What’s new in workplace safety?

What’s new in workplace safety?

A recent survey commissioned by DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS), a workplace safety consultancy, highlights the need for game-changing solutions. MIEKE JACOBS, global employee safety practise leader, DuPont Sustainable Solutions, reports.

The survey shows many companies are lamenting the lack of innovative approaches to workplace safety. Is that really the case, and, if so, what can companies do to kick-start performance in terms of workplace safety? During March 2014, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS) contracted research to learn the answer to that question. The resulting market overview paints a qualitative picture of the current status quo of workplace safety.

Drawing on interviews with safety directors of multinational blue-chip companies based in Europe, Asia, North and South America, as well as the Gulf region and Africa, the findings are indicative of views from a wide range of industries.

Current motivators and challenges

Safety performance in approximately half the companies surveyed is driven by the desire to reduce injuries and fatalities through a zero harm concept. A third of respondents see this as their moral duty and want to meet stakeholder and industry peer expectations. Penalties in the form of regulation and fear of enforcement are only a relatively small motivator.

Asked what their top three challenges were, the majority of safety leaders
(60 percent) named the lack of sufficient capability by senior leaders to take on a guiding role in safety, or their inability to provide middle management with the right tools for safety improvement. About half the respondents struggle to maintain consistent levels of safety performance across a large, multi-national organisation.

What’s cutting-edge in safety right now?

Among the innovative solutions named in the survey, the one cited most frequently was the psychology of safety.

More than 60 percent of respondents use networks and peer-to-peer forums to find out about new developments in workplace safety. Over half read online blogs and articles, and use Twitter for information from thought leaders.

The survey also asked safety leaders about their views on different areas of workplace safety, their assessment of their own company’s safety competency and planned future workplace safety efforts. Many of the safety directors (40 percent) mentioned the intention to focus on psychology, new behavioural safety models, human error reduction and culture.

Has workplace safety been “over-used” and “over-thought”?

The companies interviewed have all built a strong safety culture within their organisations, but feel it needs an invigorating impetus. They are, almost without exception, casting around for inspiring, innovative ideas. As one safety director put it, “We need some leading-edge innovation in modern safety philosophy. [Something from] occupational psychology and [helping people in] knowing what do to do, because it is ‘the right thing to do’.”

What the companies surveyed want, is “real, helpful, practical, experienced and well-focused advice … as there is a dearth of this in regulators, standard setters, researchers, academics, consultants and professional bodies. We don’t want to just re-use or recycle something tried in the 1980s; we want to find novel and inventive solutions to culture change.”

New approaches

Although behaviour is still key to changing workplace safety performance, safety professionals are ready and willing to try innovative ideas.

The findings of the survey validated some of the hypotheses that DSS had developed, as well as providing input and validation for the solutions the company is developing.

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