Karl Elsener, a Swiss designer of surgical equipment in the 19th century, worked for years on perfecting a military knife. Today his Swiss Army Knife is associated with excellence in blades and a variety of appropriate applications. One model includes knife blades, a saw, scissors, a magnifying glass, a can opener, a screwdriver, a ruler, a toothpick, a writing pen and more – all in one knife. If you are out camping in the wild, this one item can certainly make you feel equipped for comfort and survival.
Is there a parallel to an organization being fully equipped for safety performance excellence? A recent blog article described the need for three attributes working together; Culture, Accountability and Engagement. Our safety knife design must satisfy these three fundamental needs. The body of this functional safety knife that holds all our tools (blades) in place is well described by Dr. Dan Petersen’s Six Criteria of Safety Excellence:
- Visible upper management commitment to safety
- Active middle management involvement in safety
- Focused supervisor performance in safety
- Active hourly participation in safety
- Flexibility to address the various issues
- Positive workforce perception of the safety system
With this encompassing body in place, what tools (knife blades) does such a robust safety system have available? Here, a six-level model does a good job of describing what an organization must engage in to go beyond survival and achieve a safety culture that does not tolerate injuries/incidents; not from punitive measures, but from a participate approach.
- Level one: The regulations that focus on conditions that can lead to injuries. This first level tool (knife) is all about conditions that can lead to injuries and thus require engineered solutions, education and enforcement; like PPE, guarding, safety work order completion and the like. In many global countries regulations do not exist, however the Internet provides a plethora of best-practice solutions that mirror the regulation materials
- Level two: What we see and how we react to the visual dangers that that exist. Observations on incorrect practices, near misses, inspections and the like occur every day in the workplace. Do we live with what is evident or do we analyze, focus and execute the issues that are intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer?
- Level three: Safety accountabilities is the first proactive tool (knife) to deliver actions that hourly and salaried personnel do to prevent the possibility of injuries in the workplace. Traditionally we set activities for hourly and supervision personnel. But what about the upper-level salaried personnel who must provide adequate support to the front line workers who are most at risk? If we need front-line activities we also need upper management support which provides the necessities that allow the front line to execute its safety requirements; emails and bulletin board postings are totally inadequate support. Where is the visual contact and resource commitment that reinforces an excellent safety culture? Here the safety culture needs to actively live Dr. Petersen’s Six Criteria of Safety Excellence.
- Level four: A diagnostic that gives feedback about safety practice reality from management, supervision and hourly employees is a necessity to get a clue as to what the real issues are in your safety culture. This can be a safety perception survey or one-on-one interviews by hourly and salaried personnel who engage in value added input from all levels of the organization. This input then delivers a reality check as to the good, the bad and the ugly of safety culture reality in your organization.
- Level five: Here a continuous improvement safety approach engages the whole organization in its need to improve problems evident in data from the four levels above and has hourly, supervision and management personnel engaged together to develop and deliver solutions to safety issues the organization knows exist. This is the action culture which really analyses, focuses and executes. They go from problem to solution in a consistent, well thought out approach similar to what Dr. W. Edwards Deming and others used to eliminate quality problems in manufacturing organizations worldwide.
- Level six: Passionate leadership emerges from level-five continuous improvement teams. A small cadre of hourly, supervision and management personnel catches a cultural “infection” of the passionate, relentless pursuit of excellence. These passionate leaders keep the safety culture excellence torch burning and help to make sure complacency does not rear its ugly head.
The Swiss Army Knife of safety has many aspects that are needed to go beyond survival and into true ongoing safety culture excellence. Which blades do you need to add to your tool set?