Survey Says: Uncovering Employees' Views about Safety; Are You Effectively Assessing the Impact of Corporate Culture on Safety Performance?

Article excerpt

There are those who still think that effective safety programs result solely from adhering to compliance issues despite substantial evidence to the contrary. Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of organizational cultural issues such as management commitment, employee involvement, communication and treatment of employees as pivotal to the success of a safety program and other areas of organizational functioning.

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In actuality, we need both safety program and safety process elements. Safety program elements are those inherent to managing safety compliance and regulatory issues effectively and efficiently. Safety process elements are those organizational influences or factors underlying the relative success of the safety program.

These influences drive or hinder safety program success. They represent the organizational philosophy, or culture, underlying the safety function. Studies have demonstrated that positive organizational attitudes toward safety are directly linked with objective injury data. Therefore, as long as people solely zero in on the safety program, there only will be short-term fixes because the symptoms, not the causes, of safety experience are all that are being addressed.

Conducting assessment surveys that uncover employees' and management's perceptions of the safety process and the corporate culture can reveal some surprising results that might lead to a safer workplace.

INTEGRATION OF SAFETY

One of the goals we often hear mentioned by safety professionals is making safety an integral part of organizational functioning. However, in order to accomplish integration, we have to examine related aspects of the organization. Assessing the safety program alone is not going to be successful. The bottom line is that we cannot integrate safety if we look at it in isolation, as if it is related to nothing else in the organization. Therefore, in order to make a tangible difference, we must look at the overall company, including how it operates and what it values. We have to examine and assess its culture.

ROLE OF CORPORATE CULTURE

Fundamental to understanding corporate culture is the appreciation of the roles played by assumptions and values. Assumptions, unconscious and taken for granted, determine the way we view human nature and human relationships. These assumptions then are expressed as our values, what we believe to be right or wrong or our preferred way of dealing with the world. These values then are expressed in the way we act and behave.

Our assumptions about human nature can be either essentially positive or negative. If they are positive, we see people striving, caring and working safely. Conversely, with negative assumptions about human nature, we see people goofing off, not caring and purposely working unsafely.

In an organization, the culture is driven from the top. However, not all communication originates from this level. There often are numerous hierarchical layers in a typical organization and these often contribute to miscommunication. One of the reasons for this miscommunication derives from the fact that people in a company are oriented to their own priorities. Since we have different positions in a company, with their related priorities, we have different perceptions. Perceptions are defined as the way we interpret reality through what we see and hear. For example, if we expect to see untrustworthy employees, that is what we perceive we have.

Having different perceptions is a normal situation in companies and is detrimental only when they interfere with safety and organizational functioning. By not perceiving in the same way, people have perceptual gaps. These gaps are virtually the same as communication gaps because messages are not getting through. In other words, even when people are talking about the same subject, they are not communicating. This seems to be a common situation when it comes to the subject of safety. …