My take on the 2017 Industry Survey from SafetyCulture

This year I had the honor and privilege to be a part of the safety industry survey conducted by SafetyCulture for 2017. The report is located here: SafetyCulture 2017 Industry Survey.

The survey brings to light some great achievements in the last year regarding the culture and implementation of successful safety programs. However, there are also some areas of concern. Specifically in regards to gender equality in the safety field and issues that are increasing the risks and hazards within our organizations.

Let’s look at some of the positive areas first. Reporting and audit tools have moved in large portions to digital mediums and cloud-based reporting. This allows for quicker hazard identification and mitigation planning, as well as increased accountability and task assignment. Processes and work sites also make up a majority of the areas inspected for positive safety habits. This is an incredibly effective way of ensuring that the root cause (the processes themselves) are being held under the spotlight to identify hazardous or dangerous environments.

Another positive area of improvement is the proactive safety cultures within many organizations. The average number of near misses (averaged from the thousands of us that participated in the survey) was only 103.54. While that may sound like a lot, and in some industries it may be, the biggest takeaway from this factor is that near-misses are being reported! This is something we have struggled with from an enforcement and compliance view for many years, near-misses were just not being reported at all.

Serious incidents were averaged out at 4.43 over the last 12 months! This is an incredibly low number, especially since we are also averaging the construction industry into this survey. The construction industry, which makes up the largest majority of our safety community, has been in the lead for fatalities and serious incidents for a very long time. Hopefully, we are seeing a trend where this industry is adopting a more positive view of the safety culture.

The last positive item I want to discuss is the viewpoint that regular (not intermittent or last second) safety training and evaluation is considered one of the greatest factors in reducing safety hazards. As a compliance consultant and trainer, I am overjoyed to see that our hard work and diligence to providing training is beginning to be viewed positively. Yes, I know that your annual OSHA training is still pretty boring, or you have to be evaluated again on how to safely use an angle grinder, or back the company vehicle up WITH a spotter, or wearing gloves during a patient exam. However, in the long run adopting a positive attitude towards this will lead to less injuries and potential fatalities (or backing up the ambulance into a column… Ahemmm from what I heard…. I have always used a spotter……).

However, there were some areas of concern identified in the survey as well. Many of these items have been prevalent for many years in the world of safety management. Hopefully, over the next few generations of safety professionals will see a dramatic shift from the plateau we seem to be at with these issues.

The first area that we need to see a shift in is with the education and training of safety professionals. As the survey indicates, the construction industry makes up the largest portion of our safety professionals. Within this industry sector, formal training programs are not commonly required or utilized. This is in stark contrast with other sectors where formal education and training programs, or degrees in safety are required. A formalized training program or degree requirement is not an elitist opinion, it is really about ensuring continuity across the broad spectrum of safety in regards to regulation interpretation and application. Imagine if we had lawyers that in certain states did not have to go through law school before taking the Bar Exam. We would end up with legal counsel that may have just guessed well enough to pass the exam and are now representing clients. This would lead to inconsistencies and may not allow for adequate legal advice, even though they are lawyers that passed the exam. It was mentioned in the survey that the construction industry is trending towards more formalized requirements for their safety professionals, this will help to bring a continuity factor throughout every industry and hopefully, bring the construction out of the top spot for fatalities and work related injuries. I do realize that it will still be a large number due to the industry being larger than many of the others combined, however, many of the violations cited by OSHA in the construction industry are due to a lack of full comprehension in regards to regulations. Inconsistencies in enforcement, especially in utilizing PPE such as a PFAS while working at heights or adequate construction of scaffolding, seem to be a root cause of this sector having a high fatality and injury rate. Formalizing the requirements for training would help to train safety professionals early on in their career to be stricter on enforcement of regulations. Of course, that is just my opinion from years of working in multiple industry sectors, and I hope to see more effective enforcement in the future.

