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Safety Improvement Audits, Part III

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By: Pam Tompkins, CSP, CUSP, CUSA

In the previous Safety Improvement Audits articles, a traditional Safety Compliance Audit was discussed, including its lack of focus on creating effective safety management systems. The discussion continued on to Comprehensive Safety Improvement Audits and some of the tools that can be used to better understand how to improve the safety process. In this third and final article in the series, we will spend some time reviewing additional typical audit components and the importance of developing a plan for sustainability.

Safety Management Systems

Safety management system audits should address whether the safety process is monitored and managed. It is important to determine if safety oversight methods are effective to support the safety process. Safety success depends on leaders understanding their role and monitoring, coaching and improving workers’ safety performance. A successful improvement audit will identify the effectiveness of leaders’ influence on workers’ behavior. Some basic questions that should be answered during the audit process include:

  • Do leaders support the safety process and understand their role in safety?
  • Do leaders actively participate in strengthening the safety process?
  • Do leaders know rules and procedures and understand how to apply them to their job sites?
  • Do leaders effectively monitor work activities to determine if workers are adhering to procedures, safety rules and management expectations?
  • Do field observations detect deficiencies relating to safe work rules?
  • Do leaders effectively coach workers to correct unsafe or unacceptable work behaviors?

Each of the above questions should include “why, how and what” for successful leaders. Although many compliance audits include a basic review of management systems, the focus, as stated above, may center on a frontline leader rather than the entire management system. Safety improvement may not be effective by “fixing or replacing” a frontline leader. What if the frontline leader has no upper level support or the frontline leader has not received effective training and coaching to support the safety process? It is important to review the overall management system to ensure sustainability for future safety efforts.

Training Systems

A training system audit should address whether current training is in alignment with how work is actually accomplished in the field. An earlier example citing the distribution underground crew not using insulating cover-up while working inside a single phase underground transformer gives a clearer understanding of the importance of a review of training systems. Workers may know protective cover-up rules but not have a clear understanding of underground system hazards and how protective cover-up rules apply. Some basic questions that should be answered during the audit process include:

  • Do training and qualification programs adequately provide workers with sufficient knowledge and skills to work safely on equipment?
  • Is an effective method in place to assess worker knowledge and skill?
  • How do leaders ensure workers have adequate knowledge and skill before assigning work?

Written Rules and Procedures

A written rules and procedures audit should address whether rules, procedures and safety manuals provide sufficient worker guidance in regards to safety.  Do current documents meet regulatory and consensus standard requirements? Additionally, it is important to determine how specific rules and procedures compare with best practices of other electric power organizations.

A review of procedures should answer the following questions, at a minimum:

  • Is the procedure correct?
  • How is the procedure used?
  • How often is the procedure updated?

For example, a utility required workers to review a procedure prior to removing a regulator from service due to a previous regulator incident. The procedure, placed inside the regulator control panels for ease of use, was faded and was not readable. Also, the procedure had not been updated in several years and some substation equipment had been upgraded after the procedure was developed. Hopefully you agree this procedure was not useful to field workers and should be updated prior to use. Procedures are only beneficial when they are current and used to improve a process. It is important to identify whether the procedure is a continuous use procedure, reference use procedure, information use procedure or a multiple use procedure. Each procedure is used differently, so it is important to understand when each would be appropriate for specific job tasks.

Developing a plan for sustainability

The final step of an improvement audit is to develop a management report identifying safety process strengths and weaknesses. The report should prioritize improvements based on risk assessment methodology.

Once strengths and weaknesses are correctly identified and risk assessment assigned, a strategic plan with short and long range improvement plans must be developed. Senior management should develop safety improvement plans, as they are responsible for ensuring the safety process is effective and that appropriate resources are in place to meet future goals. Safety plans should be viewed with the same importance as other business plans such as quality, productivity and profitability.

Although uncovering the “good and the bad” can be painful, the pain can be lessened when organizations use the information gained to make sustainable improvements in worker safety.

Error Traps
Safety Improvement Audits, Part II

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