Case Study: Improving Safety Culture and Human Performance
By Josh Williams, Ph.D.
Several years ago, we were asked to work with a leading manufacturing company to assess their human performance (HP) and safety culture practices. Although they had high executive safety commitment and numerous progressive HP programs, they wanted to level up their performance. We partnered with them to identify strengths to reinforce and gaps to address to help optimize their safety processes and culture.
The first step in these improvement efforts involved the creation of a highly customized survey to assess specific safety culture and process safety efforts. Tailored interview and focus group questions were also created to get more in-depth, nuanced information from onsite (and virtual) visits with both leaders and field employees around the world.
It was apparent early from both quantitative and qualitative data that this organization had many strong foundational elements for safety excellence like effective leadership intentions for safety, HP and hazard recognition tools, and information sharing and cascading. They also had a very positive, non-blame-oriented environment which is critical for employee buy-in and engagement.
However, several gaps were identified like:
- Focusing on quantity over quality with some observation tools
- Insufficient “closing the loop” with some employee concerns
- Overreliance on EHS personnel for safety efforts; More visible support from leadership was needed
- Concerns with time pressure and other organizational headwinds
After detailing findings with a comprehensive report, we met with key leaders to present a summary of findings and detailed recommendations. This information was used to bolster extensive strategic planning with critical stakeholders to develop a smart game plan moving forward. Both strategic and tactical action plans were developed which focused on:
- Specific actions to be completed
- Assigning action item responsibilities to specific personnel
- Establishing prioritization of action items
- Creating realistic timelines for completion
- Establishing metrics to assess progress and ensure action item completion
These sessions established a pragmatic and tangible course of action for future improvement. It also led to the creation and execution of bespoke workshops to bolster safety leadership ownership. Training and coaching themes included effectively delegating safe work, acknowledging safe work practices, redirecting risky actions, and fully engaging teams to drive safety production.
Leaders at this organization were able to drive safety culture and HP improvement by identifying and addressing opportunities for advancement and investing in safety leadership skills. We continue discussions with leaders to help them work through ongoing issues and develop additional strategies to fuel future safety excellence.
Like college and professional sports, committed coaches continually work to establish winning game plans, make ongoing adjustments when performance dips below expectations, reinforce the “good things” their players are doing, and continually establish and reinforce expectations and cultural norms of excellence. Organizational leaders should do the same with their safety culture and performance. Safety culture assessments, strategic planning, and leadership development will help in this pursuit.
At Propulo, we help leaders optimize safety culture and HP programs to prevent serious injuries and fatalities.