What Can The Executive Suite Expect From Safety Professionals

By Phil La Duke

About a year ago, one of my Facebook friends, a nurse, posted a frothy meme about nurses.  “we’re not maids, we’re not you’re kids baby-sitters…” and it went on from there;  a post filled with vitriol and resentment for the patients and their families for which they serve.  I commented that if she felt such bitterness at her constituency perhaps she should choose a different profession instead of whining about it on social media.  I observed that the nobility of any deed is lost when one complains that one does not get one’s proper recognition, appreciation, and accolades.  She responded by “defriending” me; good riddance. I’ve seen similar posts from policemen, fireman, and teachers and the common thread—besides being whining malcontents—is the intense lack of judgment shown by people who publicly deride their constituency. I have never trusted people who define themselves in terms of what they aren’t; me thinks the lady doth protest too much.

While I haven’t seen anything posted on Facebook where a safety professional bellyaches about the lack of appreciation shown to him or her, LinkedIn threads are rife  with complaints from long suffering safety professionals about those that lead their organizations.  From the vague lack of support to accusations of ethics just south of Heinrich Himmler, safety professionals have a lot to say about the executives of their companies and most of it is bad.  One common complaint is that even the best-intentioned executive is a slobbering oaf when it comes to safety.  Safety professionals say they want more educated leaders but scarce little is done in terms of what the executives should be able to expect from their safety professionals.  So what should the executives be able to expect? What are the baseline things that business leaders should be able to count on from any competent safety professional?

Competency

At a most foundational level an executive should be able to count on the safety professional to have mastery level knowledge of safety regulations and compliance.  The safety professional should be expected to know and understand what must be reported, how basic regulatory metrics are calculated, how safety data should be interpreted, and where to find more in-depth explanations of the most common safety questions relative to the appropriate industry.  There are limits to what the safety professional should know, of course, after all they aren’t lawyers, but the safety professional should be keenly aware of his or her limits and be open with the executive as to where the safety professional’s skill set ends.

Honesty & Integrity

Safety professionals should always be honest with the executives—if it is a good idea to do something then that’s different from it being a legal requirement.  Safety professionals who use a liberal interpretation of regulatory requirements to push through a pet project are not to be trusted.  It’s this sort of moral flexibility that gets some safety professionals in trouble.  Executives need safety professionals to keep them on the right side of the law, not just compliant.  In some cases, the performance of the safety professional can be the difference between an executive being charged with a homicide.  The honesty and integrity of the safety professional must be above reproach.  Conversely, if a safety professional falsifies data, deliberately underreports, or otherwise subverts the law, then the executive may fined him or herself in legal hot water because of what the executive knew or should have known. Executives have the right to expect the safety professional will assertively point out when the executive is dangerously close to a legal or ethical breach.

Neutrality

Safety professionals should be dispassionately reporting the facts.  Executives should expect safety data to be free of commentary, sermons, melodrama, or pontifications.  The safety professional should be reporting facts, assessing risks, and professionally interpreting trends.  The safety professional should then be presenting recommendations that are free from personal agendas and editorializing. An executive needs a recommendation that clearly articulates the expected benefits, risks and rewards, and likelihood of success, not a lot of campaigning for a pet project.

An Informed Opinion

Executives count on experts to guide their decision-making and for that to happen they need the safety professional to distill, often complex data and safety trends into meaningful and useful chunks of information.  Too often the executive is given jargon-filled gobbledygook that he or she finds of little use. Most of all, the executive has the right to expect that the safety professional will always understand that no matter how informed the opinion it remains just that: an opinion. Asking one’s opinion is not allowing one the power to make a decision for you.

Professionalism

Professionalism must extend beyond the normal niceties of office etiquette and assertiveness and move into the realm of true professionalism; the safety professional has a specialized skill set that must be brought to bear in situations with a lot of unknowns and ambiguity.  Executives need skilled experts in worker safety not zealots and martyrs who believe that their job is more of a spiritual calling than a job.  Executives neither want nor can afford a softheaded boob at the helm of the safety function.

Business Savvy

Calvin Coolidge once said, ““the chief business of…people is business” but he’s often misquoted, as “the business of business is business”. However you interpret the quote one must agree that the primary goal of any business (heck any organization) is its own propagation.  The executive’s first directive is always to ensure that the business continues to exist.  Safety people often lose sight of this.  Hiding behind the self-righteous indignation and pronouncement that safety is more important than anything in all cases alienates executives.  And while nobody wants to risk people’s lives in favor of the immortal buck, executives have the right to expect that safety professionals will understand that within ethical and moral boundaries safety isn’t always the most important consideration and even in cases where safety may be the most important consideration it may not be the most urgent.

