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Breaking Down Barriers: Enhancing Safety Through Cross-Organisational Communication

Posted by Robert O'Neill on Feb 7, 2023 6:10:00 PM
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disbeliefSafety is a top priority for any organisation, but achieving it can be a challenging task. One issue that often arises is a lack of communication and coordination across different departments and teams. Safety professionals are tasked with monitoring compliance with safety controls, but traditional approaches can create adversarial relationships and lead to blaming individuals when incidents occur. However, by breaking down these barriers and facilitating cross-organisational communication, safety professionals can play a critical role in enhancing safety within the organisation.

The problem with traditional approaches is that they often focus on conformance and compliance with safety controls. This approach can lead to oversimplifications and blame when incidents occur, instead of understanding and fixing the underlying issues within the system. Additionally, it can lead to excessive time and resource burdens on workers and management and reduce open communication and organisational learning.

Compliance-based approach to safety can create a culture of fear and mistrust between the safety professional and the line workers, which leads to a lack of reporting and open communication.

A study conducted by the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) found that more than 70% of companies surveyed rely heavily on compliance-based safety programs and that their approach does not effectively identify or mitigate risks. Furthermore, many incidents occur due to issues that were not identified by compliance-based programs, such as communication breakdowns or a lack of understanding of the process. This highlights the need for a more comprehensive approach to safety that goes beyond compliance and focuses on understanding and addressing the underlying issues within the system.

The solution is to create formal and informal mechanisms for information sharing across the organisation. Safety professionals can play a key role in facilitating this communication by identifying gaps in understanding and working to resolve issues that are undermining collaboration. For example, regular safety meetings and safety walkthroughs across the organisation can be organised. These meetings provide an opportunity for different teams and departments to share information about their safety performance, identify any issues, and work together to find solutions. This type of communication and collaboration can help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that everyone understands how their actions and decisions can impact the overall safety of the organisation.

Furthermore, safety professionals can actively seek external knowledge from sources such as original equipment manufacturers, academia, regulators, and industry partners. By understanding external perspectives and best practices, the organisation can better identify emerging safety risks and make informed decisions to address them. For example, regularly attending industry conferences and meetings, or participating in industry-wide safety programs, can help to keep the organisation informed about the latest developments in safety science and technology. Additionally, safety professionals can also leverage the knowledge and expertise of external safety consultants, who can provide independent assessments and recommendations for improving the organisation's safety performance.

Another important aspect is to encourage the reporting and analysis of safety incidents, near-misses and hazards. A proper incident investigation process that is non-punitive focuses on finding root causes and understanding the underlying factors that contributed to the incident. It is not just to blame individuals, but more importantly, to understand the factors that led to the incident and find ways to prevent it from happening again. By taking a more comprehensive and proactive approach to incident management, the organisation can learn from past incidents and use that knowledge to improve the overall safety of the organisation.

By facilitating cross-organisational communication and actively seeking external knowledge, safety professionals can help to ensure that the right information is in the right place at the right time. This can lead to more effective decision-making, a better understanding of emerging safety risks, and, ultimately, a safer work environment.

The safety professional also needs to be able to identify and work to resolve the things that are undermining collaboration, which builds the potential for coordinating in response to future events. This can be done by identifying areas where problems cross over and breakdown at organisational boundaries, and providing support where necessary. In addition, the safety professional can provide operational support to keep pace with emerging demands across organisational boundaries.

It's important to note that safety isn't a task to be done but an ongoing process that needs constant review and improvement. A safety professional can help in this process by breaking down the barrier of structural secrecy and helping the organisation's goal of achieving and maintaining a safe working environment. By creating an open and transparent culture of safety, the organisation can encourage the free flow of information, foster collaboration, and ultimately improve safety performance.

In summary, enhancing safety within an organisation requires breaking down barriers and facilitating cross-organisational communication. Safety professionals can play a critical role in this process by identifying gaps in understanding, seeking external knowledge, and working to resolve issues that are undermining collaboration. By doing so, the organisation can improve decision-making for safety, better understand emerging risks, and ultimately create a safer working environment. By moving away from a compliance-based approach, organisations can create a safety culture that is proactive, transparent, and continuously improving.

Are you struggling with a lack of communication and coordination across different departments and teams when it comes to safety? Are you finding that traditional approaches to safety compliance are not effectively identifying or mitigating risks? If so, we can help. Our team of experienced safety professionals can assist your organisation in breaking down barriers and facilitating cross-organisational communication. We can help you create formal and informal mechanisms for information sharing, actively seek external knowledge, and encourage incident reporting and analysis. By taking a more comprehensive and proactive approach to safety, your organisation can improve decision-making, better understand emerging risks, and ultimately create a safer work environment. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your organisation improve its safety performance.