Phil La Duke's Blog

Fresh perspectives on safety and Performance Improvement

Reegineering the Safety Culture Means Reengineering the Safety Professional


It’s said that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and while Confucius wasn’t referring to worker safety per se, he might as well have been.  I’ve repeatedly raged against the safety professionals who parrot pundits that advocate the creation of a safety culture.  At the risk of being redundant, one does not create a “safety culture” because an organization’s view of safety is not a separate culture, rather it is but one element of a multi-faceted and complex corporate culture. But rather than yet again decry the ignorance of organizational development, basic group dynamics, and even the most cursory and rudimentary knowledge of culture, I thought I would devote this week’s blog to an exploration of how to begin culture change.  Steel yourselves safety professionals, you may not like what I have to say.

Things Have to Change

If things are going to get better things have to change.  Albert Einstein once said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  And while ostensibly many safety professionals are making changes, for the most part the safety profession does the same things over and over again and expect different results.  Consider OSHA.  While research (much of funded or conducted by OSHA) tells us that a reactive, body-count approach to worker safety is not only counter productive but may well be dangerous, for the most part, compliance with OSHA does not correlate (forget causation) to a safer workplace.  (Has anyone ever died because a fire extinguisher was not hung at the proper height?) Further, despite evidence that discipline doesn’t work (i.e. disciplining employees for behaving unsafely doesn’t make the workplace safer; instead it drives near misses and injuries underground and ultimately makes the workplace less safe) OSHA responds to noncompliance with fines and other punishments. I’m not knocking OSHA.  In some cases fines and the negative publicity of negative OSHA findings is the only thing that spurs companies into action, but OSHA’s approach is antiquated and largely ineffective.  The response from many within OSHA and the safety community has been a call for more rules, stricter enforcement, and harsher punishment.  In short the response to people not following the rules is a call for more rules; it’s like the current safety climate is being co-scripted by George Orwell and Joseph Heller.

And OSHA is not alone in repeating mistakes.  As the purveyors of Behavior-Based Safety lost favor in the face of mounting evidence that such approaches were causing under-reporting of injuries, a spike in serious injuries and fatalities, and creating a dangerously false sense of security; they simply repackaged their products and called it “culture change” or “leadership development”.  Nothing changed in the science that called the methodology into question.  Nor had anything much changed in the products and approaches being offered.  And yet the companies still not only survive, but thrive.

The Thing That Has To Change Is You

Most of us are experiencing the worst economic downturn of lives, or certainly within our memory.  Business is changing.  Operations has had to ferret out every bit of waste and eliminate it.  There are no resources to spare and while the economy shows signs of recovery more and more safety professionals lose their jobs every day.  Is it because safety is less important now than it was when times were good? Or is it because the safety function has failed to keep in step with the changes that Operations are making.  In my experience its the latter.  When the safety department is asked to cut costs it responds by asking for more resources.  When asked for results, the safety professional tells Operations that they will have to wait years.  When Operations asks for action, it gets excuses.  If you follow the safety forums you will hear an outcry from safety professionals about the perceived lack of support from Operations.  Think about that.  It’s not Operations’ job to support Safety it’s  the job of Safety to support Operations.  The moment Safety began seeing itself as being supported by Operations a schism was created that has never closed.

What Changes Need To Happen?

It’s easy for someone to point out the flaws in the status quo, but much more difficult to specifically point to what needs to change and how.  It’s one thing to criticize safety professionals for repeating their mistakes and quite another to recommend a better course of action; let me take a crack at identifying the critical view changes that Safety must make if it is to survive.

Lead

If you do indeed read the Safety forums (as I do) you will also see a huge outcry that safety needs to start with leaders, or leaders don’t support safety, or managers won’t own safety.  Well guess what? you are leaders, or at least you had better be if you hope to survive in the safety profession much longer.  A safety professional has authority (the right to enforce his or her decisions by virtue of his or her position within the company) but too few have power (the ability to make things happen because people either like them, respect them, or fear them.)  A company can confer authority on you, but you have to acquire on your own.  Too often safety professionals look to the supervisors, managers, or executives to provide them the power to back up their authority.  For example, I’ve heard many safety professionals complain that they don’t have the power to fire (or write up, or reprimand, etc.) an employee that violates a safety policy.  Or worse yet they complain that “management” doesn’t do anything when the safety professional informs them of a violation.  This kind of tattle-tail safety not only is ineffective, but actually erodes what little respect (and by extension power) that the safety professional might have had in the first place.