Respect

Often the executive will make decisions that aren’t especially popular with the safety professional.  It is not incumbent on the executive to explain his or her rational for making a tough call, in fact, the executive may not be able to legally or ethically disclose the “hows” and “whys” of a decision.  Executives have the right to make these decisions without the safety professional bad mouthing him or her behind his or her back.  Safety professionals who get sarcastic, rude, or pouty because the executive made a decision that was not to their liking lack the respect that the executive is owed and should not be surprised by the consequences.

A Clear Definition of “Support”

The biggest complaint I hear from safety professionals is that the executives don’t support them (or that the executive don’t “back them up”) but when I ask for details I seldom get them.  When I talk to senior leaders they tell me “I give the safety professionals whatever support they tell me they need”; clearly there’s a disconnect between the two worlds.  Executives tend to be reluctant to buy the proverbial “pig in a poke” and may actually believe they are supporting the safety function even though the safety professionals feel very differently. Clearly leadership is essential to a robust safety effort, but unless all parties can pinpoint exactly what “support” means one side or the other (or both) are likely to be disappointed.

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Creating a Culture of Safety Excellence

by Phil La Duke

There’s been a lot of yapping in the safety community about creating a safety culture and some of it has merit and some of it is just yapping.  In fact, there are a lot of people working in the safety profession who know as much about changing a corporate culture as they do about building an aircraft carrier.

A note about the photos in this week’s blog, I took these photos at the Detroit Institute of Arts, they are images from the mural painted in the courtyard by Diego Rivera.  A masterpiece you can only see in Detroit.

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Contrary to what many will tell you, a culture is more than just “how we do things around here” it’s the codified set of behaviors that keep us from killing each other.  People who study corporate culture and change talk about culture in terms of:

  • Norms. Norms are the accepted practices and methods of a population.  Norms determine what the population judges as “normal” and what is “abnormal”.  Norms form the foundation for etiquette and identifies what is polite or impolite.  To a large extent, norms determine an individual’s success.  When new people join a population there are strong incentives to learn and adopt the norms.  One does not feel comfortable until one is completely operating within organizational norms.
  • Habits. 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.
  • Shared Values & Taboos. Every culture is marked by a collective sense of what is important (values) and the things that are, without exception, unacceptable (taboos).  Shared values not only shape the key decisions made by leaders in an organization, but also make the actions of leaders more predictable which in turn reduces stress and uncertainty in the population.  Taboos make it easy for the entire population to know where the line is and to expect certain and uncompromising reprisals for those who violate a taboo. Shared values and taboos are often informal and unwritten and may well conflict (typically in dysfunctional organizations) with the expressed values or official policies.

Culture versus Climate

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A culture is a deeply embedded and codified set of expectations; its largely unconscious—people may aspire to change or direct a culture, but they are seldom successful except when those trying to change.  Cultures are how companies survive and thrive and, as such, it is deeply imbedded in the collective psyche of the population.  Climate, on the other hand, refers to the largely transitive state of the environment.  Climate change is most often driven by an intense outside force that is generally short in duration. The resulting change is typically rapid but it is rarely lasting and things quickly revert back to the old state once the outside force is removed or even lessened.

The term “safety culture” has become muddled by years of misuse and hype by safety vendors who purportedly bring culture change but bring climate change instead.  James Reason, the father of Just Culture, believed that before a company could move to a culture of safety it had to first create a culture of justice.  Throughout the years, a mixture of a confusion over Reason’s teachings and out and out misleading branding created the idea that somehow some companies had a “safety culture” while others did not.

