As I prepare abstracts to propose speaking topics for the 2014 National Safety Congress in San Diego, I’m hoping for your help. Each year I submit around 30 abstracts and have 1 or 2 accepted. I thought it might be useful to ask for your input.
January 2, 2014 • 9:55 am 2
December 29, 2013 • 2:59 pm 3
By Phil La Duke
Happy holidays. I would blame the lack of a post last week on a “holiday hiatus” but the truth is my idea for a New Year post kept bumping up against my ideas for last week until posting it on Thursday seemed to be kind of pointless. Since this is a completely free blog, (I neither do it while on a clock of any sort nor do I receive any compensation (direct or indirect)) I guess we can chock it up to “you get what you pay for”.
New Year is a time for resolutions and people start thinking about making changes, primarily in those habits they find less than desirable. Last year at around this time I posted my “New Year’s Resolutions for Safety Professionals” (http://philladuke.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/new-years-resolutions-for-safety-professionals/ ) and for those of you looking for more of the same, I’m sorry to disappoint. After reviewing the post in question I didn’t see a whole lot of things I would change; sure there are things I’m tempted to add, but I doubt making the post longer would make it any better so I will leave it alone for now.
The secret to change lies in understanding how our habits to a very large extent determine how we live our lives and whether we become morbidly obese, change-smoking, degenerate gamblers. In his 2012 book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business” Charles Duhigg explores how, despite free will, most of us live our lives doing things that are self-destructive, unpleasant, and that inhibit our success merely out of habit. Duhigg believes that organizations, like individuals, operate largely out of habit, and while it may seem that people at the top of organizations are geniuses or imbeciles, much of a organization’s performance is rooted in habit.
Habits can be helpful or harmful. Some habits, like getting up early to exercise, carry with them significant benefits, while others, like eating when you’re not hungry, can cause serious, long-term health problems; its no different with organizations and those of you who are looking to change the “safety culture” of your organization should pay very close attention to those habits that are having the greatest influence over the relative safety of the organization.
According to Durhigg, there is a “habit loop” that turns deliberate behavior into a sort of an automatic sub-routine in our brains (see figure below). I am oversimplifying Durhigg’s book, but since this is neither an academic paper nor a book report, I think I am within my rights. Read the book; it’s worth it. There are some absolute gems in the book, real pearls of wisdom. For example, research has found that the best way to effect change in a habit is by sandwiching change between the familiar, and this is something that safety professionals can really use.
The key to changing habits (personal OR institutional) is to keep the cue and reward while changing the activities. What that means for safety professionals is that we can stop trying to force change through revolutionary efforts and can focus on evolutionary strategies instead.
Anyone who has tried to change the organization—whether by implementing an innovation or reengineering a function—can relate to the difficulty of introducing too much change at once. Too much change and the organization will buck, but not enough change may mean decades of dysfunction. The baby bear solution (just right) is to keep the cue, replace the routine, and keep the reward.
This is the point you need to be careful not to over complicate things. Durhigg says that you first need to understand the cues—but I don’t think that’s necessary here. In most cases we already understand the cues, or the cues really don’t matter. Take for instance one activity that is often fraught with bad habits: Observations. What is the cue? for most organizations it’s a requirement. Similarly the reward remains constant, getting something off your plate. So while if you are looking to change a bad habit (Durhigg is adamant that once a habit has imprinted on your brain it’s there forever; you can never eliminate a habit merely overlay a different habit on top of it) in your hazard observation you need to change how you do them and when in doubt, simplify things.
I’ve written about the importance of creating an infrastructure for sustaining organizational change, but a strong infrastructure around key organizational activities can not only sustain changes but also can facilitate and even drive change.
The table below shows the key areas where a strong infrastructure is necessary for a robust safety management system.
|Hazard Management||Regular hazard identification activities
Regular meetings on hazard and risk management lead by operations
Tracking of hazards from identification, through containment, and ultimate correction
“You find it you own it” philosophy
Safety meetings that are thinly veiled gripe sessions filled with hidden agendas
Overly complex, fad-of-the-month, or otherwise dim-witted practices
The safety police state
|Incident Investigation||Incident reports at the safety meetings delivered by the appropriate first line supervisor
Complete and holistic investigations
|Incident investigations conducted and reported by safety professionals.
Findings that aren’t turned into meaningful change in the workplace
Poorly executed investigations that identify and address a single “root cause”
|Process Capability||Integration of safety into the core process activities
Linking safety to layered process audits and continuous improvement efforts
|Safety as a function that is independent from operations.|
|Training||Core skills and regulatory training||Training for training’s sake
Over emphasis on regulatory training at the expense of competency training
|Safety Strategy Deployment||Safety strategy as a subset of overall operations strategies||Complex strategies
|Employee Engagement||Involvement of Front-line workers in safety improvements||Ham-fisted employee reward programs
Children’s Poster contests and other patronizing safety incentives
|Accountability Systems||Accountability systems that appropriately hold workers at all levels responsible for worker safety||Punishment for injuries|
There’s a lot more that could be said about specifically what needs to change in each of these infrastructure elements, but how can I responsibly say that you need to change this or that without knowing what you are currently doing. That having been said, if you are still operating under significant risk of hurting worker you need to change something, and the key to change seems to be less about what you change and more about the things associated with your habits that you retain and nurture.
