Phil La Duke's Blog

Fresh perspectives on safety and Performance Improvement

Maybe You REALLY Can’t Fix Stupid


By Phil La Duke

In a recent blog entry on the blog, Fuel Fix http://fuelfix.com/blog/2014/05/12/human-errors-account-for-80-of-offshore-accidents-exec-says/  Oil & Gas executives were quoted as saying that 80% of offshore accidents were caused by human error.
According to the article, Jim Raney, director of engineering and technology at Anadarko was addressing the Ocean Energy Safety Institute at the University of Houston when he said, “You can’t fix stupid…what’s the answer? A culture of safety. It has to be through leadership and supported through procedures — a safety management system.” I’m careful not to use the stupid brush to tar too many people in worker safety. Are their stupid people out there working? I think it’s safety to say yes. But can we blame 80% of worker injuries on stupidity? I don’t think so, at least not among the rank and file. Let’s face it, if 80% of your injuries are because of human error, as the article later suggests, you have some big issues and I would be careful who you go around calling stupid.
Even Smart People Make Mistakes
I’m not going to beat up on Jim Raney. My guess is that at his level he isn’t doing the incident investigations personally, and therefore he is being fed conclusions by his safety practitioners that lead him to believe that the vast majority of the incidents are because he has a bunch of idiots working for him. But stupidity is not the same as making a mistake, and while everyone makes mistakes (it’s a biological imperative) no one should have to die because of it. If there is stupidity in this process it lies with the person who designed it; he or she either refused to believe that people make mistakes or knew people would invariable make mistakes but refused to protect those that did. Stupid? It’s damned near depraved indifference and gross negligence.
Dispelling the “Operator Error” Myth
For years I taught problem solving courses as part of lean implementations. For generations engineers (the folks typically charged with finding out what caused a quality defect) would ultimately conclude that someone screwed up; the report would conclude that “operator error” was the proximate and root cause. The problem was that the engineer never asked “why?” the operator screwed up. I’ve written reams on performance inhibitors, those things like worker fatigue, stress, distraction, drug use, et el, can cause even the smartest people to make mistakes so I won’t revisit them now. But I wonder how many of those 80% of the people working on offshore rigs had been working long hours without a day off or with inadequate sleep? Keep anyone up for days on end working 16+ hour shifts in the elements and even the brightest among them will seem like a drooling idiot. Simply denouncing the people as stupid and then doing nothing about the system issue will not create a culture of safety, it will create a culture of stupidity. If I can go off on one of my well celebrated tangents for a minute, why are Oil & Gas companies hiring so many stupid people? While you may not be able to fix stupid, you don’t have to hire it, you don’t have to seek out the dumbest in society and offer them a job.
Injuries Are Seldom Caused By a Single Root Cause
A part of the problem solving training that I taught for many years dealt with selecting the right tool from the tool box. Traditional root cause analysis, repetitive whys, and similar tools are designed for use in solving problem of a specific structure and a sudden occurrence, that is to say, issues that develop rapidly and happen in response to a single cause. Situation analysis, fishbone analysis, and other tools, are better used for problems of a general structure and a gradual occurrence, in other words, incidents that are the product of a multiple, inter-related elements. In these types of incidents, many factors have to be present to cause an injury, and it is only after a threshold is reached that we see a process failure. In my experience, injuries tend to be the product of multiple factors that contribute to the incident. As long as we continue to use inappropriate tools to find the cause of injuries we will continue to mask hazards instead of removing them. The fact that Oil & Gas executives are concluding that 80% of the workers’ injuries are caused by “human error” leads me to question their methodology used to identify injury causes. Yes people make mistakes, but if those mistakes are leading to injury you have more at play than stupid people, you also have a process that hurts people when they make mistakes.
Protect the Stupid
We may not all be stupid, but we all do stupid things from time to time—we make poor choices, take unreasonable risks, allow distraction, fatigue, or other factors to impair our performance, or generally act in a way at odds with our safety. Some seem to forget that not all safety is about prevention; probability of interaction is only PART of the formula, there is another key component, reduction of severity. Engineers use this formula when identifying which of the hierarchy of controls to apply to everything from the machines we use in the workplace to the consumer goods we use every day. If the probability of interaction is high (people will almost certainly interact with the hazard) but the severity is low (most of the people who interact with the hazard won’t be seriously injured) they will generally slap a “no-kidding?” warning label on it. But if the probability of interaction is low, but the severity is lethal, they will take greater measures to protect people. I don’t believe that 80% of the Oil & Gas injuries are the fault of stupid people making mistakes; frankly it sounds suspiciously close to Heinrich’s Pyramid. But if the processes used in Oil & Gas are so fragile that human error is going to result in injury, the safety practitioners had better take bold initiatives to make these processes safer.
They Have the Answer; They Just Don’t Know It
The last part of Raney’s statement, “It has to be through leadership and supported through procedures — a safety management system” is right on. Unfortunately, organizations can’t achieve a sustainable safety management system that is built on the belief that you can’t fix stupid. Leadership has to drive good decision making and has to reward and encourage worker engagement based on respect; and describing workers as “stupid” is far from respectful.

Filed under: culture change, Injury reporting, Just Culture, Phil La Duke, Safety Culture, Worker Safety, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What Every Operation Leader Should Know About Safety


 

one-on-one-coaching

 By Phil LaDuke

Every day I hear another safety professional bemoan the fact that Operations (or leadership) doesn’t support safety.  It’s a tired bleat from whiners who should know that I would have no patience for it.  I generally turn the conversation around and ask flat out what they have done to educate operations leaders on safety and they begin to drone on and on about incident rates and lost work days and whatever the latest fad in safety of which they happen to currently be enamored. As safety professionals we have to drive these eunuchs from our chosen field with knotted chords and send them scampering like shocked money changers.

It seems that every month or so I get a wild hair up my small intestine and advocate throwing a beating into some poor schmoo who’s trying to make a buck.  Maybe that’s unfair, but who cares, I care not one whit about fair and when someone is trying to make a buck by undermining the foundation of a profession that, for all its warts,  is ostensibly about keeping people alive long enough to toil another day. So for those of you who are reading this in hopes of yet another viscous attack against the ugly brutes schilling snake oil, sorry; you will be disappointed, perhaps on several levels.

But then I digress.  The target of this week’s blog is the self-castrated safety professional who simpers and whelps about the grave injustice of being saddled with a clueless Operations managers who just don’t get it when it comes to safety.  I freely accept that there are many Operations folks who don’t get safety, but why is that? We’ve made the topic of worker safety about as interesting as the farm report.  You want to shut down the conversation with the hyper caffeinated goofball seated next to you on a plane? You don’t tell them you sell insurance, or that you’re a realtor (when did real estate agents decide that their chosen profession needed to be pronounced real TORE instead of realter? Call it what you want your still selling real estate; case closed) No to strangle the conversation in its infancy you simply need to say, “I work in worker safety, what do YOU do?” The conversation will die quicker than if you said you enjoy watching snuff films.

Let us assume that you’re able to truly able to have a frank conversation with Operations management about worker safety, what would you say, what are the five things you would want  every Operations leader know about safety? First of all, if you need to have this conversation if you hold out any hope of making things better, and some of you, I’m convinced, don’t want that. Many of you are only content to be malcontents, to be the pitiful victims who are under appreciated; those of you who work so hard and receive so little reward.

