A Change of Mindset and A Change of Strategy in Safety

May 20, 2014 | Articles

Many transportation companies struggle with how much time and money to spend on safety. They say the right things like, “Safety is number one,” or “Safety is our highest priority.” However, their actions may not match their words. That’s because safety, and the processes by which better safety results are achieved, are often misunderstood.

Try this test… Ask a few of your key people if they are running a safe operation. We can almost guarantee they’ll say, “Yes.” Next, ask them to define the word safety. We bet you’ll get a lot of different answers but few will be right.

Most people don’t actually understand what safety is. In fact, very few people can even define the word. You may wonder, “Why is it important for us to define safety the same way?” Imagine what would happen if each person in a factory had a different idea of what quality was. There would be no consistency from product to product. Or to use a sports analogy, imagine if each official on the football field had a different opinion of what “pass interference” meant. There would be no consistency in calling penalties. If everyone defines safety differently, how can your transportation company pull together to operate in the safest way possible?

‘POINT #1: Many business leaders have concluded that their accident frequency is acceptable. They believe that additional efforts to reduce it would be costly and yield marginal improvements. They are wrong.

You have a tremendous opportunity to achieve better safety results by simply changing this mindset.

It Takes a Change of Mindset

So how should you define safety? Our definition of safety is “freedom from risk.” It’s that simple. In other words, if you or any of your transportation company’s employees work in a situation that’s “risky” – posing some risk or danger to them or others – then, practically speaking, that workplace isn’t safe.

Naturally, you could say that every job inherently involves some risk. And for fleet and warehouse people, many aspects of their jobs are risky or somewhat dangerous. But undertaking efforts to reduce the risk…that’s working in the right direction.

Freedom from risk… Misunderstanding the definition of safety is only a symptom of a larger problem.

Along with defining safety, measuring safety is equally important. Most companies measure their safety results in two ways: the number of accidents and injuries and their overall cost of loss. This is like counting the missing horses after the barn door was left open.

The biggest leap occurs when one truly understands that virtually all accidents are caused by human behavior.1 They aren’t the result of fate or chance. That’s when it dawns on you that strategically, “we can do something to reduce accidents and their wasteful costs.” A behavior-based approach is both proactive and far more effective. You can minimize risk by eliminating unsafe behaviors, thereby reducing accidents and injuries.

The challenge is in knowing what to do and how to do it.

POINT #2: Accidents are caused; they are not “accidental”. Reducing accidents takes 1) a change of mindset and 2) a change in strategy.

The Strategy

There are three fundamental components of a safety-focused organization:
1. a culture that promotes a safety mindset,
2. systems to modify behavior so that people take responsibility for behaving safely and
3. support systems to encourage and reinforce those desired behaviors.

To achieve a safety-focused organization, there are twelve specific sets of activities that need to be implemented. They are:

Safety Culture
1. Safety Measures
2. Safety Communications
3. Safety Leadership

Safety Behavior Safety Behavior Modification Systems
1. Employee Recruitment & Selection
2. New Employee Orientation
3. Safety Education

Safety Training Safety Support Systems
1. Behavior-Based Reinforcement Systems
2. Performance Management Systems
3. Disciplinary Action Process
4. Corrective (Developmental) Action Process

Most companies’ safety efforts already include some of those activities; however achieving world-class safety requires a balanced, integrated and consistent strategy. The way to reduce accident costs is to implement a comprehensive safety strategy throughout the organization. Such a strategy includes shoring up existing efforts and introducing new ones.

Where does your transportation company rank as a safety-focused organization? Each of the twelve topics listed above can be utilized as a rating scale to assess your organization’s efforts toward achieving world-class safety. An organizational safety analysis conducted by unbiased, external experts can provide you with a wealth of information regarding your strengths, your weaknesses and your opportunities for improvement.

Jeff Cassell
Senior Vice President
Avatar Management Services, Inc
Macedonia, OH
1 Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) Analysis Series: Using LTCCS Data for Statistical Analyses of Crash Risk—FMCSA,2006

About the Author


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