Image: Thinkstock

Partner-centered Safety: A New Approach to Achieving Sustainable, Safety Excellence

April 15, 2015
Partner-centered safety programs drive excellence by creating energy and fostering engagement.

For the past 60 years, I have lived and breathed safety.

I have spent years talking with people about all aspects of safety, in manufacturing, offices, construction, through research and consulting globally.

The overall level of safety in the U.S. is far better now than when I began my journey so many years ago, yet there are still too many people getting hurt and killed.

I consider Partner-Centered Safety the best way to achieve sustainable excellence in occupational safety, occupational health and process safety management.

It is very hard to get injury rates down below a Total Recordable Injury Rate (TRI) of 1.0 and sustain it for years, especially while driving waste, emissions and process upsets toward zero.

Our top-down processes with roots in F. Taylor’s work practices studies and B. F. Skinner’s behavioral studies have greatly reduced injury rates, but we seem to have plateaued out. Very few companies have achieved sustainable safety excellence.

In my experience, when we did get close to excellence in facilities that I managed, it was very hard to sustain and we were constantly driving the people. Unfortunately, there were several serious injuries on my watch; I can assure you that you never want to experience this sort of failure. The top-down systems and processes can get us to levels of compliance, but only rarely to levels of excellence.

However, over the years I learned that partnering with the people makes all of the difference, and indeed, excellence can be achieved. I have experienced it! Everything we do in safety management is done through people. Safety excellence requires a very high level of commitment and responsibility by everyone. I could not achieve this in the organizations in which I worked by driving from the top; I know because I spent years trying and never achieved sustainable safety excellence that way.

Partner-Centered Safety

Sustainable levels of safety excellence are achieved only when everyone is pulling together as partners to make their work as safe and productive as possible.

Partner-Centered Safety is a robust, proven way to bring people together to achieve sustainable levels of safety excellence. The first element is based on deeply held, shared beliefs and values.

  • People want to be treated as people.
  • People want to be treated fairly.
  • Most people have good minds and can think quite well.
  • People want to know what is going on.
  • People want to be successful and want to work safely.
  • People love their kids and want to go home safely, every day.
  • People want to come together as partners to co-create their shared future in a structured, focused, intense, disciplined dialogue using a tool like the Process Enneagram©.
  • People are self-organizing all the time openly and freely sharing information, building relationships of trust and interdependence through their agreements about how they are willing to work together and create meaning.
  • All the people at all the levels in the organization are in this together, contributing from their unique roles and perspectives.
  • People want to be heard, listened to, valued and respected.

Working with people, in partnership, is fundamentally different from doing to people as is the case with most of the current approaches to safety, including many contemporary aspects of transformational leadership.

Organizations are complex, evolving systems and the best way to work with them is from the complexity perspective. The people, the internal and external environments, and the technology are evolving and interacting all the time. Nothing is sitting still. Every day is a new day.

The best tool to work in this environment is the Process Enneagram, which seems to be the missing link between complexity theory and practical application. It provides a guide for dialogue looking deeply at nine separate, but inter-related aspects of the organization. As the dialogue develops, with everyone participating, the whole of the organization, the parts and the interaction of the parts open up. Personal and organizational transformations begin to occur. The people are amazed at what they see and learn. They are able to co-create their living strategic safety plan.

The Safety Excellence Workshop using the Process Enneagram is with a cross-section of people within the organization who co-create their agreements about the “who” and “what” they are, and the “how” and “why” things work the way they do. Opportunities for change and new potential become clear. It enables them to solve complex problems together, make the personal connections they need to do the work and releases the emotional energy and commitment for the work to happen quickly and well.

When people work this way they give the gift of discretionary energy. This is the energy that is available over and above the minimum just to keep one’s job. This cannot be forced from the top. This is the energy that is needed in order to achieve excellence.

The second element of Partner-Centered Safety relates to the environment in which everyone works. It is complex in the sense that ideas, conditions, people and outside influences are interacting and changing all the time. Every decision is made in these complex situations, yet no one has all the information, sees everything and has their mind totally focused on the specific task at hand.