Instead of bemoaning a lack of leadership, the safety professional needs to become a leader and help to shape the organization’s view of safety.  Safety professionals need to remember that when many in the organization think of safety they think of the individual.  If they think of the safety professional as a simpering cry-baby, then they are unlikely to take the safety of the workplace very seriously.    Leading safety starts by gaining and retaining credibility.  Don’t lie to the organization (See my column the Safe Side: A Culture of Myths for more details) and engage the workforce in decisions about safety and safety policy.

Act, Don’t Just Analyze

Most safety programs have come a long way from the days when they simply recorded OSHA Recordables and LWDI figures.  But even many of the most forward thinking safety processes do very little with the data they collect.  Some merely collect data and report it at the safety meetings.  If someone every has the courage to ask what the data means he or she typically gets a vague description of how the data was calculated.  But the person asking the question is really saying, “so what? Is that good or bad? what should I be doing in response to this?” and unfortunately scarce view safety professional ask those questions let alone answer them.  A key job element for the safety professional is deciphering seemingly unrelated data trends and converting that into information.  Information differs from data in that one can act on information, information can lead us to appropriate actions that support our goals.

Even those rare safety professionals who prepare solid recommendations based on good information and careful analysis are often reluctant to act on the information.  I once coached a manufacturer on statistical analysis on several key indicators of safety and we concluded that a recordable injury was imminent. Our analysis further predicted that the injury would likely happen in one of three areas of the plant, that the injury would be a slip, trip, and fall injury, and that it would most likely happen on the second shift.  Less than a week later the injury did in fact, occur.  It happened in one of the areas mentioned, it happened on the second shift, and yes, it was a slip, trip, and fall injury.  The plant was ecstatic.  They were amazed at the accuracy of the prediction and sold on the methodology we used.  Of course they had ignored the fact that the injury didn’t have to happen.  These were Operations folks, but I think it’s a good example of what happens when the Safety professional fails to act on his or her findings.  I had worked with the Safety professional on a course of action that he should take, I helped him make a plan that took him step by step what he needed to do to engage the people assigned to manage the areas most at risk.  But none of that happened.  When I counseled the safety professional he told me he had been too busy.  He wasn’t lying; in addition to safety he was responsible for planning the company picnic and that had consumed most of his time.

Assimilate, Aggregate, and Integrate

We talk a lot about the relationship between Safety and Operations.  When did these two functions become different?  Safety professionals have to actively seek not to work more closely with Operations, rather to become Operations.  Anything that isn’t Operations—irrespective of it’s value—is overhead, and overhead is a cost.  If the safety professional wants job security, he or she must be a member of the Operations team.

Becoming part of Operations is sometimes easier said than done, but the trouble tends to be fearful safety professionals resisting the move from facilities or Human Resources to Operations.  There have been several occasions  where I have met Operations leadership that were anxious to get the safety function reassigned from either Facilities or Human Resources to Operations.  The reaction from Safety was horror.  It blew my mind to think that a professional would resist a change that would be a boon to his or her career. In another case, the plant manager wanted to change the name from Safety Specialist to Continuous Improvement Specialist.  The safety professional was stricken.  I know some would argue that having the safety function report through Operations is like letting the fox guard the hen house but that is exactly the kind of thinking that has to change.  If the culture is going to change than the perception that people only act safely because they are afraid of getting caught is wrong-headed and antiquated, yet this very thinking is perpetuated by the safety professionals themselves.  Psychologist will tell you that generally speaking people tend to conform to our expectations of them, so if you believe the employees are liars, cheats and thieves, and you treat them like liars, cheats, and thieves, ultimately you will have a work place full of liars, cheats, and thieves (the ones you are right about will stay and tolerate your attitude and the ones who are not will go somewhere else and work.)  Similarly, if you believe that the primary reason that your employees comply with safety regulations is the fear of non-compliance you will reinforce the culture instead of changing it.

