Phil La Duke's Blog

Fresh perspectives on safety and Performance Improvement

“OSHA Emphasizes Safety In The Primary Metal Industries”


Originally posted on EHS Safety News America:

osha-inspections

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

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

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

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Filed under: Safety

The Importance Of Discipline


bullship

By Phil La Duke

Safety professionals take great pains to engage workers in safety. While it’s true that engaged workers tend to be more concerned about the safety of the workplace worker engagement can only take us so far. And while it’s unfair to blame the injured worker—a tendency far too common—I’ve seen a decide move away from discipline as a response to unsafe behavior.

The mere mention of discipline raises emotions on both sides of the spectrum. On one end there is a chorus of “here! Here!” spouting mouth-breathers who want to blame every injury on stupid workers who can’t follow directions or won’t follow the rules. On the other end we have a bunch of bleeding hearts that want to blame everything but the responsible party. The answer in most cases lies somewhere in between. The correct approach in most cases lies somewhere in between.

Without Discipline We Institutionalize Unsafe Behavior

We learn through experimentation; we try something and if there is a reward we tend to repeat that behavior and even push the boundaries of the behavior. If we engage in risky behavior that violates policy it’s usually because the risky behavior rewards us in some way. It creates a cycle of risk-reward-risk; we learn that the risks we take aren’t just acceptable they are desirable. We teach our workforce that working out of process is appropriate, acceptable, and desirable; disciplinary action disrupts this cycle.

What’s The Point of Rules that No One Follows?

Discipline, doesn’t just apply to individuals. Process discipline is the extent to which people perform the tasks according to specification; how closely the people adhere to the process. Process discipline is important because despite what some of my detractors seem to think we can’t adequately protect workers who are working out of process. Let’s face it, we build safety protocols around expected behaviors and we tend to expect behaviors that align with the standard operating procedures. When people deliberately defeat the controls we put into place to protect them they are at extreme risk because few organizations plan for that contingency, and that’s where people get hurt. We have to encourage process discipline and apply disciplinary action to those who willfully and deliberately violate the rules.

Guides For Applying Discipline

I’ve seen too many organizations that are too quick to pull the trigger on disciplinary action. Here are some questions you should ask for resorting to disciplinary action:

  • Was the infraction intentional? A lot of time people violate rules through human error; no one is perfect and punishing someone for something they never intended to do is unfair and unjust and likely to create greater problems (grievances, increased turnover, greater absenteeism, or even increased incidence of unsafe behavior).
  • Was the person who violated the rule properly managing his or her performance inhibitors? While you can’t hold someone accountable for something he or she didn’t intend to do, you can hold him or her accountable for managing the things in their lives that increase the likelihood that they will make mistakes—hangovers, troubled home-life, reporting to work unfit for duty, etc. Someone who is managing his or her performance inhibitors can be held to a different standard than someone who does not routinely reports to work in an unfit condition.
  • Were there extenuating circumstances that made the breach acceptable? A person who is acting to serve the greater social good and violates a rule in so doing should not be subject to disciplinary action. Writing someone up for being late for work when they stopped to save the life of an injured motorist is a good way to get featured on the local news or in a viral post on social media, and let’s face it, it serves no good purpose.
  • Am I addressing the infraction or punishing an employee for something else? Whenever I see public outrage over a teacher who posts pictures of her drinking wine or wearing something revealing, I think, “why did they REALLY get fired?” Too often workers aren’t disciplined for what they have done rather for a pattern of behavior. Employers often use discipline as the “gotcha” final straw, bulletproof firing, and typically those employers find themselves on the losing end of a lawsuit.
  • What have I treated similar infractions in the same way? A good indication that you are using discipline inappropriately is if you are reacting to this particular infraction more harshly than you have in the past. Lawyers and Unions fight and win many wrongful terminations simply because the firing manager didn’t follow past practice.
  • Am I reacting to the behavior or the outcome? Too often we react very differently to an infraction that produces an injury or near miss when the outcome really doesn’t matter. Behavior that jeopardizes the safety or well-being of a worker should have an appropriate consequence whether or not the action injures a worker. It’s the behavior we are trying to regulate not the outcome.
  • Am I coaching or punishing? Discipline should be a means of coaching behavior in hopes of developing a safer workplace not a means of retribution. If you find yourself seeking to punish a worker you really should reconsider your position.
  • Did the worker have a viable option to the infraction? Sometimes following the rules puts a worker in more danger than not following the rules. In other cases, the process may call for tools or conditions that aren’t available to the worker. Disciplining a worker when following the rule was impossible is in appropriate.

Sometimes we have no choice except to respond to harshly to unsafe behavior, particularly where an individual acted recklessly. Also, many times problems we attribute to “The Culture” are easily solved through even and fair disciplinary action.

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Are Your Awareness Campaigns Just Trivia?


Awareness2awareness

By Phil La Duke

In the U.S. October marks national breast-cancer awareness month which manifests itself with people and products festooned in pink. There. Now you are aware of breast cancer. What changes will you make because of your new-found awareness? None? That doesn’t surprise me. Each month, somewhere on the planet someone is trying to raise awareness of one thing or another. It seems like a great idea but ultimately it does little to solve the problem.

Many organizations launch similar “awareness” campaigns and these campaigns also sound like a good idea. Unfortunately, too often they leave the audience feeling a bit confused as to precisely what to do with the information. Awareness campaigns can be an important tool in the safety practitioner’s toolbox but only if done correctly. Here are some ways I’ve found that make the difference between a useful awareness campaign and one that isn’t:

