02 Jul Why poor national safety culture is no excuse for poor safety performance
You can tell a lot about the safety culture of a country by looking at the prevailing driving standards. They vary from diabolical (India) to excellent (Sweden). Sadly the Russian motherland lies more towards India than Sweden on this measure.
Recently I had the good fortune to visit the Russian Federation for the third time. I enjoy these trips because a visit to Moscow feeds my obsession with Russian history. I say Russian history, what I mean is Soviet history and in fact more specifically Stalin’s Russia. But I digress.
Scary stuff happens on Russian roads. Some of this is due to engineering challenges like massive frost induced potholes causing oncoming vehicles to suddenly lurch into your carriageway (I can’t swear in Russian but I’m willing to learn). Other problems are rooted in engineering standards such as fast dual carriageways not having central reservations or crash barriers. Believe it or not dear reader if you’re sat on the driver’s side of the car you find yourself leaning towards the comparative sanctuary of the passenger side as traffic hurtles towards you with no physical separation between you and them.
Much of the problem is behavioural though as evidenced by Terry (my colleague) and I having to lift the rear seat in a taxi to get at previously unused seat belt clips. The upshot of all of this is that Russia expects 27-30000 road deaths per year which is the equivalent of Windsor and Eton being wiped from the map. Where would we get our politicians from if this were to happen?
So safety generally is not uppermost on the average Russian’s agenda. You should hear what they get up to at their Dachas with chainsaws and axes and so on.
“But comrade this is Russia”
“… we drink Vodka, drive like madmen and wield chainsaws at the dacha therefore different safety standards have to apply”.
A large Pan-European JOMC client decided some years ago to build a factory in Russia not all that far from Moscow. Given the prevailing safety culture it would’ve been easy for them to throw their hands up and say something like that.
But they didn’t.
The same safety standards and crucially safety expectations apply to the Russian factory as they do to the rest of the factories in Europe. This is good news from a moral standpoint but also for business because there’s no finer way of throwing money down the toilet than having a poor safety performance. Poor safety also means your organisation is out of control.
To date, despite doubling in size every four years, the Russian factory has one of the best safety performances in the group. More than this perhaps, standing in the Russian factory feels very like standing in one of their French, German or British factories; the culture is very consistent.
So here’s what we can learn:
- Well-run companies have safety standards that they don’t compromise
- This safety imperative is reflected in the way their managers lead and the results reflect this
- A poor national or regional safety culture is no excuse for a poor safety performance
- People are just people and fundamentally no one wants to get injured regardless of where they live
- Consistent organisational cultures can be established regardless of national boundaries
Much of what has been achieved here is down to a culture-based approach to safety management. If you want to achieve 2200 days of lost time injury-free operation perhaps culture based safety is for you too.