The safety department will never change the culture; that change must come from Operations.  If you want to be an architect of those changes you have to be an integral part of the Operations team.  And while we’re on the subject, take a hard look at the composition of your safety team.  Is it a group of hourly volunteers that get together to gripe to one another about how nothing gets fixed? A good safety committee is made up of operations, maintenance, and safety.  It has the power and authority to get things done.  If reviews trends and progress, and holds people accountable for doing the things for which they are responsible; if your team isn’t able to do that, then it’s time for a new team.

Re-examine Your View of Safety

You are a part of the world; every thing is connected.  So if you change yourself you in turn change the world.  Of course it’s only a little step, and of course it’s a long way from changing the culture to the desired state but it’s a start, and nothing was ever accomplished without a start.  Business has changed, the economy has change, the demographics of our workplace have changed, and yet for many of us, scare little has changed in how we view safety.  I’m continually surprised and disheartened by the prevalence among safety professionals of the attitude that deep down the workers are responsible for their own injuries.  That the workers are injured because they are stupid, lazy, inept, or careless.  If you truly believe that then do us all a favor and get out of the business.  You aren’t saving lives and you’re making those of us who are look bad.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Loss Prevention, Performance Improvement, Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, Worker Safety, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t Hurt Yourself


Don’t hurt yourself.  We’ve heard it perhaps hundreds of times throughout our lives and probably said it almost as often.  Let’s take a moment to reflect on what that statement says about our view of safety and the nature of injuries.  Clearly we believe that the injury is within the control of injured party otherwise we wouldn’t say it as a declarative statement.  In saying don’t hurt yourself we are directing the about-to-be-injured party to stop what they are doing and avoid injuring his or her self.  We are implying that we are smarter and most likely immune to getting hurt.

Telling someone not to hurt him/herself also implies that the person has control over whether or not they will be injured.  This sounds innocuous enough, but (while harmless) it’s seldom accurate.  Injuries can come from hundreds if not thousands of causes many of which are far upstream from the injury itself.  Equipment wears out, structures collapse, strangers act in careless or negligent way, and we can control very few of these causes.  But the believe persists that we somehow are at some basic level responsible when we get hurt.

“Don’t hurt yourself” also implies that injuries are the result of cognitive behaviors and conscious decisions and again that is seldom the case.  Think about the times you were injured; how many of those times were you hurt simply because you weren’t thinking.  There is a growing body of research that holds that mistakes are a basic function of the brain.  Most of our mistakes are subconscious and some believe that our subconscious minds make these ways to test the environment and the safety of adapting to a new environment.  In this way, we are able to both resist and invite change simultaneously.  As backward and contradictory as that sounds in so doing we can innovate, discover better ways of doing a task, and expose ourselves to all the wonderful serendipity that life has to offer us.  Unfortunately, sometimes these mistakes lead to lethal or even deadly consequences.  But if mistakes are an inevitable function of our brains merely telling people not to err is pointless and in my opinion fairly irritating.  It’s like telling someone to be taller.

Assuming we aren’t dealing with someone who is mentally ill, injuries that do happen as a result of a  cognitive decision were not a deliberate attempt to hurt ourselves.  Saying “don’t hurt yourself” implies that we WOULD hurt ourselves if we weren’t told not to.  It’s a saying rooted in arrogance and ignorance.  After all, many injuries occur either because something we thought was true wasn’t or vice versa.  In other cases, we made assumptions relative to the situation or environment that were equally false.  So telling us not to hurt ourselves, or even to “be careful” is really an attempt to express concern, not an earnest attempt to prevent an injury.  It’s a nice sentiment and people who tell us not to hurt ourselves mean well, but the statement is indicative of an attitude about the nature of injuries that is flawed and potentially dangerous.

The saying “don’t hurt yourself” is not in itself dangerous but often safety professionals institutionalize this flawed philosophy into a equally flawed, and exponentially more dangerous, safety system.  At the heart of many Behavior Based Safety systems there is the belief that if we can just get people to be more careful and watch what they are doing the workplace will get safer.  But this emphasis on holding people accountable for their own injuries creates an atmosphere where individuals fear the organizational consequences of an injury far more than the physical consequences.  At one end of the spectrum you have people terrified that if they report and injury they will be fired, and at the other end of the spectrum you have people who won’t report injuries because it will mean spoiling the safety record and costing their coworkers a reward of some kind.  One can, of course, modify the things for which the organization provides incentives, but unless the organization abandons the underlying mindset endemic in “don’t hurt yourself” the system will ultimately result in skewed data and a false sense of security.  In these environments injuries seem to fall and the organizations infer that the workplace is safer.  But as I have said on numerous occasions, the absence of injuries does not denote the presence of safety.  Risk that might have been easy to mitigate had near misses and minor injuries been reported, contained, investigated and corrected are never detected and, as these hazards interact with other unknown risk conditions, ultimately raise the risk threshold to the point where a fatality is all but certain.