December 13, 2013 • 4:37 pm 14
By Phil LaDuke
For many of you, the name George Robotham is meaningless, and the fact that he died doesn’t mean all that much to you. When George died suddenly last September his passing was barely noted even in his native Australia but as I face the coming year I, like many of you, take time to reflect. So who was George Robotham and why does his passing make a difference? Because in a time when safety professionals can’t jump on the lastest fad wagon fast enough and the carneys of our professions—the card sharks and snake oil salesmen, the well intentioned imbeciles, and the quick buck artists—concoct truly odious rip off schemes, George was one of the rarified few who could decry the emperor naked. George could sift through the excremental messages of the living commercials of our field to call safety as he saw it; George was one of the true great ones.
George was a plain-spoken Aussie with more certificates and degrees than most tenured professors. But in an age when fame is measured in tweets and hashtags, George didn’t make much of a ripple. If you look up “George Robotham” online you will find a lot of his work on Dave Collins’ Safety and Risk Management blog www.SafetyRisk.net but other than that, you won’t find much. In fact, the Wikipedia article on George Robotham isn’t about him at all (it is in fact, about a Hollywood stuntman and minor character actor who played a henchman in the Adam West Batman movie).
Apart from who George was, what is more important is what he stood for. George stood up to the rising tides of charlatanism in safety, even as those tides rose again and again. And while George’s common-sense approach to safety attracted converts, his ideas weren’t the kind of grand schemes that made for getting rich quick; anything George had he sweated and toiled for.
George had a way of putting things that made sense to people, but also didn’t threaten the fanatics. His practical approach and easy to understand advice could have easily been seen as an attack on the ubiquitous sea of snake oil, but somehow George’s disarming way of putting things soothed the bruised egos of even the most mercenary rivals. George said things like, “Whatever you do make it SIMPLE & EASY, if it is too much like hard work, it will not happen;” that’s hard to argue with, but if you’re selling safety and it looks simple and easy, people are reluctant to hire you. I don’t pretend to know George, he and I eye corresponded a bit in the comments sections of articles one or the other of us had written. Always supportive, George knew I was a loose cannon and always came to my defense when some sulky fanatic would fly off the handle and shower me with insults.
“Communicate your expectations and react when they are not met”
George was generous with advice and was never shy about telling people what he thought. As the quote above shows, not all of his advice was limited to safety applications.
I became a fan of George because despite working and living a world apart (he in Brisbane, and I in Detroit) we came to a lot of the same conclusions about safety. George once said, “Use a quality management approach to safety, with a continuous improvement philosophy”. When I read that statement I thought, heck that’s what I’ve been telling people for 15 years.
“Define the scope of any project before you start it, you cannot meet needs if you do not identify them.”
There are a lot of self-loathing safety professionals out there, but George wasn’t one of them. I guess for some, George wasn’t all that profound, but for me, advice like, “Do the things that give you the biggest bang for your buck” or “Minimise the bureaucracy and bull s—t.” is true wisdom.
Much of what George stood for and what he learned over his nearly 40-year career might seem like common sense, for example, he often advocated that people give and expect regular feedback, and while that is certainly sage advice it is so woefully lacking in business today, and supervisors at so many levels of the organization are so loathe to do so, George might as well have been discovering cold fusion.
George believed that “Visible leadership from the top of the organisation1 is the key to success” but he was quick to chastise the whiney would-be martyrs of our field, George was impatient with belly achers and believed people should bring him solutions, not problems. George was a fellow critic of Behavior Based Safety and was a firm believer in investing in people,
“When it comes to employing people remember ‘If you pay peanuts you get monkeys‘ he warned.
A believer that safety could drive change and that culture change should be left to experts in culture change, perhaps George’s best advice was, “Whatever you decide to do, do it in bite sized chunks, trying to do too much at once may lead to unrecoverable failure.”
George led his own consultancy and while he leaves behind an impressive body of work, most of it he distributed for free. www.SafetyRisk.net is a store house of free resources from George’s pen.
So George Robotham was a great man who worked tireless not for the almighty buck, but for the betterment of the safety profession. But so what? Good people die every day and life as we know it goes on. What is it about George’s passing that makes a difference? Every day, there are more and more people out there selling hair-brained safety schemes to unwitting or dimwitted customers without George there is one less person questioning the pseudopsychobabble and one less voice of reason. I suppose one could argue that while the fact that George will no longer write about safety, exposing its warts while offering practical and sensible alternatives is no more a tragedy than the loss of anyone who was loved. But for me losing George is like losing Steve Jobs. Both men cut down in their primes with, presumably more great work to be done.