All companies have a safety subculture, in that all companies have norms, habits, values, and taboos related to safety.  So essentially, “safety culture” is a subset of the overall corporate culture and is characterized by:

  • Safety Norms. The things that are accepted practice within safety.  Safety norms can be as simple as the example set by a veteran worker and emulated by new workers or as complex as the ways that workers interact with leadership and the safety function.  Norms are typically the unspoken and even subliminal acceptable ways we do things.  Organizations tend to reward those who follow the norms in safety and punish those who don’t, often without even being conscious of doing so.
  • Work Habits.  All organizations have a slightly different risk tolerance and one company’s killer job is another’s routine work. Risk tolerance is highly influenced by national culture as well as by safety norms and other subcultures.
  • Shared Values & Taboos about Safety. Every organization has an imaginary line when it comes to safety.  Once that line is crossed the individual who crosses it is judged to be reckless and to have taken an unreasonable risk.
  • Something Every Organization Already Has. As I mentioned, every organization has a safety culture, but every organization’s  is unique. Understanding how your culture views the safety of the workforce takes research and an open mind.  It is often extremely useful to have an outside set of eyes (not necessarily a vendor, it could be a customer, or someone from another location) to view your culture and identify the value it places on worker safety.

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The leader plays a pivotal role in worker safety and in shaping the culture.  Ideally, the leader’s behaviors are in alignment with the desired, norms, taboos, and habits of the organization, but when they are not, these leaders tend to be pressured out of the organization (although too often they create a great deal of dysfunction before they go).  There are two ways in which leaders influence the corporate culture: how they behave and how they manage.

The Shadow of the Leader

Strong leaders create such a powerful influence that their personalities can be seen in the attitudes and behaviors or those who work for them.  Bellicose tyrannical leaders tend to produce departments where individuals scream and bully other departments to get their own way, where leaders who exhibit a strong ethical sense and who reinforce the values tend to produce people who act likewise; it’s not magic, people have a very strong drive to conform.  So in a very real sense, leaders shape how the organization behaves and make decisions.

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Dysfunctional Management Breeds Dysfunctional Operations

It should surprise no one that organizations with poor systems tend to produce a great deal of chaos and a periodic review of policies and procedures is necessary to get better results.

Ultimately, the leader determines whether the workplace will be dysfunctional or productive, and whether or not people will make good decisions or take reckless chances.

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Mao said, “all change comes from the barrel of a gun” and I think there’s something to that.  Before people will even consider changing they will explore every option that allows them to keep doing what they’re doing. People will resist change even if they believe it will likely benefit them, why? Because of fear of the unknown. Why do we tell our children not to take candy from strangers when everyone knows that strangers have the best candy? Simple, subconsciously we play out a really simple and pragmatic decision making process: we must assume the unknown will harm us to survive. To foment change we must convince the population that it cannot survive and thrive if we continue to operate in the way we have been. We must make taking the candy from strangers the most attractive, or at least the least loathsome option, and that takes some doing.

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One of the best ways to foment change is the financial argument.  Injuring workers costs a LOT of money, and the bulk of the population is either convinced that all management cares about is money or is open to the possibility that operations that aren’t financially successful will be closed, sold, or face pressure to make brutal cuts in benefits and even pay.  Also, tapping into whatever your organization finds most important—whether that be productivity, tonnage shipped, or whatever—and expressing the costs in those terms (we would have to ship an additional hundred tons of cargo to recoup that cost.  It makes an impression.

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To some extent, there is, or should be, intrinsic dissatisfaction of the status quo if anyone is getting hurt on the job.  But in cases where there is a fair amount of organizational inertia, fomenting dissatisfaction can be tricky.  Even organizations that ostensibly are dissatisfied with some element of its performances may be fiercely resistant to change.  Dissatisfaction with the end result doesn’t always mean dissatisfaction with the status quo, and many organizations perish because, despite a deep and abiding dissatisfaction with its performance it is not particularly dissatisfied with its current tactics.

Why Does The Organization Have To Change

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Dissatisfiers must be compelling and easy for the average person to understand.  True dissatisfaction comes from the answer to the question, “why do we have to change?”  When it comes to worker safety the answers tend to be pretty simple:

  • Changes in Our Business Environment. Applying static solutions to dynamic problems lead to disaster and clinging to those static solutions until it is too late has driven many companies out of business.  The speed at which our business environment changes dictates the speed at which our culture must change to address the outside forces. In safety, the cost of worker injuries (both direct and indirect) are driving changes in our safety strategies and tactics.
  • Changes In Society’s View of Workplace Deaths and Injuries. Both my grandfathers died from workplace injuries. My father and brother-in-law both died of work-related illnesses. I lost a great uncle to a workplace injury, and I’ve lost count of how many friends I’ve lost to workplace injuries.  In many of these cases, people looked at what happened and said, “that’s a shame”. Today, these deaths may well have been prosecuted as homicides! The point is that while there was a time when workplace deaths were seen as unfortunate incidents, society now views them as completely unacceptable.Rising Insurance and Medical Costs.  Rising insurance and medical costs are big news.  For years these costs have sky-rocketed and now are at the point where companies with poor safety performance are finding it difficult to compete.
  • Growth. The business strategies for running a small company aren’t the same as those for running a midsized company which aren’t the same as for running a large company.  Organizations that understand the need to upgrade accounting, IT, and sales systems to accommodate growth often miss the very real need to upgrade safety management systems as well.

