The Safety Cycle borzaya/iStock/Thinkstock

The Safety Cycle

Safety: Something Hoped For – Mostly

Toyota was famous for allowing visitors - even competitors - to benchmark their lean manufacturing process.  This is because “doing it” is much harder than “knowing it.”  Accident Prevention is similar.  “Doing it” is much harder than “knowing it.”  Accident prevention has a forever timeline.  Safety focus in an organization has a variable timeline, especially as turnover unfolds and as new business challenges present themselves in sequence.  This sets up a repeating cycle of intense safety focus followed by less safety focus, driven by the accident rate, a lagging indicator.

When the accident rate is low it is easy to forget what it took to get there in the first place.  What is the “it?"  It is the act of a critical mass of employees at all levels caring beyond the fear of looking too intense, of being embarrassed, of being intimidated, of getting into trouble, and other normal human fears.  And, it is the act of thoroughly baking the essential steps deeply into the cultural DNA such that the required behaviors become impervious to the cycle.  Safety is deliberate, rather than Something Hoped For.

See if the cycle below rings true - if not, please let me know how to make it more accurate.  At this point, comments about this article are also “something hoped for…”  Please prove me wrong!

No accidents

Some accidents

Bad accident / Fatality

Hire an expert – implement their system

More accidents

Fire an employee for Safety breach, alienate union

More accidents

Benchmarking visits

More accidents – why?  We’re doing all of the right stuff?

Remove or reassign senior executive

More accidents

Exchange executive team specifically to increase safety focus

More accidents

Executive team changes hiring and selection process for managers and supervisors

Entire management structure prioritizes safety because the embarrassment of additional accidents outweighs fiscal or business interests for absolute top priority

Another Accident – organization is shaken to the core – incident dissected in great detail – employees at all levels detect and feel seriousness –

Culture is “unfrozen”

Executives realize

  • that clear and explicit behavioral expectations are necessary and appreciated by the craft – the cultural anchors are not left to chance
  •  an affirmative and appreciative management style is necessary to counter the foibles of human psychology – management and supervision must be personally and knowledgeably present to consistently praise, coach and challenge
  • that complete, mutually trustful collaboration must occur throughout the entire chain of command and particularly with unions – establish craft driven safety congress

Lessons learned from the recent past form the core of a new employee indoctrination process that occurs without apology – norms and standards are consistently permeated in great detail – resistance by some is managed

Executives remain in position – constantly affirming standards, focus, expectations and, critically, union relationships. 

Focus is maintained and the New Culture is slowly “refrozen”

Accident rate improves

Business metrics improve

Proper work supervision, employee engagement and professionalism, and craft driven safety congresses become the norm – the pain of nonconformance to exacting safety standards is steep.


Hosting benchmarking sessions becomes a distraction

Accident prevention success is slowly taken for granted

Executive team starts to turn over

Rotation and succession planning permeates the leadership of the organization because it is “good for the business”

Safety behaviors at the managerial level run on muscle memory without explicit executive focus

New leadership wants to cut costs and make work less onerous and more efficient

Price, cost and expense conversations start to be louder than cultural reinforcement of expectations, affirmation for complete and safe work and the maintenance of trusting union relationships

Union negotiations engender salary based distrust, and unfortunate side effect of a competitive industry

New executives are unaware of the effort and focus necessary to create and maintain difficult and affirming standards and – without a declaration –

Safety becomes something hoped for

Employees witness less serious indoctrination of new members

Degradation of standards, norms and affirmative work practices declines

An accident occurs

More accidents occur

Bad accident / fatality happens

Repeat Safety Cycle

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