  • Recognize that awareness isn’t the ultimate goal. We want people to DO something with the information once they have become aware of it. I am aware of the dangers posed by working with asbestos but being aware of this isn’t enough; I also need to know what I should do to protect myself and others from these dangers. If the awareness campaign simply focuses on the dangers, or that focuses disproportionately on the dangers and short-shrifts the practical application of that awareness people tend to feel inadequately prepared to protect themselves from the danger. Building awareness is an essential part of making the workplace safer, but without a call to action awareness is pointless at one end of the spectrum and frustrating at the other.
  • Be specific. Too often awareness campaigns are so broad that they don’t really make people aware of anything useful. I have seen “work safe” campaigns that are basically cheerleading sessions. A much more effective campaign would be to identify ways to work safe, for example, the campaign could focus on fitness to work and provide a way for workers to assess their own fitness for work. Reminding someone to die isn’t the same as saving their lives. I recall an instance where a colleague was explaining the dangers of a particular situation where the worker was skipping some critical safety requirements on a task where if things went wrong a fatality was likely. The worker he was coaching looked at him skeptically and said, “yeah, but how likely is that?” My colleague looked at him for a moment and paused before he said, “about one in ten times”. The worker eyes got as big as saucers and he said, “I’ve done that at least ten times!” Okay this example fits more than just “be specific” (it was personal, emotional, and addressed issues that weren’t obvious) but I think it nicely illustrates that specific awareness is far more powerful than general awareness.
  • Address issues that aren’t obvious. An awareness campaign aimed at the dangers of drunk driving will probably fall flat, but an awareness campaign focused on the dangers of driving while using prescription drugs or driving while fatigued is more likely to generate interest. A good awareness campaign should invite the response “I didn’t know that” not a sarcastic “no kidding?” Years ago, comedian Jerry Seinfeld joked about sky divers wearing helmets. He asked if anyone really thought that wearing a helmet would protect someone if their parachute failed. It was a funny bit, and I shared it with a friend of mine who was a two-time world champion sky-diver; he didn’t think it was funny at all. “Let’s see how funny Jerry Seinfeld thinks it is when he slams his head against another skydiver going 80 mph”. He explained that the helmet made sure that a skydiver who bumped heads with another diver didn’t lose consciousness and be unable to pull the cord on his or her chute. In less than 30 seconds I was made aware of a danger that wasn’t obvious.
  • Focus on changing behaviors. Once someone is aware of a danger, we hope he or she will use that awareness to behave differently and encourage others to work differently as well. We want people to respect the dangers we have communicated to them and have their new-found respect for the danger drive changes in their lives. But as stated above, we want to encourage the right behaviors. Years ago I worked in nuclear energy as a contract security guard. The client company went to great pains to make us all aware of the dangers of exposure to radioactive materials. I left the session so afraid of being irradiated and dying a slow, horrible death that I quickly escalated my job search and left the site. Instead of focusing on the horrific effects of exposure to nuclear waste and describing in painstaking detail what happened to people who got careless about radiation the company would have been better served focusing on practical common-sense ways to protect myself from the dangers of radiation and focusing on identifying at risk behaviors that I should avoid and encourage others to avoid. Had they done this my life might have turned out very differently.
  • Make it emotional, but not melodramatic. Marie-Claire Ross authored a wonderful book Transform Your Safety Communication: How to Create Targeted and Inspiring Safety Messages for a Productive Workplace. This book is a guide for making safety communications better and I recommend picking it up. She makes a good point that emotional first-hand accounts from people who were affected by an event have the strongest effect. People have a natural tendency to empathize with afflicted people…to a point. Psychological studies have found that if the message becomes too powerful the audience will subconsciously suspend belief. Think of Charlie Morecraft’s speeches and videos where he tells his story. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Charlie’s story, Charlie is a survivor of a horrible workplace accident that resulted in him being horribly burned. Charlie has a genuineness about him and easy conversational style that makes him easy to listen to. In the right audience Charlie’s story is powerful and compelling. But his story is so powerful that in the wrong audience it can backfire. Charlie worked in oil and gas and by his own admission took shortcuts, violated procedures, and generally screwed up. I remember an autoworker commenting to me after he watched a video of Charlie’s story. “What am I supposed to learn from that screw-up?” he asked, “most of what happened to him was his own fault.” He went on to explain that anyone who took the chances Charlie did in an Oil & Gas environment was insane and reckless. Then he went on to explain how much different his own work environment was from Charlie’s. Charlie’s message was clearly too powerful for this man to process and so he looked for reasons why what happened to Charlie couldn’t happen to him. The awareness campaign for that man (although many people benefited from the campaign) was a colossal failure.
  • Have credible sources. One of the first things they teach you about adult learning is that you have to establish your credibility before anyone will listen to you and the same is true with any good awareness campaign. If you can’t answer “how do you figure?” with a credible source of the information you will not be successful convincing anyone that they should change their behaviors. An element of credibility is getting your facts straight. All it takes is one false statement or disputed claim—which happens a lot in the world of worker safety—and your credibility is diminished. If your credibility is diminished enough people stop listening.
  • Make it personal. A key component of any communication is the WIIFM (pronounced wiff em). WIIFM providing people with an awareness of things that they don’t believe will ever affect them is essentially trivia. For an awareness campaign to be effective the message must resonate with the individuals that hear it. If what you promise isn’t especially compelling it falls flat and people mentally checkout; the message doesn’t pertain to them.
  • Don’t exaggerate. Too often, in our zeal to create a compelling argument we tend to overstate the dangers of a situation. Driving is dangerous; it involves many people moving in concert doing stupid and unpredictable things. In fact, driving is probably the most dangerous thing that people do on a routine basis. But if someone told you that if you continued to drive you would ultimately be killed you would brand them a fool and ignore everything they said, even if they told you your fly was open and you could feel the cool fall breeze gentle wafting across your naughty parts.
  • Stimulate debate. A group’s capacity to remember key points is far greater than that of an individual. Your awareness campaign should get people talking to each other about it. Years ago I was asked to spearhead an awareness campaign for a suggestion program. Each suggestion that was made entered the contributor into a monthly gift card. Each suggestion that was implemented entered the person into quarterly drawing for a free, all expenses paid trip (up to $2,500). We began by putting up travel posters to various vacation destinations. We put them up without anyone’s knowledge (except the top executives) and offered no explanation. After 2 weeks my team went around with markers and vandalized all the posters, writing things like “yeah right! Who has time for that?” People were outraged, even people who normally would say and think those things thought that the vandalism crossed the line. And then we announced the program and it was an unprecedented success. Even months after the initial campaign people were still talking about how audacious the awareness campaign was.

Awareness without context, purpose, or action is trivia. What’s more, a poorly executed safety can do more harm than good—when people think you’re a blithering idiot they won’t listen to what you have to say, now or ever. First impressions are lasting and you only get one shot at it so take some time and do it right.

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Who Gives A Crap About Ice?


By Phil La Duke

This week I published my sixth article in Entrepreneur. In Adapt Or Die–Some Chilling Lessons From the Ice Industry I started out writing a piece on the importance of sustainability, my point being that not just companies but entire industries can succumb to external pressures that cause a mass extinction of businesses. Those of you who regularly read my blog or even my other printed articles may notice a significant difference in my tone and voice in these pieces and may wonder why    style is so different in these pieces than the irascible, iconoclastic, raw nerve style you’ve come to know and, if not love, at least expect. As one friend of mine said, “don’t get me wrong I don’t think these articles are bad, they just don’t sound like you; there is less of your voice in these pieces than in anything else I’ve ever read by you.” It’s a fair criticism but before people accuse me of softening or selling out I’d like to plea my case.

