measuring and strengthening safety culture

NSC 2012: Measuring and Strengthening Your Safety Culture

Is your safety culture reactive, dependent, independent or interdependent? In an Oct. 22 NSC session, Rosanne Danner, managing director of global productivity at DuPont, outlined these different culture types and discussed how to measure and strengthen safety culture.

In a lively, interaction session at the 2012 National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expo in Orlando, Fla., Rosanne Danner of DuPont Sustainable Solutions explained to attendees how they could positively influence their safety culture and progress from a reactive to an interdependent culture.

“Yes, world-class [safety] is achievable,” Danner, managing director, global productivity at DuPont told NSC attendees. World-class safety, she continued, is possible one person, one site and one organization at a time.

Each session attendee received a polling device the size of a small calculator to input answers to several questions Danner posed throughout the session. The audience members were first tasked to key in which definition they believed applied to “culture.” The answer? Culture represents mindsets, values and beliefs, Danner said.

Culture develops one individual at a time – but the catch is that when an individual joins a group, he or she may behave in a different way based on the collective culture of that group. Within your company, you may witness a work group culture, a site culture and a corporate culture; each may be distinct even if they are apart of the larger organization.

According to Danner, EHS professionals should understand culture to:

  • Develop a better path for transforming the culture within a work group or organization;
  • Understand what drives the behaviors of the team in different environments circumstances; and
  • Help leaders understand what it takes to break through a plateau.

The Bradley Curve

DuPont, Danner explained, measures culture in part by considering the Bradley Curve, which shows the progressive maturity of that safety culture. The goal is to move from a reactive safety culture to dependent, independent and finally interdependent safety culture. These phases are outlined below in greater detail:

Reactive: In this phase, safety is led by natural instincts, changes often are not made until incidents occur and senior leadership or management are not closely involved in the process.

Dependent: This phase has management commitment, rules and procedures, and employees are held accountable and receive safety training and discipline, but it’s a command and control type of culture.

Independent: Workers in this phase value safety as individuals. They think about their safety in regards to whatever they are doing individually. Individuals in this phase care for themselves and their own safety and feel personal value.

Interdependent: Workers in this final phase go beyond caring about their own safety and instead feel invested in others’ safety, as well. There is no hierarchy when it comes to safety because everyone is concerned about it. For example, a janitor might point out a safety oversight to a plant manager, and the manager will not feel offended but rather grateful that this employee is invested in safety. This is a caring, teamwork-centered environment that goes beyond behavior-based safety. “This is where you’re operating in what we call world-class safety,” Danner said.

Improving an organization’s safety culture takes time, Danner added. You may be able to reduce the number of injuries and incidents your work force experiences in a short period of time, but to truly shift culture and move through the above phases will not happen overnight. Start by evaluating where you are, determining where your gaps are and taking initial steps. Do observations and training and check to see whether you might be moving in the right direction.

Choosing Zero

To illustrate an example of a site that exists firmly in the interdependent culture stage, Danner played a short video about DuPont’s James River plant in Richmond, Va., a site “based on core values, passion, high standards, personal accountability and caring.”

“We care about our plant, our business, and each other. We hold each other in high regard, there’s a degree of real trust in the atmosphere here,” Brian Long, plant manager, said in the video.

Other employees and leaders at James River had similar things to say:

  • “As each employee got involved [in safety], we felt we were becoming true stakeholders. Management trusted us and empowered us to do things.”
  • “The culture here is something you can truly feel ... the culture here makes you want to come to work and contribute.”
  • “Zero is more than a goal – zero is a choice. At the James River site, it’s a choice by every employee every day.”
  • “They care about my well-being and I do have a choice.”
  • “[Our culture] allows me as a new employee to stop a job because of a safety concern.”
  • “Ultimately, our choice is zero.”
  • “Every employee down here believes in safety one day at a time, one job at a time, one action at a time ... until the end of time.”

While the James River plant maintains an exemplary safety record, it’s statements like the ones above that demonstrate the site is in the interdependent stage. According to Danner, injury rates cannot determine which phase an organization is in. A company with low rates may still exhibit a reactive culture.

Furthermore, the variability in injury or incident rates is larger in the reactive stage and smaller in the interdependent stage. Team members will require external motivation until they move farther through the phases, when internal motivation will become necessary. The goal is for everyone to choose zero – and to be proactive about achieving this goal together as a group.

“Start with an individual workgroup or crew,” Danner said. “Start the wave. You know when you throw a rock and it rings out? Start it.”

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