People who are peddling their nonsense will always speak louder than those who truly love the craft and are passionate about making our profession better. Heck I can think of one guy in particular who can’t answer a question on any topic without turning it into a commercial for his latest book or video. George left some pretty big shoes to fill and it’s time for one of you to step up to it and fill it. So do this for me: Stop reading this blog and spend a day or so reading George’s work.(You can find it here www.SafetyRisk.net). Find some kernel of wisdom, something that speaks to you and resonates with you in your particular mine, or factory, or oil rig, or…well you get the picture…and post it on the workplace walls, preach it to the masses, and make George’s life work a reality.
 Dear nitpicking frustrated editors, George, being Australian, used the King’s English spelling of the word
November 30, 2013 • 5:37 pm 13
By Phil La Duke
For the record, I’m against euphemisms; I believe masking the inadequacies or social stigma of one state by calling it something else is wrong-headed and pathetic. I’ve been called a lot of things, but politically correct isn’t one of them. On other hand, I’ve always been in favor of calling things as I see them and I do firmly believe that words matter. Many words carry an emotional charge to which people react viscerally, without really understanding why they are reacting so strongly or violently to something that has been written or said to them.
In my blog and in my articles for publication I use words to incite, to prove points, to shock, and hopefully to stimulate debate. The one word I have been struggling with lately is “safety” and I think it’s time we stop using it to describe our profession.
We aren’t, after all, safety professionals. Safety, as defined by dictionary.com is “the state of being safe; freedom from the occurrence or risk of injury, danger, or loss.” This is clearly not what we are expected to do, and in my opinion the state of being safe, i.e. being free from all risk of injury, danger, or loss is impossible. Life carries with it at least some (often much) risk. We as professionals cannot and will not ever succeed in eliminating risk.
Let’s look at our profession, Worker Health & Safety, and see this appellation for what it is, a prelude to failure. Few of us do much to keep workers healthy. Sure there are industrial hygienists who work to protect workers from harmful exposure to toxins and chemicals, and others who worry over pandemic response and contingency plans but few of us are actually charged with keeping workers healthy. For that matter, I’m not sure it makes sense to task a department to keep workers healthy when so much of the worker’s health depends on his or her lifestyle, heredity, and sundry other issues that can cause people to become ill. Additionally, many workers resist attempts by employers to improve the overall health of the workers; smoking cessation and physical fitness campaigns are often met with indifference or even outright hostility by employees; but that’s neither here nor there—I don’t see many people all that interested in that debate. So if we can agree (and six years of blogging has taught me that this is seldom the case) that the word “health” doesn’t belong in our titles, what then of the word “safety”? Does it accurately convey what we do for a living? I have my doubts.
I think that a better description of our profession is “Injury Prevention”; isn’t the elimination of worker injuries precisely what we’re expected to do? What difference does it make? What possible benefit is there to changing our title from “Worker Safety” to “Worker Injury Prevention?” For starters, the name change helps us focus on our ultimate goal (okay, some might argue that our ultimate goal is to support operations by eliminating process failures (behavioral, procedural, or administrative) associated with worker injuries, but that is way too long a title to put on a business card).
Changing the name of Safety to Injury Prevention carries with it the added advantage of clearly identifying what we do to laity. Gone will be the days when we tell people we work in safety and they don’t really understand what we do. Tell someone you work in worker safety and they envision the safety cop dishing out useless advice and telling operations what they can’t do instead of advising them on how to do the job with a minimal uninformed or uncalculated risk. “Injury Prevention” speaks for itself.
Could we call ourselves something else, maybe something that better conveys our commitment to risk reduction? Of course, but in so doing we chance confusing our vocation with risk management.
The name change would be more than a cosmetic exercise. By changing the name of our profession we would be continually reminded of our course purpose and would be less likely to be distracted with bureaucratic tasks and activities. We might even get Operations leadership to ask questions like, “what does planning the company picnic have to do with injury reduction?” or, “why do we have a ‘injury reduction’ day? Isn’t every day ‘injury reduction’ day?” In short, the name change will cause others to view us differently and when others view us differently we begin to behave differently. The name change will increase the organizations expectations of us and we in turn will have the opportunity to truly contribute to the overall success of the organization.
A name change alone won’t get us where we need to be, but it’s a good start. Even if tomorrow the organization started thinking of us as championing worker injury prevention that only opens the door to greater professional respect. We have to behave distinctly differently. We have to pare down the function to its most crucial elements and discard the things that cost money, consume time and resources that we are currently doing.
It won’t be easy. Professional organizations like the National Safety Council and the American Society of Safety Engineers would have to spend a fortune changing their letterheads and branded materials. And I don’t even want to think how many tax payer dollars would be spent changing OSHA materials, but I believe it’s a small price to pay.
A name change may seem like an inconsequential, even futile gesture, but I believe that a name change is the first step to a substantial shift in how we view ourselves and how others view us.
