Pipeline construction has been likened to a moving assembly line made up of crew members who are committed, hardworking and consider the crew as family. This is their culture, one that accepts and expects a set of attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviors among and from each other. High on their list of important values and behaviors is working safe. Safety is a priority on pipeline construction projects for many reasons, but it comes down to this: Protecting the company’s most important asset — the employee — and making sure their family goes home safe every day. Therefore, having a strong safety culture is essential in this industry.
For a strong safety culture to thrive, all levels of the organization engage in upholding a shared vision through actions that create and sustain a safe work environment. Whether this describes your organization today, or you’re on a journey to safety excellence, you are likely focused on achieving these fundamental results — safe work and zero injuries.
Do You have a Strong Safety Culture?
Success of any endeavor can be measured. How else would you know if you’ve succeeded? A common goal of pipeline contractors worldwide is to have successful project completion. This means that there are key elements to the project, by which success is measured, and that receive important attention. These elements would include quality, profit, safety and environment to name a few. These processes can be measured and qualified, giving the organization an opportunity to hold themselves to a certain set of standards. For instance, profit can be measured by a percentage of gross margin on various projects.
With safety being an important element to success, we should see the same measurement of positive activity. Unfortunately, a large part of the industry still focuses on the “absence of injury” as the measurement of safety performance. Of course, zero injuries is the ultimate desired outcome, but we are measuring things we didn’t intend — incidents. A traditional safety culture supports this kind of process and it’s only got us so far. Results in decreasing injury rates have somewhat plateaued over the last decade. To make changes and improve, the question we must answer is, how do we get to a zero-incident culture and maintain it?
The answer lies in the measurement of defined safety activities across all levels of the organization. Like production and quality measures, we need to be held accountable for our safety activities. Safety accountabilities are the visible, well defined activities completed by an organization’s personnel that are designed to control/eliminate risks.
The first step is to define those accountabilities. If you are going to be held accountable for safety activities, it must be well defined and understood. The next step is to train your personnel. Having the ability to do to something is paramount to successfully executing an activity. Then you measure, both quality and quantity should be included. The final step is to recognize. Sincere, timely, frequent and confirmed positive recognition must be part of the equation.
Defining, training, measuring and recognizing safety accountabilities means building beyond the safety basics. It requires a change in attitude and the way we address important safety issues.
Once specific safety accountabilities are determined, they must be linked throughout the organization. For example, take a close look at pre-job safety briefings. Front line employees are expected to participate in the safety briefings and to sign-off on a JSA. The foreman is held accountable for their crew’s related activity throughout the day. However, the accountability factor goes higher than that because the foreman’s senior leader is accountable for the foreman’s activity. Safety accountability works its way up and is interconnected like a Jenga tower where any erosion of the building blocks causes the tower to come crashing down. On the flip side “support” works its way from senior leadership down, giving middle management the time and resources they need to execute their expected activity. Middle managers support the foreman and so on. To sustain a zero-incident culture all the pieces must be in place: a visible upper management support and commitment; active middle management involvement; a supervisor focus on safety activities; front line employee participation; process flexibility; and a positive perception of the safety systems.
A New Approach to Safety Culture Training
One example of a program that takes safety to the next level is the Pipeline Safety Leadership Training program, a collaborative effort by Caterpillar Safety Services, PipeLine Machinery International and a group of leading pipeline contractors and owning companies. This is a new approach to training that focuses on affecting attitudes and behaviors, giving leaders a road map for engaging employees in a system of accountability that results in safe operations. Proven methods for building a culture of safety are explained through scenarios, imagery and testimonials drawn from the environments in which participants work every day. This program is designed to enhance the safety protocols and culture that already exists with the organization.
With years of extensive experience and knowledge this group came together to develop this revolutionary comprehensive training program specifically designed for the leaders of the pipeline industry. Caterpillar Safety Services brought to the table their best practices and proven processes to help elevate an organization to the next level on their safety journey. This contributed greatly to program development with their more than twenty years of data and research that reinforced the methodology around changing culture in an industry. The partnering contractors and owning companies pulled in real-life examples, ideas and strategies from every angle of the pipeline jobsite environment. This collaborative approach, from flushing out concepts to designing individual elements of the sessions, makes this training program genuinely unique.
Since its release in January 2016, the Pipeline Safety Leadership Training program has already influenced over a dozen companies to take the lead in exhibiting and mentoring safe behavior with extraordinary results. Crew members are opening up and talking like never before. One leader reported that when he went back out into the field after a training, he overheard his crew talking about one of the sessions and quoting it to each other. Another leader said that sometimes you get detached from the field but now with this training program application, he has gotten back out there and is engaging with employees again and having more conversation, demonstrating that they care about them and their safety.
Even with ever changing audiences, this approach will stand the test of time because the research and known results are embedded into a cultural approach that is successful every time it’s applied. The simplistic things of safety are good in their place but they are sustainable when the culture is centered around it — and that is what makes this program successful.
It is clear that a strong safety culture should be at the forefront of planning a pipeline project. From the top executives down, safety has to be a value that contributes to the groundwork of a contractor’s work scope. This means the leaders must lead in safe behavior and coach in such a way as to get employee buy-in. This top-level support shows the contractor’s level of commitment to each crew member that they go home safe every day.
Dawn Rivera is the marketing and communications manager at PipeLine Machinery International.