Making the Case For Change

IMG_0209_1 When creating dissatisfaction, you have to make the business case for change.  Often, leaders will adopt a “if it aint broke don’t fix it” approach to organizational change; this approach is often dangerous and irresponsible.  When making the case for change you should be able to articulate the answers to these questions:

  • What is it about the current state that is unacceptable?
  • Where would you like to take your organization?
  • What is the difference between where you are and where you would like to be?

The Cost Of Safety

The cost of safety (both direct and indirect) must be calculated and shared in a way that is meaningful to the organization.  Expressing the cost of safety in ways that reflect the corporate culture are key to making safety a priority.  For example, if your corporate culture places a high value on sales, then expressing the costs of safety in terms of the added sales required to replace the money spent on worker injuries is a great way for the organization’s leadership to connect the dots between sales and worker injuries.

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Also, it is important that you use actual cost figures and avoid averages, formulas, or other ways to calculate the “true cost of injuries.” These injury calculators use averages derived from figures across all injuries.  Unfortunately, the spectrum of injury costs vary widely and where your particular industry falls on this continuum (or where your company falls on the continuum within your industry) will rarely represent your actual costs.  It’s a lot of work to research and calculate these injury costs but the alternative is for an executive to (rightly) dismiss your figures as conjecture.  In many cases, your figures will be significantly higher than those calculated by formulas any way.  And if you’re figures aren’t particularly compelling (some companies don’t spend much on worker injuries, and may in fact not hurt many workers at all, until they have a catastrophic system breakdown that causes a fatality) you shouldn’t be focusing on cost and shift your attention to something more appropriate to your situation.

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Dissatisfaction with a compelling vision for success leads to frustration and dysfunction.

Why Create A Compelling Vision For Success?

Beyond the need for a vision for a better workplace you have to create a vision that makes sense to your organization and to do that you have to create a vision that details precisely what the desired behaviors look like.  In many cases, the desired behaviors are simply a reiteration of your expressed values; getting people to “walk the talk”. Creating a vision for appropriate behaviors should also address norms and confront norms that don’t match the corporate values (“we say we want “’X’ but we do ‘Y’  instead).  The vision should always be crafted such that it remains in the context of the dissatisfaction (“we are doing this because we don’t want “Y” any more”).  You can’t achieve change without changing your organization’s habits and norms.

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Creating a Compelling Vision of Success

A compelling vision of success answers the question,  “What do we want our culture to look like?”  While this may sound like an easy question, it can be difficult to answer.  In fact, you need to ask yourself what you need to do not only to create of vision of success, but also to make it reasonable, practical, and achievable? I  can’t answer that question for you; in fact, no one outside your organization can.  While outsiders can facilitate sessions that lead you to answers to these questions, no outsider will ever know your organization better than you do; beware and avoid those who think they know your world better than you do.

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Culture And Habit

Many of are norms are really just organizational habits.  In his 2012 book, The Power Of Habit  Charles Duhigg explores how institutional habits effect populations.  According to Duhigg, habits essentially burn a path in our brains which allows for automatic behavior.  This path allows our brain to have a sort of a subroutine that helps to automate behavior.  Duhigg believes that once a habit is truly formed it can never be erased.  The key, Duhigg says, is to overwrite a new, acceptable behavior over the existing undesired one.  Duhigg also believes that there is little difference between personal habits and institutional, or cultural habits.  Habits, according to Duhigg, form a loop.  They begin with a cue, for example boredom, followed by a routine, buying a snack from the vending machine and visiting with coworkers, which leads to a reward, in this case social interaction.  If an individual wants to lose weight and stop ingesting unhealthy calories will have greatest success by keeping the cue and reward the same, but substituting the routine for something healthy, for example walking around the block, while keeping the same reward (that is, social interaction after the routine).

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Of course to make these kinds of changes (in your personal life or in your organization) you need to become very aware of the cues and rewards associated with the habit, and this in itself can be very challenging. In my experience an organization’s bad habits around safety tend to manifest most frequently in what I call the Seven Pillars of Safety Excellence.