For my part, here are the five things that every Operations manager should know:

  1. Injuries Aren’t Unavoidable.  Generally speaking there is a correlation between a tightly controlled process that has little variation and a safe workplace.  When people get hurt it’s obviously out of process, as your process (unless it was designed by the Marquis de Sadd) wasn’t designed to deliberately injure workers. So if a leader strives to make sure that people work within process (including things like following safety processes and procedures) they will tend to have less injuries.
  2. Injuries Are Inefficient and Cost A Lot.  When people get hurt it shuts or slows everything down; everything, and not just at the time of the injury sometimes for weeks or months afterward and far beyond the confines of the area in which the worker was hurt.  Depending on how gruesome the injury (or Heaven forbid a fatality) the witnesses may be forever shaken by what they’ve seen, some may not be able to return to work ever (and this isn’t me being melodramatic, I’ve seen strong men unable to cope—and therefore work—-because they saw a friend pulped and mangled before his or her agonizing death on a dirty factory floor.) Even those who didn’t witness the event first hand are shaken and the macabre cacophony that travels through the organization like ball lightening is sometimes far worse in its imaginings of the scene the bloody reality. It’s tough to give work your all when you wonder if you will be the next to shuffle this mortal coil in the name of building widgets. Okay so maybe I am being melodramatic, but what’s a bit of melodrama between us safety guys?  The efficiency goes on and on through investigations internal, corporate, and criminal.  It takes a lot of time to kill or cripple a worker, given all the paperwork and associated loss of production and time is, after all, money.  So when the final cost of carnage hit the bottom line it hardly seems worth it.
  3. 3.    If It Looks Dangerous It Is; So Shut It Down. Too often people assume that because the boss (whether it be the team leader or the CEO) allows an activity it must at a minimum be “safe enough”.  In a lot of those cases the boss is counting on the worker to make a judgment call and to keep him/herself out of harm’s way.  So on it goes with both parties counting on the other to prevent the accident that will kill the worker. 
  4. 4.    Giving People Credit For “a Little Common Sense” Is like Giving Them Credit FHaving Super Powers.  We could argue whether or not common sense exist ad nauseum and all that would come of it would be that eventually I would want to back hand you right in the mouth; probably more than once.  The bottom line is that whether or not you believe common sense exists to any great extent (it doesn’t) trusting it to keep people from doing something they never foresaw or intended (i.e. injuring themselves or others) is a pretty stupid way to run a business.
  5. 5.    Work is Intrinsically Unsafe and the Only Way to Make It A Bit Safer Is to Stay Actively Involved. All jobs carry with them some risk of injury so leaders have to be mindful of the risks endemic to a job and, yes, actively work to reducing the risks to the lowest practicable level.  We can pretend that people don’t commit errors, make bad decisions, take risks, behave recklessly, and generally do stupid things.  We can act as if we live in a utopia where machines don’t malfunction, tools don’t wear out, and equipment never fails.  We can do these things but when we do we do nothing to reduce the risks and we count on luck to protect people.  Lucky people win lotteries, date people way more attractive that any sense of justice would allow, and find hundred dollar bills on the ground. LUCKY PEOPLE DON’T NARROWLY ESCAPE DYING ON THE JOB.      

Are these the right five? Are the really ten? Fifty? A thousand? Maybe you have others you think they should know, but if you think they need to know about how hard your job is, how to calculate Incident Rates or how to conduct a JSA I would put it to you that you’re probably as dumb as the Operations leader thinks you are; maybe more even.

Filed under: culture change, Just Culture, Phil La Duke, risk management, Safety, Safety Culture, Worker Safety

Breaking Down Resistance


scan

 

By Phil La Duke

When it comes to Organizational Change, for my money you can’t beat the work of Edgar Schein. Schein is considered by many to be the father of Organizational Development; he coined the term “corporate culture” and if for that fact alone should be revered in the same hushed tones in which people talk about Edison, Deming, or Jobs. I’ve written about Schein’s work before, but a thousand or so words ranted in frothy hyperbole from what amounts to a hot head and malcontent is hardly sufficient to explain the great man’s thoughts, let alone apply them to safety.

Schein postulated that organizational change can only come when the resistance to change is less than a combination of dissatisfaction, vision, and next steps. (Although, in fairness, Mao said “all change comes from the barrel of a gun” and I think that there’s a fair amount of truth in that as well, but given the sad fact that most worrisome Human Resources toadstools won’t allow firearms in the workplace—never mind pointing them at the heads of those mouth-breathing dolts unable or unwilling to change—Schein is what were left with, and we could do worse. But then I digress.)

I have devoted much digital ink to fomenting discontent, casting the vision, and crafting logical next steps, in fact, I make my living doing all three; but what about resistance? How do we recognize and attack it. Week after tedious week I work with organizations that seek rapid change—a means of accelerating culture change without merely masking symptoms by obfuscating them with a climate change. Some say it can’t be done—that culture change is a long and laborious process, but since time is money, most notably money that ends up in the pockets of safety culture salesmen (mostly through greed or stupidity) I distrust the argument—I say it can be done. I’ve done it.

Tackling the resistance is the toughest nut to crack in Schein’s formula; chiefly because it can be so tough to spot. I’ve found that people offer clues to their true feeling in the language they use so recently I set pen to paper to identify some of the most telling signs of resistance to change.

“We’re a lot better than we used to be”

People love to get credit for growth, even when the growth they’ve achieved is inconsequential. I’m a big fan of the cartoonist, Al Martin. Martin’s glimpses into human relations in comic strips like Mr. Boffo and Willie and Ethel are without peer; I urge you to seek it out. In one strip I particularly like, Willie and Ethel are having a conversation, and I’m paraphrasing here so if I don’t get it exactly right bear in mind that sending me an indignant email will only result in me unleashing a response so filled with bile and venom it would make Linda Blair’s Regan in the grips of full demonic possession gasp in incredulity, disgust and shock. So ANYWAY, Ethel says to Willie, “Mr. Johnson takes his wife out to dinner once a week. Mr. Johnson, brings his wife flowers. Mr. Johnson takes his wife out dancing…” Willie responds “Hun, why don’t you do us both a favor and stop comparing me to Mr. Johnson and start comparing me to some of those guys on death row.” Essentially, when someone in the organization tells me how much better than they were than they used to be they are telling me that any future change must be seen in the context of the wonderful things they have already achieved. I’m not handing out blue ribbons, and you wouldn’t get any credit for sucking less than you used to even if I was. Similarly, you get no credit for “we’re better than industry average”. Okay, so effectively you are telling me that you kill less people than the competition. That’s like John Wayne Gacey saying, “hey, at least I didn’t kill as many as Ted Bundy’ at his sentencing hearing. When people defend their mediocre safety performance by comparing it to the way it was when mastodons roamed the earth it makes me want to puke; I can feel myself getting dumber for their company.

It’s easy enough to refute the position that the organization isn’t quite as bad as it seems because they used to be worse. Doing a crappy job at safety is doing a crappy job, irrespective if you are doing a less crappy job that you used to.

What’s the requirement?

