The nature of risk is to fluctuate. So, while we can utilize safety management systems to establish great processes, the truth is that these processes tend to drift from expected levels of performance over time. As a result, a plan-do-check-act (PDCA) methodology is necessary in order to sustain safety efforts—and maintain risk at what has been agreed upon as an acceptable level.

What causes drift?

Drift can have any number of different causes, particularly in joint-employer environments: system pressures, production demands, time constraints, turnover, new risks in the workplace, and more.

How to prevent drift

For both staffing agency and client, strong communication from front-line managers and leadership alike is critical. It’s the only way to effectively signal to employees what’s really expected of them on the job.

As a component of strong communication, regular observation and feedback specific to work-related risks and safety standards is also important. It supports a healthier culture, increasing morale and encouraging employees to speak up. 

Avoid weak and negative communication

Standard work and safety practices are often only delivered during orientation and only followed when the boss is around. When supervisors aren’t in sight, shortcuts and other measures that contradict safe work practices tend to be commonplace. Worse, safety messaging typically only circulates in the aftermath of an injury or incident, which amounts to communicating what people already know—along with the more negative messaging, likely assigning blame to employees when things go wrong. This is the worst-case scenario. It has repercussions for the rest of the workforce and significantly undermines the creation of a healthy culture.

Now, think of what positive, job-specific safety feedback needs to be given to restore and re-establish expectations. This is considered a strategic intervention, as it’s informed by knowledge of risk matched to job type and has been anticipated and planned for through the PDCA process.

Strengthening communications to maintain acceptable level of risk

Managing and sustaining acceptable levels of risk is always a work in progress. Only by continually engaging in dialogue and coordinating with stakeholders at all levels, internally as well as externally, will organizations strengthen their risk and safety performance over the long haul.