“Don’t hurt yourself” safety systems are less an expression of concern or an attempt to keep workers safe and more a way of putting the onus for being safe on the worker.  These systems are more a warning about culpability for the injury; it’s a way of saying, “if you get hurt you will have no one to blame but yourself”; it’s not all that nice a sentiment, but even more so, in most cases it’s simply not true.  No organization can excuse itself for worker injuries by saying, “well I told them to be careful; it’s his own darned fault.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking, well I am certainly not guilty of telling people not to hurt themselves.  To you I say, take a hard look at your workplace.  Do you have safety posters and slogans plastered all around? Are you preaching safety in vague esoteric terms? Tug on the heart strings by putting up posters made by the employees children? All these things are just different ways of telling people not to hurt themselves.  Reminding me not to do something I didn’t intend to do is Catch 22 thinking; it makes us feel better even though it does more harm than good.  That’s not to say that there aren’t good and important warnings to provide to the workers.  “Remember we are running 35 non-standard products today, and anytime we introduce variation into our system we increase our risk of failure modes so double check your work and the work of others.”  Reminding me of risk conditions (“It snowed last night so watch for water on the floor”) are helpful because instead of merely telling me to be careful you are also  telling me of conditions that are nonstandard and therefore more inclined to hurt me.  This proactive thinking is the foundation of a good safety system.

So think long and hard about telling someone not to hurt themselves, and remember, don’t hurt yourself.

 

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Safety, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Biggest Threat To The Safety Of Your Workers May Be You


As efforts to improve worker safety become more sophisticated so too have the dangers that workers face.  Much has been written about the role of the individual worker’s behavior in workplace safety, and much has been written about the role that a lack of leadership commitment plays in worker injuries.  But for a moment I would like you to consider perhaps the most serious threat to worker safety: the attitudes of the safety professionals themselves.

These attitudes range from the “defenders of the faith” to the “backslappers” and each poses a significant threat to the safety with which we work.  I would like to take a brief look at these attitudes and ask you to take a hard look at yourself and your peers and ask how closely that attitude aligns with your personal beliefs.

Before I get into the individual attitudes that put us at risk, I think that it’s appropriate to discuss change, and why we are programmed to resist it. In  biological terms, change is bad.  If you are a white crested tern, and you live in an environment that affords you a bountiful supply of food, good mating prospects, temperate weather, and few predators then all change can bring is ruin.  The human animal has evolved keen defenses against change and resists it at an almost molecular level.  Yet, on some level nature also knows that an inability to change results in the inability to adapt and an inability to adapt leads to extinction.  It puts us in a pretty tight bind.  If we change we die, but if we can’t change we also die.  It’s a tough row to hoe.  And the safety profession is the organizational personification of this dichotomy.  But before you look to lay blame for the inadequacies of your safety system on some unsuspecting victim, take a look at these attitudes of safety professionals that are doing more harm than good and ask yourself “am I my own worst enemy?”

Defenders of the Faith

I’ve seen a lot since I started working with safety almost 10 years ago.  Let’s be clear, I’ve worked “in safety” for a lot longer than 10 years, but for the last 10 years I have been working diligently to effect change in safety and that has not been easy.  Bringing change—sometimes radical change—to people who by their nature are extremely cautious individuals is tough. Add to that, the fact that many of these same individuals report to Human Resources departments that view themselves as keepers of the status quo, defenders of the faith, and you will perhaps get some sense of what those years have been like.  Defenders of the Faith are the safety professionals who ostensibly espouse a desire for radical change in the way we approach worker safety, but, in fact, most of these professional don’t want change at all.  The Defenders of the Faith will outwardly admit that change needs to happen but then chip away and passively resist change.  These individuals never tire of the blame game and have umpteen excuses for why they aren’t successful, but meanwhile people continue to get hurt. The primary motivation of the Defenders of the Faith is to ensure continued employment and deflect any negative attention from themselves.

