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Implementing a True North Safety Culture

July 13, 2018
Accountability cannot be used to drive change.

  A True North Safety Culture is the point at which an organization aligns to a value and goal of eliminating risk(s)/injuries within an organization, but also aligns the mission/vision statements to this goal. In implementing a True North Safety Culture, it is vital that the culture be focused around the employees or also known to be employee centric. Development of these three stages or steps in creating the True North Safety Culture will enable a ‘Safe Enough for Our Families’ approach that will work cross-functionally throughout the business.

    The first stage is ensuring an employee engagement approach that is owned by the employees. While accountability is part of sustainability in this type of safety culture, it cannot be used as the tool to drive change. In many organizations, employee engagement is over looked because it can be difficult to achieve. My true belief is that when employees leave to go to work for the day they have no intentions of getting injured. A top-down safety culture can also be related to the stick approach or where managers are utilizing rules as the change agent. Tools in this stage that are successful are OBS (Observation Based Safety) and/or RBS (Risk Based Safety). OBS is not a behavioral approach but rather an inclusive working environment approach. Employees alone do not cause accidents and equipment alone do not cause accidents. It is the catalyst(s) from them put together that can cause an accident or employee harm. OBS is an inclusive employee approach to reducing risk and implementing an employee based safety culture.

    The next stage in developing a True North Safety Culture is transforming a training program into a skill development program. Skill development is where the organization and leadership work collaboratively to ensure the employee(s) have the proper skills and that the requirements of the job the employee is performing is competently understood. The skill development approach is not the typical sit in front of a video or power point presentation and then sign an attendance sheet, but rather a collaborative resource investment in the employee(s) and organization to ensure safety is valued throughout the business for world class results.

    The third stage is integration of safety as a value not as a priority across all functions within the business. In this stage it is foundationally what the business and organizational vision is built around. It supports a positive work environment that fosters internal growth for the most important aspect in the organization known as the internal customer. This stage will develop into creating a brand that is seen by the external customer as second to none in an employee driven culture. It is common to see a type of system in this stage to ensure harmonization and a clear understanding of what the expectations are, a production system modeling approach capable of assessing each location on a global scale. I’m a very strong believer in sharing best practices and lessons learned. This is how we are able to learn by knowledge sharing and opportunities instead of always learning from mistakes. As an EHS Professional, I make it my every day goal to continually learn - Learn how to be a better leader within my profession and as a person.

    I would like to emphasize this concept is not to develop only a system or program; it is to develop a culture that is long lasting for many years. With this approach, I am confident the guiding principle will be to put the SIMPLE back into SAFETY. Plain and simple, it simply should not be difficult to not hurt our people. It’s together as a one culture approach developing into the True North Safety Culture.


Adam L Bates MS, MBA, is global director of health, safety and security with Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of passenger car, light truck, medium truck, motorcycle and racing tires.

About the Author

Adam Bates | Managing Director, A&C Enterprise Solutions LLC

Adam L. Bates is an innovative, results-oriented environmental, health, safety and security leader with more than 15 years experience with a successful record of developing and executing robust global business strategies at leading companies including Honeywell, Owens Corning, Daido Metal, Inteva Products, and Cooper Tire & Rubber Company. 

Adam also has significant experience leading change and implementing new processes globally. Broadly focused on continuous improvement to drive dramatic reductions in key environmental, health and safety metrics. A data-driven hands-on business leader with deep expertise in global compliance/conformance issues and operations who applies a 'big picture' outlook. 

Recognized as a global leader in Environmental, Health and Safety: Recognized as a Top 40 under 40 Rising Star by The National Safety Council; Listed in “The 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS in 2014-2015” (EHS Today); Listed as “Superheroes of Safety Who Inspire Us” (June 2017 EHS Today); Appointed 2017 Board of Directors Delegate (National Safety Council).

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