Is Your Mine Site Overdue for a Safety Check-Up?

It will be no surprise to anyone reading this that ‘09 was a tough year for many businesses. Companies cut budgets, lost personnel and put many projects on hold, and these decisions have impacted successful safety processes.

The year so far, with high profile disasters in China, Turkey and the U.S., has reinforced the message that safety should always be at the fore in mining culture. Routine check-ups of safety processes in a mine site are the equivalent to the yearly physical exam people should have to make sure that all parts of their bodies are working properly.

Safety culture assessments can provide vast benefits to an organization’s safety process and they do not have to be cumbersome, time-consuming or costly. When conducted properly by qualified personnel, their value outweighs their costs.

To understand how shared attitudes, beliefs and values regarding safety impact what people do on a dayto- day basis, we recommend (and use) a two-tiered approach that involves: 1) a paper and pencil questionnaire to collect quantifiable data on key variables and 2) focused interviews to gather qualitative data that pinpoints key issues driving the numbers. Without the interviews, figures are just figures — useful but often only confirming what we already know. Numbers alone are often not sufficient to provide explanations for or solutions to issues identified.

For example, questionnaire items might ask respondents to rate on a scale of 1 = “strongly disagree” to 6 = “strongly agree” whether “management and supervision visibly support safety.” Together with other items assessing the same variable, the composite score might be a 2.5 out of 6. This says that employees generally disagree that there is visible support for safety. Thus, the company should start looking for ways to improve this perception. Because the questionnaire data demonstrate only that the belief exists (not why it exists), the company is left guessing what to do. The role of the focused interview is to gather information as to why.

An experienced interviewer, armed with a series of open-ended questions to guide the process, will likely elicit responses from participants that provide the basis for questionnaire ratings. In the current example, we might be told that “safety is discussed openly in meetings, but that salaried personnel are less likely to comply with the very safety rules they enforce.” In contrast, we might hear that “safety is only discussed when there are no more pressing issues,” or that “safety rules are not enforced consistently by supervision,” or that “praise for safe behavior is never given.” Each circumstance would negatively impact the rating of visible support, but each would require a different solution.

Put simply, safety success depends on making decisions from reliable, objective and detailed information. Involving employees in providing information regarding their experiences with safety will always help in making better decisions and focus your safety improvement efforts. Well-timed, well-structured and regular assessments of your safety culture will help you keep your safety process alive and healthy. Without them, cultural variables could be negatively impacting your process even when there are no outward symptoms.

Do not take chances with health and safety. Schedule your check-up today. * Thomas E. (Ted) Boyce, Ph.D. is President and Senior Consultant with the Center for Behavioral Safety, LLC in San Carlos, CA. The Center for Behavioral Safety specializes in safety culture assessments and custom implementations of employee-driven safety processes.

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