Focusing On Getting It Right

In safety, it’s easy to focus on the negatives.  Organizations tend to address worker safety in a series of “thou shalt not…” statements.  It’s easy, for example, to create policies that forbid working on energized equipment without first locking out. But these kinds of fiats aren’t all that effective.  People tend to pick and choose which rules they follow and which ones they ignore.  (in fact, I wrote an article on this subject Why We Violate The Rules  http://www.fabricatingandmetalworking.com/2011/05/why-we-violate-the-rules/ ).

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A better way of effecting lasting change is to work to instill values.  Many companies have their golden rules, or safety commandments, but in a few rare cases there are companies that have created an atmosphere where people behave in a way that truly supports worker safety and a brother’s keeper mentality.  So what’s the difference between the companies who have slogans hanging on the walls and those whose values are manifest in the workplace?   The successful companies make decisions from the top of the organization to the grass roots based on deeply embedded values that model the “right thing to do”.

To mimic these companies’ successes, you should:

  • Plan for Success. This may sound trite, but success is impossible without active planning and a whole lot of work.  No pun intended, but success in worker safety doesn’t happen accidentally, rather, it is the product of hard work on the part of dedicated and talented people.
  • Create a Compelling Vision of Success. I mentioned creating a compelling vision of success before, but it is important enough to repeat it.  A compelling vision of success isn’t a safety slogan or a lofty bit of prose hanging in the corporate headquarters lobby.  A compelling vision of success is a simple statement that clearly illustrates how the organization is going to approach keeping workers out of harm’s way; it’s the things people must do to keep themselves and their coworkers alive and unharmed.
  • Defining desired habits.  It’s not enough to write a list of things people need to do to stay alive, you must also tackle the habits that typically prevent people from doing these things. Using our lockout example, one might include a statement like “we always ensure that energy has been isolated and controlled before attempting maintenance” but unless you also seriously consider the reasons people might  NOT always do this your vision of success doesn’t ring true.  It becomes a platitude instead of a guiding value or governing behavior.  When defining the desired habits you need to take a hard look at “what about when…” statements or “except for…” conditions.  If you don’t address the cues and rewards that lead to dangerous behaviors your vision will fall on deaf ears.

Crafting Next Steps

Schein’s final element of change is next steps.  A dissatisfied population with a compelling vision for success is powerless and rudderless without clear and practical next steps.

I mentioned a moment ago that I would explain what I see as the Seven Pillars of Safety Excellence.

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Early in my career I was fortunate enough to participate in benchmarking the world’s safest companies and in so doing I discovered seven elements essential to achieving safety excellence:

Training

Training isn’t limited to safety training, in fact, the most important training for keeping workers safe is in their core competencies; workers who don’t have mastery of their basic jobs can’t do their jobs safely.

Process Capability

If your process isn’t robust and stable you subject your workers to risk of injuries

Hazard and Risk Management

Removing hazards before people get hurt is the key to a sound safety management system.

Incident Investigation

When we understand and correct the causes of injuries we can prevent them from recurring in other areas.

Strategy Deployment

Too few organizations have any real strategy for safety. Safety strategy involves taking a big-picture look at the safety of the workplace. Safety strategy development should establish periodic reviews of policy to ensure that anachronistic rules, policies, and procedures do not jeopardize worker safety.

Accountability

Accountability is different than blame.  Safety excellence depends on good systems of accountability that hold employees answerable for the risks they take.

Engagement

Workers at all levels must be empowered to make sound decisions and to take action to make the workplace safer, but beyond mere empowerment workers must be engaged. Empowered workers are entrusted with the right to make decisions but engaged workers intuitively know the right decisions to make.

These seven elements are typically where a company picks up bad habits.  It’s not that companies don’t do these seven things, rather, it’s HOW they do them that can make or break their efforts at making the workplace safer.

Create a Cultural Infrastructure: Embed Safety Into Your Operational Practices

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One of the Pillars of Safety Excellence that stands out for me is engagement.  Engagement at all levels is essential to maintaining a safe and productive workplace.  Engaged workers do things just because it’s the right thing to do. A motivated worker will work to get a reward or safety incentive, but an engaged worker will continually look for ways to make the workplace safer because making the workplace safer is the right thing to do.  It’s in his or her best interest to work safely; it’s in his or her coworker’s best interest to work safely; and it’s in the company’s best interest to work safely.

