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Safety culture: Sustaining the strategy
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By Gary W Helmer

Know how the boss thinks and acts when it comes to the welfare of the people within the organization. Only then can you prepare your support of that strategy.

Beyond a solid agenda on paper (standing operating procedures, regulations, policies, and laws), a good safety program must include behavioral based elements. People's behaviors are a direct reflection of their backgrounds and experiences, and the appropriate modification of those behaviors to enhance the safety and welfare of others is the task each of us faces. We are continually challenged to strengthen and develop a safety culture that sustains the caring leader's safety stratey

Dr. E. Scott Geller teaches ra three-step program of "shaping, selling, and studying for continuous improvement." He writes, "The key to shaping is to give a positive consequence for closer and closer approximations to the target behavior." And, that you must "target the behavior you want, observe carefully for successive approximations to the target, and use positive consequences to reward improvement." Our award system envelops the idea excellent performance should be rewarded and certainly should be supported in a practical way. However, we first must teach what rewardable deeds are, and then get people to strive to achieve them. We must "shape" their behavior in a positive, productive way that benefits them and the organization as a whole.

Behavioral changes involve "selling," as Geller explains: "How we talk about a safety improvement process influences how we and others feel about the process. In other words, we need to sell the process to ourselves and others. Selling includes talking about a behavior- change technique or process in ways that sound good." A daunting task, to say the least, this discipline requires us to have a product we feel strongly enough about to warrant purveying it to those around us-every person we come in contact with. It can't be a haphazard, unorganized approach, but must encompass all manner of legitimate marketing, advertising, and publicity available. We need to get people to appreciate the need for what we are peddling and to want to supply it to others as well.

Geller further states that, "We need to do our homework before implementing a process, and we must systematically observe the impact of the process throughout its implementation." His "DO IT" theory on studying calls for us to: "Define one or more target behaviors to monitor for possible improvement; observe target behavior(s); intervene to improve the target; and evaluate your observations before, during, and after the intervention to determine the impact of your attempts to improve the target behaviors(s)." Studying therefore involves observing, reading, listening, and then acting upon people's concerns, problems, and suggestions.

Of course, as with any element of study, there must be some sort of evaluation. How is what we do or are doing affecting the organization? Are the procedures we have introduced or might initiate conducive to a safer environment? Are there better ways to do the things we are already doing? Is the organization prepared for and open to any change that we might promote? How do we measure our progress or counter any regression? How do we capture these answers and more?

The Barriers

With any program, especially one that invokes change, barriers will consistently pop up, and we are forced to navigate these predictable bumps in the road. Lack of enthusiasm, minimal coordination, reductions in manpower, insufficient funding, limited educational programs, inadequate support, and miscommunication are obstacles to the success of our plans.

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