Monday, June 04, 2012

Not just another questionnaire

kw: values, safety

Today a "safety perception survey" was initiated at my company. Though we were given three weeks to do it, I filled it out right away, to counteract my tendency to procrastinate.

I work for one of the safest companies in the world, and though I'd like to tout it, I have a principle of keeping its name out of this blog. The company shares a few best practices with the handful of companies that get named "safest in the world" in their industry or sector.

First and foremost, managers and executives have their bonuses tied to the safety performance of their units, as a multiplier, not an additive item. Poor enough safety performance can eliminate the "variable" from someone's "variable compensation". This does not stand alone, and indeed, could easily lead to many abuses if the company did not also have strong standards of ethics and of people treatment, with 360° feedback for both.

Secondly, there is frequent training and "safety meeting" feedback for all employees. Not only is every incident publicized, many near-misses are included. For example, if a piece of equipment malfunctions and there is a leak, whether of water of of something less innocuous, the reason(s) for the fault are studied with a view towards eliminating that kind of failure in the future. A stumble in the parking lot, that leads to a sprained ankle, may not lead to a loss of working time or production, but it is the health of the person, rather than productivity, that is the focus of concern. This is a lot better climate than the kind of thing we sometimes hear about, where somebody gets hurt and has a sudden need for some "vacation", so the time off doesn't count against company lost work time statistics.

Thirdly, we are encouraged to take care of one another, not in a nannyish way, but as colleagues who are also friends. Thus, if I am carrying too many things on the staircase, where a colleague might ask, "How will you hold the handrail?", I am more likely to get an offer of help carrying it, so we both have a hand free. I admit it takes time and practice to get used to this, but one comes to appreciate it.

A fine balance has to be kept. Too much paranoia about safety can impact productivity more than "permitting" a certain level of harm. But if there is this attitude, the "permission" will grow to unacceptable levels. Thus, the safety goal is always proclaimed to be "zero incidents", and we frequently hear, "We don't believe anyone should go home hurt." An attitude of watchfulness rather than fear is encouraged. It works.

Nobody is perfect, and the world is not perfect. With such a safety culture in place, however, we find that the most dangerous thing any of us does is to travel to and from the workplace. And that is also being worked upon…

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