Phil La Duke's Blog

Fresh perspectives on safety and Performance Improvement

Insights on Culture


By Phil LaDuke

On Friday I went to the neighborhood bar as I am wont to do from time to time. While there I saw a regular who works with my brother in an open die forge. I passed the pleasantries with him and asked him how he was. He said he was doing a lot better and was healing. I didn’t know what he was talking about so I asked him. He explained that he was burned badly at work; second-degree burns over most of his lower leg. He quickly produced a cellphone and proudly displayed a gruesome photo of a badly burned leg. As I looked at the sickening display he recounted the details. He prefaced his story with a quick, “It was my own fault, I was so (expletive) stupid”, and told his tale of his not paying attention to a hot piece and having his pants catch on fire. Instead of using sand to put out the flames he panicked and ran. There were some jokes made in poor taste about the old Bill Cosby “Stop, Drop, and Roll” television ads, and I asked him how much time he missed. “Not a day. I took it like a man.” Took it like a man; his comment made me think about culture.

Culture is all the rage in safety these days. Circa 1972 James Reason made the observation that before an organization can create a “Just Culture” it must first create a “Safety Culture”. Reason wasn’t talking about worker safety, at least not in the way we tend to think of it. Unfortunately, the snake oil salesmen have glommed onto the term like lampreys on a fish’s soft white underbelly and subvert it more and more each day.

My acquaintance’s story tells us a lot about culture and the relationship between safety and culture. It occurred to me that there are levels within culture and if we are hoping to change the culture of our organizations we need to examine the nuances of culture. Each level of safety culture is characterized by a perception of a reaction of some sort; each one is driven by a fear of some sort.

Fear of Discipline

The other day I was late for a doctor’s appointment and I was tempted to speed; I didn’t. My first thought was, “I don’t need a ticket”. The idea of spending money on a ticket and the time it would take up just didn’t seem to favorably balance against the time I might save. As many times as my doctor made me wait (ultimately I had to wait in the doctor’s office anyway) I figured I was owed some slack. In the moment of decision, I placed more value on compliance than I did on the potential value.

Fear of Loss of Reputation

As I reflected on my decision I thought about culture. What, I asked myself, would I have done if my speeding had been through a school zone. What influence would the opinions of my friends and neighbors have on my decision. I think it would be fair to say that for many the risk of damaging our public image (coupled with the fear of discipline) would put more pressure on me to conform to a norm and to adhere to the values of the community. My desire to preserve my reputation was stronger than my desire to get to the doctor’s on time.

Fear of Culpability

Of course there also was my concern for public safety. I’d like to think that most of us want to behave safely when the lives of innocent school children are at stake. But even when the situation isn’t about endangering school children there is on some level a desire to be a good person and good member of the population; a good citizen, if you will. In our heart of hearts we all want to conform to the shared values of the culture. We go along to get along.

Putting It Into Practice

If these fears are the drivers of culture then what are we to do with this information. Well think back to the guy in the bar who set fire to his leg. Clearly the culture of his company valued guys who “man up” when it comes to injury. Here is a guy who is working while heavily medicated; doped up on pain medication. This is a culture that values a lower DART rate than it does the safety of the remaining employees (how do you think the performance of a heavily medicated employee will be effected?). This is a culture that encourages workers to “man up” and work while injured. This is a culture that doesn’t seem to value worker safety much. I realize this is harsh criticism and that I can’t really make judgments on the company simply because of an account from an injured worker. I think it’s important to note that the worker in question likes his employers and generally has good things to say about his company. The net sum total is this worker’s willingness to go to work rather than to stay home and recuperate he didn’t do it out of fear of repercussions he did it out of fear for his reputation and to conform to the shared values of the population.

The takeaway here is to change your culture you first have to understand the coercive pressures you put on people every day. You need to ask yourself three basic questions:

  • What value does the organization place on discipline? Are people hailed as heroes for “manning up” or dismissed as wimps because they report injuries or seek appropriate medical attention.
  • How are people who value safety viewed? Are they seen as solid professionals
  • How is risk viewed? Are people with a low risk tolerance seen as top performers or as “worry warts”?

The point I’m trying to make is that you may be fostering a culture that actually promotes the things that you are trying to change.

 

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Hazard Management, Just Culture, Safety, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Worshiping at the altar of false gods


Golden-Calf

By Phil La Duke

Yesterday was the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Last week I buried an uncle. He, like his brother before him, my father, died the agonizing death that only mesothelioma can bring. Watching the rapid deterioration of someone who was recently so full of life is hard enough to watch, but watch it repeatedly unfold is tough. My brother was one of seven boys in his family and all but one of them served in World War II and even though one served at Guadalcanal and another flew Corsairs over the Pacific they all came home safe. The workplace did what World War II couldn’t kill these men of the greatest generation. But injury rates are down so maybe I should just shut up about it. I guess it just grinds me that so many of our profession look at one of indicator (Incident Rates) and pronounce the battle if not won, certainly nearly so.

Incident rates are falling, any safety professional will tell you that. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics over 8,000 people get injured on the job every day in the United States alone. EVERY DAMNED DAY! Add to that that fatalities are trending flat and we have an alarming statistic. Last week I talked about indicators and (in part) how indicators in a vacuum lead us astray. When we consider these two indicators together it would seem that they tell us very different things. When considered together, however they can mean any number of confusing, contradictory things, and maybe they can tell us something we don’t want to face.

What could reduced injury rates mean? Certainly it could mean that fewer people are getting hurt and I guess that’s cause for celebration, unless of course you are one of the 8,000 who will get hurt this today. Reduced injury rates could also mean more accurate case management; that is, perhaps organizations are doing a better job exposing fraud, which is a good thing. Of course reduced injury rates could indicate a dangerous trend of under-reported injuries or injuries deliberately manipulated such that they are no longer “recordables”.

