In September 2011, Robert Gordon University published a research report titled: The health and safety information gap. 374 individuals (HSE managers, senior managers and engineers) working in the energy sector responded to an online questionnaire, which asked them to give their views on the importance of safety and which issues they felt were most important to them.
75% of respondents said that they felt HSE performance in their companies had improved. The top 5 drivers of this were:
- Increased safety training (83%)
- Increased focus on safety behaviours (73%)
- Increased internal communication (68%)
- Improved sharing of information with contractors (60%)
- Increased senior management championing of safety (59%)
When asked what their priorities were for improving safety, many felt that management commitment to safety needs to be improved, and that there needs to be greater accountability and individual responsibility for safety. Particular priorities included:
- Changing employee safety behaviours (66%)
- Changing the safety culture of the organisation (61%)
- Improving employee awareness of safety (53%)
- Recording and auditing improvements (51%)
- Meeting regulatory compliance (50%)
- Improving information systems (45%)
- Demonstrating employee competency (35%)
- Addressing new/changed regulations (31%)
When asked what the major challenges were in enhancing safety, by far the two standout challenges were ‘developing a culture of personal responsibility’ and managing ‘Human behaviours’. These two are fairly general challenges, linked strongly to developing safety culture and competence, but also leadership and managing human failure. Other challenges included making HSE a priority over production, management of change, issues around training (lack of resources, time, inadequate training), and various issues around information systems (limited sharing of best practice across industry, variations in procedures and standards, missing or poor quality information, etc.).
Much of the report focuses on the ‘Improving information systems’ issue (probably given the provenance of the research funding) and this discusses where gaps in HSE information systems are. Gaps identified included the need for more employee feedback (64%), better competency assessment (57%), and better documentation of levels of competency (56%). At the EI Human Factors conference held in December 2011, panel and audience discussions also surfaced competency assurance as a key issue for further development.
Other gaps in information systems included the need for better recording of auditing and performance indicators (40%).
So what, if anything, can we take from this report?
More generally, the top priorities for HSE improvement seem to be around safety culture, e.g. ‘improving culture’, ‘changing behaviour’, ‘developing a culture of personal responsibility’. Safety culture improvement is clearly still a strong focus for industry. However, safety culture is something of a paradox: in one way, it is the climate in which an organisation, its employees, and its management system operate, but in another way it is a measurement of how well these aspects work, as well as how well they work together.
When we put the more specific priorities and challenges listed in the report into context an interesting (but perhaps not unexpected) pattern emerges: they fall into these three broad aspects of safety culture, with no clear indication of which aspect is of most concern:
- Organisation: management of change and organisational priorities (38%).
- People: competency and training (30-36%).
- Management systems: information systems, procedures, standards and regulations (29% and below, but divided into many more sub-issues).
At a very general level, then, it seems that people are interested in seeing improvements in all facets of safety; however, no clear priority emerges from this report. Maybe it’s more apposite for individual organisations to identify which is their key weakness and tackle that within their organisation.