November 25, 2013 • 4:17 pm 6
By Phil La Duke
Several weeks ago I posted “Ending Vestigial Practices In Safety” an article in which I pointed out that organizations looking to rapidly change their cultures run the very real risk of creating vestigial practices, that is, practices that don’t make any sense but linger around sucking up time and resources as safety professionals continue, zombie-like, to go through the motions. In response to that article, a long-time reader challenged me to focus on what safety professionals should be doing instead. So in response to that comment I thought I would take this week’s post to do just that.
Let’s start with the one vestigial practice that the mere thought of giving it up caused so many of you so much heartburn: audits. A careful read of the original article will show that I wasn’t advocating for giving up audits, but I do think that their needs to be substantial re-engineering the way we conduct audits and how we interpret the data that we glean from doing them. Audit results are lagging indicators, and lagging indicators have been vilified by a lot of safety professionals. This criticism of lagging indicators is largely unfair. Lagging indicators tell us whether or not our strategies are working. Think of an audit as analogous to stepping on the scale. You can do all the exercise you want and change your diet, but unless you step on the scale once in a while you really can’t tell if you’re doughnut and ice cream diet is working, or if your 4 squats a day is enough to make a difference. Lagging indicators (not just audits but most lagging indicators) can provide us with critical information on our progress and can tell us (if properly interpreted) where we need to adjust our tactics to get better results.
Sadly, most audits conducted today focus almost exclusively on compliance to the exclusion of performance and, more importantly, risk. While compliance is important, it’s not the only important element of our safety management system. Audits need to be more balanced and more focused on the practices that put people at risk, irrespective of whether or not a law has been broken. When I am conducting a performance audit too often people ask, “what’s the rule?” or “what is the government requirement?” These people are missing the point, it is more important to understand the areas of the operation that pose the greatest threat to worker safety than it is to check the compliance box. Compliance audits are lagging indicators, but performance audits are both lagging AND leading indicators. The amount of useful information gleaned from performance audits are exponentially higher than audits that focus too heavily on compliance.
I don’t have a lot of good things to say about body maps. In a one of the books on human error that I read recently, (I honestly can’t remember which of the four books I’ve read in the last two week) the author described the colorful images produced by MRI’s as “brain porn” and dismissed many of the findings of the researcher’s as over-reaching speculation. Even in doing so, the author admitted that brightly colored images of the brain tend to impress people and lend credence to the researcher’s claims. I think there is something similar going on with body maps. A map of the human body with little red dots where injuries have occurred really piques the interest of those who see it. To an unsophisticated operations manager or site leader the body map creates the illusion that the safety professional knows more than he or she does. It is a collection of data points that leads to a specious conclusion—most injuries are to the hands so we need to focus our efforts on the hand. Unfortunately, since the severity of the injuries isn’t included, the conclusion that we need to focus on hand injuries isn’t quite right. (Yes, I get it, it COULD be, but we can’t make that call based on the information before us.) If we use the body map in this way we risk channel scarce resources to protect workers from scrapes and bruises on their hands while allowing the occasional decapitation. Clearly no organization would be happy with this kind of trade off.
So what can we do to the body map? Well, it would be a lot of work, but if we are hell-bent and determined to use a body map, why not have three (or even four) body maps: one for first aid cases, one for recordable injuries, one for lost-time injuries, and one for fatalities. Creating multiple maps would allow individuals to delineate between the truly serious injuries and those that are relatively minor and that carry far less risk; it’s more work, but without it the body map doesn’t really tell us much, in fact, it often misleads us.
Area maps are another practice that takes far more time to build than it could ever hope to provide in terms of a reasonable benefit. Frankly, I’ve never seen one that is particularly well done from a graphics perspective (a pie chart is a better graphic, is far easier to create, and can be used to provide the same information.) Unfortunately I don’t have a “do this instead” tip for you; if you stop doing area maps I seriously doubt that anyone would notice or miss them. As for what could you be doing instead? Virtually anything would add more value. Some of you will continue to defend the area map, but to you I say this: if you need an area map to tell you where your trouble spots are then you probably don’t know your business well enough to be effective.
There are plenty of good ways to occupy your time instead of making area maps, one is to track the location of injuries by the type of work performed, or by individual job families. Knowing that you have 35% of your injuries during welding operations, or that 65% of your injuries are traffic related is far more valuable than having a fancy graphic to show that information.
This is not to say that knowing where on the site injuries happened isn’t valuable, quite the contrary, knowing that vehicle-pedestrian interaction is a particular problem at a given intersection can be vital information, but again, I’m not sure an area map is the best way to learn this information.
Green Cross for Safety
Okay, this practice really needs to be dumped. I never saw any value in it; it’s one of those warm fuzzy, cutesy relics from the early 1990’s that seemed to helpful but in the final estimation provides no value whatever. Instead of posting the Green Cross for safety why not chart the number of hazards found in the area, the average time to correct hazards, and containment measures? at least these measures shed some light on the relative risk level of a department. If we want to keep people focused on safety, isn’t it better to keep them focused on doing something positive in pursuit of safety?