Without any other evidence, no further indicators, all of these explanations are equally plausible. But the ugly fact is that taken together we have scant little explanation for this discordance. One of two states exists: either the workplace is getting safer or it is not. On the side of the safer workplace argument is the reduced injury trend, but on the side of the “things are more less the same “ argument is the flat fatalities trend. Either reduced injuries mean that the work place is getting safer or flat fatality trends mean that things aren’t getting any better. There are other possibilities, however unlikely. For example the workplace could be increasingly free of “low hanging fruit” those simple hazards that are quick, cheap, and easy to fix. Walk through any industrial setting and you will soon be convinced that this isn’t true. It could also indicate that while fewer people are getting hurt the chances of a worker getting killed aren’t getting any lower. We should either see fewer injuries and a corresponding drop in fatalities or a flat trend in both figures indicating that nothing is improving.

What then are we to make of the flat trend in fatalities? Certainly it is exceedingly difficult for an organization to use case management to turn a first aid or case into a fatality, so I think we can rule out better case management or even case management fraud as the reason that fatalities aren’t improving. It is also incredibly difficult to over-report fatalities so we can rule that out as a reason that we don’t see fewer fatalities. So we must accept the possibility that there are indeed other forces acting on the incident rates and that these other forces aren’t really making the workplace safer, they are just making it possible to “juke the stats”. We can play games with the numbers to make our performance look better without actually making the workplace safer.

I’m no conspiracy fanatic, I don’t believe there is a conscious effort on the part of most companies to mislead the government or workers, but I do believe that many companies have misused incentives, perpetuated antiquated thinking that convinces senior leadership that behavior-based nonsense somehow is making the workplace safer when it is not. We have to consider that maybe, just maybe, the falling incident trend is a lie, or at very least an indication not of improved safety but of organizations bowing to pressure to get their rates down and doing so by means other than lowering their risk to workers. This is dangerous ground. If we fail to recognize our risk, because we believe our risk of injury is artificially lower than it is we place our workers and ourselves in harms way. It’s high time that we take a hard look at this cherished fact that incident rates have been falling and that falling incident rates mean a safer workplace.  If it is a pure fact that incident rates are falling for no other reason than because fewer people are getting injured that means that the workplace is getting more dangerous because a higher percentage of workers die because of their injuries.  I don’t think this is true.

Some believe that this discrepancy between fatality number and injury rates is because fatal injuries fundamentally caused by different factors than less serious injury. They may be right, but it’s also possible that they believe this because the idea of improving incident rates is so appealing that many will reject any suggestion that this trend is bogus. We in safety love our idols, our false gods; falling incident may be just one myth with which we are so enamored. Meanwhile, in the time it took to write this article approximately 223 workers were injured. Isn’t it time for us to rethink this statistic and stop trotting it out as proof that we are doing a good job?

Filed under: Safety indicators, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Incentives and Indicators


By Phil La Duke

The use of incentives is something of the Great White Whale of safety. Safety practitioners often find mounting pressure to use incentives to reduce workplace injuries. Incentives are popular because they seem to make sense—and I am not against incentives, provided that they encourage the right things. Sadly, incentives too often create unintended consequences, chiefly because the incentives are for the absence of injuries instead of the presence of safety.

There is a gulf between the apparent absence of injuries and the presence of safety and unfortunately neither of these are particularly easy to measure. One can’t measure the absence of injuries because one must depend on the injuries being discovered—either via self-reporting or discovery by the organization. Effectively zero injuries (or any number of injuries for that matter) is zero reported injuries; it’s a case of “we don’t know, what we don’t know”. But measuring safety is just as difficult because we don’t really have a hard and fast definition of exactly what constitutes safety. What we describe as “safety” is more accurately “safe enough” and ask seven Safety Practitioners what Safe Enough means and you are likely to get 19 answers. Safety is a continuum and is relative so it cannot be accurately (in and of itself) measured. Safety can only be measured as a state relative to another state. Something can be said to be safer than something else, but as long as any risk exists something can never be pronounced completely and utterly safe. If we can’t pronounce something qualitatively “safe” we have to rely on indicators, unfortunately, incentives are often misapplied or misinterpreted. It’s impossible (well at least foolish) to talk about incentives without considering indicators, and if we are going to provide incentive for the right things we need to understand, first and foremost, what indicators are telling us.

The Absence of Evidence is Not Evidence of Absence

The most commonly used indicator of safety is the extent to which injuries occurred. If people were injured it’s appropriate to say that they weren’t safe; that’s intuitive and people like it because it’s a simple calculation to make, provided that people report injuries. But as I’ve said, safety isn’t just the absence of injuries; it’s also the presence of things that drive a safer workplace, and that is the crux of the issue with indicators and incentives. Let me illustrate: the opposite of injuring workers (i.e. an indicating a lack of safety) is the absence of injuries. What does the absence of injuries indicate? Safe work habits? I know many people with incredibly unsafe work (or driving) habits who don’t get hurt, so while it’s possible that a lack of injuries indicate safe work habits it’s equally (perhaps more) likely that a lack of injuries indicates luck. Could it indicate that no one has been hurt? Possibly, but here again it could also indicate that people have been concealing their injuries. Could it indicate overly zealous case management? It might. In fact, there are numerous things that a lack of injuries could be indicative of so we can’t really use them as a good indicator.

Look For the Things That Produce Safer Outputs

I’ve come to realize that “safety” is really an output of sound business practices in five areas (there are many subsets within these areas, but five is a nice manageable number):

  • People who are incapable of doing their jobs—whether it be because of a lack of training, or physical incapacity or insufficient intellectual ability—are less likely to work safely than the workers who possess these attributes.
  • Process Capability. Work environments that lack a standard way to do the job that contains minimal variation are safer than work environments where workers half to figure out how to do the job each time they repeat a task. Similarly, workplaces with weak process discipline (the practice of following the prescribed process) are less safe than environments with strong process discipline. In other words if your jobs and tasks are poorly defined or your people are working out of process you are at greater risk of injury than if you have a well-defined process that people don’t follow.
  • Risk Management. Organizations that appropriately assess and mitigate their risks are far safer than organizations that don’t manage hazards.
  • Accountability. From the CEO to contractors, it is important to hold people appropriately accountable for doing their jobs correctly. Accountability systems must reflect corporate justice (in Just Culture parlance console human error, coach risk taking, and discipline recklessness).
  • Engagement.  Workers who are actively trying to improve the safety of the workplace because they believe that it’s the right thing to do are more likely to produce safe outcomes than those who aren’t engaged.

If we can accept that these five processes, if managed appropriately, will produce safe outcomes (and for the record, there are others, but like I said, they can be managed within these categories, but if you choose others I won’t gripe.) than we can look for things that indicate the presence of well-managed processes in these areas.

Indicators of Well Managed Processes

Indicators of well-managed processes may differ from industry to industry, even from site to site, but in broad strokes we can measure indicators of success in these areas.

Indicators of competency

How do you measure competency? If you don’t know ask your training department; you are likely to find that they are adept at measuring competency, but here are some suggestions:

  • % trained. Personally, I wouldn’t limit this to safety training, although the percentage of people who have successfully completed training on time is a good indicator of competency. Of course it’s not the only indicator and the more indicators you use the stronger your confidence can be that whatever you are measuring is true. Since we are only looking at five areas we can use several indicators for each and have a much stronger correlation between the indicator and reality.
  • % hired with all required/desired skills. We all know that job postings are essentially wish lists and there is seldom a new hire that hits ALL the requirements. The greater the percentage qualified the higher the likelihood that the person will be able to perform safely.
  • Those individuals with higher skills tend to have higher productivity than those who don’t, so while productivity is an indicator for more than just competency it can be useful in conjunction with other indicators.

So how do we create incentives around these factors? Simple: reward people (at all levels) for completing their training on time, for hiring more skilled workers, and for maintaining high productivity.

Indicators of Process Capability

This is the easiest area for which to develop indicators because in many organizations there are already measurements that we can use to gage safety:

  • Unplanned downtime. Unplanned downtime tends to indicate process breakdowns and the greater the frequency of unplanned downtime the higher the likelihood that workers are at risk of injury.
  • Like unplanned downtime, scrap indicates a process that is out of control. Workers who are working in a process that is out of control are by definition working out of process. Since we tend to see more people hurt while they are working out of process this is a good indication of the level of safety.

Indicators of Risk Management

For our purposes we will define risk management as how the organization identifies, contains, corrects, and communicates hazards (including injuries). In this area there are a lot of things from which we can choose:

  • % of walk-throughs completed on time. Whether you have BBS audits, Safety Observation Tours, Layered Process Audits, you probably have some formal requirement for the supervisor to identify hazards. Your requirement should have a frequency requirement that is easy to measure. The indicator here is mathematical—the less time someone is exposed to a hazard the less risk of injury. Meeting the requirement to complete these tasks on time is a strong indicator of safety.
  • Number of hazards per tour. Hazards (especially behavioral) are dynamic so the number of hazards a person finds each tour correlates to the safety of the workplace.
  • Number of overdue hazards. The priority assigned to the correction of a hazard should have a corresponding deadline and when that deadline isn’t met it indicates an increase in the time of exposure and perhaps a degradation of the containment measures.

Of course there are a lot more indicators you can use in this area, but I think you get my point.

Indicators of Accountability

Accountability should be just; the punishment should fit the crime. Justice is largely circumstantial—not every situation can be treated according to the same standard of accountability. Would you discipline a worker who mistakenly used the wrong we chemical and caused property damage as you would someone who engaged in sabotage? Or would you react the same way to a worker who faced with two pretty bad choices (after careful analysis) decided to choose the lesser of two evils as the worker who engages in clear recklessness? Of course not.   Unfortunately we can’t feasibly measure the justice of a decision, but we can of course measure the number of write-ups, improvement plans, and similar efforts. We should also be looking at the number of times we “caught them doing something good”. Some examples I can think of off-hand include:

  • Number of disciplinary actions. Clearly the number of disciplinary actions directly correlate to accountability; the more disciplinary actions the higher the accountability. But what if there are few disciplinary actions simply because there are less people who are acting inappropriately? Clearly this indicator cannot be interpreted alone and should be paired with an indicator that people are being recognized and rewarded for desirable behavior.
  • Number of employees recognized for exemplary service. The number of people who are recognized for doing things like identifying a serious hazard, participating in safety efforts, leading a safety event, or something similar is also an indicator of accountability—rewarding desired behaviors. By pairing this with the number of disciplinary actions one can get a better picture of the overall performance of accountability.

Indicators of Engagement

Engagement, like process capability, is likely already being measured by your organization, but you can use some combination of the following to ascertain the level of worker engagement:

  • Number of Grievances. Unhappy workers tend to have more “performance inhibitors”; that is, the things like stress, preoccupation, anger, frustration, etc. that increase the likelihood of human error. Not to mention unhappy workers may make poor choices rooted in frustration.
  • Number of Suggestions. The flipside of grievances is suggestions. The greater the number of suggestions for approval the higher engagement tends to be.
  • Participation in continuous improvement efforts. People who care about their work tend to get involved in making it better and this tendency is a good indicator of engagement.
  • Participation in safety meeting. Participation in a safety meeting, like so many other indicators, cannot be seen as an absolute indicator of engagement; it could indicate that someone would rather sit in a meeting than do what they are paid to do. But when taken with these other indicators it can provide insight into the level of engagement of workers in an organization.
  • Here again is an indicator of more than a lack of engagement, but this is a strong indicator of the relative safety of a workplace. High absenteeism is linked to poor morale, unhealthy working conditions, workers not managing their performance inhibitors (drinking to excess, drug use, sleep deprivation, etc.), but more than that, high absenteeism means more replacement workers who tend to be less skilled at performing the job. This ties into competence, process capability, and perhaps even risk management.
  • Moral is also an indicator of many factors, but low moral does correlate to higher incidence of human error and risk taking.
  • Turnover is a good indicator of an overall healthy or unhealthy workplace. As people are churned it lowers competency and impedes process capability.

Okay, but what about incentives?

One can only effectively set incentives that reduce the chance of unintended consequences after one has appropriate indicators of safe outputs. Once one has determined the best measures for the desired state one can then create appropriate incentives. When developing incentives:

  1. Look for (and avoid) potential unintended consequences. Too often incentives create an environment where the desired behavior isn’t rewarded and people game the system.
  2. Don’t provide incentives (or hold people accountable) for things they can’t control. When you provide incentives for things people can’t control the only real incentive is to lie, cheat, and steal. Takes sales incentives for example. While a salesman can control how many meetings he has with prospects (which is necessary to MAKE sales) he can’t really control whether or not a sale is made. This leads to bickering between sales professionals, stealing of clients and leads, undermining competitor’s success, and generally stabbing one another in the back. It actually diminishes teamwork, collaboration, and ultimately the likelihood of success for the company.
  3. Make it meaningful. Not everyone likes to be recognized or rewarded in the same way. Be sure to consider different people’s needs.

Filed under: Safety, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

News In Brief


By Phil La Duke

Just a couple of brief topics before I get into this weeks’ post. First, it is with sadness that I announce the death of my uncle. Robert P. LaDuke died this week, another casualty of workplace illness. Uncle Bob had been suffering with mesothelioma. The bastards who knew it would kill workers but concealed this fact to protect profits remain at large. No one will ever be held accountable for his or her depraved indifference. The lawsuits (that George W. Bush derided as frivolous) will never come close to allaying the enormous human suffering these people caused. Were we in China they would have been taken to a sports stadium and shot dead. May God have mercy on their souls;. I mention this not as a ploy for sympathy but as a reminder that the death toll will continue to rise, not just from asbestos but from hazards not yet known or imagined. At any rate, RIP Uncle Bob.

On a much lighter note, I have started a new group on LinkedIn: Best Practices in Health and Safety. I’m envisioning it as a place where safety practitioners can go to get and share the best practices and thought leadership in worker safety. I won’t tolerate commercials and promotions so I think it will be worthwhile; at very least I won’t have some half-wit deciding that I can’t post links to my blog to the discussion groups.

Also, my abstract to speak at the National Safety Council’s Texas Safety Conference and Expo in Austin next March. I will be speaking on the role that social networks can play in safety and I think it will be a spirited, lively presentation.

There WILL be a post today, but right now I have to watch football

Filed under: Safety

Where’s the Value In “Safety Day”?


safety day graphic

By Phil LaDuke

Next week I will be conducting the activities surrounding “safety day”. As leader and as a safety practitioner I was the logical selection. The notion of me getting up in front of a group of associates and trumpeting on about safety one day a year may seem laughable to some of my more loyal readers and downright hypocritical to my devoted detractors.

Years ago, as a relatively young man, I made myself a promise: I would never teach or promote something that I myself didn’t believe in or support. That has made it tough in some cases, as I have had a lot of bosses and customers—internal and external—who wanted me to present what at first blush seemed to be propaganda. It sucks having principles. I was true to those principles and pushed back and challenged the presentation sponsors until I was convinced of the value of the topic.

But “safety day”? I mean…come on, right? Doesn’t taking a day to focus on safety mean by implication that there are 364 days where we can take foolish chances, ignore performance inhibitors (thus making more mistakes) and engage in outright recklessness like some sort of misguided version of The Purge?

I’ve done a lot of soul searching and reflecting on the value of having a “safety day” and it may surprise you to learn that I happen to support safety days, health & safety fairs, and similar efforts provided they are done properly. I happen to think these events serve a number of wonderful purposes and can provide real value by:

  • Taking Stock of Safety. Whenever we pursue a goal we need to stop and take a look around every once in a while to ensure that we are making appropriate progress a safety day isn’t about doing something differently (i.e. working safely for a day) but about gauging the effectiveness of what we are doing better. Think of a well-executed safety day as a way of checking your organization’s pulse in terms of safety.
  • Clarifying your safety messaging. We often cling to safety messages that are either inane, soft-headed, or out dated. Having a safety day is a good way to review the messages are delivered and received. You can open a frank dialog about what messages the organization is hearing and compare that to what you had hoped to communicate. On safety day, people tend to feel more comfortable being candid about the real message being sent (“you tell us you want us to stop work when it’s not safe but then you gig us for lost production.”) Instead of arguing about the veracity of people’s opinions, you should listen to what they are saying. Don’t dismiss it as so much hogwash or griping or whining and recognize that when it comes to messaging perception IS reality irrespective of your view of the world.
  • Celebrating your success. Safety is an ugly business with the best news usually being pretty lousy “hey everybody, we didn’t kill anyone last year! Or our injuries are down, huzzah! Huzzah!” Even so, there is usually plenty to celebrate. By focusing not on injury reductions but on positive, proactive behaviors you can generally find something worth celebrating without being trite or contrived. Even if things are looking pretty dismal you can always celebrate your efforts to improve.
  • Recalibrating your tactics. Everyone plays a role in safety, but unfortunately there is no cast in stone recipe for making the workplace safer. Safety day can be a great time to take a look at your tactics and asking all who participate what is working, what is not working, and why? From hear you can recalibrate your safety tactics and, because most of the organization has participated in deciding what should be done, you will have greater buy-in then if the safety committee had made these decisions in a perceived vacuum.
  • Demonstrating commitment. I am giving up a BIG opportunity to make a series of sales calls so that I can lead safety day at my office. Why? Certainly sales are important, and sales I make have a specific and meaningful impact on my success, but I am choosing (as a partner, no one is forcing me to do this) to lead safety day instead. It’s that important to me. Demonstrating commitment is more than waiving your hands around the room and saying “see how much we value safety? We brought in lunch! We are paying you to be here. It’s about making tough choices and putting aside what might be great sales opportunity or an important client meeting to participate in a day focused on the organization’s safety performance and the importance of committing to people and their safety.
  • Modelling behavior. The world loves a hypocrite, and for whatever reason, people tend to take a hard look at safety practitioners for any sign of hypocrisy. I’ve always thought it was because if you could point out that the safety guy is inconsistent or doesn’t walk the talk it absolves you from ever listening to him or her. If safety truly is important than we have to live it, and living it means planning, supporting, and leading safety. Modelling behavior is so important because it tends to be what people end up doing when they are stressed, working unsupervised, or having to make the tough decisions. If people don’t clearly understand and believe that you value safety—above and beyond the other distractions in your life—then they will only value safety when it suits them; when it’s convenient for them.

So while it may surprise, even shock, some of you come Thursday, I won’t be working on client accounts, writing proposals, or flying off to exotic locales to pitch my wares. Instead I will be meeting with a group of people who I like and respect and having a frank conversation about leading safety.

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The Expectation of Safety


fish

By Phil LaDuke

I hate the Darwin Awards. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the Darwin Awards are “commemorate those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it.” Effectively people post stories about people who died doing something stupid. I admit that in the past, I have read these posts and chuckled at the stupid people who died, I’m ashamed that I once felt that way, and anyone who knows me knows that it takes a lot. The Darwin Awards are popular among safety professionals. We like to look down our noses (like I once did) and think, “well yeah, stupid people die don’t they.”

But are the people stupid? Unlucky? How are they different from the rest of us?

I find something about the ubiquitous “funny safety photos” equally loathsome, and here to I admit to having laughed at how many people took stupid risks. But think for a moment about the context in which that photo was taken. Either the photo is staged, in which case it is kind of pointless and not at all funny, or someone, perhaps a safety professional happened upon the scene and instead of immediately correcting the situation, he or she instead took a picture. In these situations seconds count. Every instant of exposure increases the probability that there will be an accident and perhaps a fatality. Let us suppose you are on a jury for this safety professional who instead of correcting the situation decided to take picture for his collection of whacky photos. How would you find on the charge of negligence or depraved indifference? I’m not judging, I’m really not; I wish I could say that I never laughed at these photos or even circulated them, but as a safety professional I had ought to know better.

Dying is Scary

“It’s the same with men as with horses and dogs, nothing wants to die”—Tom Waits

None of us likes to think about dying. Some people will wince at the merest use of the word “die”. Accidents kill people of all ages and walks of life. It comforts us to think that the people who get killed deserve it in some way; they are fundamentally different than us. They were asking for it.

People Die In the Workplace Because they are Stupid

They easiest way to differentiate between ourselves and others is to think that we are smarter than the other person, but that probably isn’t true. Joseph T. Hallinan book, Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average make a strong argument that while most people believe they are “well above average” in terms of intelligence the fact remains that most of us aren’t. We all fall pretty close to the norm.

All Because Some Idiot Got Hurt and Sued

Whenever I tell people I work in worker safety the conversation seems to invariable come around to “aren’t we going a little crazy with safety?” When I say, no, I don’t think we have gone far enough in regulating safety, people usually counter with some version of “I don’t know, have you seen all the stupid stickers and warning labels they put on something because some idiot got hurt and sued?” First of all, most warning labels aren’t the result of a lawsuit; in fact, slapping a warning label on a hazard could conceivably be seen as knowing that a hazard exists and inadequately guarding against it. In the US there has been a shift in this kind of thinking. Take for example the sign, “Beware of Dog”. There was a time when these signs were common. Now many of them were either taken down or replaced with “Dog on Premises”. What’s the difference? The first sign clearly warns of a known hazard, i.e. come near my dog and it may harm you. The second sign warns of a potential hazard, i.e. come near my dog and it may or may not harm you; it’s a dog after all. One could argue that in posting the first sign you know of a hazard but are not adequately controlling it while the second one could be argued as a simple courtesy of letting one know you have a dog and that it may lick you, get its hair all over your clothes, or hump your leg—inconvenient and unpleasant to be sure, but not life threatening.

But then I digress. As disappointing as it is for the “the world is going to Hell in a hand basket crowd” warning labels are neither products nor symbols of an over litigious society, rather it is borne of safety practitioners and product engineers doing their jobs. They do a Failure Modes Effects Analysis (FMEA) and essentially after they’ve done everything they can think of to reduce the risk of injury or misuse they slap a label on the things that they can’t. The more remote or ridiculous the danger the more likely it is to get a sticker. We Have the Right to Expect a Safe Workplace

Despite all the warnings and engineering controls, people get hurt. Not just stupid people, but capable people like most of you and I. In many cases we get hurt because we assume situations are safe when they are not. Before you cluck your tongue and say, “well I certainly don’t take anything for granted when it comes to safety” consider this. If you have ever travelled (or even left your house) you have probably done many of the following things. Stupid things when it comes right down to it. Things that seem pretty risky and even reckless when you think about it:

  • Eaten a meal prepared by a stranger, using ingredients purchased by strangers, from other strangers who bought them from still other strangers, served to you on dishes washed and manufactured by strangers, using utensils washed and manufactured by strangers, in a building designed, built, and inspected by strangers.
  • Ridden in an airplane designed, built, maintained, and piloted by strangers.
  • Slept in a hotel bed on sheets washed by strangers.

I could go on and on but I think enough of you get the point. We don’t pull the inspection records for elevators before getting in them. We don’t demand to see the building permits and blueprints before we enter buildings. If we did these things we would look like nuts. We assume things are safe because it is someone’s job to make SURE these things are safe. Is it so wrong for people in the workplace to assume the same; that the people charged with making sure a process is safe have behaved responsibly and done their jobs?

Filed under: Risk, Safety, Safety Culture, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Baked: Dealing with the Growing Problem of Workplace Drug Use


drugs

By Phil LaDuke

Continuing my series of blog coverage of the EH&S Today’s Leadership Conference I wanted to point out another great session that I attended. In High Society: Substance Abuse Challenges in Today’s Workplace. This is a keen area of interest to me, since many of my clients are high-consequence industries, that is to say, one screw up and kill many.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize the importance I place on having clear-headed employees, particularly in the context of “performance inhibitors” (those things that increase a person’s tendency to commit errors, make poor choices, and engage in risky behavior). One would think that achieving a “drug-free” workplace would be far easier than achieving an-injury free workplace, but after attending this session I’m not so sure.

The session was a panel discussion with Fisher & Phillips LLC, partner Danielle Urban moderating. The panel initially was to be Doreen Shaw and Marilynn Zolanek both of the MYR Group Inc. and Shannon Dennis from Industrial Safety Solutions, Inc.

The session kicked off by asking what would seem to be a fairly obvious question, “Why should you care (about drug addled employees)” Ms. Urban dutifully read from a slide of fairly obvious answers, mostly the usual suspects and what you expect as responses that according to the National Institute on Drug Abuses “Employees who abuse drugs and/or alcohol are more likely to be:

- Absent

- Late to work

- Unproductive at work

- They also change jobs more frequently and file more workers’ compensation claims”

(Nice heads up findings there NIODA, seriously? Nothing on worker safety?)

Despite the obviousness of the slide, the accompanying commentary from the moderator and panelists was anything but obvious or trite. As the speakers pointed out, 23 states and Washington DC have legalized the medical use of marijuana and Colorado has legalized it outright. The use of marijuana has become so widespread that many companies have stopped drug-screening for fear that none of their employees would pass or that they would not be able to attract viable candidates were they to exclude pot heads.

It’s As Bad as It Seems

The speakers shared some pretty alarming statistics, particularly if you are purchasing goods or services from Cheech and Chong Construction or are walking in front of the Pineapple Express:

  • The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. estimates that prescription drug abuse costs employers $81 billion annually. (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.)
  • 70% of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed. (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.)
  • Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in the U.S. (presumably behind alcohol and nicotine[1] (NORML.Org.)
  • The nation’s fastest growing drug problem is the abuse of prescription drugs. (White House Office of National Drug Control Policy)

The abuse of illegal drugs in the workplace is fairly straightforward: most organizations have provisions in their codes of conduct that prohibit the use of illegal drugs while in the employ of the company whether or not the drug use takes place. Typically, such behavior results in the dismissal of the employee, but may also allow for therapeutic treatment for first offenders. Managing the abuse of legal drugs is somewhat dicier; approach the problem inappropriately and you may find yourself violating HIPPA or the American’s With Disabilities Act. In some states, (like Michigan and Arizona for example) employers are forbidden from disciplining employees for the use of prescription drugs under certain circumstances.

So what can employers do? Well for starters, I should point out that Marijuana is still illegal under U.S. Federal law so any claim a worker has for protection under state law probably won’t get very far. But the panelists did have some great suggestions for employers struggling with increasing drug use by their workers:

  • Try to Avoid Hiring Active Drug Users. While it is possible that people may develop a drug problem AFTER you have hired them, you stand a better chance of hiring someone who already has a drug problem (remember 70% of drug abusers are employed). Sure you can put applicants through a drug screen, but that won’t catch them all. Drug abusers may be easier to spot than you might believe, as the speaker’s pointed out, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, workers who report having three or more jobs in the prior five years are twice as likely to be users of illegal drugs (compared to workers with longer tenures.)
  • Revisit Your Drug Policy. The speakers had great information on how to craft a good drug policy. According to the panel a good drug policy should:
    • Clearly state the purpose of the policy. There is nothing wrong with spelling out the reasons why your organization has a policy against drug use, including the fact that impaired employees put the safety of others at risk.
    • Identify who is subject to policy provisions. The nature of some work may require a different standard of testing and screening. Make it clear who the policy covers and any exceptions that will be made to accommodate special circumstances.
    • State expectations and prohibitions. Specifically identify the types of substances that are prohibited. If your organization is going to prohibit the use of medical marijuana, for example, spell that out to workers; many may erroneously believe that a prescription entitles them to use a prohibited substance.
    • Explain how you will enforce the policy and the consequences for violations. Your disciplinary process must be clear and consistently applied to all employees. Explain your company’s disciplinary and Investigative processes.
    • Identify when and why testing will occur. Do yourself a favor and let your workers know when and why you will test them for drug use. If you are planning random, post incident, or reasonable suspicion testing workers should know this in advance to avoid any claim that they are being unfairly persecuted,
    • Testing procedures. Clearly detail how the drug tests will be conducted.
  • Focus On Fitness for Duty. Even states that prohibit employers from disciplining or discriminating against workers for using prescription drugs make exceptions for jobs or situations where the use of legal drugs would jeopardize workplace safety. The panel suggested that in some cases where a worker admitted using a prescription drug on the job it is wise to require the worker to get a letter from the physician that states that the doctor understands the job requirements and is confident that the worker can do the job while taking the medication. Ideally, this communication should identify any restrictions on the worker while under the influence of the drug.
  • Train Supervisors and Managers to Spot Drug Abuse. Nipping drug abuse in the bud is an important tactic in the battle against a drug-abusing workforce and to do this you should train your supervisors to spot drug abuse. Workers who abuse drugs may:
    • become more moody or have mood swings.
    • seem more tired, and have difficulty concentrating, or demonstrate uncharacteristic lapses in judgment.
    • neglect their usual responsibilities.
    • have an increase in performance or disciplinary issues
    • be more anxious or worried than normal.
    • unusual smelling clothes or body odor.
    • shaking, poor co-ordination.
    • exhibit changes in behavior and even engage in bizarre or violent behavior.
  • Implement Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing. Having a clear definition of what constitutes “reasonable” suspicion is key to having a viable for-cause drug testing policy.

The message I took away from the session was that while drug use and abuse is increasing (particularly prescription drugs) companies still have many tools for combatting impaired workers jeopardizing safety. Perhaps the greatest tool is the same for drug abuse as it is for most policy infractions: focus on the behavior and be consistent in enforcement

[1] The drugs in order to popularity according to Listverse.com are 1) Cannabis 2) Heroin 3) Cocaine 4) Ecstasy 5) amphetamines 6) Barbiturates 7) LSD 8)Opium 9) psychedelic mushrooms 10) Solvents

Filed under: Worker Safety, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Think Training Temps Isn’t Your Problem? Think Again


By Phil LaDuke

This week I attended EH&S Today magazine’s Safety Leadership Conference, which may be, by the way, the best kept secret in safety conferences, but an outstanding place to hear from thought leaders in safety talk in depth about some of the emerging challenges to safety. I was, for a change, an attendee and except for a 2:43 welcome and opening comments at a speaker appreciation dinner did not speak at the event.

The first session I attended was in the compliance track, and it was called They’re Not My Employees: The Practical and Legal Pitfalls Involving Temporary Employee Safety. Compliance tracks at conferences tend to be mind-numbingly dull and unduly complicated affairs that usually have the participants praying to die, but thanks to the folks at Fisher & Phililips LLP (who sponsors the compliance track) the two sessions I attended were lively and dare I say it? engaging, even entertaining. They’re Not My Employees: The Practical and Legal Pitfalls Involving Temporary Employee Safety was no exception. Moderated by Victor Geraci and presented by and Ed Foulke, ( both are partners at Fisher & Phillips), and General Counsel to the American Staffing Association, Stephen Dwyer, this session had more than its fair share of good advice for anyone who uses temporary workers. Here’s what I took away from the presentation:

  • The safety of temporary workers is, and will increasingly be, an OSHA focus. The co-employment avoidance defense (the practice of host companies claiming that if they were to train contractors or temporary workers as if they were their own workers could jeopardize the “temporary” status of workers and subject them to IRS penalties and fines) no longer holds up. According to Foulke (as far as safety is concerned) “You essentially have to treat temporary workers as if they were your own” says Fouke.
  • It doesn’t matter that temporary workers come and go so quickly that you can’t cost-effectively train them. OSHA has released memoranda’s that tells OSHA inspectors to assess the compliance of staffing firms and host employers. The memoranda also create a new code that identifies instances where temporary workers are exposed to safety and health violations and to determine whether or not temporary workers received required training. Furthermore OSHA inspectors will assess the extent to which the training was delivered in a language and using a vocabulary the temporary workers could understand.
  • An on-site administrator from the temp agency doesn’t count as supervising the temporary employee. Many host companies erroneously believe that having a representative from the temp agency on-site meets the standard for providing supervision. It’s an easy mistake to make, since often times the administrator in question handles time keeping, benefits questions, who’s working when and where. But in OSHA’s eyes, supervision is usually the responsibility of the host company. OSHA’s reasoning being that a temp agency administrator is not able to ensure site safety because they lack the authority to stop work; the host company has the most control over the workplace and is thus responsible for keeping it safe.

“Host employers need to treat temporary workers as they treat existing employees. Temporary staffing agencies and host employers share control over the employee, and are therefore jointly responsible for temp employee’s safety and health. It is essential that both employers comply with all relevant OSHA requirements.”
David Michaels, PhD, MPH, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health


  • It doesn’t matter how short the tenure of the temporary worker is you have to abide by the law. The host company is on the hook for providing (with some exceptions) the temporary worker with all required PPE, and has to provide temporary workers with training that is identical or equivalent to the training it provides its own employees regardless of the length of employment. This is sure to frustrate host employers who may have exceptionally high turnover rates among temporary hires, but the law is the law. Of course this may ecourage some companies who engage in the 90 days and out employment practices where they continually churn temporary employees to hire the workers as full time employees instead of temporary workers, but time will only tell.
  • Read the contract between you and your temp agency. The contract between the temp agency and the host company will probably spell out some of the “who does what?” of training so you had better read and understand it. Unless you know for certain that the other company has provided the training you will be on the hook for doing it.
  • This issue isn’t going away. Victor Geraci quoted David Michaels as saying “A worker’s first day on the job shouldn’t be their last day on the planet”. The proliferation of temporary workers and the upswing in the deaths and serious injuries of temporary workers has made OSHA take a hard look at how employers (whether employers of record or host companies) ensure the safety of temporary workers this issue is emerging and will likely change the face of the temporary worker industry.

OSHA as put out a resource for helping companies to protect temporary workers and it’s worth reading https://www.osha.gov/temp_workers/

Filed under: Safety

Are We Imbeciles?


imbecile

By Phil La Duke

Each week I hammer out another missive on the state of safety and each week I worry that I may have exhausted the well when it comes to offering up suggestions for improving the safety function, something hits me. This week it was really simple: are we collectively, as a profession imbeciles? Before you answer consider this: 86% of safety professionals (in a poll conducted by S+H magazine) said that they believed that Heinrich was at least in part correct and that the primary cause of injuries was unsafe behaviors and yet instead of focusing our efforts on ensuring that unsafe behaviors don’t get people killed, we insist on focusing on changing people’s behaviors. Are we soft in the head? If we could change people’s behaviors on a wide scale there would be no crime, no war, and a host of other lingering problems that plague society. And even if we could change behavior to any meaningful extent would we be arrogant enough to claim that we could change basic human nature? Would we dare claim that we would be able to eliminate human error? That’s nonsense of course.

I’m not going again argue against Heinrich and BBS; it’s a tired conversation and one that degrades quickly into the bombastic bellowing of fanatics on both sides. I have neither the patience nor the energy for it. But for the sake of arguments I will grant you this: Injuries are caused by unsafe behaviors—if people don’t do anything they don’t get hurt and if they get hurt doing something what ever they are doing is, by definition unsafe. If this is true we have two basic choices: either we can alter human behavior or we can accept the fact that people are fallible creatures that inevitably make mistakes and take actions that will protect people from themselves.

The idea that we should protect workers from their own unsafe actions is no, I admit, a particularly revolutionary or new idea. The Hierarchy of Controls was developed for just such a purpose, as was Failure Modes Effects Analysis (FMEA), and a bunch of other tools, and yet we cling to the idea that changing behavior is the best chance we have of protecting workers.

If we aren’t mentally feeble, then why do we obsess on changing behavior? According to the Hierarchy of Controls eliminating the hazard is the best way to prevent an injury so if we were really serious about eliminating injuries it would make sense that we would expend most of our resources identifying, containing, and correcting hazards. There is more than a correlation between hazards and injuries there is cause and effect. When we eliminate enough hazards we reduce the probability of injury. The lower the probability of injury the better or safety performance and isn’t that what we are trying to accomplish? What’s more, if we focus more on eliminating hazards we can also lessen the severity of injuries. Once again, what I am saying isn’t particularly ground breaking, but we all know that there are limits to the Hierarchy of Controls and we all know where that leads: to the lowest and least effective controls. While the lowest control on the hierarchy is PPE, even PPE cannot be considered a control without the addition of administrative controls.

We the safety function are overly reliant on administrative controls and then we blame workers for getting hurting because they didn’t follow the rules. People are going to violate the rules (I’ve written two articles on this Fabricating & Metalworking magazine), people will forget, people will take risks, people will do stupid things, but WE continue to create these ridiculous codification of behavior as if people were perfect; it makes no sense.

I’m not saying that we should abolish administrative controls, far from it. Administrative controls are integral to creating a safe workplace and we need to have them. But we need to stop making administrative controls our primary means of protecting workers. Before you prepare me to shout me down as a heretic I want you to do something. Make a mental note of your administrative controls—you probably have a hundred-page safety manual, a several hundred-page HR policy manual, and maybe even an impressive training manual. Add to that all your Job Safety Analyses, and Safe Work Instructions. Now consider how many hazards were consciously identified and eliminated in the design process, how many engineering controls you have, and how many hazards your organization actively identifies in a year. My guess would be that most of you have an order of magnitude more administrative controls than all other controls put together.

I understand the obsession with administrative controls—they’re cheap, fast, and easy to implement. I also understand the need for administrative controls chiefly because we do a really poor job of anticipating hazards until we have little choice BUT to implement administrative controls.

We need to do a better job of managing hazards and actively work to push our organizations up the Hierarchy of Controls pyramid (the real mystery of the pyramids is why so many of them ended up in safety). We need to teach our leaders to anticipate process breakdowns and take steps to prevent them and mitigate the risks to workers when prevention fails, and most of all we have to stop reacting to violations of the rules with more rules. It’s a tall order. But the pay off is that we change the RIGHT behaviors and we have a safer and more effective workplace. This won’t be easy but it will be a hell of a lot easier than trying to prevent people from making mistakes, taking risks, and making dumb decisions.

Filed under: Hazard Management, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“OSHA Emphasizes Safety In The Primary Metal Industries”


Originally posted on EHS Safety News America:

osha-inspections

On October 20, OSHA issued a National Emphasis Program (NEP) for Primary Metal Industries. The NEP is intended to identify and reduce or eliminate worker exposure to harmful chemical and physical health hazards in facilities in those industries.

OSHA says that individuals employed in the primary metal industries (smelting and refining of ferrous and nonferrous metals) are exposed to serious safety and health hazards on a daily basis including chemical exposures as well as physical stressors such as noise and heat.

In fact, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries showed that five of the top 20 industries with non-fatal occupational injury and illnesses cases were in these industries. In addition, previous inspections of primary metal establishments have resulted in citations for overexposure to a wide variety of health hazards including chemical exposures. Chemical exposures found in these facilities include carbon monoxide, lead, silica, metal…

View original 350 more words

Filed under: Safety

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