Negative Safety OpinionsMay Lead to More Mishaps in Workplace

Safety practices are a matter of life and death for manufacturing employees. New research from Towers Perrin-ISR, an employee research and consulting firm, has found a direct link between negative opinions on safety issues and an increased number of safety incidents in the workplace. Along with the higher frequency of safety incidents, said Towers Perrin-ISR (TP-ISR), comes increased spending on insurance and related safety costs.

TP-ISR researchers also found that manufacturing employees with good opinions about their employer's safety processes and approaches directly contribute to a much lower rate of safety incidents.

Furthermore, the TP-ISR findings demonstrate that when an organization has outstanding safety records and lower safety costs, it is because the employees are aware of the benefits. In effect, the employees are helping save their companies money.

Indeed, TP-ISR's research shows that the impact of organizational culture on workplace safety is equal in significance as a factor in developing a safe workplace to safety training, proper equipment maintenance and implementation of safety policies and procedures. Research shows that the following three steps can help produce a safer workplace:

  • Focus on improved employer-supervisor relations.
  • Empower employees by giving them sufficient authority to excel at their jobs.
  • Recognize cooperation and teamwork among co-workers.

“In multiple studies, in multiple engagements, those three steps just keep coming up as drivers; characteristics that repeatedly link to a really sound safety culture,” Jenny C. Kuang, Ph.D., told EHS Today. Kuang is associate project director at TP-ISR.

Here are a few other steps, outlined by Kuang, which safety directors can take to improve an organization's safety culture and employees' opinions about safety:

  • Measure and understand the right areas, custom to your business.
  • Involve and empower employees in the total process.
  • Communicate openly and honestly about strengths and faults.
  • Focus on leveraging strengths as well as understanding opportunities.
  • Institutionalize a measurement and improvement process by committing the right resources to it and to future iterations.

In addition, Kuang urged safety directors to “really understand the areas of greatest opportunity via internal and external benchmarking and analyses that take you beyond simply descriptive information.”

Measuring Culture

There are several ways to measure an organization's safety culture, Kuang told EHS Today. “Surveys are one way to get at it,” she said. “In addition, there are other opportunities, such as focus groups and town hall meetings, etc.”

Employees are an important source of information, Kuang added. “Often, organizations don't ask for workers' opinions, and they are missing out on a really rich source of data about what the real safety culture is like in their organization. So beyond just surveys, employers should look for any opportunity to gain input from their staffers, particularly opportunities for them to share information in a confidential manner or even an anonymous manner, because there may be something that occurs and they don't have an outlet to share that information in a safe way.”

One final piece of advice from Kuang for safety directors: “Embed safety in everything, which means directors should make safety a part of the organization's culture. Safety must be kept as a top priority at all times, and top-of-mind for all workers.”

Safety Research in Petroleum Refining

On March 23, 2005, an explosion at BP's Texas City, Tex., refinery killed 15 people and injured more than 170. In October 2005, BP formed an Independent Safety Review Panel, headed by Former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, to “make a thorough, independent and credible assessment of the effectiveness of BP's corporate oversight of safety management systems at its five U.S. refineries and its corporate safety culture.”

Researchers at TP-ISR performed the employee surveys and analysis used by the Baker Panel in its assessment of BP's occupational and process safety. To download a free copy of the report of the BP U.S. Refineries Independent Safety Review Panel, go to: http://www.safetyreviewpanel.com/cmtfiles/charter_related/Panel%20Report%20-%20January%202007.pdf.

TP-ISR has produced a database of safety culture opinions and case studies that have been used to develop its array of safety benchmarks. “The benchmark data do vary by industry, including manufacturing sub-sectors,” said Kuang, who added, “There are clear consistencies across sectors in terms of what drives excellent safety performance from a culture perspective, but each sector and each company has its own unique drivers and cultural strengths and opportunity areas.”

The results from TP-ISR's safety culture studies may be useful to managers with responsibility for risk/loss control, training, executive management and operations.

Operations personnel, for instance, may be able to use TP-ISR safety culture research to track several workforce measures. TP-ISR, for instance, has linked perceptions of safety in organizations to days away from work and workplace injuries within those organizations.

Safety professionals looking for more information about TP-ISR's safety services should download the TP-ISR safety brochure, “Building a Safer Workplace.” This pamphlet examines the TP-ISR approach to safety research and provides three case studies for review. Go to http://www.isrinsight.com/pdf/SafetyBrochure.pdf for a copy.

For more information on TP-ISR's safety services, contact Joe Dettmann, Towers Perrin-ISR Project Director at (312) 467-3614 or via e-mail at [email protected].


Michael Keating is the research editor for EHS Today. He can be reached at [email protected].

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