Never Underestimate the Importance of Empowerment

Creating a common-sense infrastructure around the Seven Pillars of Safety Excellence is the key to creating a safety management system that is not only sustainable, but can morph and grow as your business needs change.  I have helped companies create safety management systems almost ten years ago and not only are these systems still in place, but they are thriving.  In each case, these systems (built around changes to their approach to each of the Seven Pillars) look very different than the ones that I helped these companies design and build.  These systems grew and changed in response to (or in anticipation of) changes in the business climate.

The secret to the success of these systems lie not in what was done, but also what wasn’t done. Essentially, the approach was to sandwich new behaviors between existing, familiar behaviors. By maintaining as much of the existing infrastructure I was able to retain the cues and the rewards, and successfully replace the poorly performing routines with highly effective ones. Even so, the credit goes to my customers who took the time, committed the right people, and spent the resources necessary to identify the cues and rewards and trust in the coaching that they were provided. I learned on those projects that change is more palatable when it is surrounded by things that won’t change.

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People Don’t Respect You Because You Act Like An Idiot

Somewhere, right now, in a LinkedIn discussion group someone is posting the 245th  opinion on “Should a Company considering itself world class have the right to fire employees for their private unsafe behaviors? For example, if employees are seen during lunchtime jaywalking, or riding a motorcycle without a helmet (where legal), using stairs without handrail, etc. How about during the weekend at a non-mandatory Company picnic? Do you think a “world class” company should be protected from lawsuits when letting go these employees? Or, is the Company going too far?” As simple-minded as this topic is, it has generated a mob-mentality thread where people seem to shout out opinions without reading the other posts.

At the risk of offending my esteemed colleagues this thread is what is wrong with safety these days.  As governments chip away at safety regulations in the name of saving jobs, as businesses actively order shortcuts that undermine workplace safety, and as 50 years of progress in worker safety is threatened to be rolled back, THIS is how safety professionals choose to spend their time. THIS is the problem that they decide to commit time and energy.  I’m stunned. For the first time in history, safety professionals from all over the world can virtually gather and discuss the most compelling issues in worker safety.  We can share ideas and debate the best methods for solving lingering problems.  Manufacturing can talk to Oil and Gas, Energy and Utilities can share the wealth of experience with Logistics and Aerospace and yet time after time we see threads like this.

Earlier in this blog I used the term “simple-minded” to describe the thread.  That was unkind; true, but unkind none-the-less. Before any of you wet yourselves allow me to break it down and tell you exactly WHY this debate is so stupid.  Let’s start with the first bit, “Should a Company considering itself world class have the right to fire employees for their private unsafe behaviors?” I’m going to ignore the capricious capitalization of the word “Company” (it is not a proper noun so it should not be capitalized), the lack of a hyphen in the word “world-class”, not because I think it’s acceptable, but because I routinely butcher the English language not out of ignorance, but from sheer laziness, arrogance, and indifference. Let’s focus on the fact that the asker doesn’t tell us for what the company considers itself “world-class”.  If the company in question considers itself an overly controlling corporate douche bag, then I would have to agree. But if it considers itself a world-class safety organization, I would have to say that they are perhaps a bit misguided. Without knowing exactly what context in which the company is considering itself world-class, no one can proffer an intelligent response (which by the way, didn’t stop me from posting not once but multiple times).  And what precisely, does considering oneself world-class at anything have to do with whether or not one should be protected from lawsuits?

The next part of the question is an attempt to clarify the asker’s point: “For example, if employees are seen during lunchtime jaywalking, or riding a motorcycle without a helmet (where legal), using stairs without handrail, etc.” The asker really doesn’t get into substantive examples here.  What company would ever consider firing someone solely for lunchtime jaywalking? Sure they may use this as an excuse but show me a company who fires workers for something this petty and I will show you a company about to unionize.  As for riding a motor cycle without a helmet? Well I guess if I was the Human Resource director and some half-baked safety manager came to me with this, I would be questioning the competency of the safety manager, not the motorcycle rider.  And not using the handrail? Please. I used to work in construction and I was told by people who design and build structures that hand rails are not in place so people can hold on to them every time they walk up or down stairs, they serve to protect people by giving them something they can grab to break their fall.  To even suggest that someone would fire an employee for not using a handrail, and while on their own time and off company premises is beyond stupid.  When I read this topic heading I was embarrassed to ever to have been called a safety professional.

