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Factors That Impact Safety Performance: How to Achieve and Sustain Excellent Performance [Part 2]

By Jim Klein, PrincipAL engineer

Factors that Impact Safety Performance - Part 2

The journey to effective safety programs that achieve and sustain excellent performance continues. At this point, you've asked yourself three (3) important questions about your safety performance: What is the current level of performance? Is performance trending better, about the same, or worse? How can performance be improved? Now, we'll discuss how a model of safety performance can be helpful in defining key factors that impact performance.

Improving Safety Performance

The performance model shown in Figure 2 provides key safety program activities that impact performance and indicates how they interact (Klein, 2020; Klein & Vaughen, 2017). A model can be useful to help:

  1. Ensure a more complete perspective on why safety performance may be good or bad and why performance may be getting better or worse; and
  2. Serve as the basis for assessment of safety program performance to identify and prioritize improvement opportunities and help ensure that they are appropriately focused and comprehensive.

Jim Klein, Principal Engineer, ABS GroupJim Klein, Principal Engineer

Some possible improvement actions associated with each factor have been documented elsewhere (Klein, 2020), but ultimately depend on company and local organizational safety focus, goals and priorities.

Figure 2: Safety Performance Model Adapted from Sustaining Effective Process Safety Programs in CPI Facilities, by J.A. Klein, 2020, Chemical Engineering, and Process Safety: Key Concepts and Practical Approaches, by J.A. Klein, B.K. Vaughen, 2017, CRC Press.

Safety Regulations and Industry Standards

Companies must be aware of regulatory requirements, codes and standards and industry best practices to support effective safety programs and implement internal requirements as needed. Knowledge of external information and activities is essential for:

  1. Ensuring compliance with relevant regulations,
  2. Implementing effective systems,
  3. Developing and leveraging organizational capabilities,
  4. Ensuring proper equipment design and maintenance,
  5. Promoting a learning culture.

Organizational Safety Culture

A good definition of safety culture is “The normal way things are done at a facility, company or organization, reflecting expected organizational values, beliefs and behaviors that set the priority, commitment, and resource levels for safety programs and performance” (Klein & Vaughen, 2017). The effectiveness of safety programs and their ability to achieve excellent performance are strongly influenced by the safety culture, which can vary due to local and geographic differences, specific hazards and risk management needs, and conflicting priorities such as financial or production considerations. Characteristics describing the essential features of safety culture have  been defined (CCPS, 2007; 2018; Klein & Vaughen, 2017) and can be used to evaluate strengths and opportunities for improvement. 

Leadership Commitment and Focus

Leadership at a company or facility is influenced by the safety culture (e.g., in setting daily priorities for safety vs. production) and able to influence the culture (e.g., strengthen or weaken the culture over time; Klein & Vaughen, 2017). Leadership necessarily encompasses all levels of management from the board of directors to first-line supervision to all workers (BP U.S. Refineries Independent Safety Review Panel, 2007). If a shift supervisor is making decisions contrary to higher-level guidance, such as to complete certain work tasks in a less-safe manner, leadership credibility is challenged, and the safety culture can degrade. Leadership commitment and focus on safety as a core value are critical for ensuring that resources are provided for safety activities in terms of financial, personnel and time considerations. Safety program policies, goals, metrics and accountabilities must be established with appropriate resources provided to support excellent performance. Direct leadership involvement in safety activities is also essential for building trust and securing employee engagement through visibility and consistent action. 

Capable Organization and Resources

Leadership must provide sufficient resources for implementing and sustaining effective safety programs to support safe, reliable operations and meet program goals. This includes:

  1. Developing internally trained and capable safety professionals and others with expertise and knowledge of work activities, safety regulations and relevant industry standards and guidance; and
  2. Using external resources when needed.

Because it is increasingly difficult for everyone to know everything about all technical areas, appropriate policies and guidance should be documented, training conducted and networking and mentoring opportunities provided, especially for new or less-experienced personnel so they know when to consult with safety personnel. Ultimately, safety must become part of everyone’s job in terms of ensuring that safety program goals and requirements are met. A well-defined training strategy should be developed and implemented with refresher training at appropriate intervals to help ensure awareness and understanding of the hazards that may be present, and safety program requirements for managing these hazards. 

Appropriate Design and Risk Management

Well-designed work activities and equipment are the starting point for safe and reliable operations and achieving excellent safety performance. Both should be based on identifying, evaluating and managing safety hazards and risks. Hazards must be evaluated using appropriate hazard evaluation methodologies, such as job safety analysis and process hazard analysis, to help ensure that hazards are identified, appropriate engineering and administrative safeguards are provided and, where possible, hazards are eliminated (Klein & Vaughen, 2017). These evaluations are also used to ensure that well-designed safety systems and procedures are implemented. 

Effective Safety Systems

Safety systems and procedures provide the detailed requirements based on risk management reviews, regulatory requirements and industry guidance to help ensure that safety risks are always successfully controlled as facility personnel complete their daily work activities. The effectiveness of safety systems is dependent on appropriate design, training and other factors (CCPS, 2007; Klein & Vaughen, 2017), as well as rigorous execution.

