Phil La Duke's Blog

Fresh perspectives on safety and Performance Improvement

You’re Only As Safe As You Feel


Abraham Maslow theorized that a one could only reach one’s full potential if one’s needs were met.  Maslow arranged these needs into his seminal work, the Hierarchy Of Needs.  The needs in the Hierarchy of Needs are arranged in a pyramid with the most basic human needs at the bottom and the more intellectual and social needs at the top.  According to Maslow, a person cannot achieve the higher needs until the more basic needs have been met.   At the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy lie creativity, problem solving, and autonomy—the very things we typically look for in workers we would describe as “empowered” or “engaged”.

While Maslow identified the most primal needs as the need for food, shelter, sex, and sleep,  he identified the need for safety and security as needs just above these in importance.  And unless these needs are met it is impossible to pursue higher needs.  This is interesting in the context of worker safety because many safety professionals are either unaware of Maslow’s research, ignore it outright, or fail to recognize how this research applies to the workplace.

According to Maslow, a worker who doesn’t feel safe (irrespective of the accuracy of that opinion) cannot possibly focus on process improvements, creative problem solving, or any of the other empowered activities we expect of today’s workers.

So what does that mean for safety? Plenty.  First, it calls into question the basic premise that safety incentives aimed at lowering injury rates.  If people don’t feel safe (which is a sane response to working in an environment where people are frequently injured) they are incapable of contributing any worthwhile ideas for process improvement.  We are not providing an incentive to work more safely we are providing a random reward that will confuse the workers and basic reward good luck and punish bad luck.  If we are rewarding outcomes at all; far more frequently we are rewarding people for concealing their injuries which in turn makes people feel less safe and more insecure.  Before anybody gets all indignant about my questioning the value of safety incentives, I will grant that incentives have their places—primarily in workplaces that have already made great strides and are less concerned about fixing a broken safety system and more concerned with sustaining hard fought gains. But in most cases, organizations provide incentives too early in the evolution and maturity cycle of their safety systems.

Beyond merely providing incentives, Maslow’s work have a profound influence on the type of incentives that should be provided.  Many organizations provide one of the most basic motivators available: money.  The trickiest part of motivation is that once a need has been satisfied, it ceases to motivate.  Money is a basic need and provided the worker makes a living wage, money will be less and less a motivator (unless the amount is continually increased.)

Some incentives are focused on meeting social needs—recognition, social appreciation, or contribution to a team.  Again this approach assumes that the workers feel safe, and secure or the incentive will fail.  But nonetheless incentives at this level can be effective if they are appropriately awarded.  Awarding a team for the accomplishments of single member may be less effective than singling out an individual.

Underlying all these factors is a basic question: does the person receiving the incentive find it valuable and worth winning.  I once had a worker describe safety incentive as “they buy us a pizza once a month if we don’t kill anyone”.  The worker went on to explain how condescending he found the incentive program.  Clearly the organization was not attuned to the needs of the worker.

Another thing organizations need to consider when analyzing their incentive programs in the context of Maslow is the concept of security.  Workplaces where workers believe their jobs are in jeopardy are far more dangerous than more stable environment.  Workers who believe they are eminent danger of unemployment are incapable of responding to higher level stimuli.  In other words, safety BINGO will not provide incentive to work safe to workers more worried about keeping their jobs; injury rates will likely fall, not because workers don’t want to miss out on the chance of winning a baseball cap, but because injured workers fear that they will be the first to be laid off.  It is true that in some environment injury fraud increases in the face of layoffs, but it is equally true that genuine injury claims are more likely to be concealed for fear of retribution.

So in very real terms, safety is not just about an absence of injuries, or even, as I have so often thundered, a presence of risk.  Safety is more than either of these.  Safety is about feeling safe and working in a place with so little risk of injury that your subconscious doesn’t trigger stress reflexes.

Filed under: Loss Prevention, Loss Prevention, Near Miss Reporting, Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, Worker Safety, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Does Safety Add Value?


