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Expert Opinion

Ian Sutton, a process risk manager with AMEC Paragon in the United States, writes that the root causes of safety and environmental problems often arise from economic pressures. Managers are often put under relentless pressure to cut costs while, at the same time, being expected to increase production rates, implement new initiatives, and install new technology. This can lead to a mindset that has a tendency to cross acceptable safety thresholds. The following six “red flags” indicate when these thresholds are being challenged:

  •  Unrealistic stretch goals: if an organisation is stretched far enough, major system failures are certain to occur.
  • Excessive cost reduction demands: managers are often expected to cut expenses but, at the same time, increase production rates. Eventually, a “do-more-with-less” philosophy can become excessive, and lead to the development of unsafe conditions.
  • Belief that “it cannot happen here”: catastrophic events are very rare; this can contribute to what has been called the “I’ll chance it” syndrome. Managers and employees often fail to distinguish between occupational safety and process safety. In fact, the actions needed to improve occupational safety—as measured by the number of lost-time accidents—are quite different from those required to prevent catastrophic, low-probability and low-frequency events. Organisations reporting excellent day-to-day and month-to-month safety figures are often very surprised when they experience a major incident.
  • Overconfidence in regulatory compliance: well-crafted regulations, rules, codes and standards may induce a false sense of confidence. Rules alone cannot anticipate the combinations of events that lead to a catastrophic incident—most of which are unusual, and sometimes bizarre. Standards merely provide a framework for successful operational integrity. Detailed hazard analyses must also be carried out.
  • Ineffective information flow: a recurrent finding in disaster research is that information about potentially serious problems has often been available within an organisation but never communicated to relevant decision-makers. One reason for this is that most people do not want to be the bearer of bad news; this can lead to information becoming more and more diluted as it travels up the management chain.
  • Ineffective auditing: good audits should attempt to identify the root causes behind any findings. Senior management should give careful attention to audit findings by reviewing in detail the audit, the audit process, and the audit follow-up. This will also provide an opportunity to examine any improvements required within an organisation’s management systems. [1]

Creating a Safety Culture

According to Charles Branham, a principal at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in the United States, research has shown that excellent safety performance is usually built upon a strong organisational safety culture— one that is owned and driven by intentional leadership. Excellent safety requires a strategic focus on safety, supported by clear rules, policies and procedures. From this foundation, the workforce can be engaged in prevention-based safety, and use systems that reduce at-risk behaviours and conditions. The components are depicted in Figure 1, see below. Prevention-based safety systems engage both leaders and employees to create an environment in which injuries are not acceptable. [2]
















Rick Stasi, chief operating officer for the alternative risk division of insurance provider Avizen in the United States, believes that the best safety programmes begin with a management team that is dedicated and committed to creating a culture of safety. Management must advocate employee involvement and commit to creating zero tolerance for injuries. [3] Figure 2, see opposite, outlines ten steps towards the creation of an organisational safety programme:



































Building a Safety Culture: Incentives versus Recognition

Safety incentive programmes seldom work as expected, write consultants Carl and Deb Potter of Potter and Associates International Inc. Managers and employers from all industry types confirm that incentive-based safety programmes lead to under-reporting, particularly when performance is related to lagging indicators such as reduced incidents or severity rates. Such under-reporting then leads to a loss of critical information; it may also result in dangerous behaviour or hazardous conditions not being addressed. Over a period of time safety incentive programmes can become:

  • a burden, because of the need for constant, tedious paperwork
  • ineffective, because they can create an ongoing expectation of entitlements, regardless of results
  • “just another routine,” leading to interest and attention falling away over time
  • punitive, particularly when group rewards are involved, and where an incident involving only one person may lead to a loss of rewards for the whole group.

