Course 700 - Introduction to Safety Management

Element 8: Continuous Improvement


Image of chart
Continuously improving outcomes.

In this module, we'll examine Continuous Improvement concepts that apply to all elements of the safety and health management system. Since we're talking about "life and limb," continuous improvement of the Safety Management System (SMS) is all the more important to make sure all elements of the SMS are in place, top quality, and effectively maintained.

Important principles have evolved from companies that perform continuous safety improvement planning and implementation; they represent best practices in continuous safety improvement. Below are the best practices in continuous safety improvement.

  1. Determine the current situation using objective (fact-based) data analysis, not subjective feelings.
  2. Set a goal to always address the root causes/system weaknesses. Assume root causes always exist.
  3. Focus work and resources on the people, machines, and systems that add value.
  4. Improve safety processes through continuous controlled experimentation using the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) and other methods.
  5. Make decisions based on long-term systems improvement.
  6. Update or create standardized processes to reduce variation and waste, and promote continuous improvement.
  7. Employ partnering and knowledge sharing within the company and with external suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders.

Check out this short podcast by Dan Clark ( that gives gives ideas about using continuous improvement in your workplace.

1. Which of the following is a key principle of continuous improvement?

a. Make radical changes based on surface causes and feelings
b. Focus on improving short-term processes and productivity
c. Make decisions based on long-term systems improvement
d. Increase variation and diversity in the company

Next Section

The Deming Cycle

Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) Cycle

Dr. W. Edwards Deming is considered by most to be the father of Total Quality Management and Continuous Improvement. He was probably more responsible than any other person for Japan's meteoric rise in manufacturing after World War II. He believed that statistics hold the key to improving processes, and that management must take responsibility for quality in the workplace because management controls the processes.

Dr. Deming modified a continuous improvement process developed by his mentor, Dr. Walter Shewhart, and called it the Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycle (PDSA). The PDSA Cycle uses a systematic series of steps to gain data for the continual improvement of a product or process. The process is called a "cycle" because the steps are continually repeated. As the image to the right shows, the PDSA Cycle contains four primary steps. These four steps are repeated as part of a never-ending cycle of continuous improvement.

Let's see how you can apply these steps to develop a safe work procedure:

  1. Plan. Identify a safety goal or purpose, objectives, questions to ask/answer, and develop a plan to carry out the cycle (who, what, where, when, why). Determine what you are trying to accomplish, how you will know that a change is an improvement, and what changes can you make that you believe will result in improvement.
  2. Do. Carry out the plan. Document the problems and unexpected observations and begin to analyze the data.
  3. Study. Monitor to test the validity of the outcomes of the plan for signs of progress and success, or problems and areas for improvement. Complete the data analysis, compare the data to predictions, and summarize what is learned.
  4. Act. Integrate the learning obtained by the entire process. Use this learning to adjust the goal, change methods or even reformulate a theory altogether. Ask what changes are to be made. If the safety procedure works, keep it. If the procedures need improvement, continue the cycle by going back to step 1 and make small changes. If the procedure does not work at all, throw it out and start over.

If you really want to dig into this topic, go to the Dr. Deming's Website and read Circling Back: Clearing up myths about the Deming Cycle and seeing how it keeps evolving.

2. Which process did W. Edward Deming promote to improve manufacturing in Japan?

a. The Shewhart Program
b. The Deming Improvement Process
c. Factual Charts and Graphs
d. The Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA Cycle)

Next Section

Deming's 14 Points Applied to Safety

Deming's 14 Points -

Deming's developed his famous "14 Points" that form some of the most important concepts and approaches to continuous quality improvement philosophy. The focus of this module is to better understand and apply each of Deming's 14 points to workplace safety. So, let's see what he says about quality, and how it might be applied to safety.

Point 1: Create a constant purpose to improve the product and service, with the aim to be competitive, stay in business, and provide jobs.

Deming spoke about the "problems of today and the problems of tomorrow," and that management in America today tends to focus only on today's problems when it should place increased, if not most emphasis, on tomorrow's threats and opportunities to improve competitive position, stay in business, and provide more jobs.

Click on the button to see the best practices applied to safety Deming emphasized in this point.

  • Management should focus constantly on improving the safety of materials, equipment, workplace environment, and work practices today so that it can remain successful tomorrow.
  • The goals should continually work toward a world-class safe and healthful workplace today, so that fewer injuries and illnesses occur in the future.
  • Management should continually communicate a clear, consistent message that safety is a core value, and that there are "no excuses" for accidents.
  • Management must understand that if the company considers safety only as a priority that may be changed when convenient, constancy of purpose is not achievable.

3. Which of the following would Deming NOT consider a good reason to improve products and service?

a. Improve competitive position
b. Maximize profits, minimize costs
c. Stay in business
d. Provide more jobs

Next Section

Deming's 14 Points Applied to Safety

Point 2: Adopt a new philosophy. Management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership.

