Our clients have been reporting an uplift in stakeholder expectations on safety and increasing commercial and legal penalties for poor safety performance. 

This, in turn, appears to have caused a spike in senior leadership interest in safety. We have also observed that companies are investing substantial resources in safety processes and programs, but significant performance challenges remain, especially with regards to continuing occurrence of serious injuries and fatalities. There appears to be a growing sense that traditional approaches to safety may actually be impeding progress.

In 2018, ERM undertook its first Global Safety Survey to explore these themes, to assess if there is a deeper shift in perceptions on safety, and to bring fresh insight into the implications of these developments for organizational leaders and their safety functions. Between January and July 2018, we interviewed 144 senior safety functional leaders. All were key decision makers, and most brought a global perspective from their roles and their organizations. Most of the organizations we spoke to were multinationals with substantial employee and contractor bases located across multiple countries.

What we learned

The survey confirmed our initial observations but also provided some insights which were surprising. Overall nine key findings emerged:

  1. Stakeholder expectations are rising.
    Interviewees expressed a near unanimous view that stakeholder expectations for improved safety performance will increase in all sectors and in all continents over the next 3 years.
  2. Companies are increasing their investment.
    Predictably, given the increased pressure and scrutiny from stakeholders, we found that respondents have ratcheted up their efforts to enhance their safety culture and performance in recent years. The vast majority of organizations we spoke to are also planning to increase their investment over the next three years.
  3. Significant cultural and performance challenges remain.
    Despite organizations increasing their level of effort on safety and most organizations reporting improved performance, the majority are dissatisfied with both their safety culture and performance.
  4. Risk continues to shift to contractors, who are harder to manage.
    Organizations are relying more and more on contractors, who often perform more hazardous activities and are more challenging to manage.
  5. Most companies do not understand how much they are investing in safety.
    Few respondents had actually considered the scale of their total economic investment in safety and some were uncomfortable with this line of questioning.
  6. Lagging performance indicators remain dominant.
    The data indicate that few companies are using meaningful leading indicators to evaluate the efficacy of their safety processes and programs. This is surprising given the scale of companies’ investments.
  7. Established safety processes and program are not delivering sufficient impact on performance.
    We found that changes in investments in safety over the past 3 years had no bearing on performance improvement. We found that there is a positive correlation between hours of training provided and perceptions of safety culture. Investing in training seems to have a positive impact on culture. However, the IEA found statistical evidence in the data that the quality of training provided is a better predictor of perceived performance than the number of hours of training provided.
  8. Harnessing data and technology to improve safety is becoming a major focus.
    Organizations recognise the benefits that data and technology can bring in the drive to improve safety performance and it has been identified as a strategic priority but it has not yet translated into an investment priority.
  9. Leadership engagement is key, but leaders need to step up and gain new skills.
    The respondents broadly recognised leadership engagement on the frontline as the key to improving safety culture and performance; however, leaders are not sufficiently present in the field and they aren’t as effective as they could be when they are there.

Our engagements with these safety functional leaders, with operations spanning the globe and across a wide range of industry sectors, has provided us with a wealth of insight. These deeply informed individuals were virtually unanimous in their belief that stakeholders will continue to drive increased pressure on safety in the coming years. Increased pressure will raise the bar on performance expectations. The penalties for organizations and their leaders who fail to meet these expectations will continue to rise.