A Safety Culture can be defined as “the sum of what an organization is and does in the pursuit of safety”. Managing company culture is a task of the corner office; top management needs to embrace the safety mindset -that every employee and customer is free from harm.

In the health care field The Joint Commission (an accreditation organization for hospitals) takes patient safety very seriously. Their document, “11 Tenets of a Safety Culture” (https://www.jointcommission.org/assets/1/6/SEA_57_infographic_11_tenets_safety_culture.pdf) contains a lot of wisdom that can be applied in continuous safety improvement everywhere:

  1. Apply a transparent, nonpunitive approach to reporting and learning from adverse events, close calls and unsafe conditions.
  2. Use clear, just, and transparent risk-based processes for recognizing and distinguishing human errors and system errors from unsafe, blameworthy actions.
  3. CEOs and all leaders adopt and model appropriate behaviors and champion efforts to eradicate intimidating behaviors.
  4. Policies support safety culture and the reporting of adverse events, close calls and unsafe conditions. These policies are enforced and communicated to all team members.
  5. Recognize care team members who report adverse events and close calls, who identify unsafe conditions, or who have good suggestions for safety improvements. Share these “free lessons” with all team members (i.e., feedback loop).
  6. Determine an organizational baseline measure on safety culture performance using a validated tool.
  7. Analyze safety culture survey results from across the organization to find opportunities for quality and safety improvement.
  8. Use information from safety assessments and/or surveys to develop and implement unit-based quality and safety improvement initiatives designed to improve the culture of safety.
  9. Embed safety culture team training into quality improvement projects and organizational processes to strengthen safety systems.
  10. Proactively assess system strengths and vulnerabilities, and prioritize them for enhancement or improvement.
  11. Repeat organizational assessment of safety culture every 18 to 24 months to review progress and sustain improvement.

A formal safety culture statement like this is a good start. To avoid it becoming a “flavor of the day” initiative, it is important to put in place a robust root cause analysis method like TapRooT®. This lends immediate support to Tenets 1. and 2. above.  It is also important to empower employees at every level to stop risky behavior.

Every organization benefits from an objective and impersonal way of investigating or auditing safety incidents, that gets to the root causes. Instead of blaming, re-training or firing individuals more effective corrective actions can be implemented, and safety issues dealt with once and for all.

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