Image of supervisor
Leaders take responsibilities seriously.

Safety can never be understood or properly appreciated if management takes only the short term view: it must focus on the long term. Only by focusing on the long term benefits will management gain the vision to properly and consistently demonstrate real safety leadership.

The old philosophy accepts as fact that a certain level of injury and illness will result from a given process, and that the associated costs should represent one of many costs of doing business.

The new philosophy rejects that notion and strives to:

  • Improve process safety by continually analyzing and improving upstream factors such as work practices, equipment design, materials, education, and recognition.
  • Improve product safety for the benefit of the customer.

4. According to Deming, which of the following is a basic principle of the "new philosophy"?

a. Accept a certain level of error
b. Improve process and product qualify/safety
c. Focus on the immediate goals
d. Error is the cost of doing business

Next Section

Deming's 14 Points Applied to Safety

Image of man pointing at quality sign
It's all about quality of products and service.

Point 3: Eliminate the need for mass inspection by building quality into the product or process in the first place.

Deming was referring to the practice of inspecting every piece of product at the end of an assembly line to separate the defects. Instead, he encouraged improving the quality of the process to decrease the defects, thus eliminating the need for mass inspection.

When we apply this to safety, Deming would encourage us to focus on measuring and improving the Safety Management System, including employee behaviors, procedures, and equipment design (leading indicators) instead of measuring only incidents and accidents (lagging indicators).

Measuring only results statistics (accident rates) is like driving a car down the road and trying to stay in your lane by looking through a rear-view mirror. All you can do is react, after the fact. Accident rates tell us nothing about why accidents are happening. Incident rates, accident rates, MOD rates, etc. all measure the endpoint, and since these measures are inherently not predictive, these statistics provide little useful information about the surface and root causes for injuries and illnesses.

5. Which of the following indicators should be the focus of analysis in the continuous improvement process?

a. Short-term indicators
b. Critical indicators
c. Lagging indicators
d. Leading indicators

Next Section

Deming's 14 Points Applied to Safety

Point 4: End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Move toward a single supplier. Develop a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.

Image of several employees
Develop long-term relationships with suppliers.

Quality safety and personal protective equipment, materials, chemicals may cost a little more but will save in the long-term through fewer injuries and illnesses. Management should write safety specifications that meet their safety and quality requirements into contracts.

Concerning personal protective equipment (PPE), "cheap" is not better. Ensuring employees have high-quality personal protective equipment is smart business. If you spend $5,000 for various types of PPE and any one piece prevents a serious injury, your company has just paid for all the PPE. The money spent on PPE should be thought of as an investment that may result in substantial returns (reduced direct and indirect accident costs) to the company.

Relying on a single supplier for safety equipment, such as personal protective equipment, may have many benefits. Supplier representatives, calling on an employer over a period of years, will become familiar with the particular safety equipment needs of the employer. The employer who establishes a long-term close relationship with the supplier is more likely to receive the attention and higher quality equipment when requested. Developing a close, cooperative partnership between the employer and the supplier of safety equipment is extremely important for the success of both parties, and is possible by applying the single supplier principle.

6. According to Deming, what is a benefit when an employer develops a long-term relationship with one supplier?

a. Extra equipment and cheaper prices
b. More attention and higher quality equipment
c. More selection and the cheapest possible prices
d. More expensive equipment available for less

Next Section

Deming's 14 Points Applied to Safety

Point 5: Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service to improve quality and decrease costs.

A Safety Management System (SMS) refers to several integrated safety policies, plans, programs, processes and procedures that have been standardized. Everyone does something the same way. What safety process or procedure might be standardized to improve your company's safety and health management system? The purpose of safety improvement is to increase the quality/safety of the SMS which will decrease the cost of doing business.

Image trainer and employee conducting hands-on training
Hands-On-The-Job Training is a must.

Management must integrate safety as an element of quality into operations so completely that it disappears as a separate function. It must be viewed by employees, supervisors, and managers as their personal responsibility; one that is important in not only improving the production process but in saving lives.

Point 6: Institute training on the job.

Unfortunately, some companies today consider safety training as a cost without any real benefits. Many companies rely on the safety director or the human resources department to train safety. The new employee receives a safety overview when hired, and a safety "expert," conducts more specific training related to the employee's job exercise.

Supervisors may not think they are getting paid to train safety. However, who is better suited to do the training than the person responsible for the safety and health of their employees? After all, if supervisors can't train safety, how can they have the knowledge to effectively oversee safe work practices? Finally, as Deming states, the company should focus on hands-on On-the-Job (OJT).