I’ve had my work published in ISHN, Fabricating & Metalworking, Facility Safety Management Magazine, Health & Safety International, and many trade journals and publications. For the most part these folks know me and don’t do too much in the way of changing my tone or softening the “madman swinging a bag of broken glass in a crowded room” approach I take to writing. That’s not to say that editors don’t do their jobs or put their own stamp on things. If you saw the stream of consciousness dreck that I sometimes submit you would wonder aloud how anyone could make sense of it and marvel at shear craftsmanship that these editors used to create a coherent piece without losing that anarchistic feel or raw emotion that comes through. These editors know me and my work and do excellent jobs in making my work come to life. The best things I’ve ever written have been published and edited work.

But Entrepreneur neither knows me nor are its editors especially fans of my work. That’s not to say that they hate (or even dislike) my work, rather the editorial staff at Entrepreneur want solid business writing that is accessible to the masses. That’s harder than it seems; the masses are imbeciles. My jagged-edge voice doesn’t mean squat to them. Entrepreneur readers aren’t especially interested in the author’s voice or personality; they just want something they can read in less time than an average bowel movement requires. They also want one or two useful tips that they can use in business.

So why write for Entrepreneur? Well for starters, Entrepreneur asked me to. One of the editors saw some of my worker as a guest blogger on MonsterTHINKING and MonsterWORKING and asked if I would be interested in pitching ideas. Dave Collins of Safety Risk fame was first to encourage me to expand my readership to a larger audience and with a circulation of 560,990 not counting on-line readers Entrepreneur afforded me the opportunity to reach a much larger audience. More importantly, Entrepreneur established me as a business writer instead of just a safety journalist. I would like to think that my work is the intersection between business and safety.

 

But why is my work for Entrepreneur so different from my other work? In this world of discussion threads, Facebook posts, and self-published books, people misunderstand traditional publishing. An article like this one (which is published) is considered eligible for citation, in other words, people can use cite it as a legitimate source in academic or other research. That’s because it really is a team effort, and prima donna authors like yours truly may get the credit, but there are half a dozen people working on the piece. Sometimes (actually most times) the piece is better for it and is a more polished version of the story the author originally intended.

Here is the anatomy of a magazine article:

1) The Pitch. I have to come up with a topic and pitch it to my editor. The pitch has to be more than an idea; I have to provide the topic and a sample paragraph.

2) The Response. My editor decides whether or not the pitch is right for the magazine. She (in the case of Entrepreneur) considers things like whether it’s news worthy, does it fit with the magazine’s editorial bent and agenda, is it too similar to other pieces that have recently run, whether the author is the right person to write it, and does it match with the tone and voice of the magazine.

3) The Decision. If you like rejection, stay out of the magazine business. Typically the editor will give you either a flat “no”, a “yes, give me # words on this by DATE”, or a “What I’m really looking for is more of a…”

4) The Assignment. At this point the author is able either accept the assignment or turn it down. I have turned down assignments because either a) I didn’t believe in the position I was asked to support b) felt that I didn’t have standing to speak on a topic or c) the assignment was more work than I thought it would be worth.

5) The Writing. Writing for publication is a lot different that writing for school or work. Editors expect an error free draft that is exactly the number of words they requested. They aren’t proofreaders and aren’t happy with an author who uses “their” instead of “there”. If it does have typos, grammatical errors or does not follow the editorial style (things like whether or not bullet lists are title case (every word capitalized except articles) or sentence case (only the first word capitalized) and literally a 1,000 other little nitpicky things that the magazine does a specific way the article is likely to be thrown back to the author with the brusque instruction to “fix it”. (If the author doesn’t, or submits slop routinely the article may be taken away and given to someone else to punch it up (which is why you see so many co-authors on articles)

6) The Fact Checking. The primary difference between self-published and published work is fact checking. The fact checker is a professional who challenges every fact the author puts into an article. If I say, as I did in the article, that by 1890 the average urban American consumed a ton of ice, I had better be able to provide a source. The drafts I submit look ridiculous (filled with footnotes and links) but the fact checker has to meticulously verify every one of those sources.

7) The editing. Editors are by far the real talents in the publishing industry. They cut out unnecessarily wording paragraphs, rearrange the paragraphs so that it flows better and generally improve the readability of a piece. They can take a mediocre piece and really make it masterful. They also may make changes so that the piece becomes a component of a larger theme in the magazine. Sufficed to say the story can be very, VERY different from the author’s original vision, but in my experience it is better than it would have been otherwise.

8) The copy editing. Copy editors are generally the people who title the article; I don’t think I have ever had one of my cool titles appear with my stories. The copy editor reads the article and gives it a title. Why have copy editors? Because copy editors consider the titles of other stories and ensure that multiple stories don’t have the same or very similar titles. They also prevent adjacent headlines from forming a new and weird sentence

9) The Publishing. After all of this, the piece appears in print. If it’s hailed as the greatest piece ever than everyone takes credit, but if it’s not great everyone points a finger.

So while many of my stories end up miles away from where I started or envisioned, I continue to write and I continue enjoying writing. But I still keep my blog going so I can sound off about what I really think.

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Reverse Engineering Safety Offerings


By Phil La Duke

I don’t have all the answers; not about safety and not about anything else. Furthermore, as much as it may seem to the contrary, I don’t even THINK that I have all the answers, but there are people in the world of safety who seem to think that they do. Several weeks ago I spoke at the National Safety Council in San Diego, CA. It was a hot, afternoon session on the connection between housekeeping and safety that about a hundred people endured. Thank you to of you who sweltered through a mediocre presentation.

When you speak at the conference, in way of a thank you, you are given free admission to the entire conference. It’s a nice perk; especially since many European conferences expect you to pay all your expenses, forgo a speaking fee, and PAY admission to the conference. I turned down speaking at Loss 2010 because my out-of-pocket expenses amounted to over $10,000 and I’m sorry, but it just wasn’t going to be worth it. (I didn’t realize the theme “Loss” would be applied so directly and acutely applied to me).

Those of you who have never attended the National Safety Conference Annual Congress and Expo you really should. The vendor hall is so large it takes more than a day to go through it all and the speakers present on a wide range of safety (of all aspects not just worker safety) that influences policy across the globe. The topics really caught me eye this year. I saw topics ranging from the very specific to the vague to the point of being almost meaningless. One topic got me thinking about how what people shill through their presentations represents what they think is the key to a safer workplace. I thought I would reverse engineer some of these topics to see what people believed were the true source of unsafe workplaces.

