by Phil La Duke
I am posting this as an extra (the official post for this week will be published at midnight tonight.—Phil
I have been trying for years to get Safety professionals to embrace the teachings of W. Edward Deming, specifically his 14 Points for Quality. Deming’s points for quality are equally applicable to Safety, but for whatever reason my arguments have fallen on the deafest of ears.
Then it occurred to me. Deming’s work was rooted in engineering discipline and process control but safety grew out of the Human Resources function. This seemingly inconsequential difference has much to do with the state of Safety in the world and what needs to change. There’s a disconnect between HR and Engineering, a great and deep philosophical divide between the two. Engineering is, at its purest core about change and improvement, it’s about continuous improvement. Human Resources (as much as some may argue) is about keeping things the same. A good Human Resources professional understands that change introduces dangerous variation into the a well oiled machine; it’s the job of HR to make sure that change isn’t capricious and more importantly that it doesn’t violate laws, unevenly apply policy, or a host of other dangers associated with change. For centuries, the Human Resources function has been about governing the workforce, and organizational change is very disruptive.
I don’t mean to sound like Human Resources is incapable of leading change, it can and does lead successfully lead change all the time. It’s just that Human Resources as a function tends to be invested in the status quo.
Every organization needs a good mix of innovators and administrators, the innovators shake things up and the administrators find a way to make sense of it all and keep the organization running. Engineering and lean practioners tend to believe that you can’t make an omelets without breaking some eggs while the human resources and safety professionals believe that if it aint broke don’t fix it. Of course these are generalities, and I am speaking of historical tendency (read: I am not talking about ever mammal who works or has ever worked in these functions) but these parallel evolutions of these two disciplines explain why the Safety function finds it so difficult to lead meaningful change in the organization.
With that in mind, with apologies to W. Edward Deming here are my fourteen points for safety:
- All injuries are preventable—FMEA’s and other predictive tools should be used to identify areas of greatest risk and efforts should be made to reduce the risk of injuries to the lowest practical level.
- Move beyond compliance—compliance with the government regulations is important and compliance tends to correlate to a process that is in control. But we can never mistake being compliant with being safe.
- Focus on prevention. Preventing injuries is more efficient than reacting to them. Injuries are caused by failures in the system. By managing hazards (procedural, behavioral, and mechanical) organizations can reduce unplanned downtime, injuries, and defects.
- Instill universal ownership and accountability for safety. Every job plays a role in ensuring workplace safety, and everyone must be answerable when processes and protocols fail to keep workers safe.
- Imbed Safety into all activities. Safety is neither a priority nor a goal, instead it is a criterion by which companies measure the efficacy of its efforts to be successful. Safety is a strategic business element that needs to be managed as scrupulously as Quality, Delivery, Cost, and Morale.
- Shift the ownership of safety to Operations— Operations has the greatest control and oversight of the safety of the workplace. Operations leadership should conduct routine reviews of key safety metrics.
- The absence of injuries does not necessarily denote the presence of safety. Safety is an expression of probability. No situation is ever 100% risk free.
- Avoid Shame and Blame Policies and Tactics. Workers do not want to get hurt and an organization’s processes are not deliberately designed to hurt workers; no amount of behavior modification will change this.
- Invest in basic skills training. The best way to ensure worker safety is by providing them with good foundational training in the tasks they are routinely expected to do.
- End safety gimmickry. Incentives should only be used to reward active participation in safety, not to reward an absence of reported injuries.
- Stop comparing your safety performance to industry average. Measuring an organization’s safety record in safety relative to the company’s industry average are meaningless and should be abandoned. Instead, use a combination of lagging and leading indicators to get a more meaningful view of your overall performance in safety.
- Seek to protect people from their mistakes. People make mistakes and not necessarily because they took foolish risks or ignored safety protocols. Look for ways to prevent people from being injured by mistakes rather than preventing the mistakes themselves.
- Support Operations. Safety must be a key resource to Operations. Instead of impeding Operations and hampering its progress safety must support Operations to find safe ways of accomplishing organizational goals instead of work at cross purposes with production.
- Cease attempts to manipulate worker’s behaviors. Safety is not about managing people’s behavior; it’s about managing risk. Behavioral psychology is over used and frequently misused in commercial safety solutions.
I have several more that I could add, but if 14 was enough for Deming than who am I to try to surpass the great man’s work? I have said with irritating frequency that the Safety function must change if it is to survive. I believe wholeheartedly that the implementation of these 14 things can help the safety function not only to survive but to thrive.