Unlocking the Potential of Employee Opinions
For good reason, organizations are turning to employees to gain powerful insights about the causes of safety issues. Towers Perrin-ISR research has shown a strong and consistent relationship between employee perceptions of workplace safety and actual safety outcomes, such as total recordable incident rates and days away from work.
What Should Organizations Measure?
As a leading indicator of safety performance, safety culture can serve as a powerful diagnostic tool. Safety culture represents the shared attitudes, beliefs, and values of an organization’s workforce that determine employee behavior. According to Towers Perrin-ISR, a strong safety culture is a function of at least two broad and equally important factors.
1. General Organizational Culture: Overall perceptions about the workplace not specific to safety but nonetheless linked to safe working behavior. Towers Perrin-ISR research has consistently shown that overall management practices, empowerment, teamwork, and a manageable workload can significantly reduce the number of workplace accidents and injuries.
2. Process Safety Culture: Perceptions about safety-
specific values, policies, and procedures that influence daily working behavior. A strong process safety culture is characterized by the employee’s strong commitment to, and execution of, operational safety processes.
A Multi-Dimensional Look at Culture
Until recently, no research had examined the joint influences of general organizational culture and process safety-specific culture on employee perceptions of safety. However, Towers Perrin-IRS recently measured both dimensions simultaneously in a single survey.
Utilizing structural equation modeling, Towers Perrin-ISR has been able to: 1) Identify exactly how general organizational culture and process safety culture interrelate to influence a safe work environment, and 2) Isolate the most important drivers of safety within these two areas.
The data for this case study was generated from a major Canadian energy producer that partnered with Towers Perrin-ISR in 2007 to conduct a Safety Culture Assessment Survey. Towers Perrin-ISR surveyed more than 3,800 employees across all major operations of the organization.
Employees were asked a range of questions related to both organizational culture and process-specific culture. The main topic areas are summarized in the adjacent table.
Key Findings: Integrated Model of Safety Culture
Using advanced statistical modeling, Towers Perrin-ISR was able to pinpoint the exact interplay between organizational culture and process safety culture. Three main findings emerged:
1. Both Organizational Culture and Process Safety Culture Matter: Analyses revealed that both organizational and process safety culture have a strong influence on employee’s overall perceptions of safety, a measure that consistently links to actual safety outcomes in the workplace.
Implication: Organizations must evaluate both dimensions when assessing safety culture.
2. Process Safety Culture is the Most Direct Cause of Safety: Statistical modeling indicated that process safety culture has the strongest direct impact on overall perceptions of safety.
Implication: Managers can expect an immediate return on their investment by improving their process safety culture. But…
3. Process Safety Depends on a Strong Organizational Climate: Organizational culture was found to be a precursor to process safety culture, as well as a direct influencer of overall workplace safety. As such, it has powerful direct and indirect effects.
Implication: Companies cannot effectively execute operational safety processes without a strong organizational culture in place—one that supports and enables its employees to speak up, get involved, and make safe decisions.
Key Findings: What Aspects of Safety Culture Matter Most
Armed with a deeper understanding of how organizational and process safety culture interact, Towers Perrin-ISR sought to uncover the specific aspects of culture that have the strongest impact on workplace safety.
Utilizing structural equation modeling, the researchers pinpointed the most important areas within process safety and organizational culture that have the greatest influence on actual safety outcomes.
Interestingly, several parallels emerged. Specifically, strong management and empowerment were the keys to success, whether at a broad organizational or process safety-specific level. These findings suggest that overall organizational practices (i.e., management and empowerment) can have a “trickle down” effect, enabling the execution of operational safety behaviors.
Additionally, a supportive work culture—one prioritizing its people over production demands—proved to be an essential component of a safe working environment.
Top Drivers of Safety
within Organizational Culture: Creating a Climate that Enables
Management: Consistent with past research, strong leadership emerged as a top driver of workplace safety. Specifically, the data indicate that managers must provide clear direction, actively listen and respond to employee concerns, and encourage two-way communication across all areas of the business.
Empowerment: Also consistent with past research, employee empowerment proved to be critical. Specifically, managers need to involve employees in the decisions affecting them and encourage them to problem-solve, thereby enhancing their involvement and accountability. Also, managers must clearly delineate job responsibilities and provide employees with the knowledge and tools necessary to make safe decisions.
Culture of Well-Being: Lastly, the data indicated that top leaders need to create an overall work environment that
values its people above production pressures. A culture that prioritizes employee well-being, product quality, and a manageable workload has a direct impact on workplace safety—primarily because employees are less likely to work around safety issues or create short-cuts to meet deadlines.
Top Drivers within Process Safety Culture: The “Trickle Down” Effect
Action-Oriented Commitment: In the realm of process safety, management’s action-oriented commitment emerged as a top driver. Specifically, local leaders need to “walk the talk” by visibly demonstrating their commitment to safety through actions, not empty slogans. This includes prioritizing operational safety above other pressures.
Raising Concerns, Challenging Decisions: This factor emerged as the second most critical driver related to employee empowerment; specifically, employee willingness to raise concerns, challenge decisions, and refuse unsafe work. Taking an active role in reporting and “speaking out” is an essential ingredient of a strong process safety culture.
Implication: The importance of a supportive work culture
Process safety does not operate in a vacuum. A strong process safety culture—one that successfully executes safe work practices on a day-to-day basis—is fundamentally grounded in a broader organizational culture that supports and enables safe decision-making. This finding has important implications for how managers build a safe workplace from the ground up.
Leaders cannot expect their supervisors to walk the talk in response to operational safety issues without a broader culture that facilitates two-way communication and local empowerment. Specifically, leaders who provide clear direction and actively listen and respond to employee concerns across all business areas will naturally promote a strong process safety culture; one that empowers local managers to take immediate and decisive action in response to operational safety threats; and one that encourages employees to speak out and report operational safety concerns.
Likewise, leaders cannot expect employees to actively involve themselves in the safety reporting process without broader worker empowerment. Employees who are involved, encouraged to problem-solve, have a clear idea of their job responsibilities, and are held accountable for their work will be more proactive and responsive when it comes to reporting operational safety issues.
Lastly, top leaders need to create an overall work environment that values its people above production demands. Organizations that prioritize employee well-being, product quality, and a manageable workload will reduce unsafe behaviors; notably, employees working around operational safety issues and creating short cuts to meet deadlines. iP