Safety Observations may be the single biggest waste of time in all of safetydom. Safety Observations cost a lot—we pay someone to watch someone else work. The person observe changes his or her behavior because he or she is being watched and if the individual has the brains God gave geese the person does his or her best to do the job safely. The observer than provides feedback on what he or she has observed. It’s a pointless and futile gesture. Instead, organizations should observe the work holistically. First line supervision should be asking questions like “what is different today than it was yesterday?” or “what is out of process?” or “what could go wrong?” This kind of departmental observation is far more valuable than merely watching someone work, because it identifies issues beyond safety.
Root Cause Analysis
Certainly we need to analyze the cause of injuries, but I’m not so sure that Root Cause Analysis is the best way to do it. Root Cause Analysis tends to presuppose that there is one (and only one) “root” cause. A root cause is the singular cause from which all other causative factors spring. Root cause analysis is a wonderful tool for eliminating a single cause. Unfortunately, injuries seldom result from a single root cause. Instead of using root cause analysis consider using situation analysis or a similar tool. Situation analysis is used to determine multiple, inter-related causes that grow over time (the kind of causes that create an elevated risk level which can cause numerous injuries.) This may seem like I am making a semantic argument here, but I’m not. Different problem structures (in this case specific and broad) with different structures (in this case sudden occurrence versus gradual occurrences) require different tools.
So there you have it, my attempt at “what to do” instead of “what not to do” I’m sure it will still be unsatisfying to some (no harm/no foul you can’t please everyone) and even more sure that many of you will continue vestigial practices. But consider this: as budgets get tight and you are forced to fight for every penny, shedding vestigial practices or re-engineering them so that they are useful is a good way to save money while making progress.
November 17, 2013 • 3:31 pm 17
by Phil La Duke
If you’re hoping to ensure that the people taking your safety training have learned the material , then you probably use a posttest (a test given at the end of the session), and if you wrote this test it probably sucks. I used to write tests for a living and I am continually disgusted by what passes for an evaluative instrument—even those that have been created by professional trainers. The problem stems from the fact that most of us grew up taking really poorly designed tests and when tasked with creating a test of our own we tend to emulate what we know.
Is it a problem that our tests suck? Yes (and to those of you who think my use of the word “suck” is crude, in poor taste, or unprofessional I say got straight to hell—when you start creating tests that don’t suck, I’ll clean up my act, until then…well you get the picture). Using a poorly constructed test is worse than using no test at all because it takes time to build, complete, score, and record it while adding no real value.
I should point out that most of you who create truly excremental tests (and I have seen many college professors who fall into this category) think that your tests rock it (they don’t). So what exactly is wrong with these tests? I’m glad you asked.
The capital of France is:
a) North Dakota
b) In Spain
d) All of the above
These distractors are horrible because, a) North Dakota is impossible since a U.S. State cannot be the capital city of a European country, b) is similarly absurd because the capital of France is not likely to be in Spain, and d) is absolutely wrong because North Dakota is not in Spain. (Note: never use distractors like all of the above, none of the above, or a) and c). A multiple-choice question should have only one correct answer). Once we eliminate all the stupid distractors we are left only with Paris. A better question is:
The capital of France is:
d) I don’t know.
You may be put off by the distractor, d) I don’t know, but this is a key to writing a good multiple-choice question. People will tend to guess anyway, but it gives them an out, and you will occasionally be pleasantly surprised by the person who bravely and honestly answers “I don’t know”. The added benefit of the “I don’t know option” allows the instructor to spend more time with participants who clearly aren’t achieving a learning objective.
I know that this entry will largely fall on deaf ears (as I’ve said, I’ve met seasoned learning professionals that can’t write a decent test to save their lives) but if only one of you will through away the tripe you’ve been using to ensure that workers have achieved their learning objectives relative to safety, I will be satisfied with my meager success in this area.
There is more….but this is enough.
November 9, 2013 • 6:12 pm 6
By Phil La Duke
There is more to culture change than doing things differently, it also means ending practices that you have done for years. Practices that many of you cherish and will defend with all the mettle you can muster. Organizations typically develop organically—they evolve as they transition from small entrepreneurships to professionally managed companies to giant philanthropic concerns. Along the way, many organizations create the procedural equivalents of evolutionary dead ends—policies that make little or no sense, rules designed to protect workers from hazards that no longer exist, or ways of doing things that are archaic. Often the practice might still SEEM like a good idea (and may in fact be so) but under closer scrutiny may clearly need updating. Other practices never were all that good idea to begin with and (should) leave us scratching our heads and asking what we were thinking when we implemented them.
As you re-engineer the safety function (and for the love of all that’s holy can we PLEASE refer to it as that and leave “culture change” to the thieving snake-oil salesmen so eager to rebrand their particular swindle?) you need to root-out and end all the vestigial practices that remain in our safety management system. Many of the vestigial processes grew out of the fact that in the infancy of the safety function were directly lifted from the quality function (before the quality revolution) and even as the quality function has been reengineered.
