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Creating a Safe Work Environment

For years, organizations throughout the United States have spent billions of dollars searching for the silver bullet that can be shot into their business to create an accident free work environment. Some organizations opt to spend their dollars in-search of the cookbook remedy that, if followed will allow managers and first line supervisors to re-create that illusive accident free work environment by following step-by-step instructions. During the past ten plus years, efforts have been made to involve employees in the improvement of safety performance by observing the specific behaviors of fellow employees that can lead to safe or unsafe work practices. This information is communicated and documented. The documented information is used to create a database of safe and unsafe behaviors. The database of information can be used in a problem solving process to identify specific employee behaviors that must be modified or identify safety improvements related to equipment and or procedures that can be implemented to remove unsafe behaviors.

I have experienced both the "Carrot" and the "Stick" methodology (positive and negative reinforcement) related to safety performance. Good safety performance has been recognized through financial payout, giving away safety products and celebrating with award banquets. Poor safety performance has been met with loss of pay, discipline up to and including termination of employment for some employees. Neither positive nor negative consequences seemed to have a dramatic impact on improving long-term safety performance. During the past 25 years in the power industry I have personally been exposed to at least 12 major safety initiatives. All 12 initiatives have resulted in limited success. So why don't these safety initiatives work? Why can't we create and sustain superior safety performance in most industries?


What are your organization's beliefs related to safety? Has the leadership of the organization communicated a clear vision and expectations related to safety? Do you have a clear understanding of how safety performance is measured? Does your organization have a clear understanding of the consequences related to safety performance, both the positive and negative? What are your roles and responsibilities related to safety? What are the roles and responsibilities of the people who report to you and do they understand and are they committed to these responsibilities? The answers to these questions may surprise you if the responses to these questions are grouped by levels in your organization.

Most organizations have completed several forms of surveys and assessments over the past several decades. Some businesses have developed safety-training programs utilizing this information. Others have communicated mandates for improvements based on information obtained from these data rich, information poor findings. Once again the results of both the training programs and corporate mandates yield modest, short-term results at best.

So how is the safety performance in your organization? To gain a true understanding of where you are as an organization related to the safety continuum, you must strap on your PPE and enter the work environment, illustrated here by Reliability Management Group's (RMG) Work Management Wheel.

Work Management Wheel


As you wander through your facility, pay close attention to the basics. What is the overall condition of your plant? Is the environment clean and well lit? Are spills and leaks evident? Take note of repair tags or caution tape that may be found. How long has this condition existed? Be sure to visit your control centers and gather the data that may be present and document dates. Have all the deviations from your safety expectation been captured as identified work? What priority has been assigned to this type of work? Once you have verified that unsafe work has been identified it's time to visit your site Planning person(s).


Ask your planning group to show you the priority work you have identified. Ask your planning group to show you the job plan on how this work will be accomplished. The first step in a good job plan starts with a clear, concise description of the work to be accomplished. A job plan will identify all hazards associated with completing the desired task. Lock-out/Tag-out procedures will be included in the job plan. Proper PPE required to perform the work will be identified. Special tools and equipment will be noted. Multi-craft coordination will be communicated. The correct parts and materials will be verified and staged prior to the start of work. The correct crew size and number of hours to complete the job safely are also a requirement of a proper job plan. How do your job plans compare to these expectations?


The most important step in the scheduling process is to adopt the discipline to only schedule planned work. In review of the job planning process listed above, why would any organization trying to create a safe work environment allow work to be scheduled and assigned without a proper job plan? Most organizations have become experts in emergency, reactive and just in time maintenance. Failure to schedule properly planned jobs that identify the correct tools and equipment, coordinate multi-craft work and insure proper equipment isolation that covers all work groups can and will lead to accidents and injury.

How is work coordinated and scheduled in your organization?


Clear, concise expectations of the work to be accomplished must be communicated from site leadership and be understood by work groups prior to the start of all jobs. Job plans must be reviewed so all safety issues related to the job can be discussed and clarified with the workforce. Lock/Tag/Try procedures and all equipment isolation must be reviewed prior to starting the job to insure a safe work environment at the job site. The workforce must understand their roles and responsibilities related to safety such as using the proper tools, equipment and wearing the proper PPE provided for the job. Expectations for job status reporting must be communicated to avoid any conflicts with multi-craft coordination. The expectation that good housekeeping is part of the work to be accomplished should be communicated and understood by all employees.

Have you clearly communicated your expectations to your employees on accomplishing work?


All safety problems or deviations from the job plan while accomplishing work should be documented. A post review of the job will help identify unforeseen safety hazards that were encountered and identify how the safety issues were addressed. A review and documentation will also help identify special tools, equipment, parts or PPE that may have been overlooked while planning the job. The type of repair that was performed and the condition of the equipment when the job was completed should also be captured and documented. What type of documentation and work history is available to help improve safety at your facility?


The information gathered during work documentation is worthless in improving safety unless the information is reviewed, problems are identified and improvement plans are developed in a timely manner. The intent of analyzing and measuring safe and unsafe work performance is to proactively address safety issues utilizing historical information so future job plans can be improved. The analysis and measurement process can also provide data to help an organization move from a reactive to proactive maintenance philosophy, which will reduce emergency work. Superior safety performance will only be realized and sustained through a continuous review and work process improvement.


We must get back to the basics. We must make safety an every day, common occurrence. We must clearly define safety as a standard step in our daily Work Management process. We must avoid the temptation of making safety a special event and instead safety must become the way we work and our way of life.

Article submitted by:  by Mike Rarrat is a Vice President of Business Development for Reliability Management Group (RMG)

About the author:

Mike Rarrat is a Vice President of Business Development for Reliability Management Group (RMG), a process and work management consulting firm based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. RMG specializes in delivering sustainable, bottom line results for their clients through improvements in reliability, asset management and defect elimination. While with RMG, Mike has worked in a variety of industries, including electrical utilities, refining, chemical and petrochemical. Prior to joining RMG, Mike worked in the Power Generation industry for 25 years, holding positions in Materials Management, Operations, Maintenance and as Site Manager at MidAmerican Energy's Louisa Power Plant.

For more information or assistance in creating and implementing a safe work culture please contact Reliability Management Group at 1-952-882-8122 or on the web at

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