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Essential Features for Establishing a Strong Safety Culture

By Steve Arendt, ABS Group Vice President of Global Oil, Gas and Chemical

Increasingly stricter regulations require operating companies to implement improved management systems to help control health, safety and environmental (HSE) risks. These management systems are operated by people whose inherent attitudes about safety can affect the choices they make in operating these systems and, thus, the overall safety performance of assets and operations.

The industry needs to be certain that these systems are effective and create sustainable performance, rather than becoming costly paper-chasing exercises. The key to doing this is for operators to embed these management systems in a reliable safety culture within their organizations.

What are Attributes of Good Safety Culture?

Culture is the individual and organizational DNA that represents our tendency to want to do (1) the right thing in (2) the right way at (3) the right time, (4) ALL the time – even if no one is looking. Industry has established attributes of a good process safety culture to evaluate the existing safety culture and determine how best to improve it.

  • Establish HSE as a core value
  • Provide strong leadership
  • Establish and enforce high standards of performance
  • Formalize the HSE culture approach
  • Maintain a sense of vulnerability
  • Empower individuals to successfully fulfill their HSE responsibilities
  • Defer to expertise
  • Maintain open and effective communications
  • Establish a questioning/learning environment
  • Foster mutual trust
  • Provide timely response to HSE issues and concerns
  • Provide continuous monitoring of performance

How to Evaluate Culture

Typical ways to get a handle on HSE culture are:

  • Employee surveys
  • Interviews
  • Work observations
  • HSE leading indicator metrics

ABS Group uses all of these means as well as a formal approach for connecting process safety and HSE performance outcomes to culture, called the performance assurance review (PAR) approach.

Improving Safety Culture

Cultural improvement typically takes a long time to become deeply rooted, but improvements can be seen fairly quickly if the culture change process is good. Conducting workshops at each organizational level, including for contractors, is an effective way to educate, train, solicit input and engage the workforce in developing and owning the asset and company culture improvement plan. Workshop topics include:

  • Assessing current plant culture and focus on strengths and weaknesses
  • Taking personal responsibility for evolving your HSE culture
  • Understanding potential historical root causes for culture problems
  • Soliciting ideas for improving culture
  • Creating personal culture improvement plans
  • Developing, implementing and monitoring improvement plans
  • Measuring culture change by simple culture metrics

Path Forward

Some predict that all future major incidents will have poor HSE culture as a contributing factor. Culture will be the 'root cause' of accidents during the next decade. The industry must do more to equip itself to learn and to address the underlying organizational and culture causes of major accident situations before they happen. Establishing an effective safety culture can help organizations achieve sustainable HSE performance and compliance.

Need a safety culture assessment or guidance? View our Safety Management experience.

 

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