The safety of your workers depends on many factors including training, and the systems, protocols and technology you have in place to prevent incidents. But once you have those safeguards, how important is your organizational safety culture?

Mark Fleming, working with Enform on safety culture audit and metricsThat’s the question we asked of Dr. Mark Fleming, CN professor of safety culture at St Mary’s University, Halifax. He is a renowned expert in industrial health and safety management for high risk industries, such as oil and gas. His current research includes methods for measuring and improving safety culture.

The role of safety culture in major incidents

Mark has spent many years examining the causes of major incidents in industries such as oil and gas, rail and nuclear, and he has consistently found safety culture to be a factor in these incidents. To put some context to that, Mark defines safety culture as “the individual and group values, attitudes and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, style and efficiency of an organization’s health and safety program”.

In all the following examples it was not the technology or the systems at fault, but rather the psychology of the people involved:

  • Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea in 1988
  • Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion in 2010
  • Lac-Megantic rail explosion in Quebec in 2013

In his research of these and other incidents, Mark has found that tolerance of inadequate systems is the most common cause of failures; as well as acceptance of deviance, production pressure and complacency.

“It is not possible to be safe without a supporting culture – you’re only as safe as your culture allows you to be. If you want to improve your safety performance you’re going to have to improve your safety culture,” said Mark.

Enform can help you improve your company’s safety culture

Mark is currently working with Enform on a safety culture improvement audit process, which is in the pilot stage.

“We selected Mark as a partner in this project,” said Patrick Kearley, program manager at Enform, “for his extensive experience in safety culture assessment and improvement for corporations across the world. He has a great deal to contribute in creating a program that is practical and scalable for everyone in our industry.”

Patrick explained the pilot being conducted with industry incorporates the following:

  • Safety Culture Improvement Tool. This involves an audit of the health and safety management systems currently in place, and suggests ways to improve these systems.
  • Safety Culture Metrics. This focuses on the quality of safety activities, rather than the quantity, and compares current activities to those of an earlier timeframe.

As Mark says, “we can’t actually measure safety culture because it’s a bit of a construct, not an object, an actual thing. So we can assess it, but not actually measure it with any level of precision.” But the metrics have been developed to enable company leaders to track the things they do on a day to day basis, and to identify the specific areas where their performance is weakest.

Some examples could include:

  • The quantity and/or quality of safety cards
  • Time for closeout on employee safety concerns
  • The number of management worksite visits, and what was actually learnt from them
  • The quality of hazard assessments conducted

The final phase of the pilot will involve conducting a full evaluation and feedback of the tools with the pilot participants. Stay tuned for further updates on the project once the pilot is complete and Enform evaluates the tool’s performance.

You can read more about safety culture in these other blog posts: