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Continual Improvement or HSE Stagnation

February 3, 2014

Part 1 of 3

By: Wayne J. Harris

Best Practice ISQEM


Continual improvement is a common term used by many safety practitioners, yet it is often not fully understood or applied. If adopted correctly it should focus on increasing the effectiveness and /or efficiency of an organisation so that it meets its corporate policy and HSE objectives.  In simple terms it’s all about “delivering a better service or product for all stakeholders, which includes employees and clients”.

Where do you start?

To tackle improvements within any organisation you need to concentrate on the corporate enablers such as organisation structure, leadership strategy, communication, human resources and management processes. Basically the key mechanics that allow departments and specific functions to work together within a cohesive organisation

The HSE improvement approach you take should lead to increased efficiency, time-saving, waste reduction, cost savings, stakeholder satisfaction and of course reduced safety and environmental incidents.

Care should be taken to not fall in to the trap of concentrating on individual department improvements. Remember a silo approach to HSE improvement will not improve business results overall, it often ends up being more of risk transfer exercise with short-term benefits and unsustainable outcomes.


HSE Facilitator

Benefits of Continual Improvement in HSE

From a business standpoint any HSE improvement strategy must produce quantifiable changes and where possible create a genuine competitive advantage for the organisation.  Now there are two main types of competitive advantages that you need to consider when proposing HSE improvements comparative, and differential.

Comparative advantage is an organisations ability to produce a product or service at a lower cost than its competitors, which gives the firm the ability to sell at a lower price than its competition or to generate a larger profit margin.

Differential advantage is created when an organisations products or services differ from its competitors and are seen as a higher standard or quality by stakeholders including clients.

Now you might at first struggle to see how HSE improvements fit into the above two competitive advantages.  Well it depends on what type of industry that you work within; they can be from engineering solutions, construction methods, technology, and management systems, to staff competency and skills levels.

What you must do is look at any proposed improvements as a value added proposition that gives a company a distinct edge over its competitors, which by default gives the ability to generate greater value for the company and of course gain buy-in from key stakeholders.


Types of Improvement – Incremental or Breakthrough

There are two general types of improvement activities that effect HSE, Incremental Improvement and Breakthrough Improvements.

Incremental Improvements are HSE changes within an organisation which tend to be more subtle and carried out over a period of time in gradual small stages, i.e. new safety training programs.   This type of improvement will often result in greater value to the organisation in the medium to long-term.

Breakthrough Improvements are what we commonly call a step change.  They tend to be made by one or more individuals who develop new theories, engineering or technology to solve problems within safety management or compliance, resulting in a major change within an organisation, i.e. HSE reporting software or a new safety management system.

Now both types of improvement are critical for an organisation to thrive in today’s economic environment, however care should be taken when deciding your approach. While breakthrough improvements can produce major gains, they are often unpredictable due to the challenges of scale and timeframe for implementing. On the other hand incremental improvements are more manageable and flexible resulting in an easier rollout.

Final Comment ISQEM

Organisations will spend considerable time and effort to achieve both incremental and breakthrough improvements. The skill is making sure that you control the changes so there is no overload on employees. Many companies have failed miserably due to poor planning and understanding of the impact changes may have on their operations.

I have briefly touched on why we need to have a continual improvement process for HSE and the considerations of having a competitive advantage.  In part 2, I will go into detail on how you can approach the HSE improvement process with clear steps to follow to ensure success. Plus a few tricks of the trade that will help give you a jump-start in the continual safety improvement process.

About the Author:  Wayne J. Harris

Wayne Harris International Health and Safety Professional

Wayne is a highly regarded international specialist in developing corporate risk strategy and HSE management systems with over 30 years’ experience. He has advised major organisations both private and governmental within the international arena including Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.  He has a comprehensive understanding of the global risk and safety issues facing an organisation in today’s business economy.


  1. gururaj permalink

    Dear Wayne.J. Harris

    Your article on improvement methodology made an interesting reading . This runs similar to six sigma concept in continual improvement where both incremental and breakthrough are considered . From the organizational standpoint , with the present situation of maximization of resources, main requirement is to get the pulse of the organization. With competitive markets, it is important ,to find out how to garner the support of client during even quotation stage or preliminary audit ( QHSE) to provide more information towards pro-active Quality and HSE activities . This may help to get favorable position during final stage of the bidding . This is more so , in Middle East scenario

    Thanks and regards

    R. Gururaj

  2. Asif Hayat permalink

    C in the PDCA cycle is the key to continual improvement.

    what an org is measuring

    What is the depth and breadth of this measurement

    How gaps in performance, leading and lagging KPIs, are identified and actions taken till achievement of desired results.

    Looking forward for part 2.

  3. Significant gains can be made towards demonstrating Continual Improvement (CI) through a robust risk management excercise. It is common knowledge that all HSE Management Systems (MS) follow the PDCA model, with one underlying commonality, determining its ‘risk base’ (14001 – aspects and 18001 – hazards). As such, I actually developed a risk methodology that tracks CI over time relating it back to a RoI Ratio in relation to Treament Plans (mitigation). The value add to businesses has been amazing. Food for thought is to consider including the 11 principles of sound Risk Management in accordance with ISO 31000: 2009 to the HSE MS. The metrics gained through thorough risk management resonate throughout the HSE MS providing best placed drivers to manage proactively without damaging personnel operational effectiveness.

    I have a paper that is going to be published in several media in August which talks to this very topic titled: “B4RISK: Integration of strategy, management systems & risk solutions to reduce the magnitude of uncertainty of an organisation’s activities, products or services”



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