The first topic that grabbed my attention was something called Motivating People to Work Safe (or something similar). This struck me as odd. Are there people out there who aren’t motivated to work safely, in other words, are there people out there who would work safely, but can’t find a compelling reason to, after all, what’s in it for them? How absurd, patronizing, and arrogant is it to assume that workers aren’t already intrinsically motivated to work in a way that will keep them from getting killed. Certainly people seem to lack motivation for working safe, but I think that is more a product of our perception than the reality.

The second topic that caught my eye was related to the first topic: getting people to value their safety. One of the keynote speakers even went so far as to lay out the four secrets to safety that all, more or less, amounted to ways to get people to value their safety. PLEASE! Safety is one of the most basic needs on Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and Maslow believed that this need would be an intrinsic motivator until it was filled (Some in the BBS field openly criticize Maslow, but I don’t know of any who criticize the designation of safety as a basic human emotional need).

We should also be mindful of the fact that the primary role of the human central nervous system is to keep people from harm; it’s hard wired into our bodies to avoid things that will harm us. We even have the fight or flight reflex that floods our bodies with adrenaline to enable us to protect us from danger. I reject the beliefs that people either lack sufficient motivation work safely and/or people behave unsafely because they don’t value their safety. Both fly in the face of proven science and the less hard science of behavioral psychology. People are designed to keep themselves alive.

So why do people behave unsafely? Lots of reasons, actually, but off the top of my head here are some of the most common:

  • Human Error. People just plain screw up. They make mistakes without thinking. People forget to complete a key step, misread an indicator, or accidentally put themselves in harms way. Some believe that human error is our subconscious minds experimenting with the safety of rapidly adapting, but in any case, it’s not about motivation or not valuing our safety.
  • Poor Judgment. Sometimes we deliberately do something risky because we erroneously believe the risk is lower than it is. Why? Because:
    • We are acting on imperfect information—we thought something was true when it wasn’t or we thought something wasn’t true when it was. When we don’t have all the facts it’s tough to make a good call.
    • We’ve taught ourselves that something was safer than it is. Every time we do something unsafe and don’t get hurt we teach ourselves that the unsafe act is in fact safe; so we do it again and again, each time believing that it is less and less risky.
    • We’re Improvising. Too often we don’t really know how to do the job and are forced to figure it out on the fly.
  • Inappropriate Risk Taking. Generally speaking, people take risks incrementally.  People seldom take a huge, stupid, reckless risk before taking smaller less dangerous risks.  Little by little, people’s risk tolerance increases until either something happens that jars them back to better decision making or they cross the injury threshold and hurt (or kill) themselves or others.  Think about how you drive.  As you get more comfortable speeding, talking on the phone, texting, etc. you engage in these activities more frequently or for greater durations until you reach some line known only to you that causes you to rethink your risk taking.  It could be a ticket, or it could be a serious accident.
  • Weak Leadership. Leaders (including the safety practioner, who if not a leader should get out of the business) have the greatest influence on safety than any single individual.  And when it comes to safety, companies tend to get the level of safety that their leaders demand.  If the leaders look the other way when they see safety issues or infractions, or if the leaders roll their eyes when someone voices a safety concern the population will tend to mimic the leader’s and at very least try to act in a way that pleases the leader.

We have to be careful listening to the latest theory from the latest expert (myself not only included but singled out for special scrutiny). Theories are just that: theories, not facts. Theories are opinions irrespective of how loudly they are argued. We need to challenge and questions these assertions if we will ever grow in safety.

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Worker Injuries May Take Years to Become a Fatality


By Phil LaDuke

I have more than a couple of people question my motives in writing about safety. I have had more than a few criticize me for not being more polite, professional, or whatever euphemism for telling people what they want to hear you care to put to it. Despite having worked as a teamster delivering parcels, and an autoworker; building 1700 seats a day on a back-breaking assembly line, day-in-and day out working in demolition, tearing out stores in malls so another soulless retail outlet could try its luck in that space and having spent the past15 years consulting on safety in companies big and small that I don’t have standing to speak, that I am just some safety journalist, some academic, or some theorist who doesn’t know how the “real world works”. Many agree with what I have to say; just as many do not. That’s okay, it’s a free world. I scare a lot of people and scared people try to get other people not to listen. But safety isn’t just some academic exercise, some abstract that we can argue over brandies. Safety is personal. Workplace injuries or occupational illnesses have killed my father, both grandfather, my brother-in-law, a great uncle, my brother’s best friend, and many co-workers and acquaintances. I carry that with me every day. And yesterday the workplace claimed another one.

Yesterday I learned that another person close to me died as a result of injuries/illness inflicted upon him. My ex-father-in-law was found dead at his home; he was a month past his 69th birthday. Despite my acrimonious divorce from his daughter and bitter custody battle over his granddaughter, “Red” was always decent and even a friend to me. It’s not clear what killed Red. He had been on permanent disability for over 20 years. For the last 26 years we shared a bond deeper than marriage, the love of his two granddaughters.

Red was a boiler maker and as such worked around asbestos much of his career, and while that may well be what killed him that is only part of the story. 20 or so years ago read was working at a construction site when a supervisor dropped something (the details were always sketchy and my memory isn’t what it was, so I trust you will cut me just a bit of slack on the details) some said a tool, some said an angle iron, but what all agree on was that what was dropped was heavy and struck him with enough force to shatter on vertebrae and drive a second into a third. The doctors who examined him painted a bleak picture. If they did nothing he would soon die. If they did operate he would be in a body cast for a year after which he would probably never walk again. Red wasn’t one to take bad news lightly and when his buddy suggested he see a doctor who was experimenting with spinal surgery using cow bones, he quickly investigated. This doctor told him that if the surgery was successful he would be able to walk and live a fairly normal life, although he would have limitations. When the doctor told him that he would never be able to lift more than 50lbs, Red was characteristically nonplussed, “No lifting anything heavier than 50lbs? Doc, how am I supposed to take a piss?” That was who Red was.

The cow bone surgery was successful, but it left Red in excruciating pain that came and went, worsening over time. It wasn’t long before Red was hooked on painkillers, his physical limitations grew more and more debilitating and the pain more and more difficult to control; the life that Red once enjoyed essentially ended the day of his injury.

