Survey says…

Survey says…
Incident statistics and systems audits alone cannot provide you a full picture of how your company’s safety program is performing. A safety perception survey uncovers what employees think about your initiatives and could help point the way towards a world class safety program.
Why do the same accidents keep on occurring in your workplace despite remedial measures and continued training and reminders to your workers? Why is a safety warning frequently ignored? Are safety equipment being used and procedures being followed only when the supervisor is around?

Incident statistics and program audits are two very effective and common safety measurement tools, but they fall short in providing the safety manager a full picture of the safety posture of an organization, says Dennis Ryan, president of Compass Health and Safety Ltd., an Edmonton-based consultancy firm specializing in health and safety management system assessment.

Incident statistics, for instance, focus on after-the-fact matters. This measurement tool zeroes in on accidents that occurred and mistakes that were made. System or program audits, on the other hand, delve into issues such as legislation and regulation compliance, inspection procedures and investigation.

“Safety perception surveys provide companies with the insights into factors that these other tests do not measure — how employees understand and interpret the organization’s safety programs and rules,” according to Ryan, a 13-year veteran in the health and safety field.

“Perception surveys shine a light into the health and safety culture of an organization and in effect explains why safety programs fail or succeed,” he explains.

If incident statistics and system audits cover hard factors such as numbers and graphs, perception surveys deal with “soft issues” such as leadership, human resources issues, management-personnel relationships and workplace culture. “This type of survey deals with things like employee satisfaction and management trust,” Ryan adds.

It is not uncommon for company managers and business owners to believe that they are doing the best they can for their organization when it comes to developing a safety program, according to Sandro Perruzza, chief of client services for Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Prevention Services. The WSPS provides industry-specific health and safety products, training and consulting services to more than 154,000 businesses and 3.8 million workers in Ontario’s agricultural, manufacturing and service sectors.

“Safety managers may think their programs are comprehensive but if they are not being interpreted correctly by the individuals they are supposed to protect, how effective will these programs be?” asks Perruzza. “A safety program is only as good as it is understood and carried out.”

Perruzza lists some of the benefits of safety perception surveys:
?    Helps organizations understand underlying factors behind gaps in safety programs
?    Can reveal reasons behind persistence of certain types of incidents or why safety rules are not being followed
?    Can help answer questions on why parts of safety program are working or not working
?    Helps companies focus time and resources towards viable safety program objectives
?    Can help identify issues affecting peer-to-peer and management-to-personnel relationships in the company

Ryan of Compass Health and Safety says a good safety perception survey will help companies answer questions such as:
?    Are all near-miss incidents and hazards reported?
?    Are production or service quotas valued over safety?
?    Do supervisors have the authority, or use their authority to stop the work to prevent employee injury?
?    Are safety meetings really effective?
?    Do employees feel free to express safety concerns?
?    Do employees feel they have been given adequate training to safely carry out the work?
?    Are safe work procedures followed?
?    Is management actively involved in the health and safety program?
?    Are employee safety values, attitudes, etc. closely aligned with those of management?

Survey tips
Safety surveys are not legal requirements and are not regulated by government. However, people that believe they need such as survey carried out can approach industry bodies such as the WSPS or private health and safety firms to help them develop a survey tailor-made for their company.

Some consultants may charge upwards of $20,000 per survey depending on the size of the company and complexity of the survey. Other companies provide significantly cheaper packages, said Ryan. His consultancy firm, for example, offers a perception survey that costs around $5,000. This survey is available as a Web-based application and comes with online help from Compass Health and Safety experts.

Still cheaper are wiki-based safety perception surveys with step-by-step instructions. These surveys can cost anywhere from $5 - $10 per respondent. There are also companies that sell guidebooks and software products that help organizations develop their own perception surveys.

Some basic qualities of a good safety perception survey are:
?    They are designed to help organizations discover the perceptions and behaviour of workers around safety programs
?    Questions asked are precise, specific and easily understood
?    The survey results are statistically valid
?    The survey provide anonymity for respondents
?    Questions must focus on your company and your issues. There is no one-size-fits-all survey

Before embarking on the task of developing or conducting a safety perception survey, management must be prepared to receive the feedback that they will get and be ready to report to employees on the survey results.

“There is bound to be some negative feedback, you should be ready to accept this,” said Perruzza.

Equally important is providing employees with feedback. “So you’ve conducted the survey. Workers need to know what you intend to do about the results because if there is no action behind it, people can end up disillusioned,” he said.