Heggs

Luther Heggs was the character played by Don Knotts in the film The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. Heggs was a cautious to the point of being afraid of his own shadow, and there are a lot of Luther Heggs working in safety today.  I am not trying to be ironic when I say that safety professionals are a cautious lot.  The profession attracts more than its fair share of individuals who enjoy regulation, rules, and formulas.  As a rule, these individuals don’t like change and actively (or passively) seek to subvert it.  Whether they realize it our not, these individuals would rather continue a course of action that consistently fails than to adopt a new (and in their minds risky) course of action.  These individuals will only embrace corrective actions that have been time tested and proven effective beyond a shadow of a doubt.  They will make all sorts of excuses as to why these process changes are inappropriate to their situation.  Heggs don’t understand process, and haven’t a clue at the deeper implications and underlying organizational flaws that injuries represent.  In their minds the job of the safety professional is to count bodies as they bear witness to the carnage.  It’s not their fault that people are getting hurt, nor their jobs to fix it. If you find yourself reluctant to accept a new idea until there has been years of research on its effectiveness before you consider it you might be a Hegg.  Unfortunately and ironically, the caution shown by the Heggs actually increases the risk of injury.

Bandwagon Jumpers

Opposites of the Heggs are the Bandwagon Jumpers, and they are every bit as dangerous.  Bandwagon Jumpers have never met a dumb idea that they didn’t love, especially an idea that absolves them of culpability of a failed initiative.  You can find Bandwagon Jumpers at every conference eagerly jotting down notes in the professional development sessions or loading up on the newest fad literature in the bookstore.  This attitude is dangerous because even when the Bandwagon Jumper happens into a good idea he or she seldom gives the idea time to work before scurrying off to the next hair-brained scheme.  You can spot a Bandwagon Jumper by his or her love of jargon; they jabber on for hours spewing meaningless crap that they really don’t understand themselves. Operations leadership seldom respect the Bandwagon Jumpers because the leadership expects and values results, and for all the sound and fury generated by Bandwagon Jumpers very little gets done; it’s all activity and no meaningful consequences.

Snake-Oil Salesmen

I’m fond of the old adage, “when you sell hammers, all the world is a nail”, and never was this more true with the Snake-Oil Salesmen.  These safety professionals glommed onto a scientifically dubious safety process years ago and like a terrier with a rat in its mouth they just refuse to drop it.  Some of these people learned a methodology that worked for them in a very narrow scope and continue using it even though it creates an infrastructure that is too costly to sustain.  Others paid to get certified in a given methodology and admitting that it is of questionable effectiveness erodes their Curricula Vitae; these people understand that allowing the possibility that their methodology is bunk is, by inference, calling their qualifications into question as well.  You can’t blame one for preserving one’s professional values but it becomes problematic when one places more value on one’s own credentials than they do on the safety of the workplace.  It’s easy to be a Snake-Oil Salesman without meaning to—after all, every conference hosts seemingly inexhaustible populations of people who make their living selling processes, methodologies, and ideas that don’t work.  You can find the Snake-Oil Salesmen shouting down each other in LinkedIn chat rooms and on-line safety forums.  Snake-Oil Salesmen are adroit at using a statistically insignificant sample size to refute the evidence that their malarkey is junk science.  They will seldom support their arguments with any research done in the last 50 years, in fact, most will just keep repeating their own opinions until the opposition dismisses them as idiots and walks away.

Backslappers

Without a doubt, Backslappers are the most dangerous attitudes in safety today.  Backslappers are content with what they’ve already done and brag about how safe their workplaces are.  By using industry averages, dubious rates and trends, and antiquated views of safety (as the absence of injury instead of the reduction of risk) Backslappers congratulate themselves for a job well done, at least until there is a serious injury or a fatality.  Backslappers feel that they’ve conquered worker injuries and they don’t have to worry anymore, their jobs are done.  Safety professionals who are Backslappers can’t wait to show the new boss what a terrific job they’re doing, and will waste vendor’s time by inviting them in the guise of learning more about the vendor’s offerings when in fact, they only want to brag about what a swell job they are doing.  Backslappers are the most dangerous of these attitudes because it belies the misconception that we can ever relax or let our guards down when it comes to workplace safety.  When complacency becomes the safety strategy the risk of serious injury grows unchallenged and unchecked until a the probability of a fatality rises to virtual certainty.

