In this module, we'll examine Continuous Improvement concepts that apply to all elements of the safety and health management system. Since we're talking about "life and limb," continuous improvement of the Safety Management System (SMS) is all the more important to make sure all elements of the SMS are in place, top quality, and effectively maintained.
Important principles have evolved from companies that perform continuous safety improvement planning and implementation; they represent best practices in continuous safety improvement:
Dr. W. Edwards Deming is considered by most to be the father of Total Quality Management and Continuous Improvement. He was probably more responsible than any other person for Japan's meteoric rise in manufacturing after World War II. He believed that statistics hold the key to improving processes, and that management must take responsibility for quality in the workplace because management controls the processes.
Dr. Deming modified a continuous improvement process developed by his mentor, Dr. Walter Shewhart, and called it the Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycle (PDSA). The PDSA Cycle uses a systematic series of steps to gain data for the continual improvement of a product or process. The process is called a "cycle" because the steps are continually repeated. As the image to the right shows, the PDSA Cycle contains four primary steps. These four steps are repeated over and over as part of a never-ending cycle of continual improvement.
Let's see how we can apply these steps to develop a safe work procedure:
Deming's 14 Points form some of the most important concepts and approaches to continuous quality improvement philosophy. The focus of this module is to better understand and apply each of Deming's 14 points to workplace safety. So, let's examine what he says about quality, and then how each of the points might be applied to safety.
Deming spoke about the "problems of today and the problems of tomorrow," and that management in America today tends to focus only on today's problems when it should be placing increased, if not most emphasis, on tomorrow's threats and opportunities to improve competitive position.
Safety can never be understood or properly appreciated if management takes only the short term view: it must focus on the long term. Only by focusing on the long term benefits will management gain the vision to properly and consistently demonstrate real safety leadership.
The old philosophy accepts as fact that a certain level of injury and illness will result from a given process, and that the associated costs should represent one of many costs of doing business.
The new philosophy rejects that notion and strives to:
Deming was referring to the practice of inspecting every piece of product at the end of an assembly line to separate out the defects. Instead, he encouraged improving the quality of the process to decrease the defects, thus eliminating the need for mass inspection.
When we apply this to safety, Deming would encourage us to focus on measuring and improving the Safety Management System, including employee behaviors, procedures, and equipment design (leading indicators) instead of measure only incidents and accidents (lagging indicators).
Measuring only results statistics (accident rates) is like driving a car down the road and trying to stay in your lane by looking through a rear-view mirror. All you can do is react, after the fact. Accident rates tell us nothing about why accidents are happening. Incident rates, accident rates, MOD rates, etc. all measure the end point, and since these measures are inherently not predictive, these statistics provide little useful information about the surface and root causes for injuries and illnesses.
Quality safety and personal protective equipment, materials, chemicals may cost a little more but will save in the long-term through fewer injuries and illnesses. Management should write safety specifications that meet their safety and quality requirements into contracts.
With respect to personal protective equipment (PPE), "cheap" is not better. Ensuring employees have high quality personal protective equipment is smart business. If you spend $5,000 for various types of PPE and any one piece prevents a serious injury, your company has just paid for all the PPE. The money spent on PPE should be thought of as an investment that may result in substantial returns (reduced direct and indirect accident costs) to the company.
Relying on a single supplier for safety equipment, such as personal protective equipment, may have many benefits. Supplier representatives, calling on an employer over a period of years, will become familiar with the particular safety equipment needs of the employer. The employer who establishes a long-term close relationship with the supplier is more likely to receive the attention and higher quality equipment when requested. Developing a lose, cooperative partnership between the employer and the supplier of safety equipment is extremely important for the success of both parties, and is possible by applying the single supplier principle.
A system refers to a number of processes or procedures that have been standardized. Everyone does something the same way. It's important to have an effective safety and health management system. What safety process or procedure might be standardized to improve your company's safety and health management system?
Management must integrate safety as an element of quality into operations so completely that it disappears as a separate function. It must be viewed by each employee, supervisor and manager as his or her personal responsibility; one that is important in not only improving the production process, but in saving lives.
Unfortunately, some companies today consider safety training as a cost without any real benefits. Many companies rely on the safety director or the human resources department to train safety. The new employee receives a safety overview when hired, and a safety "expert," conducts more specific training related to the employee's job exercise. The supervisor, in many instances, does not think he or she is getting paid to train safety.
However, who is better suited to do the training than the person responsible for the safety and health of his or her employees? After all, if the supervisor can't train safety, how can he or she have the knowledge to effectively oversee safe work practices? Finally, as Deming states, the company should focus on hands-on On-the-Job (OJT)
The key to adopting and instituting leadership, of course, lies at the top. Management needs to lead by example, action, and word. The leader "cares" about those he or she leads. After all, the leader's success is tied to the success of his or her workers. The "servant leadership" model fits well into the ideas expressed by Deming and others.
There is no better way to demonstrate these principles of leadership than in making sure employees use safe work procedures in a workplace that is, itself, safe from hazards. Ensuring safety is one of the most visible undertakings that management can take to show employees that they are not merely hired hands who can be replaced, but are valued human resources...part of the family.
You must begin here. Driving out fear is the most important requirement when implementing a Safety Management System. Management controls the workplace and influences the behavior and performance of its employees by creating cultural norms that dictate what are, and are not acceptable behaviors. Strategies using fear to control are rarely, if ever successful.
