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  • Writer's pictureMark Hordes

And Now a Word About Safety!

By: Mark Hordes

Mark Hordes Management Consultants, LLC

Houston, Texas USA

(713) 416 1781 office


In the late 20th Century, Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management revolutionized the manufacturing process. These new process approaches, and systems brought acute focus and rigor into the manufacturing and business environment.

Now, in the 21st Century, the introduction of an operations excellence approach that captures a Total Solutions orientation that compresses the time period required to optimize manufacturing environments through the application of Behavior Based Safety, aligned with a focus on Culture and Principled-Led Leadership has produced dramatic results with an enhanced ability of manufactures to face global competitive challenges and internal pressures to create a high performance organization.

Development of an effective Safety Leadership culture requires organizations to look beyond intended performance, to their own assumptions about safety. When firmly in place, an effective safety culture instills an environment where employees differentiate between events which, while detrimental to performance, have low probability of generating an incident, and those with seemingly minimal impact on performance, yet high probability of escalation into full-blown safety incidents and accidents.

How does an organization instill personal accountability for safety in the face of significant changes that are emerging in a new era and focus on an “incident free environment?”

Six Safety Leadership Behavior Principles

Being a safety leader in the 21st century requires a new and different mindset which incorporates:

Six Leadership Safety Behaviors:

1. Leaders consistently practice positive regard and good intent to articulate, demonstrate and reinforce employee behaviors that exemplify a commitment to safety.

2. Leaders clearly communicate the safety objectives and provide employees information to enable and empower employees to make value-based decisions and set priorities consistent with their levels of accountability and roles in the organization.

3. Leaders support employees identifying real and perceived barriers to a safe environment in compliance with HSE policies, regulations and risks.

4. Leaders practice positive regard to encourage, and assume good intent to accept, constructive challenges to HSE policies and practices that have little or no value.

5. Leaders support and create an environment in which commitment to “resolve it when I see it” mindset genuinely pervades the organization.

6. Leaders are visible “Champions of Safety” every day.

A Safety Leadership Example

One major manufacturing firm needed to rapidly improve their competitive position, yet they worried about safety performance.

Shifting their management style to gain personal commitment, they engaged the organization in changing assumptions about how key process decisions were made, both technically and socially.

They were surprised by the results: personal commitment led to personal accountability, which in turn, maintained process safety performance in a time of intense change, yet without constant management oversight.

To develop an effectives safety culture, underlying assumptions and strategies must be examined, and often recreated. The organization’s preferred management style will be a potentially hidden source of strength, or weakness, in its succes.

Many current safety efforts occur after the incident takes place. In other words, after an injury happens, (someone falls off a lift) actions are taken to prevent similar injuries in the future.

This is known as REACTIVE SAFETY and is not an ideal solution. If we can determine the WHY of an accident, safety can become PROACTIVE.

An effective safety program trains Leaders, Observers and employees, and encourages safe precautions, as well as strives to understand and reduce risk, rather than waiting for an accident to occur.

With an effective safety program in place your focus is always on preventing injuries before they occur and targeting 80-90% of the risk.

Through utilization of this kind of process worker-controlled program, precautions can prevent injuries, reinforces these behaviors, identifies and removes systems, conditions and obstacles that make it difficult or impossible to take the right precautions.

Observers and the Steering Committee: Ponder Points

Is your Steering Committee the right size? Can the composition of this group be smaller, thereby reducing resource time commitments, and at the same time, have the right people involved.

-Are you doing too many observations?

-Do you have the right observations strategy? Does your contact rate make sense?

-Can you do less observations and identify more risks?

-Does your check list have too many items to observe? Versus no more than 5-6 items that can yield the biggest risks?

-Do you have different safety programs operating in sites around the world?

An effective safety approach also examines how all these efforts can be integrated into a new organization structure at both the corporate and local level, saving time, money and increasing standardization.

Creating a Safety Culture

The culture of a company, defined as “the way we do things around here” is often centered on employee awareness at three levels or organizational consciousness:

Without Leader and employee safety awareness and exploration, much of what we think, see, and feel is processed automatically, without consciousness. As a result, our reactions and safety behaviors are often not appropriate to the situation in which we find ourselves. Ultimately, this distorted filter often sabotages many of our best efforts to create and sustain effective process safety environments.

Are your Employees Practicing “Vicious Compliance or Authentic Commitment to Safety?”

Employees may practice “vicious compliance”, in contrast to authentic commitment to process safety, in which they follow management’s policies, procedures and other mandates “to the letter”, even in situations where other choices would make more sense.

The workforce may act unilaterally based on their own assumptions, for example:

· “They talk a good game about process safety, but I know it’s really about getting the work done. I’ll operate to get the desired production rate, even if this pushes the equipment to its limit.” Indeed, the oft-ignored employee assumption and resulting belief is that “production trumps process safety”.

Employees’ reliance upon personal experience to evaluate risk of low-frequency events: “as an employee, my experience teaches me that I’ve worn my personal protective equipment 100 times and there has never been an incident.

So, if I don’t wear it this one time, especially since I am so busy, it seems to me that the associated risk of an incident is quite low.

So why does management constantly ‘get on me’ about wearing it? Aren’t there more important issues facing us?”

Routine behavior often includes silence or compliance, but with little challenge of issues or conversation about what could or might happen. As a result, management may perceive that “all is well” when in fact employees have significant concerns and issues.

Change and Transformation

Industry has clearly demonstrated that successful change requires some level of dissatisfaction with the current state, articulation of a preferred future, and definition of strategies to move forward. What is often missing is a deeper exploration of safety beliefs, values, and assumptions.

A transition to a Leadership focused effective process safety environment requires this exploration at all organizational levels, allowing for choices about, and transition to personal and organizational drivers.


To avoid major safety incidents, both known and unknown, industry can take process safety to the next level by:

· Exploring and challenging deeply-held beliefs, values, and assumptions by examining the underlying antecedents of process safety behaviors and choices more deeply in an environment of mutual learning and Leader led safety motivation, commitment and actions.

· Using thoughtful conversation and active listening to manage the consequences of infrequent, yet potentially severe, process safety incidents.

· Achieving the desired operational discipline, including documentation, setting expectations, defining critical procedures, and linking executive bonuses to achieving safety goals.

· Practicing disciplined, proactive anticipation of infrequent events.

· Focus on practicing a leveraged safety program that delivers results in the most effective and efficient mean possible.

The benefits of a committed Leadership-led approach to process safety include not only rapid response to economic, social, employment, and demographic change, but also increased employee satisfaction and reduced dependence upon span of control to manage infrequent events.

By releasing the latent talent in the organization, ultimately this focus on a Leader-led process safety program will generate extraordinary performance in the face of increasingly frequent change.

The ultimate effective safety process and program relies upon self- and organizational awareness of the potential for any unit to become a “zero incident” site. It relies upon practicing skills to envision those situations which will lead to this end state, and then to methodically, with discipline, sustain it through Leadership Safety Commitment and a focus on Excellence in all levels of organizational relationship, so safety first will always sustain the ‘test of time.”

In the words of Mark Twain, “it is better to be careful 100 times than to get killed once.”

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