How to Develop a Safety Strategy 

Dan Hannan, CSP

A strategy establishes the broad means and methods of how business will be conducted to achieve progress and attain goals.  Approaching something strategically implies calculated decision-making.  Strategies are forward-looking and develop an operational path into the future by committing to priorities and financial outlays.  The strategic planning process for safety is not too different from any other business-related planning but does have some special considerations. Here are the critical elements of strategic planning as they relate to safety.

  • Stakeholders—are those groups or individuals that will be needed to affect change or will be affected by change. Their opinions matter, and in fact, the success of implementing a strategy often requires getting all stakeholders involved to ensure their views and opinions are accounted for.  Although all stakeholders may not agree 100% with the settled upon strategy, courtesy has been extended. For developing a new safety procedure, the stakeholder group might include craft workers, foreman, superintendents, middle management, ownership, sub-contractors, insurance representatives, and even clients.
  • Benchmarking—is the means of gauging improvement and how you measure-up against others. A safety strategy should be built on benchmarks that gauge whether the strategy is working or not.  Common benchmarking tools for safety include both leading indicators like pre-construction meetings or pre-task planning; and lagging indicators like incident rate and experience modification rates (EMR). How do you measure-up against your peer’s (or competitors) safety efforts and output?  Benchmarking by identifying key (strategy) performance indicators (KPI’s) is necessary to evaluate progress.
  • Budget and Cost Impact—are often the big factors when it comes to asking for change. How much will it cost and what will the impact be on productivity?  Will additional training be required?  Will adopting a new process, like implementing a stretch-and-flex program, cost our projects time and impact project margin?  The cost-benefit for safety is always realized in the prevention or reduction of loss—injuries, equipment, and property damage.  Sound strategy development for safety is based on a clear understanding of the cost-benefit and not the flavor of the month approach.  Is this decision a good fit for our organization?  Is there a competitive advantage that is gained by this strategy or are we choosing this direction because industry has voluntarily adopted this practice?
  • Implementation—is where the rubber meets the road. Often slow and steady wins the race with safety, and especially where change is needed, a slow roll-out is best.  Adults often want one question answered in order to accept progress or change.  “Why?”  Why are we being asked to change and accept something different?  Why are we spending money or slowing production? Won’t it detract from our bottom line?  The right type and amount of communication behind implementation of strategy is vital.  To show the workforce that a commitment exists, and it is in the best interest of the company to drive continuous safety improvement, this communication typically needs to come early and often from the senior leadership groups.

Need help developing a safety strategy for your organization? Contact Dan Hannan, CSP @