The Impact of Safety Culture on Contractor Safety Management

Contractor safety management comprises a vital component for managing an outsourced workforce, particularly as owners and operators are faced with additional process and personnel safety regulations and standards – both internal and external. New recommended practices and regulations are continuing to broaden an Owner’s responsibilities to work inside its “fence line”. While there exist implications with authorities, fines, and reputation, there also exist financial benefits to contractor safety management programs beyond safety mindfulness and the connection with quality delivery. These include:

  • Aligned safety goals, programs and motivations between parties
  • Proper and complete onboarding, training and expectation setting
  • Standard processes and procedures
  • Lower turnover rates / impact to cost and schedule
  • Consistent metrics for success

Certain requirements, risks and regulations make it particularly important for employees and contractors to diligently remain informed, engaged, and even change behaviors when it comes to safety. Effective safety programs help employees and contractors\ understand expectations within the workplace or job site, help them understand how to respond appropriately, and enable them to become better brand stewards who contribute to promoting a safer environment.

A successful contractor safety program requires a holistic system that manages multiple parts simultaneously:

  • From collecting to reporting, a process that provides timely and actionable information to decision makers will guard against incidents.
  • Ensure that the balance of performance evaluation and cost management incentivizes the right behaviors and safety outcomes in the field.
  • Through stakeholder engagement, develop consistency of program content and expectations top to bottom, across the organization.

As shown in the diagram, a successful contractor safety program requires a holistic system that manages multiple parts simultaneously. It involves incident reporting, contractor safety evaluation, culture influence and management of the safety program.

What about your safety culture? A typical Contractor Safety Management Maturity Model:

The following maturity model provides a scale by which an organization can determine the type of safety culture they currently have, and where they would like to go.

Organizations with a Proactive and Resilient safety culture have high levels of communications, engagement and training. Consequently, contractor safety management emphasizes the importance of people and relationships.

Key Components of a Safety Culture:

Safety Culture is the product of multiple interactions between People, Jobs and the Organization.

It provides the safety DNA, or makeup, of an organization; in other words, it’s the way things are done at every level of the organization. Safety engagement is a critical component of an organization’s safety culture. The higher the level of engagement and communication, the more mature an organization’s safety culture.

People Component of Safety Culture

The People component of an organization’s safety culture focuses on the interaction between the tangible and intangible experiences of its human assets – in this case, contractors. Tangible experiences can include training, enabling processes, tools and formal communications. They are the support mechanism put in place to enable people to get their work done in the safest, most efficient manner possible.

Intangible experiences are built upon daily events or interactions that are not necessarily prescribed or formally documented. This includes fostering an environment where concerns, helpful tips, and knowledge can be shared without fear of repercussion; a work site where the the plant manager, foreman, or operations director greets employees and contractors alike, showing interest in who they are and how they’re doing. These intangible experiences provide the glue that forms connections between people, and contributes to the desire to operate as one team, with the same safety goals and objectives.

Contractors should feel empowered to make emotional decisions based on rational information (i.e., Stop Work Order)

Features of a Positive Contractor Experience:

  • Effective two-way communications
  • Confidence in the effectiveness of preventative measures
  • Meaningful interactions
  • Shared purpose and perceptions of safety importance
  • Relationships founded on mutual trust

Job Component of Safety Culture

From a safety culture perspective, jobs provide a blueprint for how workers contribute to safe and efficient operations. For each role, position, or job, there is a prescribed set of expecations or responsibilities which provide guidelines for how a person should perform or behave within that job. This performance is typically observable, measurable, and rewarded or punished, to varying degrees. On the surface, some performance can be difficult to measure. However, when performance is broken down to the behavioral level, it can be observed and measured.

A good safety culture consists of an environment where:

  • Roles and responsibilities are clear
  • Safety goals and expectations are consistently communicated
  • Risks are regularly assessed
  • Behaviors are enforced (or reinforced) with positive and negative consequences

The most powerful driver of behavior change (or adherence) is the strategic, systematic, and effective application of consequences, which exerts ~80% of influence on behavior. The goal is to create a culture where people “want to” perform as opposed to “have to” perform.

The Job interaction on a work site can often take shape as part of Behavior Based Safety programs. Behavior Based Safety programs are rooted in behavioral science, which emphasize the achievement of results through primarily positive performance levers. They can help to provide a clear line of sight between roles, responsiblities, and tangible results that can occur as a result of those actions.

Organization Component of Safety Culture

Safety culture requires strong organizational leadership – typically from the top down. Leaders must align around safety as a top priority, with the belief that contractors represent an extension of their organization as partners on the constant journey to eliminate safety incidents. It’s important that they also embody the values they promote (“walk the talk”).

A leader’s level of influence is the highest but conversely the highest degree of consequence lies with the field.

Key Organizational Attributes / Best Practices

  • Leadership commitment and action
  • Visible leadership (regular on-site presence)
  • Open and honest communication across roles and levels
  • Thorough and consistent JSAs
  • Proper allocation of resources
  • Regular monitoring, controls, evaluation and risk assessment
  • Comprehensive safety management system
  • Knowledge management and sharing platform / tools
  • Company policy/strategy development aligned with safety goals

A High Level Roadmap to Improving Contractor Safety Engagement

Stakeholder engagement represents a continual process to set and support safety expectations and the owner/operator’s philosophy about safety. The level of engagement required with a contractor to improve their safety practices depends upon their level of safety culture maturity as well as the value of existing programs.

As with most stakeholder engagements, managing expectations contributes to success and optimizes the value of your contractor safety program. Some owners and operators initially prefer to engage with contractors at an individual level, while others find benefit by engaging contractor groups in larger forums. Larger contractor forums where contractors engage as a group can provide a healthy sharing of best practices and, more importantly, a healthy dose of competition to raise the bar of safety standards.

Contractor engagement for safety takes place in the field and the corporate office. Leadership in both settings establishes the safety expectations as well as the critical importance of adherence.

Communication should come from multiple channels by all parties in environment, health and safety; operations; procurement; commercial; and contractors.

The figure below provides a high level view of the journey to change a safety culture and increase safety engagement of contractors. By adopting these practices and continually reinforcing a “culture of care” with contractors, a better partnership is likely to develop which tends to lead towards higher quality, better delivery and safer projects.

North Highland partnered with Cordence Worldwide on a white paper sharing various perspectives on different elements of successful contractor management. Insights were provided by various partners including Twynstra Gudde (Netherlands), Alfa Consulting (Brazil), Horvath & Partners (Germany), and ORESYS (France). North Highland's contribution, co-authored by Principals Katherine Molly and Greg Fletcher, is found below. To view the entire white paper and all of our Cordence Partner perspectives, click the download button at the top right of this page. 

Katherine Molly

Greg Fletcher