Improving Safety Programs through Total Quality

By Weinstein, Michael B. | Occupational Hazards, August 1996 | Go to article overview

Improving Safety Programs through Total Quality

Weinstein, Michael B., Occupational Hazards

TQM is here, but is it in your safety program? If not, here's a start-to-finish process for creating a total safety program.

There is increasing worldwide acceptance of Total Quality Management (TQM) systems and the ISO 9000 series of standards. Implementation of TQM systems, spurred in the United States through recognition of the annual Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, has helped transform many companies and increase their competitiveness, effectiveness and productivity.

TQM systems also apply very well to the field of safety management. The same concepts that promote TQM success have been demonstrated to lead to safety management success.[1] Nonetheless, companies and safety professionals have been slow to accept and apply TQM methods to safety.[2]

This article will show how TQM can be applied to safety. First, I will briefly outline a general process for developing and implementing a safety management system incorporating TQM, ISO 9000 and technical requirements. Then, I will illustrate how basic TQM concepts evolve into a set of guidelines for a Work Safety Management System. When complete, the resulting safety systems possess modern management and quality characteristics, and they promote a minimum accident focus, continuous improvement and a culture of full management and employee involvement in safety.

Why Improved Safety Programs Are Needed

In general, improvement in the structure and style of safety programs is needed because overall safety levels have stopped getting better. It is all too easy to show that traditional-style safety management has reached a longstanding, no-improvement plateau in terms of safety effectiveness. U. S. Department of Labor statistics[3] demonstrate that occupational injury and illness rates have remained trapped in a range of from 7.6 to 8.9 per 100 full-time workers from 1980 through 1994. The lowest incidence rates of less than 8.0 were achieved in the years 1983 through 1986 and they have risen since, remaining above 8.3 since 1987.

Safety is stuck at this plateau because traditional safety programs are compliance-oriented and based solely on hazard-specific technical requirements, standards and practices. These programs address the many technical aspects of the specific hazards and exposures to which they are directed, but they have significant failings that limit their potential for fostering continuous and significant improvement.

The most important failing of traditional safety programs is that technical requirements mandated by standards are not backed up by requirements for company-wide quality-style management systems that promote excellence and continuous improvement. In these traditional programs, safety surveys, audits and inspections identify individual safety problems, but the solutions offered are often purely technical and short term, addressing the symptoms of the problems rather than the causes.

Another type of failing occurs in companies in which the safety programs that apply to different types of hazards and exposures are treated differently, use different techniques, or are managed and carried out by different staffs. As an example, TQM techniques which might be used for accident or worker behavior analysis are not similarly used to address fire test or inspection results. This lack of consistency among safety programs inhibits safety communication and improvement throughout the organization. The various executives, managers, supervisors and workers do not speak a common language or use common ideas to discuss and, hopefully, to improve safety.

Hansen describes additional failings of traditional safety programs.[2] For example, safety may not be integrated throughout the organization, but instead isolated in the person of a safety professional who alone cannot identify and resolve all safety problems. In such programs, the tendency is for manager and employees to abdicate responsibility for safety. …

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