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Safety Culture and COVID-19

As we all stay hunkered down in our homes and practice social distancing, a thought crossed my mind:

It seems to me COVID-19 has made everyone (most everyone, anyway) sit up, pay attention, and embrace the safety measures needed to protect themselves and others from this deadly virus. In my opinion, we are witnessing the maturation of the country’s “Safety Culture” right in front of our very eyes.

Citizens, churches, businesses, and governmental agencies alike are all pulling together and pooling their resources to address the health and safety threats associated with COVID-19. We see evidence of this on the news, through social media, and first-hand when we’re out in public. Everywhere we look, folks are wearing PPE and practicing social distancing. Because of what seems like around-the-clock coverage, everyone realizes what the safety threats are. They understand why they need to address them. And they know how to remain safe.

As I write this, my wife is on her sewing machine, making facemasks for those who do not have this critical resource. Similar scenarios are happening all over the country, and I think it shows that we recognize that we are all in this together. Churches are live-streaming their services to ensure that their members continue to find strength and are comforted through their faith. Businesses, especially those critical to our society, are staying open to serve the needs of the public. Governmental agencies, such as PHMSA, continue to work hard to provide guidance and support to the organizations and industries they help regulate.

You may be asking yourself, “how does this relate to safety culture?” I’m glad you asked.

Let’s look at this as if the various stakeholders throughout the country represent one big organization. An organization with an influential, positive safety culture will exhibit the following characteristics:

·      Embraces (personnel, public, and asset) safety as a core value.

·      Ensures everyone understands the organization’s safety goals.

·      Fosters systematic consideration of risk, including what can go wrong.

·      Inspires, enables, and nurtures change, when necessary.

·      Allocates adequate resources to ensure individuals can accomplish their responsibilities.

·      Encourages intentional engagement and ownership of safety-related actions.

·      Cultivates mutual trust at all levels with open and honest communication.

·      Promotes an environment where questioning, teaching, and learning are welcomed.

·      Reinforces positive behaviors and why they are essential.

·      Nurtures two-way conversations about the safety education of stakeholders and commits to applying innovative approaches throughout the organization.

While the analogy of a company with a positive safety culture compared to the things we see in society today may be somewhat of a stretch, I believe there are a lot of similarities. The big difference, in my opinion, is the speed of maturation. Perhaps someday we will find the right formula to be able to motivate favorable safety cultural changes in our organizations as quickly as what we have seen in our country in just the last month or so. The speed with which the world responded to COVID-19 has been admirable – and mission-critical to the safety of the population at large. Regardless of the reasons for the rapid maturity of this safety culture, the important thing is that it has happened. Remember, we are all in this together. The safety of our fellow citizens – and our companies alike – starts with you and me.

Steve Allen
Executive Director, Pipeline Safety
Energy Worldnet

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