An employee once told me that a crew member spoke up about a recurring safety issue and was chastised by the safety department for bringing it up for discussion. This may sound impossible to believe, but at that site, the safety department was afraid that recurring safety problems would make them look incompetent to higher-ups. Their reaction to an employee's willingness to speak about a safety concern sent a mixed message that would damage any safety program. The workforce began questioning what management really cared about and came to the conclusion that it is certainly was not them. The best safety training, daily safety meetings and messages from the general manager could not undo this mixed message about safety because now the workforce believed that management did not REALLY want to hear about safety issues.
A great safety record is closely tied to the freedom to speak about problems. Management, not the workforce, controls the freedom to speak by their reaction to problems, including safety issues. Management teams that welcome “all news”, whether good or bad, have the greatest chance of having few safety incidents and are building a foundation for a powerful culture focused on optimzing performance.