Will Safety Be Ready for
Article By Thomas A. Smith
Published in Professional Safety, February, 1996
It’s been years since I wrote this
article and 2000 has come and gone. I find that most of the commentary in it was fairly on target. The safety profession seems
to be fading from prominence it once held in the 1980’s to a lesser role in management. Safety is still handled more
as an afterthought as demonstrated by the events of the Challenger and subsequent Columbia disasters. The
emphasis is now on culture but there is little progress on that.
Lean manufacturing and re-engineering has certainly
taken its toll on how many people are employed as safety professionals as management cuts employees to satisfy the numbers.
Unfortunately, the reduction of safety managers and staff was not in response to a change of philosophy of empowering workers
to improve safety, but merely to reduce overhead.
There has been a huge loss of manufacturing jobs in the US. Consider just
a few of the facts and figures. An article in Managing Automation, May, 2004 stated, “An estimated 2.8 million U.S.
manufacturing jobs have been lost over the last 42 months. Manufacturing employment in the U.S. is now at its lowest level
in 45 years. Manufacturing production and new hiring remain stagnant. None of the 308,000 jobs that were created in March
were in manufacturing, according to the Labor Department. And there has been a seemingly unstoppable decline in manufacturing's
overall economic contribution. Since 1999, the percentage of U.S. gross domestic product attributed to manufacturing has slid
from 16% to 14%. Manufacturing's share of the national income—29% in 1950—declined to 15% in 2000.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that traditional middle management jobs such
as safety manager or director are no longer high priorities in the boardroom. Sadly, I don’t see the change in safety
management I advocated back in 1996. Deep down inside, American managers believe they can delegate their responsibility for
safety directly on the workers themselves and hold them accountable. They honestly believe that is the best way to manage
safety. Dr. Deming warned about this approach in his seminal book, Out of the Crisis.
one has to do is examine a safety policy statement or program of what is considered an otherwise progressively managed company
to see the evidence and remnants of command and control safety management. The focus of safety management is still primarily
on the behavior of the individual employee rather than improving the system.
doing this for quality. Stating the main reason for defects or poor customer satisfaction is the fault of the workers. Management
has not been able to make the connection or see the relationship between safety and quality I was trying to explain in this
article. Safety, like quality is an outcome of the system of management. How a company hires, trains, treats and respects
employees determines its safety performance to a much greater degree than meeting OSHA regulations or internal company safety
I’m truly disappointed in the lack of learning by the safety managers who are still
employed in that position. Although I have to say it’s not their fault. Pick up any safety journal and you will still
find that the majority of articles focus on traditional safety methods and techniques couched in the theory of quality.
you analyze how they spend the majority of their time you will find it is spent on non-value added or after-the-fact activities
such as safety audits and inspections, accident investigations or compliance efforts to achieve safety awards for recognition
for these functional activities. They do not understand these efforts do nothing to fix or change the infrastructure of the
management system. Yet they will look you in the eye and claim to employ modern management principles of employee empowerment
and system improvement. (I presume they think continual improvement means improving what they already do,
i.e. better inspections and accident investigations.) There is a definite lack of Profound Knowledge by safety managers.
in the U.S. is still in a state of crisis and worse, as Dr. Deming said in the early 1990’s, we don’t know it
or won’t admit it. Unfortunately, I see little or no progress in safety management to advance its ability to serve the
customers it is really meant to serve – the people who do the work. I still meet “Joe” or a variation of
him at every company I work with. I have only found a few “Kims” at the numerous companies
I’ve been exposed to in the last 10 years since I first penned this article.
