A higher commitment to safety from the leadership and a more appropriate set of measures. These are the main conclusions from a study by NEN's Committee of Experts on the impact of the Safety Culture Ladder (SCL) on organisations. The study was conducted by a collaboration of TU Delft and TenneT TSO. Researchers Frans Geijlvoet and Frank Guldenmund tell more about what they consider surprising outcomes.
Initially, they were slightly sceptical about it. Frank Guldenmund of TU Delft and Frans Geijlvoet of TenneT TSO did have reservations about the Safety Culture Ladder. The SCL is a NEN certification scheme that can help promote safety culture within an organisation. The scheme, originally from ProRail, consists of five steps and many companies now use it. It provides frameworks for working safely, based on behaviour and attitude, to all parties working in the various industries. 'I was not convinced to introduce it at our premises and impose it on clients,' says Geijlvoet. Guldenmund was asked to sit on a NEN committee on the SCL (Board of Experts), but he then wanted to do research on the impact of the ladder. That came about, and both men are positively surprised by the results.
Frans Geijlvoet is a safety expert and policy officer corporate safety at TenneT. Frank Guldenmund works at TU Delft's Safety Science section and, together with Geijlvoet and another colleague, conducted the study on the impact of the SCL on companies and organisations. 'It is not a study of effectiveness, but of impact. What happens in a company when it decides to get certified for the Safety Culture Ladder? That was the question we asked ourselves. Does a company simply want to 'get a piece of paper' or does the impact of working with the SCL go deeper?' In the period from December 2022 to March 2023, those responsible for safety from 16 large and small SCL-certified Dutch companies from different industries were interviewed. 'There we spoke to people involved in the ladder, such as KAM managers, but board members were also surveyed. The companies that participated are from different industries, but still mainly active in the building and construction industry and affiliated companies.'
Guldenmund and Geijlvoet are both pleasantly surprised with the results of the survey. 'The main conclusion is that company management is paying more attention to the subject of safety. It is higher on the agenda and people are actively working on it in the organisation. Initiatives are launched that run through all layers of the company, spreading awareness about safety throughout the company. And because the SCL is not set up as a checklist with all kinds of specific rules but rather aims to provide frameworks, a company has the freedom to take the best suited set of safety measures in its own way. So they can do what suits them and that can be anything: bringing safety more explicitly up for discussion, setting up theme days or special programmes or toolboxes,' says Guldenmund. Another outcome Gijlvoet saw was that the ambition to move forward with safety is growing. 'If a company is on step two, for example, you see the will to move up. That's nice to see.' So all in all, the conclusion of the survey is positive. Geijlvoet: 'I see that especially in the answer to the question whether a company would continue with it, even if it were not required of them by a customer. To that, the vast majority said 'yes'. The SCL is seen as a kind of engine that enthuses people on the subject of safety rather than an extra heavy burden that a customer can impose on a company.'
Despite the positive impact of the SCL on organisations revealed by the study, both men still have some comments. For instance, they call for follow-up research. 'This should also include employees in other layers of a company. The shop floor often has a different perception of safety than KAM managers or board members', says Guldenmund. 'On the other hand, we don't want to completely redo the audits where these people are spoken to,' adds Geijlvoet. Talking about those audits, their quality could be better and more uniform, both men think. 'Auditors need to be better qualified to audit the SCL. According to the researchers, that requires a very different approach from audits against, say, a management system standard such as ISO 9001. And ultimately, the idea is that it doesn't actually matter which auditor you choose because the outcome should be the same,' says Guldenmund. Finally, both men are curious to see how the new version of the SCL will turn out and whether the impact differs between large and small companies
Guldenmund and Geijlvoet advise companies wishing to work with the SCL to think carefully beforehand about what they want to achieve and see what is going on within a company. 'It is a kind of self-reflection when you start working with the SCL. You have to look at your own company in a different way when you take behaviour as a starting point instead of a hard set of rules. You are ultimately doing it for yourself and your employees.'