What is “Organizational Safety”?
The field of “organizational safety” has emerged over the past 20 years or so, mainly from the work of James Reason. The name “organizational safety” recognizes a central insight of relevance to those who want to understand and accelerate safety performance improvement. The insight is that getting safety right means getting the organization right. Safety excellence follows from organizational excellence.
What that means is that safety performance excellence isn’t about any one thing: behavior, culture, systems, awareness, design… all are important. But no one thing gets at the central issue: how the organization accomplishes the objective of making the workplace safer.
Making the workplace safer means many things done in a coordinated way, an organized way. Does one hand know what the other is doing? Are values shared by various levels of responsibility? Are systems in place that are reliable? Can the organization say that safe behavior, at all levels especially leadership, is reliable?
Consider the extremes to understand the central point. Some organizations struggle to reduce recordable injuries and then are shocked and surprised when they have serious and or fatal ones. Often in these organizations trust is low, effective communication is lacking, and safety leadership is thought to be about awareness.
Contrast this with industrial organizations who track serious and fatal events carefully as well as smaller injuries and near misses that have the potential to be serious. They have systems in place to assure safe working conditions and communications, and active engagement of employees across levels to prevent occurrences.
The difference shows what is meant by organizational safety effectiveness. Improving the leadership capability that creates organizational effectiveness is the shortest route to zero.