A Safety Culture Takes Communication, but Sphera Survey Shows a Messaging Breakdown
April 13th, 2018
What we have here is a failure to communicate—and that’s no small problem.
In Sphera’s most recent survey, “Measuring Safety Culture: Where Leadership, Culture and Metrics Intersect,” 1 in 4 respondents (25 percent) said they do not believe that their Environmental Health & Safety initiatives were conducted in a “well-informed environment” that were “well-communicated” across their organization. Additionally, 42 percent said they “somewhat agree.” If that’s the case, something is clearly not “well.”
This is especially notable because most respondents (90 percent) said they “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that safety leadership and culture drive the behaviors of front-line workers.
The survey results highlight a cultural issue that needs to be addressed immediately if companies are serious about their risk-mitigating efforts to keep their workers safe, their products sustainable and their operations productive. Those objectives should be every company’s top priority to ensure not only Operational Excellence but also bottom-line performance.
Employing EHS software solutions goes a long way toward meeting those goals, but just over half (55 percent) of the 700 respondents said their company uses proprietary or third-party EHS safety management solutions to collect data. Compare that to the 78 percent who said they rely on handwritten reports and forms and the 72 percent who said they use verbal reports from employees and supervisors. Additionally, 58 percent said they use Excel spreadsheets. (Respondents—many of whom work in the manufacturing, construction and Oil & Gas industries—could choose more than one answer for this question).
Having different reporting and tracking protocols and nomenclatures can cause confusion and increase the risk of incidents or near-misses because a communication breakdown is more likely to exist between departments, divisions and so forth. Also, the data show that there’s an inconsistency in incident and near-miss reporting in many organizations that could and likely will affect the quality of the data collected. This makes tracking leading and even lagging indicators to help prevent future incidents and near-misses much more difficult.
Dialogue on Diligence
Along those lines, nearly 9 out of 10 respondents (89 percent) said their EHS program could be improved “significantly” or “somewhat” if their company were to be more diligent and efficient in the collection, analysis and reporting of safety data and metrics.
But getting the necessary buy-in to improve their data-collection processes appears to be a challenge for many organizations.
Less than half of respondents (43 percent) said they could effectively use data and metrics to demonstrate the return on investment for their EHS programs. Also, almost 4 out 10 (38 percent) said they were not successfully demonstrating that ROI with data and metrics. EHS managers who are not able to show the benefits of their EHS initiatives are missing a huge opportunity to improve their risk mitigation and Environmental Performance by getting the financial support they need from decision-makers to acquire salient safety solutions.
Also alarming: Just over half of those surveyed (53 percent) said their employees generally comply with safety rules and policies but say they view safety as “someone else’s job.” Separately, just 32 percent said they have an excellent safety program that goes beyond U.S. Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) compliance standards with just a quarter (25 percent) saying they are trying to take their safety program to the “next level beyond compliance.”
Somewhat encouragingly, three-quarters of respondents (77 percent) said that safety-related issues are considered at high-level meetings on a regular basis. Ideally, that number should, of course, be 100 percent as workplace safety is just that important.
Sizing It All Up
One thing that jumped out at us as surprising was when we broke down the communication issue by company size: About 81 percent of respondents who work at companies with 50 to 99 people said they “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that decisions regarding EHS initiatives are well-informed and well-communicated throughout the organization. Compare that to the 70 percent of respondents from companies with 5,000 or more people who answered the same way.
Additionally, it’s important to note that more people (43 percent) from smaller companies in the above cohort say employees at their organization take “full ownership” of safety at all levels compared with just 30 percent at large organizations.
Of interest, about 86 percent of respondents from the smaller companies said they “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that they can trust leadership on safety issues vs. about 82 percent for large companies. However, 15 percent of respondents from the smaller companies said they “strongly” or “somewhat” disagree that they can trust leadership on safety issues vs. almost 19 percent for larger companies.
From our experience, most companies large and small take safety seriously. The fact that this message is either not being conveyed properly to workforces or there’s a perception that management is uninterested or disengaged when it comes to safety issues is problematic—especially for large companies that obviously have many more people to help keep safe. Trust is also a huge part of workplace safety. Workers should believe they can trust their organizations to keep them safe.
Creating a safety-focused culture is paramount for Operational Excellence. The only true way to accomplish that goal is to incorporate powerful risk-mitigation solutions into a complete Integrated Risk Management process and workflow.
How can they get there? Integrated risk management.
As research firm Gartner explains, “Integrated risk management enables simplification, automation and integration of strategic, operational and IT risk management.”
Integrated risk management will help lead to Operational Excellence, and that is something that will certainly be worth communicating—both internally and externally.