To all you BBS zealots out there: Red did nothing wrong. There wasn’t supposed to be anyone working above him and he was wearing the appropriate PPE (as determined by the company’s PPE risk assessment) the worker who dropped the object that would forever alter the course of Red’s life was, in fact, the site supervisor who was neither qualified nor allowed by the Union contract to be doing the work. So what good would it have done to have one of Red’s peers watch him work and provide feedback on his performance? None that’s what. And I can already see some of you smug bastards smiling that “aha, gotcha!” smile as they are about to say, “yes but supervisor behavior is still behavior” So what? If we only focus on the behaviors of the individuals and we ignore the larger context than it doesn’t matter whose behavior set things in motion. It becomes an intellectual exercise.

Red’s life went from bad to worse. His lawsuit against the parties involved went from a slam-dunk big money pay out to a far more modest settlement that was less than he would have earned in two years on the job. You see the site was a municipal project, funded by the government; one by one the plaintiffs were let off the hook. Payouts from Worker’s Compensation and medical social security (coupled with poor decisions and greedy third parties quick to step in and victimize a man with a lot ready cash that sapped Red of his settlement). Red lost his house and his life savings quickly dwindled. In the end his family is struggling to scrape together the $1500 for a basic cremation. There will be no fancy casket, no funeral procession, no memorial service; there just isn’t money.

Two years ago, Red was diagnosed with both lung cancer AND mesothelioma he declined treatment and was told that he had only months to live. And yet he did live, such as lying in bed whacked out of one’s head on pain medication can be described as living.

Red’s case is sad, of course, but the ramifications of his injuries go far deeper. His injury played a role in the deterioration and ultimate end of my marriage. It led to drug abuse not just by him but others around him. It created an epicenter of misery that sucked in so many people.

Red died on the job. Oh sure, he didn’t usher forth the death rattle on the dirty boards of a construction site, but his was a workplace fatality nonetheless. And all the arguing and squabbling between safety snake oil salesmen and safety theorists and those who would sell you this system or that failed Red, they failed my daughters, they failed all those who loved him; they failed me.

Just what any of us are supposed to do with this I’m not sure. It’s got me ready to quit safety. At the end of the day I’m just another guy who preaches safety to people who care more about arguing than they do about saving a single life. I’m tired of watching people die why smug safety practitioners’ brag about how injuries are down and fatalities are flat. I’m tired of the the inane arguments about safety versus system, and all the blah blah nonsense that passes for intellectual discourse in our field. But mostly I’m tired of grieving for people who did nothing more than go to work, a decision that ended up killing them.

The day after tomorrow I will take the podium at the National Safety Council, perhaps for the last time. For all the writing (published and blogs) I’ve done and all the speeches I’ve made I don’t seem to have made any difference, I don’t seem to have changed a single mind. I’ve stirred the pot but all the while knowing that eventually the pot will just settle back into its old pattern.

Footnote: There was a memorial service for Red last Friday.  The remnants of his shattered family gathered for one last bewildered goodbye.  I talked to his brother who told me that he too was forced to leave the boilermakers after 36 years.  “I loved my job for 32 of the 36 years I worked it” he told me, and then while looking away he added, almost shamefully “until I hurt my back and after three years I just couldn’t do it anymore.” We also talked about his other brother who preceded Red in death by a couple of years; he died of lung cancer. Job related? At this point, who cares?

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The Problem with Safety


By Phil La Duke

Last week’s post that asked why Heinrich’s Pyramid was so popular across all industry segments despite being largely discredited by many in the safety industry angered up some of your blood. I don’t mind, if I didn’t get some of you cantankerous old coots’ blood moving some of you would be declared legally dead. I’m not complaining; anytime anyone challenges any of the cherished charms and totems of BBS one is likely to get blowback. So great is the backlash from the zealous and paranoid torch-and-pitchfork crowd that I know of at least three safety journalists who won’t touch the subject. But in the froth and fury to spew forth on on-line threads one persistent argument kept coming up: are injuries causes by multiple causes or by a single root cause. The answer is “yes”.

Before joining the glamorous and sexy world of safety I spent half my career in performance improvement—both human performance improvement and process improvement—and in the course of my duties I taught problem solving. Problems, you see, can’t be neatly wrapped up in one neat little box.

Categories of Problems

I don’t see problems (any difficult situation to be settled or resolved, a question for discussion or solution, or a discrepancy between fact and observation) as any different from injury causes. Both problems and injuries are unexpected outcomes of a process and both require the organization to find out what happened and why. Problems come in four categories: Broad, specific, decision, and planning.

Broad Problems

Broad problems are difficult to get your arms around because typically they have multiple causes and effects, grew over time, and have visible, known causes. Think of problems like world hunger; the causes are known and visible, but they are just too enormous to easily fix. Broad problems are typically the “system errors” that so many safety professionals argue are the causes for injuries. In many cases they are right, but not all injuries are caused by broad problems. Ergonomic injuries are good examples of broad problems that should be attacked using tools like Situation Analysis, fish bone diagrams, etc.

Specific Problems

Specific problems pertain to a specific object and a specific defect. In the case of safety the specific object could either be the person injured or the means by which the injury was caused while the specific defect is the kind of injury that was caused. Specific problems have a sudden occurrence—things are going along just fine until something happens and someone gets hurt. In these kinds of problems/injuries there is generally a single root cause and the cause is typically unknown. Slip trip and falls are good examples of specific problems that cause injuries.

Decision Problems

Decision problems are those issues that arise because of poor decision making practices. In safety decision analysis should be more widely used to generate an understanding of why people make poor decisions that end in injury and to teach workers to make better decisions. Failure to lockout or to tie off while working at heights are good examples of injuries resulting from poorly solved decision problems.

Planning Problems

Planning problems are those situations that are so complex that a failure to plan introduces process variation and risk and too often results in serious injuries. A good example of injuries caused by planning problems are those cases of workers injured doing nonstandard work. The lack of a robust plan often results in deadly improvisations.