Operation Discipline

Safety systems only work as intended if personnel are following them; even highly trained people occasionally make mistakes. The reality is that human error should be anticipated, and appropriate systems and safeguards provided to help ensure that errors do not lead to serious injuries and other consequences, especially if work tasks include higher-risk activities. Operational discipline is used to describe human behavior in following required systems and procedures correctly, every time, to consistently achieve safer and more reliable operations. Developing an operational discipline program (CCPS, 2011; Klein, n.d.; 2019; Klein & Vaughen, 2017) intended to support day-to-day awareness and commitment by all company personnel can help:

  1. Minimize the potential for human error;
  2. Ensure that safety program requirements are rigorously followed; and
  3. Support excellent safety performance.

Feedback Systems and Organizational Learning

Methods to monitor safety program effectiveness using both leading and lagging metrics are essential for achieving high performance (BP U.S. Refineries Independent Safety Review Panel, 2007; CCPS, 2007; Klein & Vaughen, 2017). Without appropriate program feedback, warning signs of problems may be missed, and learning opportunities for improving performance can be lost. Ensuring that the correct key indicators are measured and evaluated, based on safety program goals, provides information on the current performance level and trend. Metrics alone are of little use unless they are periodically reviewed and acted on, identifying strengths and weaknesses and initiating specific improvements or maintaining good practices. Learning from experience is a common safety theme, and using organizational learning approaches to collect, analyze, share and retain critical safety information and knowledge helps promote

  1. Sensitivity to ongoing operations;
  2. A sense of vulnerability; and
  3. Knowledge of past problems and successes (CCPS, 2007; Klein & Vaughen, 2017).

Assessment of Safety Performance

As noted, a model can be useful for understanding factors that affect safety performance, either by assessing factors affecting current performance or by retrospectively investigating factors related to serious injuries or incidents. In both cases, a model may aid in identifying causes of poor performance and possible solutions for improvement that are appropriately focused and not narrowly based on preconceptions and other factors.

Example 1

A 2005 refinery explosion and fire investigated by CSB (2007) resulted in 15 fatalities, 180 injuries and major facility damage. While CSB identified many causes, Table 1  highlights some of the performance model factors identified in its investigation of the incident and in a subsequent investigation (BP U.S. Refineries Independent Safety Review Panel, 2007) of several company refineries. The CSB investigation found that “a very low personal injury rate . . . gave [the company] a misleading indicator of process safety performance.”

The subsequent investigation found that “A substantial gulf appears to have existed, however, between the actual performance of [the company’s] process safety management systems and the company’s perception of that performance,” and the “safety management system was not, however, effective in evaluating whether the actions taken were actually improving the company’s process safety performance.” The investigation indicated that all safety performance model factors were identified as causes of the incident, as shown in Table 1.

Ultimately, excellent safety performance requires active involvement and daily perseverance by management and all employees to implement, improve and sustain effective safety programs.

Example 2

A large multisite industrial company with above-average industry safety performance proactively commissioned an assessment to help identify any gaps and opportunities for improving the company’s safety program and injury performance. The assessment consisted of a safety culture and operational discipline survey and visits to several facilities to observe facility conditions and practices, review safety program activities and performance, and interview personnel. The safety performance model was used to help: 

  1. Evaluate safety program requirements, implementation and performance; and
  2. Identify primary opportunities for improving safety programs and injury performance.

Findings were developed with the intent of sustainable improvement in safety performance with an emphasis on identifying the safety culture and safety program root causes underlying observed performance issues. Table 2 highlights some of the performance model findings where the model helped ensure that the assessment was comprehensive and appropriately focused on identifying the most important factors impacting performance.


The primary goal of effective safety programs is excellent performance leading to prevention of serious injuries, business interruption, environmental harm and achievement of other safety program goals. It is essential for companies to consider their current level of safety performance, whether performance is getting better or worse, and what can be done to improve and maintain excellent performance.

Experience shows that sustained excellent safety performance is possible but also that past success does not ensure future success because competing priorities and other challenges are always present.

A model of safety performance can be helpful in defining key factors that impact performance, which can be assessed to help identify and prioritize continuous improvement activities, or retroactively evaluate injuries or incidents when things went wrong. Ultimately, excellent safety performance requires active involvement and daily perseverance by management and all employees to implement, improve and sustain effective safety programs. A model assists this process by helping to ensure that safety program activities and improvement efforts are appropriately focused and comprehensive. 

  1. BP U.S. Refineries Independent Safety Re-view Panel. (2007). The report of the BP U.S. Refineries Independent Safety Review Panel (Baker Panel report).
  2. Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS). (2007). Guidelines for risk-based process safety. Wiley.
  3. CCPS. (2011). Conduct of operations and operational discipline. Wiley.
  4. CCPS. (2018). Essential practices for creating, strengthening, and sustaining process safety culture. Wiley.
  5. CSB. (2007). Investigation report: Refinery explosion and fire [Report No. 2005-04-I-TX]. 
  6. Klein, J.A. (n.d.). Getting started on implementing an effective operational discipline program [Manuscript in preparation].
  7. Klein, J.A. (2019, Sept. 25). Turn up process safety performance. Chemical Processing. 
  8. Klein, J.A. (2020). Sustaining effective process safety programs in CPI facilities. Chemical Engineering. 
  9. Klein, J.A. & Vaughen, B.K. (2017). Process safety: Key concepts and practical approaches. CRC Press.
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