ASSE: Management-Based Safety Can Take Your Program to New Heights

June 23, 2005
What's the safest industry in the country? According to one consultant, the answer is in the clouds.

Compared to workplaces on terra firma, the airline industry reaches safety heights that soar over the rest of business and industry, according to statistics cited by Samuel Gualardo, MA, CSP, president of Salix, Pa.-based National Safety Consultants Inc.

In 2002, U.S. scheduled air carriers had 10 million departures, flew more than 7 billion miles, accumulated 17 million flight hours and had 34 accidents none of which resulted in fatalities, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. That translated to 0.195 accidents per 100,000 flight hours and 0.0048 accidents per 1 million miles flown.

By contrast, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. workplaces in 2002 experienced 4.7 million OSHA recordable injury and illness cases meaning 5.3 of every 100 employees experienced an OSHA recordable case. Also in 2002, 5,524 workers five out of every 100,000 employees died on the job.

Both the airlines and traditional workplaces have at least one thing in common, though: It is widely believed that the majority of accidents in both industries is caused by human error. (The minority of accidents in traditional workplaces is caused by unsafe work conditions; similarly, the minority of accidents in the airline industry is caused by mechanical problems, according to Gualardo.)

How, then, do the airlines achieve such a "remarkable safety performance" in contrast to the rest of business and industry?

Gualardo believes it comes down to several key elements that are ingrained in the airline industry's safety culture: Continuous safety training and re-training of pilots; tightly regulated, preventative maintenance of airplanes; redundant operating systems on airplanes; rigorous self-auditing by pilots (they complete checklists before, during and after the flight) and close airline and third-party monitoring of pilots' conformance to regulatory standards; and pilots' acute awareness of the "ultimate consequence" for taking shortcuts.

Gualardo said he has taken some of those safety concepts employed by the airlines and integrated them into a system he calls Management Based-Safety. The system translates airline industry safety concepts and those employed by other successful organizations into management and employee actions through the use of various tools and activities.

Gualardo said Management-Based Safety is founded on several principles:

  • "It doesn't matter how many safety professionals you have, how many degrees they have, how many certifications they have. Senior managers control the destiny of safety performance within the organization."
  • Management at all levels needs to continually and clearly communicate its safety performance expectations. ("Senior management has the ability to affect the culture very easily in an organization. They affect the culture; the culture affects how [managers and supervisors] act. If you get management to act the correct way, employees will start making correct decisions."
  • Poor decisions, which result in unsafe acts and conditions, lead to 100 percent of all incidents.
  • Most incidents and hazards in most workplaces have occurred previously, with or without consequences. ("The problem is we haven't remediated the causes of these accidents and they occur, occur and occur.")
  • Management needs to be physically involved in performing risk-reduction activities and needs to manage safety performance outcomes as they would other business functions.
  • Management needs to be held financially accountable for safety performance.
  • Employees will follow management's lead and directives if they are clearly communicated and the consequences of disobedience are understood and strongly enforced.
  • Employees are in the best position to seek out and control hazardous work exposures. (Gualardo bolstered his point by pointing to the "thousands of airplanes flying without a supervisor. They have a pilot, a co-pilot that's it."
  • Employees need to be held personally responsible for their own actions or lack thereof in controlling risk.

While Gualardo's presentation at ASSE's annual conference in New Orleans contained a dizzying amount of information at times, he insisted Management-Based Safety is not "rocket science."

"Management-Based Safety is a simple process designed to engage management and engage employees to achieve safety performance excellence," he said, adding that the goal is finding a way to overcome the common hurdles to safety performance excellence such as a lack of upper management commitment to safety, a lack of consistent enforcement of safety rules and a lack of employee engagement in safety "that is doable, successful and sustaining."

The Four Tools

Calling them the "building blocks" of Management-Based Safety, Gualardo detailed the four types of tools used in the process: manager, supervisor, employee and process management tools.

  1. Manager tools. These include safety leadership teams, safety stand-downs, safety stand-ups, root cause evaluations and safety tours. The purpose of all of these tools is to increase upper management's involvement and visibility in the safety process. For example, safety leadership teams involve various EHS stakeholders in the organization and are chaired by senior leaders. The team has monthly or quarterly meetings to discuss safety performance, issues and goals. Safety stand-downs are large-group safety meetings, led by senior leaders, designed to establish/review safety performance ("it's a 'how we doing?' meeting") and solicit employee safety concerns. Safety stand-ups are large-group, as-needed meetings in which senior leaders recognize the safety achievements of individuals and groups.
  2. Supervisor tools. These include safety walk-downs, safety talks, safety fix meetings, safety sit-downs and the safety deviator guideline. A primary tool is the safety walk-down, in which supervisors conduct quick, frequent audits of employees to detect positive behaviors and safe work area conditions; identify deviations from established procedures; verify behavioral and physical hazard corrections; and provide immediate positive employee feedback. Safety fix meetings are 15-minute meetings conducted by supervisors to resolve safety issues within the supervisor's span of authority. "They are also an excellent way to involve employees in deciding how safety issues can be addressed, promoting immediate ownership and acceptance of solutions."
  3. Employee tools. The heart of the employee's role in Management-Based Safety is the safety checklist. Designed to take no more than 5 minutes each day, safety checklists are built for each major job task. They are constructed from past incident, near-miss, injury and property damage experience. In addition, task-specific safety rule and procedure information is integrated into the completed lists. Safety checklists raise and/or maintain safety awareness, provide a forum for employees to document safety concerns in their work area and help workers achieve compliance with safety standards and regulations.
  4. Process management tools. Management-Based Safety focuses on involving management and supervisors in the process. Tools such as the "Safe-T-Map," the Safety Activity Monitor and the Safety Tracker facilitate and monitor their involvement. For example, the Safe-T-Map is a focused, written action plan that defines leading indicator activities for improving safety performance (such as communicating safety goals to employees and conducting audits through worker and work area observations) and provides details on those activities will be conducted and on how often they will be conducted. The Safety Activity Monitor is a computer database management system that is used to track management and employee safety activities that have been completed and to compare them to established goals.

Gualardo admits that the Management-Based Safety process may appear time-consuming. But compared to all the time spent on other non-safety activities within an organization, Gualardo said the time commitment to this safety process is a "small fraction."

"The total time required to complete all activities to perfection by any level of management is less than 5 percent of the time spent on all other non-safety activities," Gualardo said. "This is a small investment for substantial returns."

Those returns, he added, include fewer injuries, lower costs, boosted employee morale, better labor relations, higher productivity, total management control of the company's "safety performance destiny" and total employee control of the hazards and safeguards within their jobs tasks.

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