When governments started issuing regulations for workplace safety they never expected that businesses would see the rules as the gold standard for Operational Excellence, and yet those who resist change are quick to challenge suggested changes with a smug “what does the law require?” There is often a chasm between what is right and what is legal, and an even larger gap between the smart thing to do and what it takes to comply with a regulation. People asking what the government requires are the equivalent of the four-year old who reminds his mother that she said he couldn’t have A cookie, not the 15 he ate. When I hear this I silently wonder where Mao’s gun is when I need it.

How do we respond to “What’s the Requirement?” Simple: “what does your business sense tell you is required?”, “What do your ethics tell you to do?” and “what would someone with the sense God gave geese do in this circumstance?” Remember when asking these questions to resist the temptation to backhand slap the people who asked what the government requires as much as is practicable and reasonable.

We’ve Been Doing It This Way For Years and Nobody Ever Got Hurt.

This statement comes in many forms from the pleading ignorance of the implied, “why do we need to change when it’s obvious that it’s working” to the obstinate smirking challenge of “hey, you don’t know @#$%, we work here and this is fine, if you had a modicum of sense you wouldn’t drag your sad-assed theories here; go play and let the grown ups talk.” I had a social maladroit skulk up to me after one of my speeches where I made the statement that the “absence of injuries” does not denote the presence of safety. He smiled one of those smug, “gotcha” smiles and said that I was wrong because safety by very definition meant that nobody got hurt. I smiled politely and congratulated on his fortune of being immune from dying in a car crash. He looked puzzled, so I explained that by his reasoning the fact that he had not yet been killed in a car crash meant that such an event was impossible and he was immune from a death from this cause. Hell, he may have well been immortal—God, after all, looks after the stupid.

How Safe Does It Need To Be?

I usually get asked this question more in the form of a challenge than a good-faith request for information. This question might seem an expression of tolerance of risk, but in reality it’s usually a way of condescending the point of safety, a way of rolling your eyes and saying “can’t we give people a little credit?” I’ve found that the best answer to this is “how dead do you want your people?” or “how quickly do you want to kill your people?” When dealing with resistance to change, I’ve found that escalating rhetoric can be useful.

What About Common Sense?

People have a deep and abiding need to blame people for not having common sense; it’s a neat way of garnering agreement that the injured party deserves to go home on slab or in a body bag because they exercised inferior judgment. It’s reassuring to know that only the stupid and careless get hurt; it won’t happen to us, because we would never act so irresponsibly, do something so stupid, or behave so recklessly. Dr. Robert Long does a nice job dispelling the myth of common sense in his book Risk Makes Sense (note: I continue to plug Long’s book even though I don’t think he’s speaking to me at the moment owing to one of my sharpish replies to one of his patronizing comments he made on one of my posts; he essentially took his ball and went home. That not withstanding, his books are really insightful and worth the read.)

Common sense is essentially the collective wisdom of a population. Those of us who grew up in small towns understand the way folk wisdom grows up out of the collective experience of yokels who meet in the post office lobby and worry over the price of corn and the amount of rain we’re getting this year. But now that we live in a truly global community and are part of the world population there is no common sense. My life experience is far different than an urban Britt, a rural Chinaman (is this still an acceptable term? No slur is meant; I just don’t have the energy to change the nomenclature every time someone halfway across the world get’s chuffed because they prefer to be called something different. Note to all: If I am looking to insult you, my message will be clear, and if I am successful, I will leave you wondering at the accuracy of my slurs until you shuffle this mortal coil. So if “Chinaman” offends you, grow the @#$% up.) or many of my coworkers. So, no we can’t rely on common sense in the same way we can’t rely on magic, divine intervention, or blind luck to keep the work place safe.

Words alone won’t end resistance but having the dialog that challenges these statements undermines the resolve of those who resist change. As Edgar Schein notes the most effective path toward organizational change lies in attacking all elements across the formula.

Filed under: culture change, Just Culture, Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, ,

The Folly Of Safety Reminders


 

Don't forget

by Phil La Duke

It’s been awhile since I blogged about the role of behavior in worker safety.  Truth be told, despite the tonnage of digital ink I have devoted to criticizing Behavior Based Safety, I am a firm believer in an organization’s need to address worker behaviors that cause injuries, but I differ with many BBS devotees on the best way to do so.

Variation in human behavior represents the biggest challenge to maintaining a robust and reliable process; whether you are seeking to prevent quality defects, reduce cost, or eliminate injuries you have to consider the effects of human behavior on your process.  That having been said, if we are going to address behavioral causes of Injuries, shouldn’t we concentrate on behaviors we can do something about?

Human Error

Human error is as much a part of being human as anything else; it’s practically encoded in our DNA.  Researchers estimate that the average person makes five mistakes an hour.[1] There seems to be a biological imperative that compels us to make mistakes.  Some believe that mistakes are our subconscious’ way of testing the safety of rapidly adapting to our surroundings.  Irrespective of why we make mistakes, it’s certain that people will make mistakes no matter how hard we try.  Not that we should give up.  While we can’t completely eradicate mistakes we can reduce the probability that human error will result in serious injury or death. Mistake-proofing equipment and processes is an integral part of any safety management process.  We should think of mistake proofing as making our process more forgiving, more tolerant of mistakes.

Of course, we can’t bubble-wrap the world, and any control has limits.  We may not be able to prevent mistakes or protect people from their mistakes, but we can work on ensuring that factors that make mistakes more common are controlled.  There are many things that can make mistakes more likely—from fatigue, drug- or alcohol abuse, to lack of training or stress.  Organizations should redouble their efforts to help workers to manage the things in life that make mistakes more common and potentially, more deadly.

Flawed Decision Making

While human error is inevitable, flawed decision-making need not be.  Workers often make decisions that result in injurious consequences.  Organizations wishing to reduce behavior-related injuries should seriously consider training workers in decision analysis and decision making techniques.

Not all bad decisions are the product of a lack of decision making skills, however, and if an organization discovers a pattern of poor decision making it should take a hard, diagnostic look at its communication.  Often decisions that end in injury are poorly made because someone believed something was true when it wasn’t or didn’t believe it was true when it was.  A lack of communication, or poor communication channels can seriously disrupt the decision making process.

Risk Taking

Every action carries some element of risk with it.  Risk is neither good nor bad, and often we are called on to take risks as part of our daily jobs.  The key is not to have workers become risk averse, instead, we should develop the skills so that workers can take educated, controlled, and planned risks.  When teaching workers how to manage the risks they take, it’s important that organizations train the workers in core skills. Unless workers understand the limits endemic to their processes the risks they take will be more gambles than controlled and planned risk.  While you can coach workers on the inappropriateness of the risks they have taken, it’s far better to educate workers before they are faced with the decision than reactively.

Carelessness

Sometimes workers are so derelict in their duties that we describe their behavior as carelessness.  While some argue that carelessness doesn’t truly exist—that the behavior is really poorly managed performance impediments or recklessness—there are times when a worker is so distracted, manages his or her performance impeding factors, or simply cares so little about the quality of his or her performance that one could accurately characterize the behavior as carelessness.  Carelessness is likely a disciplinary issue; it is unlikely that training, coaching, or mistake proofing will have any meaningful effect.

Recklessness

Sometimes workers will—out of frustration, belligerence, or maliciousness—act in a way so fraught with danger that it can only be categorized as recklessness.  Recklessness is not the act of a mature, responsible professional and it should be addressed surely and immediately.  If the reckless behavior continues the worker should be fired; as drastic as that sounds it may be the only way to protect the organization from the extreme dangers associated with reckless behavior.

Incenting Safe Behaviors

What all these behaviors share is that there is little use in trying to use antiquated behavior modification techniques to change the behaviors.  Traditional incentive and awards is not likely to change subconscious behavior, and attempts to do so can be costly and destructive.  In fact, there is very little we can do externally to change behaviors that aren’t deliberate or that are the product of poor decision making or inappropriate risk taking.

Observations

Just because behavior modification and incentives are of limited value and effectiveness doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything to reduce the variability in human behavior that causes injuries.  The first and most important step is observations.  There is a pervasive belief that the only effective way to do safety observations is peer-to-peer; I don’t believe this, but I will leave those criticisms for another day.  We can’t address unsafe behaviors unless we know when and why they occur.  A safety observation can be as simple as a supervisor walking his or her work area talking to workers and watching them as they worker work.  Supervisors can coach workers on managing performance impediments, risk taking, and decision making while being alert for carelessness or recklessness.

 

 


[1] I’ve cited this research many times.  I saw a speaker on patient safety at a medical conference.  I took detailed notes as to the research that concluded this, but sadly lost it in a flood (along with many other irreplaceables).  If anyone knows the study, the researcher, or a parallel source of the findings I would sure appreciate hearing from them.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Hazard Management, Just Culture, Mistake proofing, Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, , , , , , , , , , ,

The Rise of The Safety Extremist


By Phil La Duke

 Stop extremsim

“’Isms’ in my opinion are not good”
—Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 

fa·nat·ic (fuh-nat-ik) noun

  1. a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.

ex·trem·ist (ik-stree-mist) noun

  1. a person who goes to extremes, especially in political matters.
  2. a supporter or advocate of extreme doctrines or practices.

I write provocative material.  I deliberately try to elicit a visceral response and take people to a place where they can explore their deepest held beliefs and question basic ideologies of safety. The latest in neuroscience suggests that our decisions or made and our ability to change reside deep in our subconscious beneath our defenses. When something strikes a nerve at that level it can be difficult to  have a rational conversation, but in general, if one can at least reconsider one’s belief set maybe its worth it.

Why is it important to reexamine our deepest held beliefs? Because the world is a dynamic place and if our beliefs are static we become increasingly out of touch.  If we cling blindly to our beliefs and lash out to anyone who threatens our worldview then we run the risk of becoming completely and dangerously out of touch with the realities of your profession and become a useless relic.  That should be career suicide, but sadly even the most out of touch hacks can usually find work based on their years and years of experience.  But what good is 40.2 years of experience if that experience consists chiefly of self-congratulatory affirmations and retreads of theories that are a century old.

Not that every new idea is a good one.  There is as much crap spewed by the idea d’jour pundits today as there ever has been. And just because an idea or theory is new doesn’t make it any better than conventional wisdom, but it’s important that any professional consider new ideas and emerging thought with an open mind.

That’s getting tougher and tougher to do in safety, owing to the rise in extremist thought in safety. The merest suggestion that we discard a safety truism is likely to to create nothing short of a public out rage.  Take for instance the response to Heinrich’s Pyramid.  A recent thread on the social networking site LinkedIn elicited 3,186 comments ranging from the intellectually bantering to the crackpot personal attacks. The thread quoted a recent assertion by EHS Today:

“Heinrich’s assertion that 88% of accidents are the result of unsafe acts has been dismissed as something he just made up. There was no research behind it whatsoever. “ and asked the simple question “What’s your opinion? And why?”

According to a recent article by Ashley Johnson in H+S Magazine a poll the magazine conducted found that 86% of respondents believed either completely or somewhat in Heinrich’s theories, while another 10% reporting that they weren’t familiar with Heinrich’s theories.  The article is a scathing indictment of Heinrich’s theories from experts who question his methods, his conclusions, and generally speaking nearly everything had to say.  The article was balanced by a half-hearted defense that the numbers were never meant to be statistical predictors (the were, by the way) and that Heinrich never blamed the workers (he did. In fact Heinrich was a devotee of eugenics and believed that one’s race and ethnicity played a factor in the likelihood that a worker would be injured or cause an injury to other.)

The What does this all have to do with extremism? Plenty.  This demonstrates that  despite a growing body of evidence that deeply held belief will hold sway.  This in itself is not extremism, but it does create an environment where extremists thrive.  Why do people cling to beliefs that are refuted (there are still people who deeply believe in fake photos and film footage of the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot, even though the perpetrators of these hoaxes[1])? People tend to want to believe in what they’re doing and when people chip away at the foundation.

Its not just the Heinrich supporters who will lash out against any suggestion that doesn’t support their world view.  If you don’t believe me just publish something critical about Behavior Based Safety.  Within hours extremists and fanatics will marshal their forces and begin attacking you.  The problem has grown to such an extent that several editors of leading safety magazines actively avoid the debate more out of a desire to avoid arguing with fanatics than out of fear or intimidation.  But intimidation of the press is a goal of extremists everywhere —from Al Quida to the Ku Klux Klan to the Neo Nazis to the safety extremists—is to discredit, attack, intimidate, and generally silence the media which, if it is truly unbiased—will never buy there bill of goods.

Extremism Is Rooted In Fear

Let’s suppose you have 40.2 years of experience in safety where you served with distinction, and someone comes along and asserts something contrary to the foundation on which your entire experience is predicated.  What happens to your credentials and accomplishments and very identity as a safety professional when all on which it is built crumbles? People will protect their beliefs with a wildness typically reserved for mother grizzlies defending their cubs; they will make ugly personal attacks and seek to gather together like-minded souls close to them.

Extremism Loves Company

Social networking sites make it easy to reach out to a world of people. Some credit social networking with ushering in Arab Spring, but it also has a darker side.  Social Networking affords us the opportunity for the fanatics to get their ideas out to a sympathetic ear. Unfortunately, when it comes to safety, people are dying in the workplace while crackpots are postulating theories that are given equal weight with responsible theorists in safety.  I will leave the readers to decide which slide of the equation on which I fall.


[1] I’m speaking of the most famous loch ness monster photo and the actual film footage of a reputed big foot. The very people who first produced them convincingly disproved both of these.  If you want to believe in the Loch Ness monster or Big Foot God bless you, but what was the most compelling evidence has been disproven. And don’t even get me started on crop circles.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, Worker Safety, , , , , ,

Phil La Duke is Full Of @#$%


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By Phil La Duke

On Tuesday of this week I will be presenting Hardwiring Safety, Seven Tips for Changing Culture; it’s a topic I know well, having spoken on it in one form or another for the last nine odd years (if you know me, you understand how odd these years have been).  I thought that given my familiarity with the topic I would blow it up here and see what new insights I might be able to glean from it.  Too often safety pundits keep parading out the same old tired schlock in a marginally different package.  Not me; I’d like to think that I’ve grown over the last decade and a half (my waist-line sure suggests it) and so here is my attempt to tear down all I’ve said on the subject and start anew.