So What Can We Do?

I’d like to think that these posts do more than deride a particular fault I find in something and that I also offer something constructive that one can use to correct the undesired state. In that spirit, here goes…

1.     Ask operations if, in their eyes, you fit any of these attitudinal types.

2.     Investigate the trends your safety against national trends; you really need to discount improvements that are part of a national or industry trends.  You also don’t need to congratulate yourself too much for being “better than average”.

3.     Actively seek to improve the safety of your workplace by getting engaged and partnering with Operations.

It takes a lot of courage and moral fortitude to be an effective safety professional, but then this is the career we chose.  If we can’t challenge our own belief-sets, if we can’t call our own attitudes into question, how then can we effect real, lasting, sustainable change?

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Safety, Safety Culture, Worker Safety, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Biggest Threat To The Safety Of Your Workers May Be You


As efforts to improve worker safety become more sophisticated so too have the dangers that workers face.  Much has been written about the role of the individual worker’s behavior in workplace safety, and much has been written about the role that a lack of leadership commitment plays in worker injuries.  But for a moment I would like you to consider perhaps the most serious threat to worker safety: the attitudes of the safety professionals themselves.

These attitudes range from the “defenders of the faith” to the “backslappers” and each poses a significant threat to the safety with which we work.  I would like to take a brief look at these attitudes and ask you to take a hard look at yourself and your peers and ask how closely that attitude aligns with your personal beliefs.

Before I get into the individual attitudes that put us at risk, I think that it’s appropriate to discuss change, and why we are programmed to resist it. In  biological terms, change is bad.  If you are a white crested tern, and you live in an environment that affords you a bountiful supply of food, good mating prospects, temperate weather, and few predators then all change can bring is ruin.  The human animal has evolved keen defenses against change and resists it at an almost molecular level.  Yet, on some level nature also knows that an inability to change results in the inability to adapt and an inability to adapt leads to extinction.  It puts us in a pretty tight bind.  If we change we die, but if we can’t change we also die.  It’s a tough row to hoe.  And the safety profession is the organizational personification of this dichotomy.  But before you look to lay blame for the inadequacies of your safety system on some unsuspecting victim, take a look at these attitudes of safety professionals that are doing more harm than good and ask yourself “am I my own worst enemy?”

Defenders of the Faith

I’ve seen a lot since I started working with safety almost 10 years ago.  Let’s be clear, I’ve worked “in safety” for a lot longer than 10 years, but for the last 10 years I have been working diligently to effect change in safety and that has not been easy.  Bringing change—sometimes radical change—to people who by their nature are extremely cautious individuals is tough. Add to that, the fact that many of these same individuals report to Human Resources departments that view themselves as keepers of the status quo, defenders of the faith, and you will perhaps get some sense of what those years have been like.  Defenders of the Faith are the safety professionals who ostensibly espouse a desire for radical change in the way we approach worker safety, but, in fact, most of these professional don’t want change at all.  The Defenders of the Faith will outwardly admit that change needs to happen but then chip away and passively resist change.  These individuals never tire of the blame game and have umpteen excuses for why they aren’t successful, but meanwhile people continue to get hurt. The primary motivation of the Defenders of the Faith is to ensure continued employment and deflect any negative attention from themselves.

Heggs

Luther Heggs was the character played by Don Knotts in the film The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. Heggs was a cautious to the point of being afraid of his own shadow, and there are a lot of Luther Heggs working in safety today.  I am not trying to be ironic when I say that safety professionals are a cautious lot.  The profession attracts more than its fair share of individuals who enjoy regulation, rules, and formulas.  As a rule, these individuals don’t like change and actively (or passively) seek to subvert it.  Whether they realize it our not, these individuals would rather continue a course of action that consistently fails than to adopt a new (and in their minds risky) course of action.  These individuals will only embrace corrective actions that have been time tested and proven effective beyond a shadow of a doubt.  They will make all sorts of excuses as to why these process changes are inappropriate to their situation.  Heggs don’t understand process, and haven’t a clue at the deeper implications and underlying organizational flaws that injuries represent.  In their minds the job of the safety professional is to count bodies as they bear witness to the carnage.  It’s not their fault that people are getting hurt, nor their jobs to fix it. If you find yourself reluctant to accept a new idea until there has been years of research on its effectiveness before you consider it you might be a Hegg.  Unfortunately and ironically, the caution shown by the Heggs actually increases the risk of injury.

