Maintaining and improving safety performance is a top priority for utility companies and directly impacts emergency preparedness. Across all utility sectors, great improvements have been realized over time, but when is great good enough? The answer is never.
The rub here is that as safety performance improves, it becomes more difficult to uncover additional improvement opportunities, which often results in a perception that safety performance is not advancing as much as it should over time. One way to solve this riddle is to view safety initiatives in three basic stages.
The Stages for Improving Safety Performance
The first stage is broad and basic and encompasses identifying risks, prioritizing them, and developing strategies or processes to help mitigate them. Although this is only the first stage, many utilities struggle to advance beyond it – instead, they tend to obsess over compliance with the new rules and lose focus on identifying incremental improvements.
The next stage focuses on worker behavior – monitoring for worker non-compliance and continuously reinforcing / communicating standards of performance. Oftentimes, due to this focus on enforcement and communication, the process of identifying new opportunities becomes almost secondary.
The final stage involves looking at multiple safety factors beyond worker behavior. In other words, the focus here is on the development of an overarching safety culture. By default, this stage is ongoing and typically involves a shift from addressing higher priority risks to lower priority risks, and therefore improvement opportunities are more difficult to recognize which often leads to a stagnation of progress.
In the final analysis, by understanding the stages of progress, utility companies can avoid being stuck in any of the stages, thereby making the process of continuously improving safety performance more effective and efficient.