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7 Simple Steps to Assess Your Safety Culture

The construction of complex systems often follows two methodologies: engineering and evolution. This is especially true for organizational cultures, including safety cultures, which develop through both deliberate design and the unintended consequences of actions and interactions. Each culture is distinct, often comprising various subcultures influenced by factors such as job level, trade, tenure, ethnicity, and even alumni networks.

I frequently encounter individuals in the industry who express a need to create a safety culture, often not realizing that a safety culture already exists within their organization - it may just not align with their ideal vision. To transform an organization into one that consistently demonstrates excellence in safety, quality, and other operational areas, it's crucial to start by evaluating the existing cultural climate. It's often said that culture defines why we do what we do.

Cultures are typically characterized by shared practices, attitudes, and perceptions that guide behavioral choices both at work and beyond. Our experience in the industry has shown that a variety of factors influence culture, including location, leadership styles, supervisory approaches, peer pressure, workplace conditions, and logistics.

Through a systematic assessment process, a safety culture can be quantitatively evaluated and subsequently improved. After identifying the most significant findings from this assessment, we focus on those few critical areas that hold the potential for the most transformative impact on the site's safety culture, addressing them as priorities. This article aims to provide a framework for conducting an internal assessment of a site or company's culture, outlining seven key steps that have been successfully implemented worldwide.

Step 1: Documentation Review

Begin by familiarizing yourself with existing documentation on programs, initiatives, and previous audits. Insight can be gained from understanding the work order process, communication effectiveness, safety committees, incident investigation procedures, and incentive programs. A Pareto Analysis of incident reports from the past three to five years can highlight key preventative measures. Additionally, understanding the defined safety roles and expectations of leadership positions can provide valuable insights into the underlying cultural foundation.

Step 2: Pre-Assessment Communication

Inform all organizational members about the assessment process, emphasizing the anonymity of discussions and the grouping of participants with their peers to ensure open and honest communication. This step is crucial for setting a positive tone for the assessment.

Step 3: Site Tour

Conduct a tour of the site to gain an overview of logistics, tasks, and safety concerns. This helps in understanding both group and individual behaviors in various working conditions.

Step 4: Leadership Discussion

Engage with management and key personnel to build awareness and ensure their comfort with the initiative. This discussion is not about finding fault but about identifying transformational approaches to excellence.

Step 5: Customized Safety Perception Survey

While generic surveys are available, it's beneficial for organizations to develop their own to capture specific safety perceptions relevant to their unique context.

Step 6: Interviews and Focus Groups

Conduct both individual and group interviews to understand perceptions, workplace realities, and the interconnectedness within the organization. Focus groups should encourage interactive discussions for richer insights.

Step 7: Reporting and Actionable Recommendations

The assessment aims to understand the nature and direction of the site or company's safety culture and readiness for improvement. The final report should focus on actionable findings and be delivered promptly.

Post-Assessment: Integrating Insights

The assessment offers valuable insights that can be integrated into the organization's annual effectiveness review. Remember, developing a culture is an ongoing journey, not a one-time event.

The organizational culture in your business serves as a powerful mechanism for sustaining safety. A culture that prioritizes safety excellence not only impacts the workplace but also extends its influence into the personal lives of individuals, safeguarding what is most dear to them—their families. There is, arguably, no nobler cause than fostering a culture of safety excellence.

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