Making HSSE a way of life … (Written for the Linkage)

Recently a young mechanic died because he was pinned to the ground by a vehicle which he was repairing … a couple was run over by a vehicle and killed while crossing a highway at night.  These two incidents and several others have led me to consider some of the reasons why we continue to witness such casual disregard for basic rules of safety and security.  My preoccupation intensified as we participate in the 17th Annual HSSE Conference hosted by Amcham.

For as long as there has been an energy sector in this country there has been some recognition of the importance of safety in the workplace.  The modern day translation of this notion is the recognition of HSSE (health, safety, security and the environment ).  While we seem to be doing all the right things to entrench an HSSE culture in the workplace, my casual observation of non work behaviours suggests that there is very little acceptance that HSSE is a way of life and not a silo activity to be performed in the office and forgotten once we exit the company’s compound only to be rekindled when we return the following day.  That it is a way of life to be practiced for the greater good seems lost on the majority of the population.  When the model of plan/do/check/act informs all our actions then we would know that HSSE has been truly entrenched.  As long as the incongruence continues between the behaviours in the workplace and other social behaviours, we are not hitting the mark with our HSSE investment.  

What really underpins this question is how do we change behaviour?  Behaviour change begins in the mind.  It  is instantaneous.  Important decisions are long in the decision making process. But once people decide to change behaviour it is as easy and instantaneous as a thought.  The second factor that impacts the decision making process is the outcome or reward.  Once people are clear on the outcomes, behaviour change becomes easy.

The HSSE traction is not strong because we have not engaged people’s hearts and minds around HSSE as a way of life.  If this real engagement continues to elude us, then the 50th Anniversary of HSSE will roll around and the gap between organizational behaviour and other social behaviour will continue to exist.

The heart of the matter lies in the leadership.  An old cliche comes into focus “people do what you do and not what you say”.   While it appears quite inane to say that people are looking for behaviour change in leaders before they change themselves, it is a fact and throughout organizations and the society, people are scrutinizing their leaders, waiting for the right cues and clues.  Not only are they waiting for actions, they are also looking out for reactions.  The way the leadership responds to a particular issue often determines the behaviours exhibited by employees.

Performance outcomes of the organization must be consistent with the tenets that companies are trying to foster in driving HSSE performance. If people are not behaving differently, then nothing is changing.  To get a different outcome, you have to change behaviour.  One way of supporting behaviour change is to focus on data to inform your communication.  A note of caution however is that “big number” outcomes often mask a multitude of evils of non compliance issues on the front line.  What would be helpful is a more intense focus on the hundreds of near misses which are hidden.  Systematic implementation of methods of capturing near misses will provide the data necessary to inspire behaviour change.  When it is known that data underpins the communication message, the level of credibility immediately increases.  

In addition to the leadership, the entire company needs a clear understanding of the HSSE goals and objectives.  They must be written in language that is clear, concise and easily understood by the employees.  In other words, it is necessary to speak in the language of the person with whom you are communicating.

From the viewpoint of process, the lines of communication at all levels must be clearly established and known to all.

In this age of instant communication, employees expect to receive short, sharp messages which are to the point and deliberate.  

Entrenching HSSE as a way of life requires the coming together of four elements: the management processes or systems must be identified and robust, the communication mechanisms must be evident and known to all, the organizational arrangements must be designed to encourage persons to think and act differently and mechanisms to sustain the behaviour change must be institutionalized.


In general, for organizations to entrench HSSE as a way of life, they have to apply the same degree of expertise and maintain the same standards that are applied to their core business activities to all aspects of health, safety, security and the environment.  It is the only way to effectively minimize risks and prevent harm to people.  

We are reminded that behaviour change is preceded by thought.  It takes but a moment to decide to do the right thing.  Delivering behaviour change is easier than we think and often a lot more fun.

When we reduce the incidents of death because of crossing a highway in the night or being crushed to death by a vehicle which slipped off the jack, we would have signalled that HSSE is a way of life.  Until then, it is a work in progress that requires continuous communication.

Other countries have institutionalized HSSE so there is no need to build a new bridge when other people have mastered the art of bridge building.  We need not waste time and energy re-inventing the wheel, we simply need to use the same template others have used to communicate the value of making HSSE a way of life.