Safety Leadership

Safety Leadership: 5 steps to unlock your organization’s safety potential


Editor’s Note: Achieving and sustaining an injury-free workplace demands strong leadership. In this monthly column, experts from global consulting firm DEKRA share their point of view on what leaders need to know to guide their organizations to safety excellence.

Safety professionals face numerous hazards and exposures that exceed their organization’s capacity to manage them.

Modern approaches to safety management address this challenge by incorporating certain aspects of risk management into the safety management system framework. This approach allows increased focus on higher-risk activities and can deliver improved safety performance by aligning activities in proportion to the severity of risk exposure.

An effective risk-based safety management approach not only aligns organizational focus and resources toward tasks that address higher-risk activities, but also creates a culture of risk awareness. With increased vigilance throughout the organization, safety pros identify and respond to early warning signals when risk isn’t properly managed.

Some of the leading approaches that support risk management frameworks are ISO 31000, “Guidelines for Risk Management,” and the Center for Chemical Process Safety’s Guidelines for Risk-Based Process Safety.

Here are five steps you can take when implementing a risk management approach:

1. Develop targeted activity plans based on risk.
Create a risk register that inventories and analyzes the exposures and risks in your organization. Your facilities already have this information, which can be collected and synergized, including a process hazard analysis, job safety analysis, audit reports, incident reports and investigations, and insurance company inspection reports. Once the information is collected, conduct reviews with various stakeholders to confirm the accuracy of the information and establish buy-in.

2. Anticipate points of failure and manage proper safeguards.
Identify the critical safeguards you have in place to control the hazards identified in Step 1. Those safeguards will be a combination of engineering and administrative controls. In addition to providing an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the controls, this analysis will identify critical controls that must be governed and routinely audited. You’ll also be able to identify specific hazards with insufficient controls that require additional focus and improvement.

3. Catch small deviations early and respond properly.
In the January 2021 issue of Safety+Health, I emphasized that the goal of high-reliability safety is to improve the identification and response to early warning signals. Early indications of weak – or improper – control of hazards must be reported, analyzed and responded to. This is an essential part of establishing a culture of risk awareness from the C-suite to the front line. When most major incidents are studied, we discover that dozens – if not hundreds – of early warning signals preceded the major event. Had any one of them been responded to, the severity (or occurrence) of the event would have been significantly reduced (or avoided). We must create a culture that routinely identifies and responds to these opportunities.

4. Enhance operational discipline through human performance reliability.
All of our risk control systems – both engineering and administrative – rely on human performance and are subject to the challenges of human error. As we strive to ensure correct actions the first time, we must incorporate modern views of human performance reliability into our safety programs. Most important, we must recognize that there are many risk factors that affect even our best-performing employees. In the August 2019 issue of S+H, my colleague Rajni Walia presents the key factors for improving human performance reliability.

5. Develop effective in-process metrics to evaluate performance.
Governance of your risk-based safety management approach is an important aspect of ensuring the approach remains effective. Although effective risk management practices will produce long-term and sustainable reduction in traditional lagging metrics, it’s critical to identify additional in-process metrics that track the performance of the system. These metrics must include an analysis of how well audit results, incidents and near misses are aligning with the organization’s risk and control registries, and must track the effectiveness of reporting early warning signals.

The great news is that most organizations already have some form of information collected for the first two steps. The remaining three steps can help you establish an effective risk management approach.

A critical aspect of becoming a high-reliability safety organization is to ensure risks are effectively identified; controls are properly managed; and that the organization’s culture embraces the identification, reporting and response to early warning signals. Take time to explore how modern risk management approaches can unlock your organization’s safety potential.


This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Mike Snyder is the vice president of operational risk management for DEKRA North America’s process safety practice ( As an expert occupational and process safety leader with extensive chemical and municipal risk management sector experience, he guides organizations in pragmatic and cost-effective risk management decision-making.



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