The most cherished of the safety relics has to be the audit. Year after year companies spend princely sums of money conducting audits—internal audits, corporate audits, third party audits, and more. Audits are the most sacred activity in the safety function, but what do these games of cat-and-mouse produce beyond a list of things that need fixing and a “gotcha”. Audits make safety professionals feel as though they are doing something—and I guess there’s no disputing that; but exactly what value does the average audit provide? Some will argue that audits allow organizations to establish a baseline; to find out the exact current state of an organization. If this is the case then what is the point of annual audits that produce the same findings year after year and do little but rearrange the deck furniture on the Titanic? I’m not advocating that organizations suddenly stop doing audits, but unless the audit process is significantly redesigned the organization will continue to waste thousands (perhaps millions) of dollars on disruptive activities that produce a lot of noise and bluster but do little to improve anything beyond the bottom lines of companies that perform audits.
There is value in audits, but not in their current states. Audits should be expanded to assess risk and to answer the question as to whether or not a good (or bad) safety performance is the result of sound safety management practices or luck. Unless the scope of audits is expanded they will do little to support organizational change.
The Body Map
Perhaps the dumbest relic in safety is the body map (although the area map does give it a run for its money.) The body map continues to be used despite a complete lack of demonstrable value. A body map is essentially a Pareto chart in the shape of a human body pictogram; confused? Most people are. What is the point of knowing that you had 53 hand injuries when the injuries aren’t quantified? Ascribing a pattern to this data and making any kind of inferences from it is useless—there are too many variables in counted data (which is what body maps are, a way of displaying an injury count) and unless we understand WHY people are getting hurt we can’t do anything of substance about it; this isn’t data this is trivia and the manifestation of safety professionals who collect data for data’s sake.
Much like the body map, the area map is truly and utterly stupid. Area maps are basically a graphic of your site with Pareto chart information as to where in your facility injuries happened. Like the body map, the area map leads people to misguided inferences. Also like the body map we don’t know WHY people are getting hurt only where. Both body and area maps lead to what Zachery Shore (author of the book, Blunder) calls “causefusion” the practice of mistaking cause and effect with correlation. Causefusion leads companies to invest in snake oil, waste vast sums of money, time, and resources on things that will ultimately do nothing to improve workplace safety.
Green for Safety
Even organizations that have long since abandoned body and area maps, cling to the Green Safety Cross like a terrier with a rat (it’s dead, drop it). The Green safety cross works like this: every day of the month where there is no injury you color a section of the cross until (ideally) you have colored the cross completely green. Do I even have to get into how pointless and juvenile this practice is? And yet it persists as one of those cherished relics, a monument to pointlessness.
Safety Observations are a lot like audits: when they are done properly and as part of a cognizant safety management process they can be a very powerful tool. Unfortunately safety observations have taken on a life of their own and too many safety professionals have complicated and convoluted the act of observing the work that the process should be completely scrapped and rebuilt from scratch. The problems abound, from twisted bureaucracies that pit peer versus peer, to exercises in pencil whipping, to nebulous processes that make no sense. I have a lot to say on this subject, but that will have to wait for a different article.
Root Cause Analysis
Another cherished practice in safety that is in serious need of a cold hard look is Root-Cause Analysis. Root-Cause Analysis is a wonderful tool for problems with a sudden occurrence and a specific structure and a single cause. In other words, root-cause analysis is a powerful tool for determining the one (and only one) thing that suddenly what went wrong (a tire goes flat after striking a pot hole, for example). Unfortunately, most unsafe conditions are really a lot of inter-related causes that grow over time until they reach a threshold and an incident occurs. The tools used to identify and manage these multiple, interrelated hazards are completely different than root cause analysis.
It’s time we stop shifting things around in safety. We need to stop looking for the next be craze and get back to basics. It’s time to reengineer safety such that it is imbedded in our other business processes. But mostly it’s time to abandon the foolishness that pervades our field. It’s not just about changing what we do, it’s also about throwing out the trash.
 (Pareto charts are used to compare counted information; they’re useful when making true apples-to-apples comparisons. For example, if you are looking to reduce the number of errors (that cost about the same amount and have about the same severity) a Pareto Chart will show you where your efforts are best spent.) Unfortunately, the Pareto Charting of injury data leads to erroneous conclusions and dangerous recommendations.
October 29, 2013 • 10:09 am 0
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:
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.
October 20, 2013 • 8:55 pm 0
By Phil La Duke
Over the past couple of weeks I have criticized the mad rush of snake oil sales men from BBS to the new –found goldmine of one form or another of “culture-based” safety. I like to alternate my posts from the critical, to the (hopefully) helpful. Much ado is made about the holy grail of injury prevention, but scant little has been offered around sustaining change.
