY: Policies relating to near-miss and incident reporting systems make clear the organization’s stance regarding qualified indemnity against sanctions, confidentiality and the organizational separation of the data-collecting department from those involved in disciplinary proceedings. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

17. BLAME: Disciplinary policies are based on an agreed distinction between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. It’s recognized by all staff that a small proportion of unsafe acts are indeed reckless and warrant sanctions but that the large majority of such acts shouldn’t attract punishment. The key determinant of blameworthiness is not so much the act itself—error or violation—as the nature of the behaviour in which it was embedded. For example, did this behaviour involve deliberate unwarranted risk-taking or a course of action likely to produce avoidable errors? [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

18. NON-TECHNICAL SKILLS: Line management encourages their staff to acquire the mental as well as the technical skills necessary to achieve safe and effective performance. Mental skills include anticipating possible errors and rehearsing the appropriate recoverable recoveries. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

19. FEEDBACK: The organization has in place rapid, useful and intelligible feedback channels to communicate the lessons learned from both the reactive and proactive safety information systems. Throughout, the emphasis is upon generalizing these lessons to the system at large. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

20. ACKNOWLEDGE ERROR: The organization has the will and the resources to acknowledge its errors, to apologize for them and to reassure the victims (or their relatives) that the lessons learned from such incidents will help to prevent their recurrence. [  ] Yes  [  ] ?  [  ] No

SCORING: Give yourself one point for every “Yes”, a ½ point for every “?” and nothing for every “No.”

YOUR SCORE:_______________

Interpreting your score:

16-20: Safety culture is so healthy as to be barely credible.

11-15: You’re in good shape, but don’t forget to be uneasy.

6-10: Not bad at all, but there’s still a long way to go.

1-5: You’re very vulnerable.

0: Jurassic Park