If you’ve ever ridden the London Underground or any of a host of railways across the world, you’ve no doubt heard (or read) the safety warning: MIND THE GAP, alerting passengers to beware of the gap between the train and the platform. When it comes to safety assessments, the warning is much the same: leaders need to beware the gaps between where the organization currently stands and the desired future state—where leaders want the organization to be. Knowing the gaps and how to overcome them, positions leaders to move beyond risk and reach their destination with as few missteps as possible.
The objective of a strong safety assessment should be to compare what you say you want done to what is actually being done right now. This gives a sense of the quality of performance, the reality on the ground, and the implications of activities. No one data point can provide an accurate assessment of where the organization actually stands. Instead, a spectrum of data resources provides a well-rounded picture that supports the development of a path forward.
The key elements of a successful assessment are:
Interviews—A typical safety audit focuses on the managers, but it should also involve any equal (or more) amount of time with employees on the front lines (supervisors, technicians, and shop floor employees). These people know how things actually work, why certain procedures are not executed well, and what issues are most pressing. Important considerations here are sampling (making sure all types of employees are heard from), level segregation (talking to supervisors and shop floor employees separately), and language facilitation.
Surveys—The focus should be on tools that measure safety-predictive factors in culture and leadership. Surveys should assure an accurate sample of the organizational population (including representative responses by level, location, function, shift, etc.). Other important considerations are technology (are the surveys web- or paper-based questionnaires?) and accommodating different language needs.
Document Review—A meaningful assessment goes beyond telling you what documents are available to uncovering the pattern that documents reveal and answering important questions, such as:
Site Inspection—Tours support assessments and provide invaluable detail to the data collected from other sources. We have often seen issues that emerged in surveys and focus groups come to life in everyday situations observed during a site visit. Capturing such anecdotal data helps illustrate key themes and gives leaders a sense of how safety really works on the ground.
Getting your organization where you want it to be begins with an honest assessment of where it currently stands. To overcome the gap, leaders need to mind their steps and ensure that they’re getting the right information to make the right decisions. The assessment criteria outlined here may seem similar to those of a routine audit, but when implemented correctly, they are critical to identifying the state of safety execution—and the path to sustainable safety excellence.