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Five Effective Ways to Create a Risk-Competent Culture

July 31, 2017
Consulting firm Haley & Aldrich finds employers can have false sense of security when they don’t examine potential areas of risk.

Haley & Aldrich, an environmental and engineering consulting firm, has issued an Action Report: Stop Talking About Safety Culture and Get Real About Risk. The report addresses the ways companies can prevent workplace incidents and recommends that manufacturers shift their focus to risk-competence rather than a safety culture focused on compliance alone. 

The report dispels safety myths, addresses problems with a safety compliance culture and identifies strategies companies can take to reduce incidents in the workplace.

“We’ve seen time and time again how some manufacturers are lulled into a false sense of security by complying with safety checklists instead of taking a good, hard look into their potential areas of risk,” said Danyle Hepler, associate scientist, at Haley & Aldrich. “For example, on the day that the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 people, ironically, executives were at the facility to celebrate the company’s seventh year without an incident. The company’s ‘incident-free’ track record created the false presumption of safety, which is often counterproductive to preventing future incidents.”

According to Haley & Aldrich, communication is one of the most critical components of creating risk-competency. It recommends organizations create an inclusive, interconnected culture – from the executive boardroom to the plant floor – that includes everyone in identifying, measuring and avoiding risk. The following are five effective ways to create a risk-competent culture as outlined in the newly published report:

  1. Safety is everyone’s job, and everyone needs to understand risk. It’s important that everyone in the organization feels empowered and committed to creating a safe workplace. This involves creating an atmosphere where employees can feel comfortable reporting potential safety problems and the levels of risk they may be undertaking, and openly discussing near-miss incidents.
  2. Safety is as important as performance. Too often, employees feel pressured to cut corners to meet performance goals. In addition to the tremendous personal and property losses that incidents can cause, they also can severely impact a company’s reputation and bottom line. Top management should make it clear that safety equally is as important as production and quality, and that understanding and mitigating the risks associated with production are an expected part of everyone’s job.  
  3. Create a shared definition of risk. Since different people have different risk tolerances and perceptions of safe operations, each organization needs to define its own risk tolerance, and ensure that it is shared and understood organization-wide. This can be accomplished by bringing individuals across departments together to collaboratively develop this shared understanding.
  4. Measure what is, not what should be. Instead of measuring risk based on standard work procedures, focus on actual day-to-day tasks, which may need to deviate from standard processes. Find the gaps in work as imagined versus work as completed to identify hidden risks. 
  5. Use the data. Collect as much data as you can on what’s really going on in your organization, including identifying safety gaps and determining what you need to do to close them. Make sure you conduct in-depth analysis to get an accurate picture and also consider the severity of incidents. For example, while safety incidents and “recordables” statistically may be decreasing, the number of workplace fatalities grows each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Management should determine how all the data will be measured to help further define the organization’s risk parameters and tolerance and more effectively prioritize those risks.
About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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