The Values of A Safety Culture

In my original speech, some years ago I prattled on about the values of a safety culture; I was an ass. The term “safety culture” is a misnomer.  At best safety could be a subculture, but it is not—in even the broadest sense of the term—a culture.  A culture is the codified set of shared values, rituals, rules, and taboos of a population.  In simple terms (and I am over simplifying it here) culture is how a group of people with common interests view various topics, like, for instance safety. So every organization has a safety culture to some degree—some have cultures that think safety is a bunch of nonsense while others feel it is the only true measure of their success.  Furthermore, changing a culture is more than just about changing the way a population does things, it’s about sharing what it values.

Changing the Culture Is More About Understanding Change Than it Is About Understanding Culture

Noted thinker on the topic of culture change, Edgar Schein developed a simple formula for organizational change.  Shine believed that change could only come when:

D + V + N > R

In this model D = Dissatisfaction, V = Vision, N = Next Steps, and R = Resistance.  In real terms, Shine’s model suggests that we can only exact real, lasting change by increasing dissatisfaction; creating a compelling vision of the ideal state; creating practical and easy next steps, and/or reducing resistance.

So throughout this discussion we will explore how my previous presentation matched up with this model, I suspect it will do so poorly. Before we move into the values, I should note, without realizing it, my efforts were aimed at vision-setting and viable next steps.  And I’ve never failed to change a culture, in fact, I was so wildly successful that many of my customers mistrusted the numbers, even though they gave them to me.  Of course I cheated.   I wouldn’t take on clients who weren’t already deeply dissatisfied with the performance of their safety efforts, so I didn’t really have to do too much to increase dissatisfaction, but if you are going to change your culture you likely will have to create some serious dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Value One: All Injuries Are Preventable

I’ve written several times on the hypocrisy and condescension of slogans like “Safety Is Our Number One Priority” and “Safety First”.  Such platitudes are disingenuous and the people who perpetuate them are either liars or fools or both. For some reading this, this is fairly obvious, while others will furrow their sub-simian brows and hammer out an angry email filled with mouth-breathing outrage.  So why revisit it? I am continually surprised at the shear volume of safety professionals who continue to self-righteously lie about this to his or her constituency.

This particular value conceals a prevalent belief that “that’s nice to say, but that’s not how it works out here in the world”.  I have since come to believe that this value should really read: “Accidents are inevitable, but injuries are not”. Things go wrong all the time, but with enough information about how workers are hurt, we can prevent injuries.  This seems tough, and mainly because most safety professionals work on the probability side of things instead of the severity.  Organizations often overlook the very real human drive toward expediency, and as a result they are surprised when people remove guards, take dangerous short cuts, and in general recklessly put themselves in harm’s way.  If organizations channeled that energy into reducing the severity of contact with a hazard, far more injuries would be prevented.  And while we’re on the subject, let’s not forget that safety is merely a relative expression of probability.  When we say something is unsafe we are describing something that has a high probability of in jurying someone.  There is no such thing as absolute safety, because for that to exist the probability of injury must be zero, and that is never the case.

Value 2: Compliance is Not Enough

Compliance is a poor measure of workplace safety.  Nobody was ever saved by compliance, but a company that doesn’t value compliance as part of an overall safety strategy is unlikely to be successful.  The idea that “okay is good enough” or that the bare minimum as defined by a third party that doesn’t understand fact one about your business, your operating climate, and your work constraints is a pretty good indicator that your organization’s leadership has its head stuffed in an orifice that would make a master yogi green with envy.  Companies need to build a foundation of compliance.  Compliance is a good place to start, and a useful argument to make for those reluctant to do the right thing as it pertains to safety, but making the argument that we have to do something because OSHA requires it is akin to having to convince someone not to torture and kill a child because its illegal.  No, we comply with the law because: a) we aren’t criminals, b) because following the spirit of the law is in the interest, not just of our workers, but our business overall; and c) because if we aren’t able to do the bare minimum how can we ever hope to do better? People who are satisfied with mere compliance have no business working anywhere; the aspire to mediocrity they are the static noise that interferes with the clear signals we try to send to the workers.

Value 3: Prevention is more effective than correction

This value is beginning to seem trite to me. If someone were to come up to me and say, “We’re world-class because we believe that prevention is more effective than correction” I might not laugh in his or her face, but I would almost certainly roll my eyes and make fun of them behind their backs.  I’m not disagreeing with the sentiment, but it seems so painfully obvious that it’s tough to take the speaker seriously.  When I hear some of the things that I’ve said about this in the past, I just want to say to myself, “no kidding? You just figuring that out now?”  The problem is that for this to be a value, instead of a tired platitude, this has to spur some operational behavior.  The response I would have for those (including myself) who spout this rhetoric, would be, “congratulations, now what are you doing about it?” Values have to be more than sentimental aspirations; they have to be the kind of non-negotiable absolute truths against which the quality of the leadership decisions is measured.  They have to be the acid test that tell us whether or not we are ethical or cowards.

Value 4: Safety is everybody’s job

The fact that I every preached this dribble is embarrassing beyond words, but I’ll go on for another couple of paragraphs anyway. Safety isn’t everyone’s job, well at least not the way that people think.  It’s nice to say while you polish the seats of cheaply made office chairs with your ass and think of what a swell job you would have if those idiots out in the field, or on the shop floor, or wherever their jobs take them would just step up to safety and stop hurting themselves.  Yes, I will acknowledge that we all have some responsibility for keeping ourselves safe, but the role the worker plays in keeping themselves safe is minuscule compared to the responsibility borne by the supervisors, engineers, and decision makers who blissfully think that the one thing that all injured workers have in common is that had ought be a damned-sight more careful.

I’ve written about how everyone plays a role in workplace safety, and certainly the worker has the responsibility for following safety rules and doing the job as specified, but many injuries are caused because the operation is working out of process.  I think that everyone has the right to expect that his or her employer has exercised reasonable judgment and taken appropriate measures to ensure that my job is not going to kill me.  A lot of people decry the rise in frivolous lawsuits, but they lose sight of the reason we have the right to bring action in civil court: it keeps people from killing people who have wronged them. Seems like a good system, but then I still pray, “if I should die before I wake…avenge me”; it doesn’t rhyme but then I’ve always been more interested in justice than in poetic meter.

Certainly this value applies to leaders who believe that they don’t have the time or inclination to protect workers from their own stupidity. Show me a safety system that promises to hold workers accountable for their own culpability in injuries and I will show you a system that sells, and a line of drooling consultants with the greedy pinched faces of ferrets and the amoral spiel they intuitively sense in lazy executives.

I think this value should be updated to: “Everyone plays a role in safety, and the organization takes pains ensure that everyone understands their roles and is accountable and engaged in fulfilling the role requirements.” It more wordy I grant you, but do you want it short or accurate?

Value 5: Safety is a strategic business element

I believe this value more now than I did when I first wrote it. People get to wound up in the emotional side of safety. Yes injuries are tragic, yes it leaves people horribly maimed and scarred and yes, it creates widows and orphans. Stating the obvious doesn’t really do anyone any good. And telling people “safety is the right thing to do” is condescending and insulting. In saying it we are implying that but for the intercession and wise advice we would turn the workplace into a site of such carnage that it would leave Pol Pot sleeping with the light on for the next decade.

