By Ron van der Aa and Kaat van der Haar
The Netherlands has been familiar with the Safety Culture Ladder (SCL, then still known by the Dutch name of ‘Veiligheidsladder’) since 2012. Having initially started as ProRail product, it became a NEN-managed product in 2016.
Over the years, the SCL has grown to become a product which is used in an ever-increasing number of sectors. It is now well-known and is being used in more and more countries around the world.
But, just like any NEN product, there comes a time when an assessment is needed to see whether market developments make a revision desirable and/or necessary. That process has taken place in recent years and has led to the development of SCL 2.0.
The scope of SCL has broadened significantly in the past few years. Where this started out as a product which was mainly used in the railway sector, its application has broadened to include many other sectors since 2016. Examples are the construction sector, grid operators and various service sectors.
This broadening of the application of the SCL also led to an increasing number of criticisms of the SCL, both in respect of the Manual and the Certification Scheme.
- The SCL has too many ‘railway-related terms’, making it hard to apply to other sectors;
- The SCL has too many descriptions which are system-oriented and are therefore not suitable within the context of measuring the safety culture;
- The SCL insufficiently addresses employees and their roles, although employees actually play a major role in an organization’s safety awareness;
- The SCL focuses too much on safe working, whereas safety culture is much broader;
- The current system of scores for business aspects/characteristics has undesirable effects (also expressed as ‘calculating behaviour’).
These signals were the rationale for a full revision of the SCL, resulting in a new version of the SCL called SCL 2.0.
Besides the above signals which prompted a revision of the SCL, there are some topics which should clearly be maintained, such as the recognisability of the SCL and its potential for being applied to all sectors.
SCL 2.0 has been developed over the past few years. The typical differences with respect to the current SCL are:
- The six company aspects have been replaced by five themes;
- The assessment method by means of scores has been replaced by an assessment which is no longer based on numeral scores, but rather relies on the auditor’s observations as regards attitude, behaviour and culture.
SCL 2.0 replaces the current six company aspects by the following five themes:
Theme 1; policy & leadership;
Theme 2; knowledge & skills;
Theme 3: primary & secondary processes;
Theme 4: collaboration;
Theme 5; learning & improvement.
Each theme is subdivided into an ‘organization’ part and a ‘behaviour’ part,
and each theme has some sub-themes, corresponding to the main theme.
The description of the themes reflects a complete change. SCL 2.0 uses storytelling to convey these descriptions. Through stories, these descriptions become things that should be recognisable/observed in an organization in terms of the particular theme, sub-theme or step.
SCL 2.0 no longer uses numerical scores for the assessment.
The assessment uses three colours. Possible scores are green, red and orange. ‘Organization’ (O) and ‘Behaviour’ (B) are assessed separately. Since the assessment of the culture mainly concerns the effectiveness of the efforts and tools implemented, the score for ‘B’ is assigned the most importance.
A green score visually indicates that a theme has been rated as sufficient. A theme is rated as sufficient (green) if the auditors are of the opinion that the characteristics of that theme are largely complied with.
A red score visually shows that a theme has been rated as insufficient.
And finally, an orange score is a visual indication that the organization partly complies with the descriptions that go with a theme andthat the organization is making efforts to become fully compliant.
The assessment for O requires at least four of the five themes to be rated as ‘sufficient’ (green). The theme not rated as green must have an orange score for the organization to get a positive rating. A red score means that the step has not been passed.
The assessment for B requires all themes to be rated as ‘sufficient’ (green).
Since a numerical score is no longer awarded under the new method of assessment, organizations may perceive the outcomes of the assessment as being less useful as aids or reference points. To avoid this potentially undesirable effect and, since there has long been a need for reporting requirements to be specified, new reporting criteria have been prepared. These new criteria provide proper justification and substantiation of the findings.
The five themes and their underlying topics are assessed during the audit. Based on this, the audit team finds strengths and areas for improvement.
In their report, the auditors identify and expand on the strengths in each theme and individual topic and on areas for improvement found during the audit to give the organization an idea of its position within a step, and thus of its potential for growth within each theme.
The audit report also contains a substantiation which should enable readers to trace back why a specific score was given to a specific theme. The audit team thus takes responsibility for the proper performance of the audit and the audit team’s findings can also directly help the organization further develop to a higher step.
These are the criteria for reporting:
- A report on what is good and what can be improved is written for the individual topics for each theme. An assessment is also given (for O and B): green, orange, red? The basic principle is that the listing for each theme must focus on culture. O and B are assessed in conjunction with each other. The assessment of ‘organization’ identifies the relationship to the culture and the consequences for the culture. Here, the overall image regarding the theme is the guiding principle. A substantiation of the score is included here as well.
- If the auditor has noticed something out of the ordinary, they must identify it and add a description of what they think its implications for the culture are. If the auditor then notices aspects which have a direct bearing on elements described for ‘Organization’, these must be identified as well
- The report must describe what the findings are: what does the snapshot look like? It is not a recommendation, but merely a representation of the findings.
- It must not be possible to trace the report back to a single person. The report must be free from personal matters.
We are currently doing some tests in the Netherlands and Germany to establish whether the new version of the SCL (SCL 2.0) is clear and works well for organizations and auditors in practice. We call this process the validation of SCL 2.0.
All CIs in the Netherlands and Germany are involved in this process. In this context, each of them will use one audit for this validation process. However, since the views and opinions of the rest of the market are also very important, a public comment round is planned in the months of September and October 2022, to supplement the validation.
Based on the validation results and the comments collected through the public comment round, SCL 2.0 will be adjusted so that it will eventually be published in mid-2023 (as scheduled).
The SCL 2.0 Expert Team
The revision of the SCL, which has resulted in SCL 2.0, has been a lengthy process. Revising both the description of the SCL and the assessment method has been quite an ambitious undertaking.
It would not have been possible without the efforts and contributions of several experts who therefore deserve to be explicitly mentioned here.
Thank you, Marina van Beekveld, Arno de Graaff, Frank Thoonen, Gerd-Jan Frijters, Hans Aarns, Robert Taen and Taco Buissant des Amorie!