As the function of Safety matures from a largely compliance based discipline to a continuous improvement based activity it’s important to recognize precisely the role of safety in the context of Lean, Six Sigma, or Quality Operating Systems, and central to that understanding is the concepts of waste and non-value added activity. Both these terms probably seem fairly familiar. We all have some idea of things in our lives that constitute waste but for the continuous improvement professionals. waste has a fairly specific definition. For people working to improve the capability of a process waste refers to the unintended outputs of a process that do not add any value to the products or services being delivered. Any process can be broken down into three components: Inputs, Transformations, and Outputs

Inputs

Transformation

Output

 →

 

 →

The Basic Process The basic process works like this, we start with things, we do stuff to these things and we end up with things that have changed in some way. A process is like a recipe, and the inputs are our list of ingredients. But unlike a recipe our process will also contain a list of tools that we will need and a description of the physical environment (most good cookbooks assume you know that you will be working in the kitchen or at least at a barbecue grill). The process transformations are the physical forces acting on the inputs that change them in some way and create outputs. Every input changes in some way—dishes get dirty, workers get tired, kitchens get hot, appliances get a bit older and more worn (albeit sometimes imperceptibly). In fact, every input, whether man, machine, materials, and the environment, changes during our process. After the inputs have been changed transformed they become outputs, but not all outputs are desirable. And because they aren’t desirable the customer won’t pay more for them. Since the intrinsic value to the customer is unaffected by the transformation these outputs are described as non-value added activities, or more commonly, waste. Some waste is unavoidable (people tire, machines wear out, the environment heats up, etc.) while other forms of waste can be eliminated easily. Let’s take a look at a simple example, popping popcorn. We start with ingredients, equipment, a procedure, and someone to actually pop the popcorn:

Inputs

Transformation

Output

 • A pan• A lid for the pan

• Cooking oil

• Unpopped popcorn

• Salt

• A Stove

• Natural Gas

• An electric starter

• A popcorn recipe

• Butter

• Salt

• A bowl

• A cook

• A kitchen

• A countertop

• Oxygen

• Lighting

• Heating

•Shaking

• Lighting

• Burning

• Melting

• Popping

• Cooking

 • A hot greasy pan

• A hot greasy lid

• Cooking oil residue on the wall and kitchen surfaces

• Popped, salted, and buttered popcorn

• Un-popped popcorn kernels

• Spilled salt

• A hot stove

• Consumed Natural Gas

• An electric starter that is slightly more worn than before

• Spilled Salt

• A dirty bowl

• A hot, tired cook

• A hot greasy kitchen

• A greasy countertop

• Consumed Oxygen

• Consumed electricity

Even though we only wanted one thing (buttered and salted popcorn) we had 16 (or more) outputs, and since we derive no benefit from these things they are waste. All of these outputs cost us money, whether directly in the case of wages or materials, but also indirectly in the case of money spent on cleaning products etc. But let’s assume for a moment that our popcorn chef accidentally burned himself. Do we derive any benefits from that injury? No and so it too is waste. If we insisted that the supervisor watch the popcorn chef and provide observations on his behavior and feedback on the safest way to do the job would that be something for which the customer would cheerfully pay? No. How about a incident investigation? Would a customer pony up for that? No. In fact, there is no safety activity that the customer will pay for in this scenario and why should they? Safety is not a value added activity, and frankly, any safety activity that doesn’t have a direct impact on the safety of the workplace is a waste. Now before anyone freaks out, there are a lot of non-value added activity that are necessary, and even desirable, including training, marketing, sales, and yes, safety. But the less a function changes the fundamental nature of the goods or services produced it is far more likely to produce waste. Let’s continue our example of the popcorn chef. If there are two companies providing popcorn and one has a less efficient process (that is, one has a lot more waste in his process than the competitor) the less efficient company has higher costs associated with brining its popcorn to market than its competitor. In order for the less efficient company to make the same profit as its competitors it will have to make up that cost somewhere else, either by paying lower wages, using inferior ingredients, raising prices, or skimping on cleaning supplies or work in a dirty kitchen. As the company with the inferior process continues down this path, its customers are far more likely to react negatively. Customers will not pay more for an inferior product or service simply because you can’t get your act together. They are far more likely to take their business elsewhere. Functions that improve the efficiency and capability of a process, while not value added activity, eliminate waste in the process and in so doing lower operating costs and allow the company to invest in marketing, training, safety, recruiting the best talent, upgrading materials and dominating its industry. For many safety professionals, it can be difficult to see how what they do impacts the bottom line, but by looking for ways to eliminate waste—in the core operational processes and in the Safety function itself—we can cut costs in ways that everyone can agree will benefit not just the company’s bottom line, but also the worker’s job satisfaction and quality of life.

Filed under: Loss Prevention, Performance Improvement, Phil La Duke, Safety, , , , , , , , , , ,

Blogroll

broadcasts/podcasts

La Duke in the News

Presentations

Press Release

Professional Organizations

Publications

Safety Professional's Resource Room

Social Networking

Web Resource

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 408 other followers

%d bloggers like this: