Are Radical Changes Required to Implement An Effective Safety Culture?

I recently read an article entitled The CEO of Anglo American on Getting Serious About Safety featured in the Harvard Business Review about tough decisions Cynthia Carroll made to begin shifting the culture of her company.  The article was thought provoking and I admire Cynthia for her ability to shut down a platinum mining operation to announce to Anglo American’s employees and stakeholders their commitment to changing safety outcomes.  Carroll stated “I wanted an indefinite shutdown, during which we would fundamentally overhaul our safety procedures with a top-to-bottom audit of our processes and infrastructure followed by a complete retraining of the Rustenburg workforce.” Not many companies have this level of commitment or can withstand such a long period of interruption.  In total, Anglo America’s mine was not operational for seven weeks during which time the safety program was completely redefined, a majority of management replaced and retraining conducted for over 30,000 employees.  While most industries are not as high risk as mining and do not experience nearly as many fatalities there are principles that can be extracted from Anglo America’s story that will provide the basis for companies to shift safety culture in a positive direction.   The following three principles can be applied to any company no matter the risk level or size:

  1. Management Commitment.  For an organization to experience an effective change in safety culture there must be a commitment from the company’s top level management.  A fatality at one of the plants Carroll visited was the trigger for the decision to change directions; however companies that are evaluating leading indicators can continuously monitor performance and make adjustments before incidents occur.
  2. Ongoing System Analysis.  An effort to implement effective change must include  a comprehensive analysis of current systems and the company leadership’s ability to deliver desired outcomes.    The top-to-bottom analysis directed by Carroll resulted in leadership changes; identification and elimination of system failures; and the retraining of over 30,000 employees.  Often it is the role of an Environmental, Health and Safety Professional to provide guidance to top level executives who are seeking a paradigm shift in these programs..
  3. Partnership and Transparency with Key Stakeholders.  Stakeholders, including those from industry communities to those of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), often provide the momentum and benchmarks to continue moving forward.  In addition, these collaborative efforts often yield results that could not be achieved alone.  In this particular case, Carroll partnered with the South African government and the mining industry;  this effort not only effected Rustenburg mine but the mining industry as a whole.  This is one of the greatest benefits of partnership and transparency–learnings that can be applied throughout a variety of industries.

Perhaps a plant shutdown is not feasible for your organization; however incorporating some or all of these principles into the environmental, health and safety programs will positively impact the culture within the organization.

Do you have other tools or principles you’ve implemented successfully?  If so share your experiences in the comment section below.

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Carroll, Cynthia. The CEO of Anglo American on Getting Serious About Safety, Harvard Business Review (2012, June)  Available at http://hbr.org/2012/06/the-ceo-of-anglo-american-on-getting-serious-about-safety accessed on June 20, 2012.
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