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By Gregory Hale
Next year marks the 30 year anniversary of two major safety incidents: The Challenger shuttle explosion and the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster and Shawn Galloway knows a strong safety culture is paramount for any organization working in a dangerous environment such as manufacturing.

But talking about a strong safety culture and actually living it are two very different things.

“Thirty years later we are still looking at what does a safety culture mean,” said Galloway, president and COO for ProAct Safety, during his talk Tuesday on improving safety performance and the roles of culture, procedure and technology at the EHS Today’s Safety Leadership Conference in Greenville, SC. “Culture is what is common in your organization. Beliefs specific to safety do exist. But the question is it what you want it to be? Every organization has a culture but does it have the one you want? Culture is the byproduct of all your existing cultures.”

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There are companies out there that have a certain culture and that truly does impede any positive steps forward when it comes to safety.

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“We can look at things more strategically and if we want a desired culture, what does that look like?” Galloway said.

“Great culture is a very good thing, but bad things can happen so there has to be more to it than that,” said Steven Ludwig, program manager, safety at Rockwell Automation, during the same session. “We try to measure safety by the level of injuries, but we need to look at the level of risk we are putting people in.”

Galloway talked about building a bridge from your current performance to sustainable excellence and the various building blocks the manufacturer has to employ. He mentioned things like: Management, compliance, workers, culture, leadership, rules, enforcement, focus, reinforcement, teamwork, and trust.

Use all those tools, and a company can truly grow to sustainable excellence when it comes to safety.

Positive Reinforcement
He also said safety culture can be a positively reinforced endeavor. If the boss keeps talking about safety, he said, workers will pick up on that and buy into a safety program.

Along the lines of positive reinforcement, management should thank people for employ safety principles. He gave one example of when one worker stopped a couple of visitors walking through the plant floor and made sure they wore safety goggles. The boss of that worker went over to him and thanked him for ensuring the safety of the visitors. That was a small thing, but that goes a long way to reinforce safety.

On the other hand, he said, don’t only point out safety when something goes wrong. He talked about one worker about to retire who told him, “‘one time before I retire I would like to hear something about safety that was not the result of something bad that happened.’” Negative reinforcement does not work to build sustainable excellence.

The chemistry of cultural excellence revolves around passion, focus, expectations, proactive accountability, reinforcement, vulnerability, communication, and measurement.

There is a misnomer around safety thinking just because a company does not have an incident, it does not mean the facility is safe.

Understanding Risk
Along those lines, in talking about the absence of injuries being an indicator of safety, Ludwig quoted Dr. Robert Long as saying, “What a strange sense of logic to fixate on the absence of something (injury) as a demonstration of the presence of something else (safety). Such a proposition misunderstands the dynamic of risk and being human.”

He also mentioned something Bill Hilton, director of health and safety at Georgia-Pacific once said, “A historical lack of accidents does not imply a current presence of safety. It simply means you’ve been faster than the machine.”

In short, safety is all about a mindset that everyone makes sure something doesn’t happen on their watch.

Ludwig made a correlation between safety and when he worked on a submarine when he was in the Navy.

“I could sacrifice myself for a ship or for the crew,” he said, “but it is not acceptable to have someone suffer an injury.” That is the essence of safety.

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