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Back to Archives | Back to November 2005 Contents 

The Culture of Safety: No One Gets Hurt Today

By Mark Whitman, Commissioner, York Police Department, York, Pennsylvania, and General Chair, IACP Division of State Associations of Chiefs of Police, and Christopher A. Smith, Manager of Consulting Services, DuPont Safety Resources, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Wilmington, Delaware

A hurt man is taken to an ambulance

oday, safety in the work place is a top priority all around the world. Yet employees of companies, governments, municipal agencies, and other organizations are unnecessarily injured while at work every day. Injuries inflict pain and suffering on those involved and affect their families, friends, and communities. The costs are tremendous. Organizations without strong safety cultures will spend many millions of dollars in direct costs associated with injuries and illnesses. Additionally, indirect costs such as property damage, lost worker productivity, overtime, poor quality of goods and services, and damage to customer relations and public image can be in excess of three times the direct costs.

In spite of advances in nonlethal force alternatives and first responder protective gear, more needs to be done to protect police officers in their daily job functions. The members of the IACP Division of State Associations of Chiefs of Police (SACOP) believe that the only acceptable number of officer deaths and injuries is zero-no officers killed or hurt on the job.

SACOP has undertaken a critical examination of the problem of duty-related injuries. The Safe Shield project embodies the commitment of law enforcement executives to keeping their officers safe. It is a long-term project that encourages imaginative and creative thinking. The project examines technology for personal protective systems for the line officer, reviews sound procedural policies, and advocates increasing and improving training, with the end goal of sending officers home safely every day.

Private Sector Experience
Many corporations require extensive safety precautions because of nature of the manufacturing process and the risk environments employees face. Corporations recognize the need for safety in the manufacturing process and, just like police departments, the corporations need specialized equipment, communications, training, and above all a safety culture. The lessons learned from the private sector can provide resources and transferable ideas to help law enforcement reduce the injury rate in the field.

DuPont is one of the companies with a strong safety culture. Also, DuPont plays an active role in SACOP's Safe Shield project and is one of the original corporate partners in the project. A central part of their corporate culture, DuPont believes that all injuries and occupational illnesses are preventable. At DuPont, the goal for all such incidents is zero. This goal of zero is why DuPont is committed to promoting on- and off-the-job safety for all employees, not just its own. DuPont is one of the safest industrial companies in the world. Leveraging its 200-year history of safety knowledge and experience, DuPont helps leading-edge companies and organizations gain sustainable improvement in injury performance, insurance and operating costs, security, productivity, product quality, risk management, public image, and employee morale.

DuPont's experience has shown that safety and protection can be a strategic business value that links safety excellence to improved business performance. Strong safety practices are intrinsic to security-the personal security of employees in workplaces and the economic security and business value that is derived from operating safely. In addition, pursuing safety excellence saves lives and spares people from disabling injuries and lost time from work. Perhaps most importantly, enhanced safety practice on the job means that more workers go home to their families safely every day.

Embracing Safety as a Core Value
Public safety organizations, like police departments, can also embrace safety as a core value. With high-level management involvement and effective safety management systems, an entire organization can see sustainable changes and remarkable improvements.

SACOP believes that a major shift in law enforcement attitudes toward officer injuries and deaths is possible and the key is demonstrated leadership commitment. That commitment is a critical component of effective safety management. And, for sustainable cultural change to take place the implementation of an effective safety management system (SMS) is necessary. An effective SMS contains leadership components, the right business structure and safety management processes.

Valuing people is a core value that is intrinsic to the law enforcement community. It stands to reason that police officers and department leaders are all committed to saving lives and pursuing safety excellence because of this core value. There is, of course, great risk in the duties performed by those officers who put their lives on the line every day. But research shows that some incidents where officers are being injured may be preventable.

  • The FBI indicates 132 officers were killed in the line of duty in 2003.

  • In some police and sheriff's departments in the United States, one in five officers will file a workers' compensation claim in a given year

  • A Safe Shield project survey of representative police and sheriff's departments in the United States indicated that the most common duty-related injuries were sprains and bruises.

  • More than 50 percent of the law enforcement executive survey respondents estimated that very few incidents are preventable.

Getting Hurt Not Part of the Job
In 2003, SACOP conducted a survey to gauge the depth and breadth of the officers' injuries and to shed light on potential ways of reducing injuries. From the information provided by 698 police agencies three key findings were made:

    1 - The law enforcement community has a financial incentive to investigate changes to uniform design, equipment, training, and policy that might decrease the instances of on-duty injuries.