Structure of Problems

Understanding the category of problem is only half the battle. Next we need to understand the structure of the problem. Problems can be any of many structures but the most common are:

  • Problems with a gradual structure begin with performance at the desired state (or at a minimum within the process control limits) and gradually deteriorate, or drift, away from the standard until a failure threshold has been reached and a failure (injury or near miss) happens. Sydney Dekker explores this phenomenon in the book Drift Into Failure. Essentially we let things get out of hand until failure is all but a matter of time. Think of workplaces where little hazards abound and where any one of these hazards taken on its own, is no big deal, but when working with other hazards can cause a chain reaction of deadly events. Consider, for example, the factory fires where emergency equipment is in disrepair, the alarms aren’t working, emergency exits are blocked, and escape doors are locked. None of these things in and of themselves will injure or kill a worker, but each makes it more likely that should a fire breakout lives will be lost.
  • A sudden structure of a problem manifests as everything operating at the desired state until something sudden and unexpected plunges the operation into failure. Think of a flat tire. You are driving along just fine, hit a pot hole and blowout your tire, one minute your cruising up the boulevard and the next you are on the side of the road cursing your teenage son for making off with the tire jack.
  • Start-Up. Whenever we start a new operation we generally have a period where we struggle to get to, and remain at, the desired performance standard. This is not a license for us to hurt workers, but it should be an incentive to better protect workers by focusing on mitigating severity in addition to trying to predict start up issues. Too many companies misunderstand start up issues and will dismiss any concerns as a need for “work hardening.” Work hardening is the practice of having employees build muscles and generally get used to back breaking work that causes excruciating pain and usually ends in ergonomic injuries.
  • Problems with a recurring structure should be of paramount interest to safety practitioners because, most often, a recurring structure is indicative of a misdiagnosed cause. When you treat the symptoms instead of the cause you frequently see an initial improvement only to see the problem gradually return, sometimes with deadly results.
  • Some problems don’t seem like problems at all. Problems with a positive structure are those situations where the outcome is actually better than expected. But because the situation is better than expected it must be researched so that the positive results can be replicated. Think in terms of a major cause of injuries suddenly falling dramatically. Unless you know WHY you saw the improvement you can never be sure that you won’t degrade back to your old ways.

So What?

Think of all the good that we could be doing instead of arguing about whether injuries are caused by systems or behaviors, multiple causes or a single root cause, or whether a hair-brained pyramid has “at least some useful parts” and concentrated on using a tool-box approach to injury reduction? As the great Peter Drucker said, “the most common source of mistakes in management decisions is the emphasis on finding the right answer rather than the right question.”

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The Power of Pyramids: How Using Outmoded Thinking about Hazards Can Be Deadly


LaDukes Pyramid

 

By Phil LaDuke

 Gallons of virtual ink have been used in writings condemning Heinrich’s Pyramid. But even though a significant population in the safety industry question its validity not only does the malarkey still persist, it thrives. What’s more, people believe accept it as a universal truth in industries where Heinrich had no standing. Throughout my storied career as an organizational change agent and safety strategy consultant I’ve met with resistance in the form of “that won’t work here, we’re not…” fill in the blank. Whether it be mining, Oil & Gas, Chemicals, Aerospace, Heavy truck, the entertainment industry, construction, or logistics the first time I worked in those industries (and yes, I have actually WORKED in those industries) I was met by this objection. Early on I believed that the objection was absolute hogwash but eventually came around to a way of thinking that caused me to stop hawking my one-size-fits-all solution in favor of co-designed and co-developed, shaped interventions that consider the challenges of a given client culture, geographic location, industry, and even site. The solutions tailored to the specific needs of a customer are universally better (or at least as good) as something that the safety conglomerates and mom-and-pop snake oil salesmen have been successfully selling for decades. I even defend this in another blog post In Defense Of Not-Invented-Here-Thinking.

 

If executives in Oil & Gas, Mining, Energy, and Construction et al, rightfully believe that other safety tools and methodologies are not necessarily applicable to their worlds why are they so quick to drink the Heinrich Kool-Aid? Before I answer that, I guess I should provide a bit of background information.

 

For the uninitiated, Herbert William Heinrich was an American statistician who in the late 1920’s and early 1930s studied worker safety in an industrial setting (specifically manufacturing) He created a pyramid based on his “law” that for every accident that causes a major injury, there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 accidents that cause no injuries. He arranged it in a neat little pyramid and claimed that because many accidents share common root causes, addressing more commonplace accidents that cause no injuries can prevent accidents that cause injuries. He also found that more than 80% of all injuries were caused by unsafe behaviors. It makes sense which is what makes it so dangerous.

 

Heinrich’s Pyramid became a mainstay of safety theory and was largely unquestioned for 80 years or so until Fred A. Manuele reviewed Heinrich’s “research” and found real problems with it. Like Heinrich, Manuele retired from the insurance industry albeit many years later. In his book, Heinrich Revisited: Truisms or Myths, Manuele openly called much of Heinrich’s work into question, specifically:

  1. No one seems able to find Heinrich’s files on his original research making it impossible to peer review (and is accepted practice in scientific research today) impossible. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Heinrich wasn’t spot on, but it does mean that we can never know how he came up with his conclusions and ultimately if there is any scientific or statistical validity to his work. We would never accept these conclusions
  2. Heinrich’s studied accidents that happened in the 1920s, in a manufacturing environment that bears little to no resemblance to the workplace of today.
  3. Heinrich placed a disproportionate emphasis on psychology which impeded his ability to remain impartial. Heinrich asserted that psychology was “a fundamental of great importance in accident causation”. In other words, Heinrich saw exactly what he expected and even wanted to see. He was selling hammers and the whole world looked like a nail. It’s just like optometrists; if you go to one you will most likely get told that you need glasses.
  4. The methodology Heinrich used to generate his pyramid ratios cannot be supported. IN Manuele’s considered and expert opinion “Current causation knowledge indicates the premise to be invalid.” Manuele also pointed out that the “premise conflicts with the work of others, such as W. Edwards Deming, whose research finds root causes to derive from shortcomings in the management systems.”

Fred Manuele suffered greatly for his work. The mouth breathing behavior freaks attacked him and his work personally and professionally, and yet he persisted. In his, Reviewing Heinrich: Dislodging Two Myths From the Practice of Safety, Fred A. Manuele systematically analyzes Heinrich’s work and calls into question two of the most cherished beliefs in the safety community: 1) that most injuries are caused by unsafe acts and 2) that reducing the frequency of injuries will automatically reduce the severity of injuries.

But enough about that, flogging this dead horse will only get me hate mail and death threats from the current freak show of BBS zealots and I have neither the time nor the patience for that. Let’s just assume that you mouth-breathers and snake oil salesmen hate me and would like to see me dead. Get in line. My ex-wife has started a club you can join.