7. According to Deming, to what extent should safety be integrated with quality?

a. To the extent safety replaces quality at every level of the organization
b. To the extent that safety takes priority over quality
c. To the extent that safety disappears as a separate function
d. To the extent quality has less focus than safety

Next Section

Deming's 14 Points Applied to Safety

Point 7: Adopt and institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines do a better job.

The key to adopting and instituting leadership, of course, lies at the top. Managers need to lead by example, action, and word. Successful leaders "care" about those they lead. After all, their success is tied to the success of their workers. The "servant leadership" model fits well into the ideas expressed by Deming and others.

There is no better way to demonstrate these principles of leadership than in making sure employees use safe work procedures in a workplace that is, itself, safe from hazards.

Image of angry supervisor
Drive out fear in the workplace. Replace it with a desire for excellence.

Ensuring safety is one of the most visible undertakings that management can take to show employees that they are not merely hired hands who can be replaced, but are valued human resources — part of the family.

Point 8: Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.

Managers must begin here. Driving out fear is the most important requirement when implementing a Safety Management System. Management controls the workplace and influences the behavior and performance of its employees by creating cultural norms that dictate what are, and are not acceptable behaviors. Strategies using fear to control are rarely, if ever successful.

Management may rely solely on safety rules and progressive discipline to control performance, but it's never successful in producing anything beyond mere compliance. What develops from such a strategy is a controlling, compliance-driven climate of mistrust and disgust; only a shell of an effective safety and health management system.

In a world-class SMS, managers drive out fear through fact-finding to improve the system, not fault-finding to punish someone. They uncover and correct SMS weaknesses that have allowed unsafe work practices and hazardous conditions to exist. Management's motto is "Fix the system, not the blame."

8. According to Deming, what is the most important requirement when implementing a safety management system?

a. Collaborate with OSHA
b. Compete against each other
c. Cooperate with each other
d. Drive out fear in the workplace

Next Section

Deming's 14 Points Applied to Safety

Image of employees joing hands
Cooperation beats competition every time!

Point 9: Break down barriers between departments. People must work as a team to foresee problems with the product or service.

Employers should only compete with their competitors, not themselves. Internal cooperation and external competition apply to safety as well. Cooperation among all internal functions is another key to effective safety.

Competitive safety incentive programs. Reactive safety incentive programs that challenge departments to compete against each other for rewards set up a system that may promote illegal behaviors by creating situations where peer pressure causes the withholding of injury reports. Consequently, the "walking wounded syndrome" develops that eventually results in increased injury costs and workers' compensation premiums. The performance of one employee impacts the success of others in the department. Employees will do virtually anything, in some cases, to ensure the department gets their pizza parties, saving bonds, or safety mugs. The fix: Reward/recognize employees individually for appropriate behaviors: complying with safety rules, reporting injuries, and reporting workplace hazards. Reward activities that enhance cooperation.

Bringing management and labor together. Cooperation at all levels of the company to identify and correct hazards is very important. Of course, the team designed to promote this kind of cooperation is called the safety committee (or safety improvement team). A world-class safety management system will take advantage of the cross-functional makeup of safety committees to bring management and employees together in a non-adversarial relationship to evaluate programs and make recommendations for improvement in workplace safety.

9. Reactive incentive programs that challenge departments to compete may foster which inappropriate safety behavior?

a. Collaborating with OSHA
b. Failing to identify hazards
c. Working too much overtime
d. Withholding injury reports

Next Section

Deming's 14 Points Applied to Safety

Point 10: Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity.

Image of employees joing hands
Don't rely on slogans and signs for safety.

What! Zero defects is not an appropriate goal? Does that apply to safety too? Remember, Deming is talking about product defects here. The related safety goal might be "zero accidents." Although this goal may be unachievable, it's the only morally appropriate goal to have because employers are dealing with injuries and fatalities.

If employers set a goal of anything less than zero accidents, what's going to happen? If they reach the goal, they pat themselves on the back, sit back with their feet up on the desk, and believe they "have arrived." When this occurs, you can bet their accident rate will start rising once again.

Contentment is a dangerous condition in safety. If employers set zero accidents as their goal, they may never reach it, but that's fine. Employers should never be content anyway. They should always be frustrated — never satisfied to make sure they continually improve the system.

If employers set a goal to reduce accidents by 50%, they will design a less effective system to get themselves to the goal, but no farther. If they set a zero-accident goal, they will design a more effective system to reach that goal.

On another line of thought: In safety, the "happy poster syndrome" is a common occurrence. Managers think that by placing a safety poster every thirty feet on a wall, they have a successful safety awareness program. Employees, for the most part, ignore the posters, and may not believe the message that management is trying to convey. The Fix: Get rid of the posters and meaningless slogans. Replace them with action, example, and word. Each supervisor and manager becomes a walking safety slogan.

10. What is the problem with having too many safety posters on the job site?

a. They must be continually changed
b. Employees eventually ignore them
c. They just add to the clutter
d. Employees make fun of them

Next Section

Deming's 14 Points Applied to Safety

Image of a production chart
Don't have quotas or goals based on unpredictable measures such as accident rates.

