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    May 3, 2024

    Developing a Center of Excellence in Safety

    What is a Center of Excellence (CoE)?

    With its roots in Lean Manufacturing, a Center of Excellence (CoE) is a concept which brings together a group of subject matter experts (SMEs) and other highly skilled individuals for the sole purpose of making improvements to an area, organization or even an industry.

    CoEs are often established for one of two reasons:

    1. A lack of quality services within an industry
    2. Deficiencies and/or gaps in knowledge are discovered and are having a negative effect on an organization in some way

    Within the healthcare industry, it’s not uncommon to see Centers of Excellence wholly focused on the care and treatment of specific diseases and conditions, like cancer and cardiac diseases. Another place the CoE concept is routinely used is in those industries like food production and the automotive industry, where unresolved deficiencies can cause serious harm to the general public.

    Developing a CoE is essential because it brings together expert professionals to systematically address and resolve key challenges in an organization or industry. By targeting specific inefficiencies and gaps such as those affecting safety performance and quality of service, the CoE can drive substantial improvements within critical areas of industries like healthcare and safety.

    This focus not only enhances productivity but can also help elevate standards and outcomes, making CoEs vital for achieving excellence and maintaining competitive edge. 

    Developing a Safety Center of Excellence

    Step 1: Defining Objectives and Scope

    The first step in establishing a successful Safety CoE is to have very specific objectives along with a scope that clearly defines the boundaries of the CoE. The objectives should directly address the identified deficiencies, detailing what improvements are being aimed for.

    When determining the scope, it is crucial to use the objectives as a guide to prevent scope creep and when possible, to ensure the CoE remains aligned with broader organizational goals. This alignment helps integrate the Safety CoE seamlessly within the organization, making it easier to create a compelling business case for it.

    Step 2: Securing Top Leadership Support

    Although it’s the second step in this five step process, securing support from top leadership may be the most important step for the success of the Safety CoE. This support must be agile and active, not just a casual approval.

    Engaging leadership should include at a minimum:

    • Identifying key stakeholders and how the CoE will impact them
    • Developing a strong business case that outlines the value of a Safety CoE such as improved compliance and reductions to costs and to key metrics like the Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR)
    • Engaging with management strategically and in person to discuss the business case and how the CoE supports other organizational goals

    Step 3: Decide on the Governing Structure

    Creating a framework that defines roles, responsibilities, reporting lines, decision-making processes, authority levels, and accountability measures ensures the CoE will operate smoothly.

    This framework should include well written policies and procedures that provide a clear roadmap to guide the CoE team on matters involving things such as safety reporting, incident investigations and monitoring compliance among other important things. These policies and procedures should be designed with a built in review process to ensure the safety CoE is continuously reviewed and improved.

    Additionally, the framework should include very specific oversight mechanisms to ensure the Safety CoE operates effectively and achieves its specific objectives.  

    Step 4: Build a Team

    Because a CoE is a collaborative activity, an effective team is necessary for its success. To build the right team first requires determining what skills and competencies such as safety expertise, data analysis, training, and project management are needed.

    Recruiting for the CoE team should be strategic and exclusive, offering perks like free learning opportunities and safety certifications and leveraging technology where appropriate to support the CoE’s objectives.

    Team members should also be continuously trained on their roles within the CoE team and on any other important aspects that will help the CoE be successful. 

    Step 5: Launch & Promote the Safety CoE

    A Safety CoE will fail if it not launched at the right time for the organization. To prevent this, a well thought out launch plan that includes an appropriate timeline for implementation, key milestones and communication strategies is imperative.

    Promoting awareness and keeping momentum strong is also a necessary component of any successful CoE. When considering how to promote a CoE, various channels should be used such as internal newsletters, presentations, and workshops.

    After the launch, the CoE’s performance should be continuously monitored to collect feedback, evaluate results, and make necessary adjustments. 

    Assessing and Fostering a Positive Safety Culture

    Assessing the safety culture is often the most challenging part of establishing a Safety CoE. It involves asking tough questions and answering them honestly, can require a significant amount of self-reflection and the examination of normally overlooked aspects. If this assessment is omitted or poorly executed, any existing cultural issues can derail the CoE.

    The assessment should focus on understanding the actual safety culture versus mere compliance. It's crucial to not omit an assessment of leadership as they set the tone. Consider conducting anonymous perception surveys and include hourly workers in the collection review process to mitigate trust issues.

    Additionally, assess how well safety messages are conveyed. Actions can sometimes unknowingly sabotage the safety message. For example, claiming "safety first" but only until it interferes with customer needs or other priorities sends a conflicting message.


    In conclusion, a Center of Excellence (CoE) is a powerful mechanism for driving significant improvements within key areas of an organization or industry, such as healthcare or safety. By bringing together subject matter experts and leveraging strategic objectives, CoEs target specific inefficiencies and knowledge gaps to enhance productivity and quality of service.

    This targeted improvement not only boosts operational effectiveness but also aligns with broader organizational goals, making CoEs instrumental in maintaining a competitive edge and achieving overall excellence. As such, developing a CoE is an investment in a more efficient, effective, and future-ready organization.

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    Katy Lyden, MS, OHST

    Katy Lyden is a Domain Analyst and EHS Subject Matter Expert for StarTex Software, the company behind EHS Insight. Prior to her current role, Katy spent 17 years successfully leading EHS programs for several large companies within the manufacturing industry. Katy is a Navy veteran, retired Emergency Medical...