Creating the will to, and vision for, change is tough enough, but sustaining it can feel all but impossible, and, as with all safety solutions there will be companies out there who will attach themselves tick-like on the soft white underbelly of your organization all in the name of sustaining safety and the more you pay the tighter they will burrow their tiny fangs into the flesh of your organization. The key to sustaining safety gains lie in making substantive changes to the infrastructure in which safety is managed.
A compelling vision without a clear roadmap for achieving the desired state does not create lasting change as much as it will appear otherwise. In fact, a strong vision without clear next steps tends to lead to climate change rather than the more lasting and desirable culture change.
Building a safety management infrastructure requires client’s to develop a project plan focused on closing the gap between the existing state and the desired states of what I call the seven pillars of a robust safety management process:
For workers to perform their jobs safely, they must achieve mastery level competency in the core skills required for their jobs. Beyond this need for workers to possess the core skills required of their jobs, training is also essential for workers to participate in problem solving, understand the subtle nuances of their jobs, and to truly internalize the risks associated with their jobs. This plan should evaluate the efficacy of its training strategy and tactics. In general, I’ve found safety training woefully inadequate to protect workers (in fact, I’ve written several articles on the shortcomings of training relative to worker safety, so I won’t revisit them here). When determining what training needs to be improved consider:
Too many companies draw a line of demarcation between the safety function and process capability, but in the broadest sense it is variability, not behavior that causes injuries. It’s also true that variability weakens the organization’s ability to sustain safety improvements. A process that isn’t robust and stable subjects your workers to risk of injuries. Building a safety infrastructure requires you to evaluate the extent to which your organization’s process improvement efforts interrelate to its safety improvement efforts. Process improvement efforts like 5S, Total Productive Maintenance, Kan Ban and Poke Yoke must completely integrate safety within them. This is also a good time to evaluate your safety metrics and to determine which leading and lagging indicators will most appropriately meet your needs. Many companies miss this step and the results can be catastrophic; you have changed significant portions of your organizations and you must ensure that your business systems that directly relate to safety are changed as well.
Hazard and Risk Management.
Almost all successful changes in a culture that result in safety improvements shift the way (often radically) the organizations view and manage hazards. A revamped approach to hazard management is essential, because for an organization to assess its risk of injuries it needs sufficient data to analyze trends. Hazards need to be identified, contained, analyzed, trended and tracked. This effort typically requires a multi-disciplinary team which continually reviews hazards and looks for patterns and trends that provide insights into the overall robustness of the business.
Removing hazards before people get hurt is the key to a sound safety management system. Whether the nature of workplace risk lies in unsafe worker behaviors, lack of process capability, or physical hazards, the elements of hazard identification, containment, and correction collectively are the cornerstone of any effective safety effort. Building the infrastructure will identify the gaps in the existing hazard and risk management processes/procedures and provide guidance on how to close them.
Hazard management begins with the supervisor’s in-depth understanding of the jobs in the area for which he or she is responsible. This knowledge is initiated by basic skills training, but also requires the intimate and holistic knowledge of a process that can only come from work experience. Once that knowledge of the job exists, supervisors need a systematic approach for recording findings/hazards and tracking them to completion. Typically, an organization will need to customize its own IT systems such that it can successfully track hazard closure.
When your organization understands and corrects the causes of injuries it can prevent them from recurring in other areas. You should assess the efficacy of your existing incident investigation process to ensure it is rooted in the understanding of how the process works and where the risks of process failures lie. Effective incident investigation mirrors hazard management in its ability to feed the organization the information it needs to make tough choices and to draw inferences about the risk of injuries workers face from process failures.
Read-Across is also an important element of incident investigation. Read-Across is the practice of determining where an issue that caused an injury may exist in other areas. By sharing the findings of an incident investigation with representatives of another area, the overall safety of the organization can be exponentially improved. It’s essential that your communication methods and tactics accurately conveys risks and opportunities to learn from other areas (even across locations) of the organization.
A key component for ensuring that an organization does not apply static solutions to dynamic safety issues is the development and deployment of a sound safety strategy. A key to sustaining your gains and preserving culture change lies in taking a big-picture look at the safety of its workplace. You must ensure that the team responsible for safety strategy development establishes periodic reviews of policy to ensure that anachronistic rules, policies, and procedures do not jeopardize worker safety.
Systems for accountability are essential to a strong and positive safety culture, but leaders must be made to understand that accountability is different from blame. To achieve safety excellence you must ensure the collaborative development of good systems of accountability that hold employees answerable for the risks they take, but also for identifying the best way of avoiding future missteps.
Empowerment is different from motivation. While a motivated employee will work to earn a reward, an empowered worker is intrinsically motivated to do what he or she believes is the right thing to do. Workers at all levels must be empowered to make sound decisions and to take action to make the workplace safer. Its important to develop empowerment initiatives based on respect for the workers at all levels of the organization.