Point 11: Eliminate numerical quotas and goals for the workforce and management. Substitute leadership.

The problem with measuring the success of a company's safety effort using incident rates is that once the rate has been reduced to what management feels is an acceptable level, complacency sets in, the effort to reduce incident rates relaxes, and incident rates begin the inevitable rise to previous unacceptable levels. Management reacts to the increase in incident rate with a renewed safety emphasis. This reactive management approach to loss control, based on end-results (defects), creates an endless cycle of rising and falling incident rates.

Deming would look upon such a situation with dissatisfaction (and wonder). He would probably encourage management to do away with any numerical quotas or goals based solely on unpredictable measures such as accident frequency rates. He would stress the need to measure upstream activities such as the degree of safety education and training, number of safety meetings, individual safe work behaviors, and the safety of materials, chemicals, and equipment purchased by the company.

In emphasizing continuous improvement principles, the company may never realize sustained zero accident rates, but the critically important ingredient in a successful process, that of continually journeying closer to that end state would be realized. Focus on the journey, not the result.

Relying solely on quotas in the "production" system results in management looking the other way, when unsafe work practices and hazardous conditions exist. A macho (it is part of the job) attitude by management, under pressure to produce the numbers, results in higher rates of injury and illness. Very little thought is given to the human tragedy involved with serious injuries or fatalities. Even less thought to the indirect and 'unknown and unknowable' losses to the company. Management must understand the danger of the pressure ever-increasing quotas place on supervisors and employees. Short cuts in work practices are inevitable, and along with them, injuries and illnesses.

Remember, managers and employees should be held accountable only for what they can control. It's difficult to control statistical results. However, as we learned earlier, they can control activities.

11. Which of the following is an upstream activity over which management has control?

a. Number of hazards identified by department
b. Variation in workers' compensation premiums
c. Annual incident/accident rates
d. The number of safety-trained employees

Next Section

Deming's 14 Points Applied to Safety

Point 12: Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship.

Image of employee working on a wall
Education and pride of ownership are critical to continuous improvement.

According to Deming, the responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality. Remove barriers that rob people of their right to pride of workmanship. Abolish the annual merit rating and adopt continual feedback processes. Deming offers some interesting ideas here, but they are crucial to success in safety as well as production.

Supervisors must ensure their workers receive equipment and materials that are as safe as possible. Employees should work at stations that have been ergonomically designed for them to decrease the possibility of strains and sprains, and repetitive motions disease which represents the greatest category of workplace injury and illness in the workforce today. Workers require and deserve the highest quality personal protective equipment to protect them from workplace hazards. The highest quality safety equipment, materials, and environment all contribute to pride of workmanship.

Point 13: Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.

Continual learning is an important concept. Employees must be educated in personal and professional skills. Safety certainly applies here as well. Return on the investment made in education is well worth the money.

Weekly or monthly safety education and training sessions, when conducted properly by supervisors, can go far in improving the performance of employees, and would send a strong message to all that safety is a core value in the company. Unfortunately, most companies do not see the wisdom in adopting the principle that to be successful today, each manager and employee in the company must be continually learning. Currently, most employees receive very little safety training, internal or external, on safety-related topics.

12. According to Deming, the responsibility of supervisors must be changed from _____ to _____.

a. quality, sheer numbers
b. sheer numbers, quality
c. inputs, outputs
d. outputs, inputs

Next Section

Deming's 14 Points Applied to Safety

Point 14: Take action to accomplish the transformation.

Image of employee working on a wall
Make a commitment to make the transformation to continuous improvement

Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody's job. What a concept! Put everybody to work to accomplish the transformation. How can we do this when it comes to safety and health?

Here's the hard part. Someone must have the vision: If not top management, who? How do you shift responsibility for safety from the safety director and/or safety committee to line management? If the effort does not have the blessing of the CEO (with action), the transformation may never be successful. The safety committee may initially begin the planning for the transformation. Expanding the size of the committee, then breaking it into "safety teams" specializing in various process functions in the company might be a way to go. However, educating up is crucial if top management balks at the need for the transformation. The safety committee must provide the education (usual data... sorted... objective... bottom line) to influence the perceptions that ultimately shape the transformation. Uphill all the way.

Taking on the goals of continuous improvement is not an easy task. If you decide to begin the journey, be sure to continue your study of the concepts. Go slowly and don't expect big changes overnight. Ultimately, you are attempting to change the culture and that process, can and probably will, take years.

13. Whose job is it to create a successful transformation in continuous improvement?

a. Supervisors
b. The safety committee
c. Upper management
d. Everybody

Check your Work

Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.

Final Exam
OSHAcademy Ultimate Guide Banner Ad