The original article
Many safety professionals talk about using the principles of
quality methods or continual improvement to manage safety. However, close examination of what they are actually doing reveals
that safety management is missing the point. The second wave of the industrial revolution is here and has changed safety management
methods and personnel.
early 1993, for the first time since records have been kept, more white-collar employees were unemployed than blue-collar
workers. Quality methods have allowed companies to increase quality and productivity with less supervision. Companies have
learned how to make products and provide services without multiple layers of middle managers. In fact, middle management jobs
are disappearing forever.
bureaucracy and hierarchy of centralized management is being attacked and dismantled. The new management system exists not
to ensure that managements’ orders are executed, but to help employees and remove barriers that prevent them from doing
Some organizations have learned
that bigger is not always better with respect to management. Extra layers often create an organization that is slow to act
and change. One can think of many large companies that have lost market share to smaller competitors who were better prepared
to satisfy customers. Companies are learning how to be lean and still produce higher quality and quantity. How will safety
fit into these organizations?
Management’s job has
Employees’ jobs used to be
broken down into the smallest task – no thinking necessary. Instead, management did all of the thinking. This is not
a “quality method” approach. Production problems are so vast and complex that everyone within the organization
is needed to study and improve the system. What is true for production management is also true for safety management.
Companies are flattening their organizational structure,
often by eliminating middle management. Technology is playing a key role in this evolution. Upper managers no longer need
staff to gather, tabulate, analyze and summarize information about operations – they use computers instead. The endangered
species list now includes middle managers who advise workers. Safety managers are on this list, as many companies are reducing
safety staff along with other middle management departments.
Traditional safety management
Consider how one company’s safety program is run by Joe, a safety manager trained in the traditional
safety management methods taught in colleges and used in most organizations today. His goal is to run an
efficient, effective department. To do this, Joe sets up activities to monitor and control employees and supervisors and ensure
compliance with company safety rules and regulations.
Much of his time is spent providing government-mandated safety training and conducting safety inspections
and audits. He negotiates next year’s safety goals with top management. He sets safety standards for employees and tracks
their performance, conducts accident investigations and recommends corrective action to prevent future incidents.
As demands on his time increase, Joe adds staff
to help complete training, safety inspections, accident investigations and data collection. He recruits other managers for
the safety committee, which establishes goals via management by objectives. He teaches this process to supervisors, and a
mutually agreed upon goal for accident reduction is set (typically between 5 and 10 per cent.)
Joe implements a sophisticated program to collect accident
data. Each department is monitored and compared, and changes in monthly rates must be explained. Managers are held accountable
for accidents; they in turn hold their employees accountable.
Joe’s idea of working upstream is changing employee behavior. To ensure that he is motivating employees
to work safely, Joe establishes safety incentive programs, which reward employees or departments that achieve pre-set safety
goals. Typically, the goals are zero accidents for a certain length of time. If goals are reached, gifts or monetary awards
are presented at a banquet. If goals are not met, no awards are given, and the program is restarted or replaced.
In short, Joe’s idea of a good safety manager
is one who establishes an efficient, effective safety management system. His main responsibilities are:
managers and employees to ensure they follow his directives correctly
- Setting goals for employees
- Rating managers
for the ability to follow safety instructions
- Evaluating employees to see whether they demonstrate safe behaviors
workers after an accident and returning them to work. If an employee frequently has accidents, Joe informs management, and
that employee is reassigned or replaced if necessary.
- Providing numbers to show improvement. He explains poor
results by identifying those who are ruining the program: this ferrets out the truly poor performers.
Quality safety management
Contrast Joe’s approach with that of Kim, a safety manager
who uses quality methods for safety. She feels her job is to facilitate a constant effort – safety does not start and
stop depending on the most recent performance. Kim knows that as a manager, she works on the system and the employees
work in it. To improve the system’s safety performance, Kim knows she needs their knowledge and input.
Kim provides leadership; helping everyone –
top management and employees – understand why the company must improve its safety performance. To manage safety using
quality methods, she abandons the traditional approach of ensuring compliance with safety specifications, knowing that meeting
safety specifications merely guarantees the goal will not be reached.
Kim focuses on underlying causal factors that create the interdependent activities, which allow accidents
to occur. She works on critical behaviors of management, realizing that managers control the processes that lead to employee
injuries. Rather than replace employees, she strives to change the management-controlled safety system so employees can perform
their jobs without fear of injury.