Management may rely solely on safety rules and progressive discipline to control performance, but it's never successful in producing anything beyond mere compliance. What develops from such a strategy is a controlling, compliance driven climate of mistrust and disgust; only a shell of an effective safety and health management system.
In a world-class SMS, management drives out fear through fact-finding to improve the system, not fault-finding to punish someone. They emphasize uncovering the weaknesses in the system that have allowed unsafe work practices and hazardous conditions to exist. Management's motto is "Fix the system, not the blame."
We should only compete with our competitors, not ourselves. Internal cooperation and external competition applies to safety as well. Cooperation among all internal functions is another key to effective safety.
Competitive safety incentive programs. Reactive safety incentive programs that challenge departments to compete against each other for rewards set up a system that may promote illegal behaviors by creating situations where peer pressure causes the withholding of injury reports. Consequently, the "walking wounded syndrome" develops that eventually results in increased injury costs and workers compensation premiums. The performance of one employee impacts the success of others in the department. Employees will do virtually anything, in some cases, to ensure the department gets their pizza parties, saving bonds, or safety mugs. The fix: Reward/recognize employees individually for appropriate behaviors: complying with safety rules, reporting injuries and reporting workplace hazards. Reward activities that enhance cooperation.
Bringing management and labor together. Cooperation at all levels of the company to identify and correct hazards is very important. Of course, the process designed to promote this kind of cooperation is called the safety committee (or safety improvement team). A world-class safety system will take advantage of the cross-functional makeup of safety committees to bring management and employees together in a non-adversarial forum to evaluate programs and make recommendations for improvement in workplace safety.
What! Zero defects is not an appropriate goal? Does that apply to safety too? Remember, Deming is talking about product defects here. The related safety goal might be "zero accidents." Although this goal may be unachievable, it's the only morally appropriate goal to have because we are dealing with injuries and fatalities. If we set a goal of anything less than zero accidents, what's going to happen? If we reach the goal, we pat ourselves on our collective back, sit back with our feet up on the desk, and believe we "have arrived." When this occurs, you can bet your accident rate will start rising once again. Contentment is a dangerous condition in safety. If we set zero accidents as our goal, we may never reach it, but that's fine. We should never be content anyway. We should always be frustrated...never satisfied to make sure we continually improve the system.
If we set a goal to reduce accidents by 50%, we will design a less effective system to get us to the goal, but no farther. If we set a zero-accident goal, we will design the more effective system to reach that goal.
On another line of thought: In safety, the "happy poster syndrome" is a common occurrence. Managers think that by placing a safety poster every thirty feet on a wall, they have a successful safety awareness program. Employees, for the most part, ignore the posters, and may not believe the message that management is trying to convey. The Fix: Get rid of the posters and meaningless slogans. Replace them with action, example, and word. Each supervisor and manager becomes a walking safety slogan.
Many safety incentive programs and performance appraisals are based on numerical goals and measures, such as incident rates, that are untested for random variability: this could mean receiving an undeserved poor performance rating despite the fact that employees are working safely.
Relying solely on quotas in the "production" system results in management looking the other way, when unsafe work practices, and hazardous conditions exist. An attitude by management, under pressure to produce the numbers, results in higher rates of injury and illness. Very little thought is given to the human tragedy involved with serious injuries or fatalities. Management must understand the danger of the pressure ever-increasing quotas place on supervisors and employees. Short cuts in work practices are inevitable, and along with them, injuries and illnesses.
Remember, managers and employees should be held accountable only for what they can control. It's difficult to control statistical results because there is just not enough control over the results. However, as we learned earlier, management can control activities representing the leading indicators, so measure activities.
According to Deming, the responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. Abolish the annual merit rating and adopt continual feedback processes. Deming offers some interesting ideas here, but they are crucial to success in safety as well as production.
Supervisors must ensure their workers receive equipment and materials that are as safe as possible. Employees should work at stations that have been ergonomically designed for them to decrease the possibility of strains and sprains, and repetitive motions disease which represent the greatest category of workplace injury and illness in the workforce today. Workers require and deserve the highest quality personal protective equipment to protect them from workplace hazards. The highest quality safety equipment, materials and environment all contribute to pride of workmanship.
Continual learning is an important concept. It's important that employees be educated in personal and professional skills. Safety certainly applies here as well. Return on the investment made in education is well worth the money.
Weekly or monthly safety education and training sessions, when conducted properly by supervisors, can go far in improving the performance of employees, and would send a strong message to all that safety is a core value in the company. Unfortunately, most companies do not see the wisdom in adopting the principle that to be successful today, each manager and employee in the company must be continually learning. Currently, most employees receive very little safety training, internal or external, on safety related topics.
Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody's job. What a concept! Put everybody to work to accomplish the transformation. How can we do this when it comes to safety and health?
Here's the hard part. Someone must have the vision: If not top management, who? How do you shift responsibility for safety from the safety director and/or safety committee to line management? If the effort does not have the blessing of the CEO (with action), the transformation may never be successful. The safety committee may serve as the catalyst to initially begin the planning for the transformation. Expanding the size of the committee, then breaking it into "safety teams" specializing in various process functions in the company might be a way to go. However, educating up is crucial if top management balks at the need for the transformation. The safety committee must provide the education (usual data... sorted... objective... bottom line) to influence the perceptions that ultimately shape the transformation. Up hill all the way.
Taking on the goals of continuous improvement is not an easy task. If you decide to begin the continuous improvement journey, be sure to continue your study of the concepts. Go slowly and don't expect big changes overnight. Ultimately, you are attempting to change culture and that process, can and probably will, take years.
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