Safety management


During my corporate career I had the good fortune to work closely with Dan Petersen.  During his lifetime, Dan was considered to be one of the foremost thought leaders in the field of organizational safety.  Dan’s career included working for a workers compensation carrier, as a corporate safety manager, as an educator, and finally as a consultant to Fortune 2000 companies.  His academic credentials included an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering, a master’s degree in industrial psychology, and a doctorate in organization behavior and management.

Dan and I worked together in three different companies over the course of our career association.  After a career of helping others he passed on in 2007.  The ability to work closely with Dan and to observe him in action had a tremendous impact on my thinking and is largely responsible for the model we have built to serve our clients. I still miss him. His thinking continues to influence safety and management leaders today.

Whether you agree or disagree with Dan’s approach, as we revisit some of his key philosophies, you will find the next series of blogs thought provoking.

“With most management systems you spend a lot of time pulling together documentation and procedures that then sit on a shelf…Pieces of paper don’t save lives.  Safety is about one-to-one interactions, supervisors to managers, supervisors to workers, managers to workers. Safety is about these interactions happening every day.  It’s people every day looking out for each other.  That’s how safety is achieved.  Not by writing down audit protocol.” –Dan Petersen in an interview with Industrial Safety and Hygiene News.

In the above quote, Dan is speaking to company culture.  Simply defined, culture is “the way we do things around here.”  Every company has a culture.  It’s either a culture that is intentionally defined, developed, nurtured, and maintained or it’s a culture by default.

How would you describe your company’s culture?  Is it intentional or by default?  Is it based on accountability, active management, performance metrics, and employee feedback?  Or, is it based on documentation and compliance?

Where does safety fit into your company’s culture?  Is it valued and managed in a similar manner as production and quality?  Are roles for executives, managers, supervisors, and employees clearly defined and measured?  Or, are you relying on “documentation and procedures that then sit on a shelf” to protect your employees and your company from the pain and senseless loss caused by accidents?  How do your employees feel about your culture and safety efforts?

If you have not experienced losses, and yet you have not been intentionally building a culture of safety performance, there’s a word to describe your success—lucky.

In successful companies, safety is an ingrained and natural part of the culture.  What steps do you need to take to improve your culture?