The Campbell Institute: Influencing safety in a maturing culture
The Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council is the EHS center of excellence. Built on the belief that EHS is at the core of business vitality, the Institute seeks to help organizations, of all sizes and sectors, achieve and sustain excellence. Learn more at thecampbellinstitute.org.
In safety, there is a tendency to focus on logical, rational, data-driven positions to influence change. These lagging and leading metrics have emerged as the primary drivers of safety, health and environmental improvement, reinforced by the safety manager’s credo: “What gets measured gets done.” SH&E professionals spend a significant amount of time developing scorecards and analyzing trends with the hope of revealing weaknesses that might influence others to join us in preventing the next tragedy.
Loyalty to these metrics has to do with the fact that they’ve served us well. They’ve offered credibility, consistency and continuity to our organizations during the most tumultuous economic times in recent history. Many SH&E professionals have successfully used metrics to drive down incident rates, lower insurance costs, spur employee engagement, garner leadership commitment and move cultures from reactive to proactive behavior.
In a maturing safety culture, as the improvement gap for many metrics narrows, our ability to effectively sound the alarm and influence the organization can be reduced. This phase is generally characterized by measuring improvements to the tenth and hundredth decimal place, or reporting on 1 percent and 2 percent increases in desired behaviors.
This diminishing margin of improvement eventually becomes too small to influence individual behavior or organizational direction. This diminishment can inhibit critical assessments of the organization and presents a formidable barrier to achieving zero injuries.
So what’s next? How do we continue to influence positive changes in a space where measuring and reporting have taken us to this critical point? We can start by retooling the metrics we use to highlight new and unexplored strengths and weaknesses in our organization.
I would like to propose that the following also be considered: SH&E leaders must confront the next frontier of influence, which includes addressing attitudes and values about working safely and appealing to the altruistic and emotional aspects of the people we intend to influence.
Safety, by its very nature, is emotional. There are a number of opportunities to connect with the internal motivators that influence people to act safely. The emerging literature on this topic points to concepts such as emotional intelligence, moral maturity and people-based safety.1 Translating these concepts to operational strategies can take many forms. Recent examples include a resurgent trend elevating the testimonials of victims and families of workplace tragedies to warn and inspire all of us that “this could happen to you.”
In my own organization, the branding of our culture as “Safety for Life” and exercises such as the Personal Safety Action Plan have personalized safety by challenging employees to consider safety as a lifelong commitment that gives context to the goals or targets that drive our metric reporting. Even simple changes in the appearance of our safety program – like replacing traditional images of hard hats and work boots with images that evoke strong emotional connections such as parents with their children or employees enjoying a beloved hobby on the weekend – have changed the way we relate to our corporate safety culture.
Further, work has been done to move away from cold, institutional terms like THA or JSA, and replace them with relatable terms such as “LifeSaver” that highlight the importance of this process in employees’ daily routines.
Influence is always a combination of tools and tactics tailored to the audience. In a developing safety culture, what gets measured gets done, and our efforts to influence are based on data, logic and rational assessments of the costs of inaction. Cultures mature, and the desire to improve incident rates of 0.3 or 0.03 to a true and sustained state of 0.0 drives us forward. What we measure needs to change and be supplemented with personal, relationship-driven and emotional appeals to the intrinsic motivators that compel individuals to embrace Safety for Life.
1. Jeffries, F.L., “Predicting Safety Related Attitudes in the Workplace:
The Influence of Moral Maturity and Emotional Intelligence.”
Shelley Brown has more than 14 years of experience as a safety professional, and currently provides leadership and technical SH&E support to AECOM District Management teams and Program Directors as SH&E Manager for AECOM.