If Heinrich’s Pyramid is so deeply flawed why are so many executives so enamored of it? Simple:

  • We taught them this. There aren’t many MBA programs that teach how to manage worker safety, and the captains of industry rely on safety professionals to provide them with the basic information they need to know to be successful. So many safety pundits, snake oil salesmen and BBS fanatics have taught this dreck as Gospel that it has become accepted.
  • It makes sense. Like so many myths and urban legends the idea that reducing minor injuries and OSHA recordables will ultimately reduce severe injuries and fatalities stands to reason. But just like so many myths and urban legends this assertion ignores some key information. For the pyramid to make sense each hazard would have to have an equal potential to kill as it does to cause a minor injury and that just isn’t true. Let me give you an example. Smoking near a concentration of flammable gas is a) highly likely to cause and injury and b) that injury is highly likely to be deadly. Using a crescent wrench to complete a task that requires a pipe wrench can cause an injury but that injury is far more likely to be a minor first aid case than it is to kill someone. Unless your safety management system has a good way of distinguishing between high risk hazards capable of killing multiple workers (and perhaps members of your surrounding communities) from those that are going require a band aid and a kiss on the boo-boo from a sympathetic healthcare provider you create system where you give the same urgency and attention to a life-threatening hazard that you do to a benign condition.
  • It places the burden on workers to work more safely. How many times have you thought, “if these idiots would just be more careful they wouldn’t keep getting hurt?” Don’t beat yourself up for thinking it, heck we all do at some point or another. Blaming the injured worker makes us feel better. It absolves us of blame for not having done more to prevent the injury and protect the worker. If we emphasize on behavior and individual responsibility over finding and fixing system flaws and improving decision making skills then we can sleep better at night. But what’s more the belief that it’s all about behavior has created a cottage industry of safety incentives, based on the notion that people will take safety more seriously if there is money on the line. Incentives work, unfortunately more often than not the incentive is to commit fraud by not reporting a legitimate work injury so as not to jeopardize a reward for no injuries.

Okay fine, but is this really putting workers at risk? You betcha:

  • It creates a false sense of safety. Too many people believe that the organization working the bottom of the pyramid is actually working. They will proudly point to a significant reduction in injuries as proof that they have slain the injury dragon. Until someone dies. And then someone else dies. And so on until the company breaks out in a cold sweat as the “who’s next?” climate of fear takes hold.
  • It relies on information that you can’t effectively or completely gather. Even if we discount the criticisms of the validity of the pyramid’s ratios the bottom of the pyramid (near misses and unsafe conditions) cannot ever be accurately calculated. How many physical hazards go unnoticed? How many unsafe behaviors happen day in and day out but are never identified? And how many near misses go unreported? Furthermore the information that most companies are able to gather on first aid cases are equally dubious because many workers will treat minor injuries with a quick trip to the first aid kit.
  • It overwhelms safety systems. Many well intentioned safety practitioners actively seek to gather good information on non-recordable injuries only to quickly become immersed in a nightmare of data. Again, because attempts to collect information on hazards and near misses (working the bottom of the pyramid) often lack a means of prioritizing hazards the organization becomes a bureaucratic quagmire of useless data points instead of actionable information.
  • It isn’t equally applicable across industry segments, countries, locations, or sites. Hazards are contextual. Without both interaction and a catalyst the threat of injury from a given hazard is just potential. Welding without a hot work permit is a hazard, but the context can differ wildly and lethally. Is welding without a hot work permit on a muddy construction site the same threat to safety as welding around flammable gas or in a confined space of a mine?
  • It promotes overzealous case management. If the number of OSHA recordables is directly proportionate to the number of fatalities then it would be irresponsible (if not criminal) to not use every tool to reduce recordables. One such tool is case management. Unfortunately while case management can save organizations thousands of dollars and make its safety record seem better than what it actually is; it does nothing to reduce the risk of injuries. So IF the ratio is valid (it isn’t) good case management downplays the risks of fatalities, by seeming to reduce OSHA recordables when it isn’t doing anything of substance.

As safety professionals we have collectively created this mess and it’s our responsibility to clean it up. Here’s what we need to do:

  • Admit we were wrong. We have to suck it up and admit that we have been perpetuating nonsense.
  • Reeducate leaders. We taught the leaders to believe that these concepts would apply in every industry, site, and situation. We now need to correct this wrong-headed notion and look for better solutions for our specific situations. It will send the purveyors of snake oil and the BBS zealots into a fever pitch but we owe it to the workers to correct this mistake.
  • Shift the focus from worker behaviors to leader behaviors. Do you find yourself unwilling to let go of the “unsafe behavior as causation” doctrine? Fine, but recognize that your processes and organization plays a major role in WHY people behave as they do and that the leaders have the single greatest influence on the system and worker behavior. Place the blame for unsafe behaviors where it belongs.

I could go on and on (and in fact already have) but the bottom line is this, as long as we persist in perpetuating these myths and promulgating them across industries we increasingly endanger workers.

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Do Your Safety Management Efforts Lack A Strategy?


 

By Phil La Duke

Many of you (you know who you are) just read this headline and thought, “of course not we have a very clear strategy”. Some of you (not many in my experience) are absolutely correct, while others sadly are deluding themselves. It’s not that you don’t have great ideas or even a first-rate plan, but even some of the brightest and most forward-thinking organizations (and their safety practitioners) routinely mistake a series of seeming related tactics for a strategy. In my experience there are scarce few who understand the difference between strategy and tactics.

Is a strategy all that important? Well…yes. A strategy is the means by which one achieves one’s goals. In safety our goal should be the reduction of risk to the lowest practicable level. The word practicable sends shudders down the spines of good safety professionals everywhere because there is a tendency for organizations to cop out on safety. When we say “practicable” or “practical” it gives organizations a way out. If a problem is perceived to be too expensive or impractical to fix leaders can dismiss it as such and move on with a clear conscious. Of course in the real world we have to recognize that there are limits to what we can or should do in the name of safety, but we have to balance that against the “that piece of PPE is too expensive” excuse making. We as a profession are often rightly accused of going overboard with safety and we need to combat this perception, first and foremost by knocking it off.

We certainly need a strategy, and if we think we already have one how do we know if we don’t? Wow, you’re really asking good questions this week. So let me break it down.

Vision

A good strategy (heck even a crummy one) will clearly articulate where you want to go in quantifiable terms, and that’s where a lot of us safety folks stumble. We tend to speak in the vagaries of trade. Instead of talking about a zero-injury utopia, our strategy should be more solid and tangible. For example, instead of a strategy for reducing injuries (which let’s face it, while this is certainly our goal, effectively we’re just saying we want to fail less than we did last year. What other business function could get away with such a vision?) we might try a strategy for shifting the ownership and management of safety to operations (the people who have the most concrete control over safety).

Value

For a strategy to be successful it must win supporters within the organization and for that to happen the strategy must provide a demonstrable value proposition. People need to understand why accomplishing the strategy is good for them, the organization, or society; in short, people need to know why they should support the strategy.

