Safety Perception Surveys – A Powerful Measurement Alternative

Volume 14 • Issue 4 Winter 2002
Published by the Alberta Construction Safety Association
Circulation 32,500

By Dennis Ryan, CRSP, OHST (Compass Health and Safety Ltd.)

For most companies, the auditing process has proven to be useful in assessing health and safety performance. However, for those who have been audited many times, and whose safety management systems have matured, the audit process may offer less value than a safety perception survey.

For those companies, the perception survey is a useful alternative. A perception survey is a complementary assessment tool which focuses less on safety program hardware, and more on employee perceptions of health and safety in their company. The survey evaluates factors involved in safety excellence which are not readily measured by other means.

Why workers behave the way they do is strongly influenced by what they believe is right. Perceptions are reality. If a worker perceives management’s primary focus is to get the job done quickly and/or under budget, they will concentrate on productivity with little regard to safety. The strongest influence on safe work practices is the perception employees have regarding management’s commitment to safety. The best program in the world will not influence workers if they perceive there are priorities which are higher than employee safety. A perception survey looks beyond basic health and safety components such as inspection and hazard identification. Important as these components are, they comprise only part of the entire health and safety management program. What is not generally assessed is the corporate safety culture or environment in which these components must function. Without taking this into account, a safety program risks failure.

As any farmer will tell you, you don’t plant seeds in barren ground and expect a bumper crop. Similarly, safety programs cannot thrive in an environment which does not support them. Well informed companies realize that health and safety excellence cannot succeed merely through the existence of well crafted policies. Corporate commitment to health and safety is really measured by what management does, where their priorities lie, what they condone or ignore, and what they measure and reward. Perception surveys measure these less tangible elements which are key factors in the success, or failure, of any health and safety program. The strength of a perception survey is its ability to tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience of employees. When employees can respond anonymously, their answers can be truly revealing and beneficial.

The following steps are typical of a good perception survey:

•determine the survey questions
•allow employees to respond to the survey anonymously
•input responses and comments into a database
•analyze the data by question, position, location, etc.
•assess the perception gap between management and workers
•report the findings
•develop and implement an action plan
•resurvey to determine the success of the action plan
The safety perception survey process is straightforward. However, a good database is needed to manage and analyze the data. For more information, contact your ACSA representative.