ARCHIVED - Session 3 - Building and Maintaining a Safety Culture - Deborah L. Grubbe - Dupont Sustainable Solutions

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Safety Forum - June 5-6, 2013

Deborah L. Grubbe
Dupont Sustainable Solutions


Deborah - you said "Start somewhere". How and what can we start with today?

Two key areas are the following:

  1. 1) Assess the foundational values and principles for your organization. Are your values clearly stated? Is what you stand for as an organization clear to everyone, even contractors? How are your leaders communicating this, not only in words, but also in actions. Are the actions of the leaders consistent with the language? If not, stop and get this right before you do anything else.

Moving forward:

  1. 2) Assess how your teams and organization interact, both with the leaders and with each other. Are the communication patterns primarily top-down? If so, you need to consider ways to get the communication flowing across and up in an honest and open manner.

A few ways to do this: 1) change the meeting patterns and who attends what meeting. Be more inclusive. Establish one meeting a week to discuss nothing but safety, in all of its forms, and make it a business meeting where the line discusses the issues and the safety folks are only resources. 2) Another way is to implement skip level training, where you involve the managers, but where the director level talks to the lower level managers or to the workforce, with the “managers in the middle” in the room. That way, the information is not filtered, and the senior people benefit from direct interaction with the workforce. This helps them to better understand the issues.

Deborah: Can you please comment on the effect of "preaching" minor safety infractions (Band-Aids, slivers etc.) on a successful safety culture.

If a safety culture is truly successful, the people in the culture will not want to see anyone hurt, and will zealously “attack” the causes of even the most minor incident. “Preaching” will be seen in a positive way, and all support welcomed when it is directed towards eradicating unsafe conditions and acts. If the organization is reacting negatively to the “calling out” of minor safety infractions, one has to understand “why,” and I can only offer that this should be openly discussed as an area for improvement.

Should the level of compliance be increased so that 'best practices' are the norm in the industry as opposed to something that 'leader organizations' do?

I suppose that is one way to manage it; however, I suppose I may be in a slightly different place. In my opinion, I do not do my best work when I am told that I “have to do” something. I do my best work, and I believe that organizations do their best work, when they WANT to make the effort, when they WANT to get high involvement, when their attitude is one of excitement and desire, or in other words, when the effort is voluntary. If you think of an analogy with quality: we know we cannot “inspect quality into” something and we know that the best quality comes when you want to do it well, not when the standard says you must.

The airplane industry over-engineers planes for safety & operational reliability- are pipelines using the same safety factors, despite cost?

As a frequent traveler, I would hesitate to call what I think you are referring to as “over engineering.” I would call it sound engineering that is well suited to the task and the demands required by the traveling public and knowledgeable and sound practice. The number of survivors of the recent Asiana crash in San Francisco is an excellent case in point. The wingbox, a Boeing proprietary design, stayed intact during the crash. The doors survived the forces and remained intact and were able to easily open. Both of these are key design factors, and they enabled the people to survive the impact and to easily exit the plane. Would we call this “over engineering?” The pipeline industry does the same thing. If one looks at the huge volumes of hazardous materials moved via pipeline in North America, the amount of losses in containment are really quite small in comparison to volumes moved. However, as you imply, we do not have things totally right yet, and improvements are needed in the industry’s systems and work processes. I am sure there are some areas where the engineering could be better; there always are. However, I also know that the “belt and suspenders” approach to engineering can sometimes make the line more complex to operate, and can actually lead to higher operational risk. It is important for the technical lessons from San Bruno, Michigan and other locations be examined with rigor, shared aggressively, and then taken in and compared to current practice.

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