Beyond the obvious moral and social benefits of safety, it is the smart business decision to make.  I speak to a lot of C+ executives (as in CEO, COO, CFO, somewhere along the line it became cute to call them “C+” executives…get it , they have a “C” + some other letters.  Clever.  I’ve found that in a fair amount of cases the C+ appellation is more appropriate in the grading system before grade inflation meant students got 4.9 gpas (what does it say for the state of mathematics where a student can get a 4.9 on a 4-point scale?) for trying hard and sucking up.  No, I like to think that a lot of C+ executives are just that, slightly above average, but not willing to put in enough extra effort to move that grade up to a B –. I realize I’ve wandered off track a bit. But even a C– executive can understand that hurting workers costs money, a lot of money.  In fact, I’ve never met an executive who said, “I’d love to hurt more workers, (especially that sonofa so-and-so Cranston he’s just begging for it) but I just can’t afford it.

When we are able to quantify in real, honest terms exactly how much it costs to hurt workers we are talking serious money, and that wasted purchase of human suffering gets even the thickest executive’s attention (well, not the thickest, I once met with a healthcare Human Resources Vice President who said that it didn’t cost them anything to hurt workers because they treated them on site.)

Value 6: Safety is owned by operations

It’s heartening to know that I wasn’t completely wrong about everything.  Safety absolutely has to be owned by those with the greatest control and clout in an organization and that is Operations.  Operations, for lack of a better definition, is how the organization makes its money. When Operations leadership say job, typically the rest of the organization says how high on the way down. Only Operations can create the sense of urgency needed to effect real, sustainable change.

So there is the value setting portion of the equation. As for the next steps, well I think you have to figure that out for yourselves, or better yet, hire me to help you find it, but anyone who promises you a universal solution without even asking question one about your organization is either a fool, a liar, a thief or that all too common combination of the three.

Hardwiring safety into all activities cannot be achieved through sermons and scoldings. Hardwiring safety requires a reimagining of the nature of safety itself.

For some safety professionals, the role of the safety professional is cheerleader;  a perpetually perky advocate of all things safe.  Unfortunately, this kind of safety professional typically has only the most superficial understanding of what it takes to make a workplace safer.

Other safety professionals see their roles as parental, eternally haranguing a petulant workforce into straightening up and flying right.  Command and control approaches to safety don’t require much more awareness of the nature of safety than that required of the cheerleaders.

Some safety professionals are witnesses to business.  They walk around the workplace worrying over charts and counting boo-boos.  These safety professionals are too busy looking at what happened that they can’t ever internalize the true nature of safety. In most cases they don’t really care about the nature of safety. They content themselves with passing charts to Operations.

Until safety professionals can see safety as an expression of risk and can advocate for risk reduction through coaching Operations can safety become imbedded into all our activities. Safety has to be more about removing variation from our processes and protecting people from injury when things go wrong and our processes fail.

Filed under: Phil La Duke, Safety Culture, , , , , ,

Pulling Safety Out Of Its Rut: The Value of A Different Look At Safety


By Phil La Duke

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Let’s be clear, there is no such thing as a safe workplace. Sure we can slap each other on the back and brag to one another about the four years without a recordable injury and we can tell ourselves that we have achieved a Utopian risk free workplace but the reality is, there is always some probability that a worker will be harmed in the course of doing his or her job.

While the level of success in lowering the risk of injuries varies from organization to organization, its fair to say that we can all do better. (For you smug “I haven’t had an injury in my organization in 23 years” readers, I say look harder, do you have near misses? First aid cases? If you think the answer to those questions is “no” you are delusional. You might as well stop reading, because you will never understand the error of your ways until your next fatality; and believe me one is coming.) The problem isn’t just in the way we view safety, it’s also in the fact that for about 30 years the view of safety has remained largely unchallenged.  Consensus thinking on a complex problem leads to a convoluted mess, and in this case safety vendors—both the well meaning and the snake-oil salesmen—capitalize on the confusion to carve out lucrative livelihoods. When people make their livings off the status quo, they aren’t highly motivated to make substantive changes. In fact, most will fight like pumas to preserve their intellectual turf.

The problem with the same old thinking is that it implies that we have forever solved the problem. It’s as if safety is a static problem when in fact, safety is dynamic; every time there is a change in the workplace (which is constant—if nothing else every piece of equipment is getting older. Parts where out, workers get older and aren’t as physically capable as they were the day before. Without intervention, everything in the workplace is becoming more and more risky. Applying a static solution to a dynamic problem lies at the heart of disaster. Too many organizations miss this fact as they pursue improved worker safety. The approach most organizations take to making the workplace safer hasn’t really changed in the last 30 (if not 100 years). Effectively the solution is to modify the workers such that they are better able to interact with workplace hazards.

 “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”—Albert Einstein

If there is to be any sort of important, transformational innovation in workplace safety we have to think differently and explore radically different methods for reducing workplace risk; in short, we have to view safety in a revolutionary new way; we have to think differently.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” —Albert Einstein

I understand that many of you don’t see the problem, after all, things are getting better—injuries are down, fatalities are flat, and in general the workplace seems safer, or at very least safe enough.  But people still get hurt on the job, people still die in industrial accidents. So perhaps you should consider that another approach is necessary.

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”—Albert Einstein

It’s tempting to think that if we are getting good results doing what were doing then there is no real reason to change; if it aint broke, don’t fix it.  But emerging technology, slackening protections for workers, and socioeconomic changes relative to the business climate combine to create a drastically different workplace than we have previously experienced. We need to worry less about the procedural, less about the logical and more about the possible.

“Think Different”—Steven Jobs

Co-founder of Apple, Steven Jobs has had the greatest impact on our lives since Thomas Edison. When he returned to Apple he adopted the slogan, “Think Different”.  Others at Apple protested, “Think Different” they argued was grammatically incorrect, and should rightfully read “think differently, or think ‘different’”.  But Jobs had a specific meaning in mind. He wanted people to think “different”. Not differently from the way they were currently thinking, although that was certainly part of it. No, Jobs saw the credo as a call for thinking that was tangibly out of the mainstream. It was almost as he was calling for a visualization of exactly what the manifestation of what “different” looks like. It was more than a challenge; it was the defiant sneer of a mind that would change the world. If ever there was a place where thinking “different” is needed, it is in the world of worker safety.

Okay…So What?

It’s easy to hammer out a thousand words or so on the need for us to look beyond the traditional in worker safety, but without specifics how useful is the advice?  While the need for change in safety is considerable, the most critical changes need to come in these areas:

