The Six Levels of Safety – Where are you?

Does your organization focus solely on fundamental safety regulations? Perhaps it actively engages all levels of the organization in safety? Identifying where your organization is on its safety journey and understanding opportunities for improvement is imperative to developing a culture of safety excellence.

Utilizing a practical model such as The Six Levels of Safety helps an organization evaluate its current actions and identify opportunities to reach a level where a positive, passionate safety culture is present. As the safety levels progress, from foundational activities at Level 1 up to organization-wide engagement at Level 6, employees become actively involved in safety, which creates commitment, accountability and a true culture of safety excellence. A safe environment and engaged workforce results in increased productivity and reduced incidents.

Where is your organization?

Level 1We find that many Caterpillar Safety Services’ customers have safety processes they use to attempt to reduce accidents.  Level one safety processes are REACTIVE.  They are foundational and must be done, but if they are the only processes in place, there will still be incidents.  Investigations are done after someone has been hurt.  Compliance programs were developed because thousands of people in many different workplaces have been hurt.

Level 2: As organizations establish a higher level of sophistication with their safety processes, they begin to move into Level 2 activities.  They begin to focus on what they can SEEHowever, observation programs many times begin by observing employees doing things wrong.  As they begin to balance these observations with sincere recognition for doing things right, they begin to drive their incidence rate down and move toward level 3.   Levels 1 and 2 are reactive; they don’t have the power to get us to ZERO. 

Level 3: This level is the most difficult to establish for most organizations.  It is focused on what organizations do that visibly demonstrates that safety is important.  The accountability system has four major components: Define, Train, Measure, and Recognize. By setting clearly defined roles and expectations, delivering proper training, measuring outcomes and recognizing strong performance, any organization can employ the transformative power of accountability.   

Level 4: Level 4 targets what employees believe.  Their perception about the safety culture is reality, and we must have ways to identify key targets for improvement.  When done correctly, the safety processes that are strong or weak become evident and employees begin to believe their voice has been heard.

Level 5: This level is characterized by continuous improvement teams that have a passion for excellence.  Much like the quality movement of the past, improvement teams must be given the time and visible support to make the changes necessary, as identified in the Level 4 process above.  Employees on these teams begin to make the improvements necessary to drive REAL change in the safety culture.

Level 6: Level 6 occurs when the previous five levels have been established and continuous improvement becomes an ingrained part of the culture.  Changes are made on the floor by hourly employees in real time, and employees become comfortable taking charge of their own safety as a part of their behavior and habits. 

To move beyond Level 1 and Level 2, organizations need to implement all levels of safety, as one Caterpillar facility did in Corinth, Mississippi. This organization revealed its unseen cultural realities through a Safety Perception Survey (Level 4) that identified trust as an issue within the organization. Employees had a fear of repercussions if they reported a near miss or incident. Once an employee-driven continuous improvement team was implemented to solve the problem (Level 5), they created accountabilities around the newly developed solutions (Level 3) and leadership became passionately involved (Level 6). With all levels of safety present, a major cultural breakthrough took place by eliminating the fear factor employees had around reporting a near miss or incident, resulting in an authentic culture of safety excellence. 

As the safety levels progress, employees at every level of the organization become actively involved and engaged in safety, which creates commitment, accountability and a true culture of safety excellence.

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