There are plenty of vendors who can help with the development of a sound infrastructure for sustaining positive changes in a culture; some good and some bad. What’s most important is that you have a clear understanding of the plan and how exactly the process being offered works. Without a clear roadmap for sustaining change you are likely to spend a kings ransom on a climate change that will only last as long as you continue to pay the vendor (if that).
October 12, 2013 • 9:46 pm 9
By Phil La Duke
Last week I made my eighth speech at the National Safety Council’s Annual Congress and Expo. In consideration of my speaking at the event I am given a full conference admission, which affords me access to the exhibit hall and sessions. I usually help cover the show for Facility Safety Management by posting a story or two; this involves me attending technical sessions that I might ordinarily avoid like a diuretic rat. This year was no exception and no surprise. What WAS surprising however, is the shear volume of snake oil salesmen who have seemingly dropped the Behavior Based Safety in favor of “Transformational Safety”.
All the familiar faces were there each spouting “it’s all about culture” and “it’s about leadership commitment” where once they hailed behavior as the single largest cause of injuries. They’re right of course, the key to safety does lie in culture change, but do any of these companies that until now shouted down anyone who dared question there sacred belief of behavior as the holy grail of safety and behavior modification as the magic bullet that would magically deliver companies from the injury bogey man?
Before we get into this troubling development, let’s set a couple of things straight. Behavior is in fact the largest cause of injuries. People make human errors, take chances (informed and uninformed) that result injuries, people are careless, reckless and make poor choices. That has never been in dispute. In fact, if you trace any injury back far enough you will absolutely find some behavioral cause. No, what I (and others far smarter than I) have always criticized about BBS is the junk science and misapplied psychology that concluded that it would be easy and would provide a quick fix. Manipulating an entire population such that it no longer makes human errors, takes chances (informed and uninformed) that result injuries, and behave carelessly, recklessly and stop making poor choices is patently absurd.
Now so many of the old BBS providers are suddenly abandoning their old party line and pushing culture change, or transformations.
As for “management commitment” being the key to a safe workplace well that falls into the “so obvious as to be insulting”. What corporate initiative has any chance of success if management—at any level—doesn’t support it. The concept that management can remain on the sideline and the change will somehow take hold is so stupid that it doesn’t bear mentioning. Except the sessions that I attended the speakers mentioned management commitment in the same hushed whispers and reverential tones that they once reserved for BBS.
Culture Transformation approaches to safety are sound and effective approaches to increasing the overall effectiveness of an organization—not just in safety, but in quality, delivery, material control, productivity, environmental, and management systems. In fact, Lean Manufacturing, World-Class Management, Six Sigma, Kaisen, are all culture transformations to one extent or another. But the question is this: can the people who were selling snake oil a year ago be trusted to know anything about culture transformations? I don’t think so, and neither should you.
The question is not whether the culture needs to change, rather, do the people who until recently were hawking BBS snake oil qualified to deliver a viable methodology for achieving a sustainable culture change?
For my part I am deeply skeptical of the snake oil salesmen’s newfound religion. I believe that this is just a shell game; that the methodologies currently being hawked by the neo-culturalists is simply a rebranding of the same old crap. (I attended one session on culture where the speaker said so many incorrect things about culture, the origins of the concept of “safety culture” that I walked out in less than five minutes; that was all I could stand. I don’t blame these companies for trying to survive and spokespeople from both the National Safety Council and American Society of Safety Engineers told me (after I asked them what type of presentation abstracts they wanted to see) “any thing but BBS—people are sick of it. Now if you’re livelihood was threatened how would you respond? Might you not be tempted to rebrand your products to fit what the buyers want? Of course it would be far more ethical to actually LEARN about the new methodology instead of just slapping a new label on the same old schlocky crap, but different strokes for different folks. These people are playing with people’s lives, limbs, and livelihoods—it’s a disgraceful place to experiment.
I’ve confronted the safety sentimentalists—openly scoffing at their sanctimonious “I save lives” and their sophomoric “we love you go home safe” sentimentality—so at the risk of sounding like one of the very people I have so often condemned as making all us safety professionals look like simpering goofballs I so often attack, let me ask you this, don’t we have a higher calling? We aren’t selling candy bars, we aren’t trading sock, or doing tours, or performing any service that —while important and valuable—have such important consequences. We have a responsibility to confront the snake oil salesmen who talk a good game but at the end of the day produce nothing lasting, nothing of meaningful value.
There are good providers of culture change interventions and maybe even some of the people who spoke at the congress, but it can be difficult for executives to know the difference between the snake oil salesmen and the providers of sound transformational services. I certainly am not in a position to tar all of these people as liars, cheats and thieves, but if we don’t expose the frauds in our field who will? We need a healthy dose of skepticism when dealing with this herd of crap-merchants rushing tired retreads to market. We need to do something and do it quick. As long as we continue to let charlatans sell us crap we put people at risk, and putting people at risk is the very opposite of our jobs, and our vocations and should not be the legacy that we leave.
 James Reason coined the term in 1990.