These challenges are opened up in the Safety Excellence Workshops using the Process Enneagram so information is flowing freely, a broader picture of the whole is seen and people help and support each other so that the best decisions are made in the moment of taking action. In these workshops the Strategic Safety Plan is developed, then it is sustained through weekly reviews for progress and upgrading, along with daily engagement with all the people.         

The third element of Partner-Centered Safety is also created in the Safety Excellence Workshops using the Process Enneagram. As people co-create their shared future, their vision, mission, principles of behavior, standards of performance, they are co-creating an important element of their culture, a container that binds and holds the organization together. I call this “The Bowl.”

The Bowl provides cohesion and order for the organization, holding it together and within the Bowl the people self-organize and have the freedom to make the best decisions possible. The Bowl is open so energy and information can flow into and out of it.

A major responsibility of the leaders and managers is to help everyone understand and maintain the Bowl through continuous conversations and interactions. One of my messages was “I don’t have a right to make my living where it is okay for someone to get hurt!”

However, if someone becomes a problem by not working this way or violating the Bowl, management must address and deal with the situation. All the people have a responsibility to work within the Bowl, holding each other accountable to live up to their shared agreements.

See for successful examples of the effectiveness of Partner-Centered Safety.  

Getting Everything Right

Partner-Centered Safety is what we did when I was the plant manager in the DuPont Belle, W.Va., plant when we cut our injury rates from about 5.8 to below 0.3 in just 3 years, and then the people sustained this level of performance for 17 years. During this time earnings rose 300 percent, emissions dropped 88 percent and productivity rose 45 percent.

Partner-Centered Safety builds trust and interdependence. People know what is going on and they see the important role that they play for the total success of the organization. Most people like to live in this way. While this may sound soft, I can assure you that there is a very hard side to this.

Businesses have to provide high quality, affordable products and services at competitive costs to survive. The safety, health and environmental training and standards of performance must be maintained. High levels of integrity are required. Managers and supervisors must have the courage and commitment to go into their organizations talking with, listening to, and developing better ways to do things with the people. This is not a spectator sport.

During the Safety Excellence Workshops using the Process Enneagram, the people, from top to bottom, become sharply focused on their safety intention and co-create their Principles of Behavior and Standards of Performance so they all know what is expected and required. These need to be clear and demanding. They hold each other accountable to live up to these agreements. This requires an on-going dialogue to keep the work active, relevant and sustainable. The managers set the overall direction for the organization.

In these workshops, all the participants create a large Process Enneagram chart that is then posted on the wall of their meeting room and is reviewed each time they get together, talking about how they are doing and whether changes are needed. Revisions and upgrades are made as they go right on the Process Enneagram chart so this is a living Strategic Safety Plan. This enables them to work and live in the dynamic complexities of their day-to-day experiences and achieve sustainable levels of excellence. Walking around, talking, listening, sharing and being authentic are part of the process of building, iterating and affirming the Bowl.

Ideally, those people at the top of the corporation support, engage in and provide the resources for this work to happen. Total safety performance is a key part of everyone’s performance appraisal and pay. At the least, the people at the top need to support this work, provide the resources that those at the sites need, and build this into the performance appraisal and pay systems. People in marketing, sales, research and product development are included along with those in the manufacturing line.

With the Partner-Centered Safety approach, the safety gets right, and then everything else gets right.

Sponsored Recommendations

ISO 45001: Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS)

March 28, 2024
ISO 45001 certification – reduce your organizational risk and promote occupational health and safety (OHS) by working with SGS to achieve certification or migrate to the new standard...

Want to Verify your GHG Emissions Inventory?

March 28, 2024
With the increased focus on climate change, measuring your organization’s carbon footprint is an important first action step. Our Green House Gas (GHG) verification services provide...

Download Free ESG White Paper

March 28, 2024
The Rise and Challenges of ESG – Your Journey to Enhanced Sustainability, Brand and Investor Potential

Free Webinar: Mining & ESG: The Sustainability Mandate

March 28, 2024
Participants in this webinar will understand the business drivers and challenges of ESG and sustainability performance, the 5 steps of the ESG and sustainability cycle, and prioritized...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!