Bandwagon Jumpers

Opposites of the Heggs are the Bandwagon Jumpers, and they are every bit as dangerous.  Bandwagon Jumpers have never met a dumb idea that they didn’t love, especially an idea that absolves them of culpability of a failed initiative.  You can find Bandwagon Jumpers at every conference eagerly jotting down notes in the professional development sessions or loading up on the newest fad literature in the bookstore.  This attitude is dangerous because even when the Bandwagon Jumper happens into a good idea he or she seldom gives the idea time to work before scurrying off to the next hair-brained scheme.  You can spot a Bandwagon Jumper by his or her love of jargon; they jabber on for hours spewing meaningless crap that they really don’t understand themselves. Operations leadership seldom respect the Bandwagon Jumpers because the leadership expects and values results, and for all the sound and fury generated by Bandwagon Jumpers very little gets done; it’s all activity and no meaningful consequences.

Snake-Oil Salesmen

I’m fond of the old adage, “when you sell hammers, all the world is a nail”, and never was this more true with the Snake-Oil Salesmen.  These safety professionals glommed onto a scientifically dubious safety process years ago and like a terrier with a rat in its mouth they just refuse to drop it.  Some of these people learned a methodology that worked for them in a very narrow scope and continue using it even though it creates an infrastructure that is too costly to sustain.  Others paid to get certified in a given methodology and admitting that it is of questionable effectiveness erodes their Curricula Vitae; these people understand that allowing the possibility that their methodology is bunk is, by inference, calling their qualifications into question as well.  You can’t blame one for preserving one’s professional values but it becomes problematic when one places more value on one’s own credentials than they do on the safety of the workplace.  It’s easy to be a Snake-Oil Salesman without meaning to—after all, every conference hosts seemingly inexhaustible populations of people who make their living selling processes, methodologies, and ideas that don’t work.  You can find the Snake-Oil Salesmen shouting down each other in LinkedIn chat rooms and on-line safety forums.  Snake-Oil Salesmen are adroit at using a statistically insignificant sample size to refute the evidence that their malarkey is junk science.  They will seldom support their arguments with any research done in the last 50 years, in fact, most will just keep repeating their own opinions until the opposition dismisses them as idiots and walks away.

Backslappers

Without a doubt, Backslappers are the most dangerous attitudes in safety today.  Backslappers are content with what they’ve already done and brag about how safe their workplaces are.  By using industry averages, dubious rates and trends, and antiquated views of safety (as the absence of injury instead of the reduction of risk) Backslappers congratulate themselves for a job well done, at least until there is a serious injury or a fatality.  Backslappers feel that they’ve conquered worker injuries and they don’t have to worry anymore, their jobs are done.  Safety professionals who are Backslappers can’t wait to show the new boss what a terrific job they’re doing, and will waste vendor’s time by inviting them in the guise of learning more about the vendor’s offerings when in fact, they only want to brag about what a swell job they are doing.  Backslappers are the most dangerous of these attitudes because it belies the misconception that we can ever relax or let our guards down when it comes to workplace safety.  When complacency becomes the safety strategy the risk of serious injury grows unchallenged and unchecked until a the probability of a fatality rises to virtual certainty.

So What Can We Do?

I’d like to think that these posts do more than deride a particular fault I find in something and that I also offer something constructive that one can use to correct the undesired state. In that spirit, here goes…

1.     Ask operations if, in their eyes, you fit any of these attitudinal types.

2.     Investigate the trends your safety against national trends; you really need to discount improvements that are part of a national or industry trends.  You also don’t need to congratulate yourself too much for being “better than average”.

3.     Actively seek to improve the safety of your workplace by getting engaged and partnering with Operations.

It takes a lot of courage and moral fortitude to be an effective safety professional, but then this is the career we chose.  If we can’t challenge our own belief-sets, if we can’t call our own attitudes into question, how then can we effect real, lasting, sustainable change?

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Safety, Safety Culture, Worker Safety, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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