At Forge Works., we find that many organisations have goals around safety but there’s rarely a clear path to reach them. They may have mapped out the day-to-day work to be done but there’s often disconnect between how that work will achieve an overall goal.

Clients often tell us they don’t have time to be pro-active because they’re caught up responding to incidents, regulators and safety issues. After all, establishing a strategy is the ultimate act of foresight, preparing for where you want to go.

This tends to mean that the safety strategy, if there is one, doesn’t align with the day-to-day work and vice versa. It may sound strange, but it’s not uncommon to hear safety professionals say:

“I can’t deliver my safety strategy because my safety work is getting in the way.”

How to create a meaningful safety strategy

There’s a methodology that’s useful here – an approach that builds broad ownership and accountability, improves the way companies organise themselves and collaborate within, and ensures the key enablers are in place to make sure that resources and activity are aligned with delivering the objectives of the strategy.

Originally established by Kaplan & Norton (2004) for formulating business strategy, Forge Works uses a derivation of the strategy map to help clients step through the process of considering, clarifying and achieving their safety goals. This deft tool is a perfect fit for developing and communicating strategies towards improvement of the safety of work.

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Business productivity and growth strategy map (Kaplan & Norton 2004)

From the outset we ask our clients to consider their primary safety objective – what are we ultimately trying to achieve? With this in place, we explore the specific needs and wants of Operations and other key stakeholders to identify strategic themes through which the strategy formulation will be mapped towards implementation. Achieving improved safety performance may require structural themes (e.g. plant inherent safety and integrity), operational themes (e.g. people’s safety capabilities) and conceptual themes (e.g. operational decision making).

Working alongside our clients, we engage with the stakeholders in the organisation – the workers, supervisors, managers, safety team and senior leaders – to ask, what will it look like when we’ve achieved the primary objective, as seen through the lens of each strategic theme? Perhaps this may be that work or plant is designed to eliminate hazards, that we are learning from success as well as from failure or that safety is given priority in operational decision making.

Once we’ve clarified the themes, we consider the:

  • business processes that need to be created, enhanced or better-implemented to deliver on the stakeholders’ perspectives of the primary objective, including operations, stakeholder, innovation and regulatory/social management processes. In the case of ‘learning from success as well as from failure’, that might mean modifying the investigation process to be more appreciative of local context and establishing a learning teams process.
  • key enablers (i.e. human, organisational and information technology assets) that must be improved and aligned to deliver new business processes, enhancements or improved operations discipline. In the case of ‘learning from success as well as from failure’, that might require removal of post-incident punitive outcomes and building the workers’ understanding (and application) of contemporary safety approaches.

Once clients can see the enablers they need to learn about, grow and leverage to achieve improvements towards a safety objective, it becomes much easier to get there – the strategy map will bridge the strategic outcomes and the work required to achieve the strategy. Clarifying the critical and important activities an organisation might need to undertake in a one, two or three-year period creates a clear path for delivering objectives.

Why a safety strategy is good for business

When clients clarify their strategic objectives and the steps needed to achieve them, they’re then able to craft more meaningful performance indicators to monitor people’s progress against the safety strategy.

In this way, the strategy then becomes its own communication tool, which is particularly powerful when on-boarding new workers who, by understanding the objectives and steps towards reaching them, can then go about their work with a greater appreciation of its value.

Creating a safety strategy helps businesses to align and direct their resources towards the activities they believe will have the greatest impact. It’s a process that sparks a critical review of all the activities currently being used to manage safety in an organisation.

By assessing these activities against the broader objectives and now with an understanding of what it should look and feel like when those objectives have been met, companies can now accelerate, change or stop activities based on whether they are aligned with the strategy or are delivering their intended outcomes.

The power of creating forward momentum

An additional benefit of this process is that it motivates the workforce. Rather than telling workers to stop having injuries or to complete these five tasks each day, a carefully considered safety strategy helps people work towards goals in a constructive rather than avoidant way.

When workers know they’re contributing to a strategic outcome, they can prioritise their day knowing they have the support of leadership and are engaged in activities similarly aligned with other departments.

Yet another benefit of a considered safety strategy is that it enables organisations to stay focused – not to be distracted by events or even incidents that can often trigger a knee jerk reaction in workplaces, drawing attention and energy with it.

Without a clear strategy, managing safety in an organisation can feel like driving with a blindfold on and swerving all over the road. One incident can pull the steering wheel to the other side of the road; another incident and you’re yanked back in the opposite direction.

A safety strategy – on the other hand – is like putting yourself in a 4WD and refusing to be distracted by potholes, unforeseen incidents, on your journey because you know where you’re heading and you’re committed to what needs to happen in order to get there.

It’s an excellent way to safeguard organisations against spraying resources and energy across too many disparate paths, all because an incident has occurred and thrown them into a reactive mindset that can often prevent organisations from moving forward and reaching their goals.

Engage your workforce for any strategy to work

We know from experience that the success of any implementation starts on the first day that organisations start talking about designing a strategy. Any strategic development has to be deeply engaging and ultimately, should involve every single person in the business.

At Forge Works., we’re adept at working this way with our clients. We’re currently interviewing hundreds of workers across 10 countries for one client who works internationally and is invested in engaging as deeply, and gathering as many data, as possible to steer their safety strategy. 

There’s every chance you already know what needs to change in your organisation, but despite this, you still need to bring your organisation along the journey.

At Forge Works., we see our role as helping you enrol your organisation and align the focus of each department and worker to the safety strategy.