This also leads into the next item of concern, the aspects that increase the risk of workplace hazards. Leading the pack is time pressures, couple this with the next few areas of employees being under trained, and poor hazard planning, and we have a recipe for disaster. Of course there will always be time pressures in our careers, however, when the safety culture is reactive and unable to adequately plan for hazards or appropriately train employees, those deadlines become a walk on the razors edge of potential mishaps or fatalities.

The last two items of concern are the prevalence of under reporting or lack of reporting near misses or injuries and that many safety professionals feel their organizations could be doing more with the data they do have. Safety is, unfortunately, many times a “lessons learned” career, meaning we cannot easily predict outcomes for hazards until an injury occurs. Think of guarding on blades or turning parts, safety regulations on guarding became mandatory, but only after many decades of injuries being considered an acceptable risk. There is an interesting history of this presented in a brief power point I found a while ago while researching the subject. Have a look at it: Machine Guarding.

The issue of not reporting a near miss or injury is always a concern. We need the near miss and injury data to adequately plan and prevent hazards before an injury occurs. I know this has been on an upward trend of more reporting, however, it is still a major concern for many safety professionals. There is plenty of incentive to not report injuries or near misses, but a lesson I learned early on was that by not reporting we are only hurting our chances of providing a safe environment for the employees that have put their trust in us.

There was much more data and statistics in the report than I have brought up here, however, I feel these were the most important areas to focus on. In my daily life as an OSHA compliance consultant I see many areas that could use better implementation of their safety programs. Much of this has to do with the safety culture that is fostered from the top of the organizational hierarchy. If the top does not see safety as important, chances are the compliance with safety regulations will be lacking and the safety professionals are complacent. The future of being able to provide safe working environments depends on safety professionals firmly guiding organizations into a proactive approach towards compliance and enforcement.

The “Shiny Car” effect for organizational safety culture

In a past career I was a safety director for 40 geographically separated work sites. One of the main complaints (or grievances) I usually heard about was that I did not just look at the compliance checklists and move on to the next work site. Instead I would review the paperwork and then put my boots on the ground and visually inspect the areas to ensure that what was on paper actually matched the work practices. Even though this was an unpopular approach by many safety managers, I was able to find the ones that had the flashy written programs or the newest software or gadgets to provide numbers and analytics but lacked a working model for real-world implementation.

Now, anyone that knows me usually gets very frustrated or lost quickly with how much I love analytics and data. I WANT to see numbers, metrics, and shiny new software to be used. However, my philosophy is that a safety program is like purchasing a car. The image above shows an incredibly technological marvel of a car. It has the looks, the speed, the sexiness of an incredible vehicle. If I were to purchase this vehicle based on the outside alone, I may be in for a real-world awakening when I get it home (I am sure an extended warranty on this type of car is more than I make in a lifetime anyways!).

Let’s say I did just look at the outside and take the safety program at face value from what was documented. I could always use the concept that I trust my safety managers, which I did for many of them. The majority of them documented their real world practices and I did not have to “trust but verify” very often. Other than my annual required walk through. However, there were a few that I had to verify at least monthly.  We can use the analogy of a used car salesmen for this. Let’s say he talked me into purchasing the gorgeous vehicle pictured above without me doing my due diligence of checking the service records, kicking the tires, or checking under the hood. I would be in for a rude awakening when I find something like this when I get home (obviously not the same car, but the point is the same).

Obviously, I should not have just trusted the salesmen. Instead I needed to verify that he was being honest, doing this would have saved me a lot of the headaches that I now have to deal with. The same is true for our safety programs.

I have taken over safety programs that looked amazing on paper but the actual work site was a hazard playground. If I had not done my job and trusted but verified, I would have had a lot more headaches and out of control mishaps. Instead my proactive approach to ensuring the documentation showed my managers that safety is more than just a fresh coat of paint. It is a real-world practice that requires documentation AND working programs.

So the real question is how is the safety culture in your organization? Is it the shiny car where no one has looked under the hood? Or does it get cleaned and receive tune ups on a regular basis?