HSE&T Corner: Management must lead way to culture of commitment, not of compliance

Posted on 12 March 2014

By Lauren Wolfson, editorial assistant

Don Martin, BST, explained at the IADC HSET Conference in February that organizations’ commitment to safety excellence must be supported by active leaders and positive encouragement.

Don Martin, BST, explained at the IADC HSET Conference in February that organizations’ commitment to safety excellence must be supported by active leaders and positive encouragement.

Compliance will only take you so far when it comes to the prevention of serious injuries and fatalities in the oil and gas industry. To go all the way will require commitment, Don Martin, VP, Director of Consulting at BST, said. “You can deliver a certain level of good safety performance by focusing on compliance, but we also know that in order to get to this place called ‘safety greatness’ or ‘safety excellence,’ you have to develop, build and sustain a culture of commitment.”

In particular, management must lead the way. Whereas compliance means getting employees to do certain things to get something or to avoid punishment, commitment means helping employees to choose to do certain things because they truly recognize the risks.  “You can manage your way to compliance, but you lead your way to commitment,” Mr Martin said in a presentation at the 2014 IADC Health, Safety, Environment & Training Conference in Houston on 4 February.

When there is commitment, employees go the extra mile to ensure a safe work environment. “We think about risk and exposure more than we think about following rules and procedures because we cannot possibly write enough rules, policies and procedures to cover every exposure,” Mr Martin said. “I’m committed to the organization, and the organization is committed to me. My leaders are committed to me, and I’m committed to my leaders. That commitment is a multiway street.”

Once the need for commitment is accepted, leaders should look beyond policies and procedures and focus on changing the organization’s safety culture, he urged. Leaders must demonstrate their internal commitment to safety by encouraging risk mitigation and active participation from all levels of management. Mr Martin explained that organizations must work to change their employees’ attitudes and beliefs before expecting to create a safety culture. “The bottom line is that what I decide to do differently as a leader is what creates a change in the climate, and that change in the climate is what causes other people to change behaviors,” Mr Martin stated. “If those behaviors stay changed long enough for a sustained period of time, then eventually we can change attitudes and beliefs.”

Mr Martin also explained that there are critical behaviors that must be exhibited at all levels of an organization. These include leading job safety briefs and pausing work when exposure changes. Reporting near-misses is another critical behavior, and employees at every level have their roles to play in supporting that behavior. At the front lines, workers must report the near-misses. Frontline supervisors then must encourage and support their frontline employees’ actions, show appreciation and report back to the workers once the situation is corrected. To enable this behavior from frontline supervisors, middle management must also encourage near-miss reports by regularly asking for them and thanking the frontline supervisors. “It’s not just the safety person that has to be out there doing that. Frontline supervisors have to be doing it, peers have to be doing it, managers and superintendents have to come out of the office to do this as well,” Mr Martin said.

Continuing up the leadership ladder, senior management must establish near-misses as a leading indicator to stress the importance of reporting them. “We have to say, ‘what gets measured gets done,’” Mr Martin said. Senior leaders must support the commitment by making it known that near-miss reports are critical to the organization. They should ask for updates on near-misses that had serious injury or fatality exposure potential, contact frontline supervisors for reports and visit work sites to thank crews on the safe actions they exhibit through reporting those near-misses.

Leaders must also verify that safety processes are being implemented reliably and consistently. Mr Martin encouraged leaders to go out into the field to communicate and motivate crews to make safe decisions to further reduce the risk of injury. “If they really want to understand the exposures that their folks are dealing with, they need to go out and see it with their own eyes, touch it with their own hands and hear it with their own ears.”

Click here for more articles about health, safety, environment and training for the oil and gas industry at DC’s Drilling It Safely microsite.

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