This blog post was updated on March 31, 2021.
“Safety is our number one priority.”
We hear this one a lot. However, for many companies, their actions don’t back it up. When push comes to shove, does operations or safety win the arm wrestling contest? In a strong safety culture, there is no arm wrestling contest because safety has been “operationalized”.
Operationalizing safety means that dispatch would never consider asking a driver to run over hours or haul a faulty piece of equipment. It means that a manager is out in the yard making sure drivers wear their seat belts as they leave the yard. And, it means that a driver can deliver their load on time without skipping the pre-trip inspection.
Operationalizing means the organization financially incentivizes safe behaviors. In a safety culture, every employee puts safety before everything else.
Zero is the Only Goal
Safety cultures have a goal of zero accidents and injuries. The law of large numbers might suggest that it’s an impossible goal. We suggest you focus on Heinrich's Law of 300:29:1. This law puts the focus on the unsafe behaviors that lead to accidents. When you reduce unsafe behaviors, you reduce accidents as well.
Heinrich’s law of 300:29:1 specifically states that for every major accident, there were 29 minor accidents or events that took place, based on an identical unsafe behavior; for each and every one of those 29 minor accidents, there were 300 identical unsafe behavioral events that went unnoticed or uncorrected.
The bad news of Heinrich’s law is that if you repeatedly perform an unsafe behavior, you’re guaranteed to have an accident. It’s only a matter of time. However, the good news is that you can prevent the major accident from ever happening by focusing on the 300 unsafe behaviors. A safety culture doesn’t just react to the major accident. By then, it’s too late. Instead, a safety culture focuses on eliminating and correcting the unsafe behaviors that are guaranteed to one day cause a major collision.
Give Them the Tools
Nobody goes from ten crashes a year to zero overnight. It starts with a declaration from the top. You need a very clear statement from the top that zero accidents is the goal for the year. After you make the declaration, you need to provide your drivers and instructors with the tools to achieve the mission. Introduce campaigns such as LLLC Instructor and Driver Certification to keep a constant safety drum beating. The constant safety campaign and operationalization of safety turn it from a word to norm. Safety becomes an integral part of how we do things around here.
Understand “Safety” and “Risk”
You can’t build a safety culture if you don’t know what safety is.
Safety is defined as “freedom from risk.” Professional drivers take on risk every morning they get into their vehicle by the nature of their job - they can never be completely safe. They are the professionals in the sea of amateurs.
To mitigate the risk, your drivers need to understand why other drivers take risks. People do things that give them rewards. Getting to work 30 seconds quicker is the reward for cutting off your driver. It seems silly when reading it, but that’s what’s happening in the mind of the amateur. The amateur makes dumb decisions because they don’t have the education and training the professional has. Teach your drivers to use the concepts of Look Ahead, Look Around, Leave Room and Communicate to mitigate risk on the road.
Consistency is Key
You’re never done with creating your safety culture. There is always room for improvement and something to work on. Make safety a habit for all of your employees all of the time. Use refresher training to remind drivers of safe behaviors and have safety meetings to go over areas of concern. Send a company-wide safety message each day. Have in-person or virtual safety stand-up each week or month.
Putting messages, meetings, and courses on the calendar begins the process of operationalizing safety. It finally ends the fight between being an efficient operation and a safe one.