Values

The ends seldom justify the means, especially in safety and your strategy should clearly outline the guiding behaviors and criteria for success in pursuing the strategy. People must understand what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Consider the dubious strategy of lowering a company’s injury rate. Is it okay for the people to deliberately under report? Can healthcare providers intentionally downplay the severity of an injury to keep it from being a recordable? Or can case management workers disallow legitimate work injuries by claiming they happened off the clock? In most organizations these tactics would be considered unethical, but for workers to be engaged the organization has to identify the lines before anyone crosses them.

Validation

Throughout the execution of a strategy those involved have to stop and check their progress. Without a criteria for validating whether or not a strategy is still on track things can quickly meander off track and devolve into chaos. Validation can be built into a strategy in the form of milestone and can be managed using metrics that are identified in the strategy.

Victory

A strategy has to do more than just provide a philosophical vision it has to provide a line of sight from the kickoff of the project until the strategy can be seen as a complete victory. The strategy must, in no uncertain terms identify the victory conditions and had best deliver on the value it promised when it was first approved.

So given these criteria do you have a strategy, or do you have a collection of related tactics? It may not sound important, but when you are asked what your safety strategy is you had better have more than a stupid look on your face.

If you do have a strategy and you want to understand how effective it is ask yourself these questions:

  1. How does this activity specifically support the strategy? In a lot of cases I see organizations spending a lot of time and money doing things in the name of safety that have little to do with accomplishing this goal.
  2. How are all of my activities connected? If you can’t draw a clean line of sight between all of your safety activities you should ask yourself why on Earth you are continuing to do them.
  3. Do your metrics align with your strategy? Too often we find ourselves collecting data for the sake of collecting it. We decide what information to collect first and then we struggle with what the information is telling us. The only metrics you need concern yourself with are those that support the strategy or that are required by statute.
  4. Does the activity return commensurate value? In many cases safety practitioners fill their days with things that cost more than any benefit they could ever hope to provide.

Strategy is an area where many safety organizations are weak and without a strong strategy we put our jobs and people’s lives in jeopardy.

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The Leader’s Role in Safety


By Phil La Duke

 

There are a lot quixotic efforts out there to find the one key to making the workplace safety. This search for the safety equivalent of the city of Cibola has led to a lot of flakey methodologies and given rise to the age of zealots in the safety function—people so unwilling to even consider a hint at a new idea that they not only are unable to learn, but who also sour the rest of the organization on sound safety practices.

Much as it would make our lives easier there is no panacea for safety, no golden key that will unlock all the mysteries surrounding injuries, no magic bullet. But insomuch as there is no one thing that we can do that will solve all our problems in worker safety, there is one element of safety that stands above the rest: leadership.

I don’t talk much about leadership in the context of safety. Frankly, the reason I don’t explore the role of the leader in worker safety that often is because it invites a cacophony of whining from the safety practitioners who endlessly bleat about how they suffer in vain because leaders don’t listen to them. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Leaders don’t listen to whiney; “the sky is falling” prattling. They want evidence, cost estimates, and return on investment (not effort, changing the name to “return on effort” is a recipe for disaster).

That having been said, leaders play the most crucial role in safety than any single group. How? Simple:

  • Expect Excellence. To a large extent you get what you put up with. If leaders are happy with a workplace that is “safe enough” they will get the bare minimal. Accepting mediocrity creates a low functioning operation rife with risk. When someone ultimately dies in the workplace the leaders shouldn’t be surprised. The death isn’t just bad luck, but the product of inept leadership that accepts unsafe conditions and behaviors simply as the cost of doing business. In every (and I am loathe to use an absolute, but here it is accurate and appropriate) high functioning and highly effective organization safety is a priority, it’s a deeply embedded value. You can fake a priority, but your values dictate who you are both as a person and as an organization. A leader who doesn’t accept unsafe behavior and conditions will find that more often than not, the organization will rise to his or her expectations.
  • Invest In Competency. Incompetent workers are rarely able to work safe. If one cannot perform the task one is required to do, or if one has not been properly trained in how to do the task one’s job requires, one will likely end up doing it incorrectly greatly increasing the risk of injury and the severity of any injury that does occur. (We tend to focus on preventing injuries and lowering severity of injuries by looking at the process; on how things are supposed to happen, rather than on how they actually happen.) Simply investing in building the core skills of the workforce is one of the best investments an organization can make. Skilled workers miss less time, are more engaged, produce faster and at higher quality. An investment in competency isn’t just an investment in safety it’s an investment in success.
  • Hone the Process. Much as some would have you believe, safety isn’t all about behavior. Machines wear out, tools break, vehicles break down, and facilities deteriorate. (And yes, you can ultimately track all of these things back to some form of behavior, but ultimately this serves only to frame a hypothetical masturbatory intellectual debate that serves no good purpose except to make me want to smack someone.) Leaders, and I am referring to leaders at ALL levels, should look for ways to increase the reliability of the process and to leverage continuous improvement to make the workplace more efficient (and thus safer, there is no such thing as productivity without safety). The relentless pursuit of process variation is characteristic of great leaders.
  • Encourage Sound Judgment. Workers, who stop work to double check the safety of the work, discuss some confusion in the plan or otherwise stop and think before rushing into action should be encouraged for working smart, not punished for slowing operations.
  • Exhibit Consistency. Workers have to know what to expect from leaders. By consistently reinforcing the value of safety and the positive business effects of a safe workplace, leaders create shared values for safety.
  • Sell Safety. Leaders sell safety by believing in it, by cutting through all the malarkey and platitudes and doing the job the right way every time. Only when workers believe that safety is a core value of their leaders will they begin to act truly value it themselves. And by value it, I mean truly internalize it and hard wire it in their work; value not only their own safety but the safety of others as well.
  • Demand Performance. Once the leaders have created the clear and consistent expectation of safety, have ensured that people are able to work safe, created robust processes that produce predictable outcomes, encourage sound judgment and decision making on a consistent basis, then, and only then, he or she needs to ruthlessly demand performance. Demanding performance means holding people accountable for keeping the workplace a safe an efficient place to do our jobs.

Leaders play a pivotal role in worker safety, but that doesn’t get the whiny “but the leaders don’t listen to me” safety practitioners. Safety practitioners ARE leaders, and it is their job to build competence in other operation leaders. The safety practitioners are essential in educating other operation leaders in the discipline of safety. Most operations folks have no formal education in safety methodologies and those who have some idea of safety have often been sold snake oil. If your organization is going to be successful safety practitioners need to step up their efforts to build better leaders. Easier said than done, but whining about it won’t change anything.

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