Recognition schemes are seen to be superior to incentive schemes because recognition enables organisations to build on observed safe behaviours, and use these positive outcomes to build an improved safety culture. [4]

Safety Improvement Initiatives

Citing Babur Pulat of the University of Oklahoma, Booz Allen Hamilton technology consultant Ryan Burge explains that when making process changes, certain key factors should be considered simultaneously, and that this exercise should be undertaken within an ethical decision-making framework. The key factors for consideration are safety, quality, production, customers, and financial health. Dramatic cost savings may be obtained by reducing the quality of products or services, or reducing staffing inappropriately, or by cutting back on training and safety programmes; however, these strategies combined with poor ethics can lead to undesirable safety outcomes. [5] Figure 3, see below, illustrates the relationship between ethical decision-making, while considering these five key factors in parallel.















Figure 4, see below, outlines various characteristics required for successful safety improvement initiatives:[6]







































According to Mike Wynn, an ergonomics engineer and vice president of Humantech in the United States, successful ergonomics initiatives are:

  • effective—they significantly reduce ergonomics-related injuries
  • efficient—work is achieved with reasonable use of the resources available, and
  • sustainable—the gains achieved are lasting, not just one-time improvements. [7]

Wynn identifies the following three critical success factors associated with ergonomics initiatives:

  1. Integration with continuous improvement: significant beneficial results have been achieved by integrating ergonomics with lean manufacturing methods; this has been found to have a remarkable impact upon employee engagement.
  2. Ergonomic risk management: the focus of ergonomic risk management is to resolve hazards that pose the greatest risk of injury to personnel. Organisations have implemented ergonomic risk management by using risk factor surveys involving simple methods to identifying risks and factors contributing to them. Plant floors, for example, may then be mapped using red, yellow and green paint to signify high, medium and low risk areas. This prioritises further ergonomic problem-solving efforts.
  3. Design for ergonomics: organisations are achieving breakthrough improvements in health and safety metrics with relatively low investments, simply by anticipating ergonomic challenges and addressing them before injuries occur. Ergonomics is an improvement process in which improvements can be systematically driven and aligned with ongoing work processes. John Heap, director of the National Productivity Centre in the United Kingdom, states that rest or recovery allowances should be built into the standard time that workers need to carry out tasks under normal working conditions. This assumes that employees will be able to carry out their work without becoming unreasonably tired. Rest/relaxation allowances are derived through considering the following factors:
  • posture
  • motions
  • visual fatigue
  • energy output
  • personal needs
  • thermal conditions
  • atmospheric conditions
  • other environmental infl uences. [8]

An allowance for rest and recovery may be added as a simple percentage of the basic time required for the job; where work involves a variety of activities allowances may need to be calculated separately for each element involved. A practical allowance, which combines personal needs and fatigue allowances, is typically 10-15 per cent of the basic time required for the job. This represents an allowance of 5.5 to 7.8 minutes of rest/recovery time for each standard hour worked. Figure 5, see below, provides a simple picture of the rest/recovery periods associated with normal work regimes:











Note: in practice, other allowances may be added on top of those shown. For example, a contingency allowance may be awarded to compensate for short, irregular interruptions to work.

A Drug-Free Workplace

Organisational leaders need to support comprehensive drug-free workforce programmes in order to keep the workplace safe and free from the dangers of impaired workers. According to T.L. Stanley of Supervision Magazine, organisations can make a significant difference by proactively addressing substance abuse in the workplace. Through the use of employee assistance programmes, employers can provide a range of responses to help workers that are experiencing personal problems, including drug and alcohol abuse. The existence of addiction problems in the workplace cannot be ignored. According to the National Research Bureau of the United States, of 16 million people reporting heavy alcohol use, 13 million (79%) were employed; out of 20 million adults classified with substance dependence or abuse, 12 million (60%) were employed full-time. Clear policies and practices are needed to address the reality of alcohol and drug problems, and organisations need to be proactive in addressing this issue.

To establish a successful drug-free programme, the following are recommended:

  • random drug testing is necessary
  • mandatory pre-employment drug testing
  • clear and concise alcohol and substance use policies
  • altering policies as workplace conditions change
  • the use of “reasonable suspicion” testing by supervisors
  • maintaining absolute confidence in employee assistance programmes
  • addressing the implications of substance abuse via safety programmes
  • a drug-free workplace programme is integrated into the organization’s safety plans. [9]


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