by Tim Neubauer and Julia Kunlo, Evolution Safety Resources on February 17, 2018

This article is a continuation in the Evolution Safety Resources series, “Your Safety Manual Isn’t Enough.” While stressing the importance of building a safety program that reaches beyond written policy, our series explains the need for a Safety Management System (SMS) while exploring common SMS components. Defined as a structured and organized means of achieving and maintaining a high level of safety, Safety Management Systems are a collection of efforts, policies, and strategies that work together to keep your team safe. We previously noted the National Safety Council’s Nine Elements as a collection of common SMS principles. In this article, we will discuss the third element in this collection – Assessments, Audits, Evaluations, and Continuous Improvement.

For those who made New Year’s Resolutions this year, you understand the value of continuous improvement. You recognize that each new year is an opportunity to better yourself and your life. By first recognizing that you’d like to get healthier, you make a resolution to eat more greens. Only by first admitting that you are not happy with your strength are you able to set a resolution to hit the gym. In all resolutions, we must first take a hard look inward to set meaningful goals moving forward. This process is the same at our places of work.

As business leaders, we all know the importance of setting goals: if we want our companies to succeed, we need them to continuously grow and thrive.  What we don’t always recognize is that the first step in goal setting is understanding where we are today. How can we set meaningful goals for improvement if we do not first discover the areas in our business that most need change? Would we have set the resolution to hit the gym if we did not first recognize a decrease in our strength? In this regard, managing safety efforts within our businesses is no different than managing the business itself. The first step in building a stronger safety program is understanding where that program stands today. Through assessments, audits, and evaluations, companies give themselves the information needed to set powerful goals moving forward. Is anyone still searching for a New Year’s Resolution? Let’s start here.

Internal auditing should be an organized and detailed process by which various components of your safety program are discussed, evaluated, and rated. By studying written processes, performing inspections, and conducting employee interviews, you can understand not just how your program looks on paper but also how it translates into the lives of your employees. While each company should take a look into their own efforts on a regular basis, there is also great value in bringing in an outside party. Third-party inspectors have the ability to look at your program from an unbiased perspective and identify deficiencies employees may not share with their supervisors. Do employees believe in your new cell phone policy? Do they understand the steps to follow after an injury? Do they feel that management prioritizes safety? Employees aren’t likely to share this information with their supervisors, but they will share with an outside agent who promises their anonymity. A meaningful assessment should evaluate the reality of the program as well as its perception and effectiveness at each level of the organization. For those who do not know where to begin, auditing according to the Nine Elements is a good start.

Once your audit is complete and your results have been analyzed, you can move forward with a meaningful and appropriate goal. The urgency of the deficiencies recognized in your assessment will dictate how you prioritize and tackle your long list of areas for improvement. At regular intervals, check in on your goals and see how they are progressing. Have you identified additional concerns? Is there a larger issue? The process of resetting goals in progress and generating new goals is called continuous improvement. Just as you set a New Year’s Resolution each year, your safety program should be improved each year as you continue to recognize hazards and set powerful objectives for your program.

In business, life, and safety, complacency is a recipe for disaster. Only by regularly evaluating our systems, auditing our processes, and recognizing areas for improvement can we protect our businesses and our employees from harm. The process of continuously evaluating efforts and striving to be better is a component of every top-level safety management system.

Originally posted on GroundBreak Carolinas