  • The Role of The Safety Professional.  Seeing the safety professional as the wizened old mage who is the arbiter of all things safety is outmoded.  Whether these sages are policemen or consultants, it’s time to imagine a completely different safety function. One where the decision making relative to safety isn’t housed in the safety office to be meted out by the safety engineer, rather where knowledge is widely distributed throughout population and decision-making regarding safety resides with empowered workers at all levels.
  • The View of Behavior As Causation.  Yes, unsafe behavior gets people injured and killed, but the BBS pundits have got to stop acting as if they have discovered the God Particle.  There is a dearth of understanding of sociology, neurology, brain function, group dynamics, anthropology, and even psychology underpinning too many BBS “solutions” (the only solutions offered by many BBS systems is to keep the providers well feed with full pockets). The question isn’t whether or not unsafe behaviors create heightened risk of injuries, but whether or not we can influence those behaviors to the extent that it will lower the risk of injuries.  If you considers other problems associated with populations—crime, poverty, war, etc.—governments haven’t had much luck solving these problems by modifying individuals behaviors; what makes us think we can be more successful in worker safety?
  • The View of Safety As A Discrete Element.  Trying to managing safety in a vacuum, that is, without considering Quality, Delivery, Cost, Morale, and Environment is like herding cats.  If you don’t treat the efficiency of your organization holistically, you will most likely shift problems from one area of the company to another.
  • Prevention. A couple of weeks ago I posted “Requiem for Prevention”. In that piece I talked at length about how we needed to siphon some of the effort that we currently put into prevention and refocus it on protecting workers when prevention fails.  We need to radically reinvent our view of prevention and how to balance it with contingency planning.
  • Treating Injuries As Somehow Different From Other Process Failures.  Safety professionals need to be re-envisioned as problem solvers and process improvement specialists; as utility players on the team. Safety professionals should be capable of making improvements across the SQDCME spectrum; more generalist and less specialized.
  • The View of Safety As A Sacred Calling.  Yes, safety is the right thing to do, sure it’s moral, yes…blah, blah, blah…admit it; we don’t save lives. We aren’t doctors, we aren’t searching for a cure for cancer.  The best we can hope to claim is that we might have saved a life in the course of our careers. We need to stop elevating what we do above the jobs of those we serve.

“You May Say I’m A Dreamer, But I’m Not The Only One”—John Lennon

I realize that a good number of you are bristling about what you’ve read here.  That uneasiness you’re feeling is the first stage to opening your mind.  You need to open your mind and stare into the abyss, because if you don’t you have no capacity to change. Those who have no capacity to change and adapt are on the express train to extinction. Open your mind, if you leave us too soon you’ll be missed.

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

Freeze! Should You Restrict Smart Device I The Workplace?


By Phil La Duke

laptop driverThe ubiquity of smart devise and myriad ways to stay in touch has blurred the lines between the traditional workplace and the rest of our lives.  There was a time when there was no expectation that workers would respond to requests when they weren’t “on-the-clock”. But email, voicemail, cellphones, Wi-Fi, and texting have changed all that.  The concept, at least for salaried professionals, of being on the clock has effectively disappeared. Customers—internal and external—and supervisors have a much more aggressive idea of exactly what constitutes a reasonable response time.  Professionals are essentially on the clock 24/7 and the workplace can be a restaurant, the grocery store, and most perilously the car.

As my hometown, Detroit, prepares for its international auto show, the media is abuzz with all the new features that will make it easier to conduct business in a car or truck.  In one news spot, a spokesman extolled the features that “could make the difference of a contractor getting the job or not”.

I find this trend troubling; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of the most consistently lethal professions (the jobs that are most likely to result in a worker death) are sales jobs, and the most frequent sales death are resultant from traffic accidents.

You Might As Well Be Stoned

To make matters worse, studies have found and reaffirmed that the nature of the distraction is largely irrelevant, and that the nature and duration of the distraction is the real source of danger.  One study found that the largest and potentially most dangerous source of danger was a conversation with a passenger. Another study concluded that driver distraction was at least as dangerous as a driver that is moderately (well above the legal limit) intoxicated and in some cases even MORE dangerous.  This makes sense; while the impairment comparable may the degree to which drunk driving interact with other drivers is statistically less (the later in the evening the more intoxicated drivers on the road) than otherwise distracted drivers (people are texting, talking on cellphones, etc.) who do so in both high traffic circumstances as well as when traffic is light. Driver distraction is a real threat to public safety, and I find it unreasonable to believe that adding everything from Wi-Fi to waffle irons to vehicles will lesson driver distraction.

Laws Aren’t Enough

An increasing number of municipalities are moving to restrict distractions while driving, but most miss the mark.  Exemptions for hands-free and global positioning systems in many of these laws ignore the fact that the primary hazard is the lack of attentiveness of the driver not merely taking one’s eyes off the road. Keeping one’s EYES on the road but failing to keep one’s MIND on the road is a recipe for disaster.

Similarly, many organizations are taking increasingly aggressive measures to mitigate the risk associated with distracted drivers, and they should.  Think of the liability associated with an employee who is conducting company business—from a simple business phone call, to reading and responding to email—who subsequently is at fault in a fatal car accident.  Most companies have existing CYA (cover your assets) policies forbidding such activities, but if there is a policy with complicit breaches (and by that I mean, a case where company forbids an activity but then encourages it by rewarding results that are only possible by violating the rules or punishing people when for failing to achieve results that are only possible when people violate the rules) these policies aren’t like to provide much protection.

Staying Connected Is Killing Us

The temptation to stay connected is often far greater than the desire to comply with company policy and both employer and employee have a shared burden for ensuring that the spirit of the requirement is met.

First, companies should adopt zero-movement policies for smart device and phones.  One company adopted such a policy when a forklift killed a worker while he was talking on a cellphone and walking through an area that was off limits to pedestrians.  The distraction of the pedestrian was the proximate cause of the fatality, although other factors contributed to his fate, the company quickly enacted a policy where people were not allowed to be in motion while talking on cellphones, reading mail from a smart device, or engaged in any activity that would distract one from hazards in the workplace.

Taking It A Step Further

While this policy is laudable, I think we can do better.  Companies need to use a parallel strategy to attack his problem. First, ban communication devices from the vehicles.  Drivers and pedestrians should be prohibited from using any electronic communication while in motion, including hands-free devices. I have taken to stowing my iPhone in my center console while driving.  (I got this idea from a top safety professional that admitted that he struggled with the temptation of using his PDA during his commute. Although I didn’t adopted it until I was pulled over for monkeying about with my phone while driving.) Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, organizations must recognize that travel time is, in and of itself, work and no more should be expected of the individual while driving. This means the company has to adjust its expectations of responsiveness and recognize that individuals will not be able to maintain constant contact.

What About Emergencies?

Such policies invite excuses and “what ifs?”  Chief among these complaints is the objection in the name of safety.  If I comply and there is an emergency I can’t communicate and be touched.  The answer is that a cellphone in the glove box can be used after the driver is safely parked.

But Is It Practical?

I don’t like the idea of not using my cellphone for the 90 minutes a day that I commute, and I recognize that many of you may see this policy as one of those “safety guy goes overboard with overly zealous rules”, but there are an increasing number business leaders who are recognizing that this problem is not going to go away without intervention.

Filed under: Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, , , , , ,

Sailing The Seven Cs of Change


Sailing The Seven Cs of Change

Photo courtesy of Asmundur

Photo courtesy of Asmundur

By Phil La Duke 

More and more safety professionals are coming to the conclusion that real, lasting change can only come as a result of a change to the culture.  For some, this means relabeling the same old schlock and positioning the same tired method as a new, “culture transformation”.  This trend concerns me.  While there are a handful of good (in fact, really good) change professionals out there, there are far more conmen out there whose only experience with change is nickels, dimes, and quarters.

For the record I am not against entrepreneurs making an honest living. But if we aren’t careful we can really screw up and have an uncontrolled and unplanned change with dangerous and unpredictable outcomes.

In my experience, change comes in distinct phases that sometimes overlap and may even move forward and backward.  These phases can be conveniently described using words that begin with the letter C allowing me to make my title pun.

