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Bus and Motor Coach Library

What is Safety?  How do We Manage it?

Author – Carmen Daecher, Daecher Consulting (2003)

Carmen Daecher is a noted transportation consultant with over 30-years experience in the transportation field. He holds a Master’s degree in Transportation Engineering from Villanova University, and is an accredited accident reconstruction specialist who has appeared as an expert witness in numerous cases over the last 21-years.  Through his consulting firm, Carmen has developed a wide range of training programs specific to the bus industry.

SAFETY!  We all know what it is, don't we?  The Oxford University Press dictionary defines safety as the condition of being safe; [before another noun] denoting something designed to prevent injury or damage: a safety barrier.

How do you manage it?  Firstly, it is rare to find a bus operation that actually has a "safety manager"!  Most individuals I meet who are in charge of safety within their organization are listed as a "safety director" or more often as the "director of maintenance".  Is that coincidence or irony?  The word "manage" is defined in the dictionary as to be in charge of; run; supervise (staff); administer and regulate (resources).  Just how do you manage your "safety" program?

I find safety to be dimensionless.  You can't hold it; you can't touch it.  I've learned that safety is a mindset or an attitude of an organization and of its members.  And because it is a mindset or an attitude, one cannot simply manage it - one can only cultivate it. 

So how do you do that?  How do you create a mindset that is understood by everyone; accepted by everyone; and most importantly leads to improved performance and results. 

You do it by focusing on behaviors and conditions that are critical to success.  Through persistence in modifying behavior, a company will cultivate the attitude that we call safety.

So how do we get there?  You must first recognize and commit to managing risk.  Risk is an exposure to danger or loss which can result in a loss of money or productivity through injury, damage, or some other similar means.  You must clearly recognize that your focus is to minimize risks associated with your operations.  Risk management is the process of planning, organizing, leading and controlling the activities of an organization in order to minimize the adverse effects of accidental losses on the organization at reasonable cost.

Risk management may also be defined in terms of making these decisions.  Defined as a decision-making process, risk management is a decision sequence for (1) identifying exposures to accidental loss which may interfere with an organization' basic objectives, (2) examining feasible alternative risk management techniques for dealing with these exposures, (3) selecting the apparently best risk management technique(s), (4) implementing the chosen risk management technique(s), and (5) monitoring the results of the chosen technique(s) to assure that the risk management program remains effective.
By identifying the elements of risk inherent in your operations, you can start to focus on means and methods to manage them.  Let's start by identifying the elements of risk associated with a bus operation:

            - Drivers and other employees ;

            - Vehicles and other equipment;

            - Workplace and environmental conditions;

            - Operation priorities and practices.

By building management systems focused on behaviors and conditions associated with each of these risk elements, a company can develop and use an effective risk management program that will produce an attitude of safety.

How do you get started?  It has to start at the top.  There is no alternative to this.  The owner or the senior executive must commit to the development of a program that will influence all other decisions made within the company.  Risk management can not take a second seat to anything if it is to be effective.  It must be at the top and remain at the top as a priority along with profitability, success, longevity, etc.  Only if it's at the top will the program of managing risk be able to include the other objectives that are fundamental to the company.  If it consistently does not remain at the top, it invariably will become a secondary issue in the minds of everyone within your organization, thus safety is then sacrificed in favor of other issues that will tend to flow to the top - priorities such as business volume, profitability, reducing operating costs, hiring and training procedures, and so on.

What about the dynamics of our business and the market place?  Any risk management program must expect and incorporate the unplanned or the unknown.  The program should do this by establishing processes that counter balance increased risks associated with changes and unknown conditions so that the net impact of dynamics and change is not to abandon the risk management program but to use it to offset increased risks when it becomes known.  An example of this would be if you are put into the position of having to hire drivers, but because of a driver shortage, many candidates do not meet the ideal standards that you have in mind.  To offset such an increased risk, modifications to training programs and enhanced observation of key behaviors in the early days of employment will either produce desired consistency of behavior or identify problems that must be changed or eliminated. 

You may have to change elements of your risk management program to respond to changes in how business is done, but these changes should not be made too quickly and should embody the fundamental, bedrock principle that you must minimize risk at all times, not just some of the time.

So how do you accomplish developing and using a risk management program?  The old fashion way - through the written word!  Develop your program and commit it to a written document. Identify the critical behaviors throughout the organization that are critical to minimizing risk for every element identified.  Define the minimum standards and procedures associated with each one of these critical behaviors.  Establish a progressive system of discipline that is built to retain employees rather than eliminate them, but if necessary, will eliminate poor performers before they increase risk to dangerous levels, and celebrate good behaviors both for individuals and the organization.  By developing written policies that incorporate these elements, you will develop your strategy for risk management.  These policies should embody these fundamental principles:

            -  Hire the best persons;

            -  Clearly define expected behavior.

            -  Provide them with the knowledge to be successful in your risk management program;

            -  Manage consistently using the policies without exception and without playing "favorites".

            This will require you to carefully and thoroughly develop these policies.  While you don't want to keep anyone who is an unacceptable risk, you don't want to lose someone who is salvageable and who can remain an acceptable risk.  The way to do this is not by watering down your policy or defining it on the fly; rather, manage it through a progress system of retraining and discipline.  Institute a fair but strict definition of accidents and preventability, as well as other critical behaviors so that employees have an opportunity to achieve consistent performance before they develop a pattern of unacceptable performance. 

You'll also need to hold managers accountable for program performance.  Everyone may be responsible for safe actions, but an organization must hold someone accountable to achieve program performance and success.  That level of management should be senior enough, such that they are also accountable for the overall successful of the operation and its profitability.  A general manager or more senior executive is the acceptable level to be responsible and accountable for the risk management program.

That is not to say that a risk manager is not important; it simply means that managing risk has got to be integrated with other decisions made every day for the success of the company.  The risk manager should be part of the team, not standing alone while attempting to managing risk effectively.
Accomplishment of risk management objectives, including continual improvement of behaviors and reduced frequencies is important.  Documentation of management actions (training, discipline, critical management activities, etc.) insures performance. 

And measuring progress through comparison of key trends or frequencies, turnover, lost workdays, etc. provides a basis from which effectiveness can be assessed.
Communication is the "glue" that makes the program work.  Formal and informal; planned and spontaneous communication gives the program daily life.  And communication on a daily basis continues to give the program importance or priority to all who receive such communication. Remember part of successful communication is the sincerity of the message - communicate the importance of safe behavior consistently.

So how do you get it done?

- Develop written policies
- Develop procedures, guidelines and rules
- Develop performance and report forms
- Communicate to managers
- Communicate to employees; provide explanation and expectations
- Implement and monitor (consistent application and reporting is critical)
- Improve when necessary

How should it work?

- Expected behavior will be clear throughout the organization
- Poor performers will eliminate themselves
- Quality of hiring process will become known through turnover
- Quality/weakness of training program will become known through measurement of unacceptable behaviors
- Quality of management will become known through measured/reported activities and reductions in unacceptable behaviors
- Changes to procedures, guidelines, rules and staff may occur to improve process

Key attributes of a successful program are:
- Clear understanding and focus for what is expected
- Clear and consistent communication throughout the Management Process
- Measurement, documentation and reporting required
- Implementation of improvements is expected result of process

What then is the bottom line?  Managing risk is essential.  It is not difficult to do.  It requires commitment and persistent effort.  And, it rewards those who are willing to do it right.