To do this, Kim takes a customer view of safety – employees are her most important customers. She constantly
tries to get their voice into the process, which improves safety and productivity. Employees know best where safety improvements
should be made.
To Kim, accidents are worse than
producing scrap. When an accident occurs, not only do quality and productivity decline, so does employee respect for management.
She sees safety as an outcome of the system. She understands that events that cause accidents occur randomly, that variation
exists in everything – including safety. Each job is different, also each employees is unique, making it impossible
to design a job for the “average” employee.
To enable management and employees to work together, Kim helps them take a systems view of safety, which
uses the common language of statistics. Instead of a mechanistic view of accident causation, they look at accidents as a system
outcome. Statistical process control charts provide a new way of looking at accident rates. All employees learn the philosophy
of statistical process control and chart their safety performance. These charts show whether accidents are out of control
due to special causes or are affected only by random variation. These charts also help supervisors stop blaming employees
for accidents and focus efforts on system problems.
Kim establishes teams to identify, rank and solve production safety problems. These teams do not merely
make suggestions about safety improvements, they also use the Plan, Do, Study and Act” cycle for safety:
use problem-solving tools such as process flow charts and cause and effect diagrams to develop and implement system changes.
- They study
these changes and evaluate their effectiveness.
- If ineffective, the team sticks with the problem and makes improvements
until its causes are eliminated.
Kim’s most important activity is to remove barriers that prevent employees from doing their jobs safely. She
does not change their behavior through extrinsic motivators, but relies on intrinsic motivators such as pride in their work
and self-preservation to keep safety foremost in their minds.
She knows that extrinsic motivators destroy intrinsic motivators, so she does not use safety incentive
programs. Her time is better spent making certain real accident causes (poor management) are eliminated. Employees view a
safety goal of 5 to 10 per cent reduction as “dumb” because it prevents them from improving the system. As customers,
they want 100 per cent reduction.
Kim does not think of employees as faceless numbers. She knows they are thinkers and creative human beings. She needs
and respects their opinions and ideas. Therefore, she does not name a “safe employee of the month award” or display
“motivational” safety posters. Employees already do that – and more – by themselves. They measure
their safety performance and use safety teams to make continual improvements on their own suggestions.
She convinces supervisors that time spent on safety
adds value to the company – it not only improves safety, it also increases productivity and quality. Management responds
to safety problems in the same way it does to production problems. Employees are trained on problem solving techniques and
given time to apply the PDSA cycle to fix the system. Safety is serious business and is always a win-win situation.
Traditional safety managers accept the system as it is and try to get the most out of it.
In contrast, safety managers who use quality methods know that blaming employees for not complying with the rules provides
no solution. As a result, they create trust between management and employees. Employees learn that their jobs involve more
than just showing up and collecting a paycheck. In addition to normal production responsibilities, they study the safety system
and help management solve problems within that system.
Safety professionals must chose between managing safety to “meet specifications” or using
quality methods and continual improvement to satisfy safety customers. These approaches have nothing in common. You can’t
reconcile them. You must chose one or the other for either one to be effective. Managing to meet safety specifications does
not result in continual improvement. At best it maintains the status quo.
Managing safety using quality methods requires a new level of thinking in which employees
are viewed as safety problem solvers, not the reason accidents occur. Management must continue evolving to meet customer demands.
Layers of middle management, created to monitor and control employees, are not needed in new management models and will probably
However, someone must manage the
safety system. The new safety management model gives this responsibility to those who do the work. These people help gather
and analyze data and make decisions that directly impact safety performance.
Using the new approach will help companies achieve a level of safety performance once thought
impossible. The question for today’s safety professional: Which approach will you chose?
Thomas A. Smith is President of Mocal,Inc., Lake
Orion, MI. He has worked with managers and teams of companies such as Pfizer, Ford Motor, Beckton Dickenson, Wyeth, Bama Pie
to help them apply the management theory of continual improvement to safety management. He can be reached at 249-391-1818,
firstname.lastname@example.org and www.mocalinc.com.