Palmam qui meruit ferat (The glory is for those who deserve).
Origins of the Bradley Curve
In the 90s of the previous century, DuPont CEO Ed Woolard chartered the so called DuPont Discovery Team to develop a system that would allow sustainable and lasting improvement in organisational safety.
It was surprising back then, as much as it is today, to see how very different injury rates can be between companies working in the same industry, with similar procedures and in similar environments.
One of the best known outcomes of that team is the Bradley Curve (proposed in 1994 and owing its name to one of the team members: Vernon Bradley).
The Bradley Curve helps organisations to understand the point they’re at in their journey towards an effective safety culture. Once this starting point is known, action can be taken to achieve increased safety levels.
With time, the Bradley Curve has become a leading indicator of the maturity of an organisation’s safety culture.
DuPont’s proposal is based on three main axes:
- Processes and activities
However, DuPont considers the role of leadership in the transformation of a company’s safety culture to be paramount and comprehensive.
What does the Bradley Curve show?
Basically, as we have said on previous occasions, what the Bradley Curve is showing is the evolution of an organisation’s safety culture, from a REACTIVE or instinctive stage (action is taken after the accident has happened), towards an INTERDEPENDENT approach (collective and anticipatory). In this later stage, employees take responsibility for safety, do not accept low standards on the issue and strive to achieve a zero injuries goal. We could say that they have been safety empowered.
Stages in the strength of safety culture, according to the Bradley Curve
Safety based on instinct.
- Employees are part of the problem, not of the solution.
- Neither employees nor managers at any level feel responsible for safety or have a commitment towards it.
- Bad luck is widely believed to be the main factor behind accidents.
- Indeed, accidents take place and remedial action is taken afterwards, through hurried measures that do not address the root of the problem.
Safety based on overseers.
- Employees are part of the problem, not of the solution.
- Appointed persons are in charge of safety. They set up rules, guidelines and procedures for the other employees to follow.
- Safety is achieved when these rules are followed.
- Accident rates decrease and it is believed that injuries happen because safety rules are disregarded.
Safety based on self-protection.
- Employees are part of the solution, not of the problem.
- Employees and managers at every level take responsibility for safety through the proper use of safety equipment, procedure compliance, training and individual commitment.
- Safety is achieved when everyone’s looking after themselves.
- Accident rates decrease further and it is believed that injuries happen because of a lack of self-protection.
Safety based on teamwork.
- Teams of employees are the solution.
- Employees and managers at every level take collective responsibility for safety, as a team. Safety is regarded as part of the workload and risk-taking is not accepted from any team member.
- Communication, training and involvement are key to improving safety, as is the shared pride of belonging to a team and an organisation.
- Injuries at work are not acceptable. There is a serious commitment to achieve a zero accidents goal within the organisation.
As can be seen in this webpage, DuPont conducted a study in 2009 that demonstrated the correlation between the curve, with its empiric and predictive basis, as developed by Vernon Bradley, and an organisation’s safety culture, its injury frequency rate and sustainable safety performance. This study was based on data collected since 1999 in DuPont’s Safety Perception Survey, including information mainly from North America, but also other countries, and from “best” and “worst” performing organisations.
DuPont’s Safety Perception Survey
It includes 24 questions regarding the 3 main axes previously mentioned (8 questions on each area):
- Processes and activities.
The survey involves every level of the organisation (managers, middle managers, employees, etc.) to gauge the extent to which they share a safety perception and culture.
By pooling together data from the main industries, it can be seen that they have developed an advanced safety culture, from a dependent to an independent stage, with different levels of cultural development:
Safety culture and performance are related
Equally, it is possible to stablish a link between safety culture and performance. Both concepts are related, as can be seen by plotting responses from different companies to the DuPont’s Safety Perception Survey on the Bradley Curve (median and deviations are shown):
Using the Bradley Curve to develop a sustainable safety culture and decrease accident numbers
I have used the Curve many times in training sessions and workshops to make employees aware of their role regarding safety within the company. Even when managers are legally liable for safety, it is not advisable for an employee to rely solely on the manager to look out for his/her safety every minute while at work. Management surely has to provide the necessary means to create a safe work environment: information, training, awareness, procedures, overseeing their actual implementation, etc. But if we are to achieve our goal of minimising accidents and injuries, we all need to pull together and take on this challenge. In the field of health and safety, everyone is needed. Either we work as a team or nothing can be achieved.
In the movie Chariots of fire, there is a scene in which Harold Abrahams, the athlete, is competing in a run and that, from my point of view, shows some common traits with the work in health and safety:
- Preparation (training), beforehand.
- Target achievement mentality.
- Focus on the target.
- Pride to belong.
If you fail to see the link between these principles, I encourage you to watch this very inspiring movie.
PrevenControl es la firma especializada en seguridad y salud laboral que propone soluciones eficaces e innovadoras para la mejora del negocio y la reputación de sus clientes a través de la consultoría, el uso de la tecnología y la formación.