    2 - A cultural/attitudinal shift toward zero tolerance for injuries is necessary before any changes to uniform design, equipment, training, and policy can have an impact.>

    3 - The types of injuries sustained and conditions under which they occurred suggest that improvements in uniform design, equipment, training, and policy can prevent or mitigate the severity many of the injuries.

Unfortunately, it is common in the service environment for persons to place their well-being second to the needs of others. For example, in the health care profession, the patient always comes first, even at the expense of the health care provider's well-being. This holds true in the law enforcement profession. Police in every community can cite numerous incidents where actions by law enforcement professionals put the public's well-being ahead of the officers' safety. Although heroic action is often justifiable and desirable, a closer examination of the number of incidents, the type of injuries sustained by officers, and the expectation of the current law enforcement culture reveals significant opportunity to reduce the number of officers who are being injured or killed on the job.

The bottom line: getting hurt is not part of the job. When officers are not safe, neither are their families, friends, police agencies, and communities. This cascading effect results in reduced productivity, low morale, and even public fear. Other negative results include increasing costs for benefits, insurance and legal fees, and labor replacement and training. Changing the cultural concept that "injuries are just a part of law enforcement" is a major challenge for the department's executive.

Achieving Zero Injuries through Safety Culture Change
Safety is important and can be significantly improved. Remember that the goal is zero. But achieving zero injuries requires a significant culture shift, leadership, and the involvement of all employees. And it is leaders' responsibility to embrace and drive the safety culture change throughout an organization.

At DuPont, the company's safety culture is founded on a core set of guiding principles:

  • Safety is a core business and personal value.

  • The goal is zero: all injuries and all safety incidents are preventable.

  • Line management safety observations are necessary to demonstrate commitment, caring, and ownership for safety.

  • Line managers are accountable for the safety performance of their employees.

  • Employee involvement in the safety management process is critical .

  • Working safely is a condition of employment.

  • All injuries must be reported immediately.

  • Safety off of the job is an important element of the overall safety effort.

  • It is essential to investigate injuries and occupational illnesses, as well as incidents with the potential for injury.

As a leader, the challenge is to help the organization internalize and apply these guiding principles. For example, working safely is a condition of employment. This is usually a tough one to deal with, but it is no different from rules that make working ethically a condition of employment. Expectations and standards have to be established and managed with respect to safety.

Every person has a certain level of safety awareness that is reactive and with which they come to work every day. That's natural instinct. That's why a person would not intentionally stick his or her hand in a fire, because he or she knows a burn would result.

The next stage on the safety culture continuum is one where there is a focus on safety that is dictated by the management. This is shown as dependent behavior. This will improve performance, but it usually only works while there are supervisors around, observing what others are doing. In the world of law enforcement, there are many activities and tasks that are unsupervised. This is why it is necessary to drive toward the next level, on which each person takes responsibility for his or her own safety.

There are two components to the next level of independence. Most people would say that they are responsible for their own safety. But being responsible for one's own safety requires a level of awareness that allows a person to quickly modify his or her behavior so that action can be taken toward acting responsibly and safely.

The last stage-interdependence-is the point at which everyone is aware of and comfortable with talking to one another about overall safety. This is the ultimate safety environment, one that is representative of a well-functioning team.

Safety Leadership through Excellence and Example
In any organization, there will be people at different stages of development. This is why leaders in each organization need to drive the safety culture change- both collectively and individually. Officers can work to pursue safety excellence both through leadership and through example.

Safety leadership is first and foremost about leadership. That means department leaders should educate officers and set the example by applying the following proven elements of safety culture leadership:

Visible Demonstrated Management Commitment

  • Management's commitment to safety is seen and felt by all employees as genuine and deep.

  • Safety is always considered in significant management decisions with the same priority as quality of service, cost, and employee relations.

Clear Meaningful Policies and Principles

  • The policy and principles inspire individuals by reflecting a unifying commonality, indicating the priority of safety, and providing a clear basis for decisions.

  • Safety Goals and Objectives

  • Safety goals, objectives, and plansare a prominent part of the standard operating procedures.

High Standards of Performance

  • High standards, applicable to all safety matters, are obvious to all employees.

Felt Leadership Is Critical to Achieving a Safety Culture
Because safety is a cultural transformation, it requires felt leadership. Felt leadership is all about people, and safety at its essence is respect through action for the well-being of people. To practice felt leadership, leaders in an organization must feel and believe in what their organization values. And most importantly, they must act according to these values. Nowhere is felt leadership more important than with safety.