Crisis

It’s said that change only happens when the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of changing.  Organizations, like people, tend to actively resist change. Even positive changes that they know need to happen. Change, biologically speaking, is stupid and dangerous. If you are an organism that is flourishing—you have amply food and shelter, good breeding grounds and prospects, and low predators—changing even the seemingly most insignificant element can lead to extinction. Our central nervous systems are designed to resist change because it puts us in unpredictable situations. Of course we also live in a dynamic environment that is constantly changing and remaining static in a rapidly changing environment leads to extinction.
Organizations tend to resist change until the dissatisfaction with the status quo hits a critical level.
Not all change, is as Mao said, borne out of the barrel of a gun, but the more disruptive the circumstances the stronger the drive for change.

Creation of Vision

Unless leaders can construct a compelling vision, change will be stifled and obstructed. Change grows out of dissatisfaction with the current state, but change that is driven by dissatisfaction alone creates environment where the organization can go from bad to worse. An environment where change is made without a clear vision of the desired state leads to chaos and confusion and can quickly devolve into organizational anarchy. That may sound melodramatic, but in companies that I have seen fail, the failure tends to come gradually as systems breakdown and processes stop working. People still come to work, there is no reign of terror with the aristocracy being dragged to the guillotine, but there is a perceptible shift in work ethic. The good and capable leave the organization and the population reduces to incompetents who are too fearful to leave.

A compelling vision of a desired state focuses the population on a singular purpose, a common cause and an understanding of what they as an organization is trying to create.

Commitment

Legend holds that Hernando Cortez burned his ships when he arrived in the New World to demonstrate to his men that retreat was not an option. Irrespective of your feelings toward Cortez, his actions, however apocryphal, are an excellent example of how commitment to a goal can drive change. Faced the with the choice of either achieving the goal or certain death, it’s fair to say that Cortez’s men were deeply committed to change. Obviously, change can’t always be driven as ruthlessly or aggressively as Cortez, but leaders must aggressively push change by figuratively burning the ships, i.e. they must make it unmistakably clear that anything shy of  100% support for the vision will not be tolerated and those who can’t change attitudes will be forced to change jobs.

Communication of Vision

It’s not enough to have a vision; leadership must make a compelling argument for the vision and inspire passion for the desired state among the population.  Communicating a fierce vision that inspires the population is paramount to a successful organizational change.

Chaos

As the chances are implemented the organization quickly devolves into chaos. As theories become practices the numerous glitches make the change impossible and frightening. It’s easy for leaders to falter in there commitment to change when all seems lost.  Unless leaders are courageous and stick to the course they will not last long enough for the change to put down roots and grow.
Connection

As people struggle to create the new normal out of the howling chaos, they begin to see successes and reasons to hope.  At this point in the change, people start to connect these successes with elements of the vision.  They begin to connect with the desired state as something tangible and real.  These connections begin to forge the foundation of the new processes, tools, mores, and values on which a new and better corporate culture can be built. People tend to fiercely protect these newly forged connections and build norms around them.

Capability & Confidence

Slowly these connections and new practices start to yield real, tangible results and the population’s confidence rises. The organization becomes more capable as it repeats the new practices.  The reliable results that come with organization and personal capability builds confidence and the two form an improvement spiral, which ultimately makes the desired state a reality.

The desire state rarely comes to fruition exactly as envisioned or expected (remember change takes time and the vision often evolves and is refined as time elapses.) This isn’t a bad thing, often the ultimate state far exceeds the organization’s wildest expectations and desires.

 

Filed under: Organizational change, Safety Culture, , , ,

Stop Trying To Do It Alone: Why Culture Change Takes Collaboration


By Phil La Duke

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The approach d’jour to improving worker safety is to change the organizational culture to one that is more supportive of worker safety. The idea is so pervasive in the market place that many of those who recently were purveyors of Behaviour-Based Safety (BBS) have quickly switched to “cultural interventions” despite being thoroughly unqualified to provide such services.  It seems that every consultant that has read a book about culture is now promising to build a safety culture and solve all your problems.

The basic idea is correct; an organization’s culture can either make or break the safety function’s efforts. Furthermore, if an organization is going to change it has to do more than rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, it has to reengineer its foundation; it needs to change at a molecular level. It requires transforming the mission, shared values, and norms of the organization.

There’s a very simple flaw in all this: as a rule, safety professionals don’t lead change of this magnitude and no mater how great their desire attempts by safety professionals to effect real permanent change will fail.

Timing Is Everything

Culture change must be pushed from above and getting that level of buy-in is likely to require a level of dissatisfaction that goes far beyond worker safety.  Culture change typically is driven by a larger business need for change. For example, all organizations have a maturation cycle—they begin as entrepreneurships, evolve into professionally managed companies, and so on until they reach the point of philanthropic organizations.  Every time a company transitions from one stage to the next, it must reevaluate its values, mission, and vision.  Another opportunity for cultural change is when a company is facing bankruptcy and must drastically revamp its business model. In either of these cases, the larger business need for change affords a wonderful opportunity to include safety in the new agenda.

Collaboration Is Key

If the safety professional is going to capitalize on the changes being driven for other purposes he or she must be prepared and ready for the transformational push, and positioned such that safety is more than just an attractive addition to cultural intervention, but an essential one.

The key to this preparation and positioning lies in collaboration.  Safety professionals need to make a concerted effort to partner with other functions. The first relationship that safety professionals should cultivate is with the process excellence group.  A proven track record of collaborating with the process improvement group, positions the safety function as key resource in organizational change. Even the simplest changes will likely involve the process excellence group, and big organizational changes will most certainly employ these professionals.

Another essential collaborative relationship should be between Safety and Legal.  The legal department will likely be significantly involved in the architecture of change, and the more closely Safety is involved at the beginning of the intervention the more likely Safety can insinuate itself into the organizational changes.

Get On Board Early

Beyond collaborating with other functions, safety professionals need to understand the big picture of why the change is necessary, and what the change is expected to bring in terms of benefits to the organization.  A safety professional who understands the goals of the intervention is far more likely to make worker safety a part of these goals than one who is not sure of the role safety will play in the new order.

Climate Change Versus Culture Change

I’ve met many safety professionals who sit around congratulating themselves for already changing the corporate culture to one that values safety.  Hogwash. In most of these cases they have been successful in changing the climate—something important, and an accomplishment in its own right, but not the same as changing the culture. Culture change isn’t dependent on personalities, enforcement, or policies, but climate change is.  It can be difficult to see a meaningful distinction between culture and climate, but the most important difference is that climate change is typically a temporary change that is easily disrupted by a change in leadership.

Changing the organization’s view of safety is challenging and doesn’t happen over night. In fact, the process of changing a corporate culture such that it values safety can take years.  But with the right positioning and partnerships, safety professionals can play a pivotal and valuable role in culture change.

Did you enjoy this?  Hate it? Find it offensive or troubling? If so, I hope you will share it. The icons below will allow you to share this via Twitter, Facebook,  posting it to LinkedIn Groups or individuals, and even email it to individuals.  I maintain this and http://www.rockfordgreeneinternational.wordpress.com without direct compensation to promote Rockford Greene and my published work.  I’d sure appreciate it if you would help to pass the word to your fellow aficionados and or detractors. Thanks in advance, Phil

Filed under: Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, , ,

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