Book review: Perceptions can cure audit fatigue

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. It’s a premise for a recently released book on conducting safety perception surveys authored by Dennis and Janie Ryan.

Yes You Can…Conduct Your Own Safety Perception Survey, now on its second edition, is a do-it-yourself guidebook designed for companies that want to go beyond traditional safety audits for measuring the effectiveness of their safety programs.

A safety perception survey allows companies to gauge the beliefs and perceptions of employees with regards to safety policies and programs.

The difference between a safety perception survey and a safety system audit, according to Dennis Ryan, is that the survey directly captures all of the different perceptions of people within the organization, regardless of whether those perceptions are correct.

These perceptions influence how workers behave on the job, says Ryan, who teaches auditing and perception survey courses at the University of Alberta and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

“In order to get the same level of detail in an audit as you get in a safety perception survey, you have to get really outstanding auditors and you have to spend a lot of time in the organization, talking to a lot of folks,” says Ryan.

He notes, however, that safety perception surveys should complement safety audits and not replace them.
The book covers the essentials for developing your own safety perception survey, which benefits those looking to save a few bucks by eliminating the need to hire expensive survey consultants.

With this book, companies can develop their own set of survey questions, customized according to their unique requirements. Doing your own safety perception survey may take a little more work than just buying off-the-shelf survey kits, but it may yield better and more useful results than a ready-made, store-bought one.

The book is an easy read, with lots of illustrations, graphs, anecdotes and examples, which all reinforce understanding on how to create, implement and evaluate the results of safety perception surveys. It covers the whole process one step at a time, and doesn’t fail to mention the possible pitfalls that should be avoided.

It gives suggestions for framing questions or statements, and explores possible outcomes that give an indication of whether those will help meet the survey objectives.

The guidebook costs around $25, but that’s not the only investment companies need to make in order to pull off an effective safety perception survey.

The survey will certainly generate enormous amounts of data that need to be processed and analyzed logically. The last thing you want is to end up with piles of completed survey forms sitting on your desk and not knowing what to do with it.

The book emphasizes the importance of having an effective database application to help organizations sort through and manage the survey data efficiently. Depending on their requirements, organizations conducting the survey could either build or buy a database application.

The authors’ consulting firm, Compass Health and Safety Ltd., offers a web-based database application for processing and analyzing survey results. Their guidebook discusses this in detail.

Yes You Can is recommended reading for safety managers suffering from safety audit fatigue and looking for other means of measuring program success.

Yes You Can…Conduct Your Own Safety Perception Survey can be purchased through the Compass web site,