DuPont has developed a 12-point checklist to help leaders put their beliefs into action:

    1. Set a good example.
    • Observe all safety rules.

    • Always wear personal protection equipment (PPE) where required.

    • Discuss some aspect of safety with employees every day.

    2. Know the operation.
    • Understand the entire process or operation for which you are responsible.

    • Process data to find and track trends.

    • Understand how and why the safety rules apply to the work you supervise.

    3. Anticipate risks.

    4. Discuss hazards.
    • Encourage your employees to discuss work hazards.

    • No job should proceed where a question of safety remains unanswered.

    • Encourage and be receptive to the ideas of your workers.

    5. Be alert for unsafe conditions.
    • Every walk-through should be an impromptu inspection tour.

    • Correct hazards on the spot.

    6. Follow up.

    7. Inspect often and inspect intelligently.
    • Detect unsafe acts.

    • Eliminate unsafe practices.

    • Audit often. Involve the entire organization.

    • Observe people and inspect conditions.

    • Track your performance.

    8. Take effective corrective actions.
    • Correct the deficiencies and poor practices you see.

    • Correct; don't reprimand.

    • Make corrections promptly.

    • Address unsafe actions immediately.

    9. Investigate incidents.
    • Investigate all injuries and incidents.

    • Identify key factors.

    • Hold line management accountable.

    • Present investigation findings as opportunities to learn.

    • Encourage employees to report all events.

    10. Maintain discipline.
    • Discipline as necessary.

    • Apply discipline consistently and equitably.

    • Make the main objective of discipline to improve performance.

    11. Know your employees.
    • Mentor employees.

    • Be aware that employees' ability depends upon their education, training, and experience.

    • Take employee capabilities into account when planning a job.

    • Communicate extensively and foster involvement through auditing and teaming.

    12. Make safety part of your operation.
    • Always incorporate safety into your meetings.

    • Remember that accident prevention leads to better operations.

    • Make safety a prime obligation; let it be felt.

    • Demonstrate your level of safety as a leader.

Hard but Rewarding Work
Embracing a safety culture is hard work. Achieving zero injuries requires a significant culture shift, leadership, and the involvement of all employees. Reaching the goal will occur only when all stakeholders are pulled together by a common purpose or vision. And that common purpose is the commitment to the wellness and safety of all employees, of all officers.

Law enforcement executives need to demonstrate the level of safety excellence they seek for the department. Executives should embrace and drive the safety culture change. Use the checklist provided in this article as a starting point, and modify the checklist to make it applicable to the local department. The best place to start is with the department's policies and then the written procedures, training for all employees, and supervisors' reinforcement and corrective action. Once the appropriate safety culture becomes established, it will become clear that safety leadership and safety responsibility is a shared responsibility belonging to all ranks and levels and is a key factor in ultimately allowing more officers to go home to their families safely every day. ■

The Division of State Associations of Chiefs of Police (SACOP) is one of three divisions of the IACP. It serves as the vehicle through which members of the separate state associations come together, examine their positions on issues, and address the needs of their members. SACOP membership is open to the chief executive who is a current officer of his or her state association. It welcomes and encourages participation from past members, corporate partners, and those with the expertise and interest to help us achieve our many goals. SACOP's general chair is a member of the IACP Board of Officers.

SACOP is working with the Public Safety Technology Center (PSTC) to further the Safe Shield project. The PSTC was established in 1998 to assist the public safety community in facilitating cooperation and communication among police, fire, and emergency management to ensure efficient and effective deployment of first responders to critical incidents, and to work with organizations that are providing technology in support of public safety agencies. It is under contract with the National Protection Center, an arm of the Natick Soldiers Center, which develops protective clothing and equipment for the U.S. military. PSTC will work with SACOP to make the police officer less susceptible to injury. This joint effort is one of several steps that are being taken to promote the Safe Shield project.

Additionally, SACOP works extensively to provide local law enforcement with training and information not available from other sources. The Smaller Department Section of the division, through funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, is working in cooperation with the IACP Crime Prevention Committee in developing crime prevention training for 10 state association conferences in 2006. The training will demonstrate the necessity of crime prevention as an integral part of agency operations and illustrate the link between homeland security and hometown security.

SACOP, under a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has produced a study measuring the level of local and municipal agencies' support for and participation in impaired driving enforcement efforts. All state results are posted on the IACP Web site at ( Hard copies that contain results from all 50 states and the SACOP regions are available on request.
For more information about the Safe Shield project or SACOP, write to Beth Currier, SACOP manager, at (, or call her at 800-THE-IACP, extension 390.



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 11, November 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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