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Navigating the Interplay of Safety and Production

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

I often encounter the challenge of balancing safety and production. The widespread "safety first" mantra, while well-intentioned, can sometimes clash with the production-centric focus of operational managers. This tension often leads to differing perceptions of safety within the organization. To build a truly effective safety culture, it's essential to understand and influence these diverse perceptions and experiences of the workforce.

Understanding the Impact of Experiences and Perceptions

Corporations frequently adopt safety slogans like "safety first" or "safe production." However, these messages may not fully resonate with employees whose experiences and existing perceptions shape their attitudes toward safety. Real change in safety culture occurs when beliefs about safety are reinforced through experiences close to the decision-making point.

The Role of Stories in Shaping Safety Values

Employees’ values around safety are influenced by their personal and observed experiences. Stories shared among colleagues, particularly those highlighting negative experiences or conflicts between safety and production, can have a profound impact. These narratives can often overshadow corporate safety messaging, leading to a perception that production is prioritized over safety.

Addressing the Root of Perceptions

In my consulting work, I've noticed that while leaders may prioritize safety, this commitment might not be as visible or convincing to the workforce. Perceptions, whether accurate or not, significantly influence employee attitudes. Addressing these perceptions requires understanding their basis – if they are rooted in reality, the underlying issues need to be tackled; if they are based on misinformation, efforts should focus on altering these perceptions.

Transforming Perceptions Through Real Experiences

To shift perceptions, identifying the experiences and stories behind them is crucial. Change in belief systems is organic and requires modifying both the information employees receive and their experiences. Actively listening to the narratives within the organization is vital. Are these stories emphasizing negative experiences or are there emerging positive narratives? By managing the experiences and stories within the organization, we can gradually shift the narrative toward aligning safety with production.

In the oil and gas industry, creating a safety culture that harmonizes with production goals is about more than just slogans. It's about understanding and influencing the real experiences and stories that shape employee perceptions. By actively managing these narratives, we can foster a safety culture that truly resonates with every member of the organization. It's essential to remember that if we don't shape these perceptions, they will be shaped by others, potentially leading to undesired outcomes. Let's focus on creating positive, safety-aligned experiences and stories, making safety a natural partner to production.

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