The author goes on to ask “How about during the weekend at a non-mandatory Company picnic?” the more he asks the dumber the question becomes.  A non-mandatory company picnic? Okay, so apparently there are now companies out there somewhere who are mandating picnics—but then I digress.  Finally, the author asks,  “Do you think a “world class” company should be protected from lawsuits when letting go these employees? Or, is the Company going too far?”  On what legal basis would there be any expectation of protection from the company? How could any rational person believe that the company is doing anything but going too far?

What is more troubling than the simple-minded question is that it elicited nearly 250 responses so far and the count is still rising.  To paraphrase the Social Network they did this instead of doing what? The fact that so many safety professionals felt compelled to weigh in on this topic is bone chilling (made even more upsetting were the numerous safety professionals who thought the company had every right to behave this way.) When I asked, on several occasions, exactly what company had the resources to engage in off-work  surveillance of its workers, I was ignored; why let logic torpedo a good conversation? I also asked how many of the respondents knew of any company that had the safety of its workplace so completely under control that it thought the only way to improve was to meddle in the personal lives of its workers.  Again, the silence was deafening.

But the issue here isn’t about worker privacy rights.  The larger and more disconcerting issue is that hundreds of safety workers think that this is something that is worth discussing (some of which I think we can safely assume were doing so during work hours).  I hear safety professionals bemoan their lack of stature in their organizations, that Operations leadership doesn’t take them seriously, and that in general, no one listens to them.  Well if this is the kind of dreck that you find worthy of your time and the kind of dreck that you want to talk to leadership about, well… no wonder people think you are a fool; you most probably are a fool.

#asse, #attitude, #behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #contingency-planning, #culture-change, #dont-hurt-yourself, #driver-safety, #driving-while-distracted, #fabricating-and-metalworking-magazine, #loss-prevention, #phil-laduke, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #privacy, #safety-culture, #simple-minded-safety, #stop-trying-to-prevent-every-possible-accident, #variability-in-human-behavior, #worker-safety

Are Safety Professionals Endangered Species?

The safety professional has been falling in status of late. I suppose one could blame the economy after all, troubled companies just don’t have the money that they might have ordinarily spent on new fangled safety processes. One could also blame the politicians—some the vacuous gas bags that pass as politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have characterized safety as costing jobs, being overly protective of workers, and in general needlessly wasting business’s valuable time. But I prefer to place the blame squarely on the safety professionals themselves. Safety, in its present form, really hasn’t been around that long. Sure there have been attempts to protect workers—most notably the efforts of organized labour to improve working conditions and the safety of the work environment—but safety as a mega industry is a relatively new phenomenon. The rise of safety has seen the function move from the position companies stuck good-natured and well-meaning dim-wits to the rise of snake oil salesmen who fancy themselves Machiavellian grand master puppeteers capable of manipulating the behavior of the workers with a bell and some pizza. And as funds get tighter and resources increasingly scarce there isn’t a whole lot of adaptation happening in the safety community. Too many safety professionals still try to compel that which they cannot inspire. After 15 odd years of trying to change things Safety remains a police force, although now some try to do police the populace with complex schemes dressed as culture change. When the environment changes only the most adaptable are able to survive and thrive. And while changes to the business landscape have been profound the reaction from the safety community have been all but imperceptible. To find one of the best examples of the “let them eat cake” mentality one need not look very far. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is sponsoring a people-to-people safety delegation to Brazil. The cost per individual is substantial, and it’s fair to say that most of the participates won’t be doing so on their own dimes. I am not trying to denigrate the program, although personally I can’t find a sound business justification for sending a safety professional to Brazil to attend meetings with their South American peers. But forget the specifics of this program and focus, if you will, on how out of touch a safety professional has to be to even suggest that his or her employer. Even with my relationships with several safety magazines I wouldn’t dream of suggesting they fund this boondoggle. The problems facing the safety profession go deeper than expecting companies to make expenditures on questionable trips. Safety still hasn’t found its Deming, when Deming developed his revolutionary approach to quality, an approach that would ultimately form the foundation for Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma, he didn’t immediately go door-to-door like Moze Pray hawking Dixie Bibles. Safety professionals, conversely, show very little decorum in their haste to commercialize every half-baked scheme that flashes across their minds. And if the theory has holes in it, no problem, just sponsor a research study that supports your junk science. A good safety process should be malleable and evolve over time. Once an organization has mastered compliance it needs to concentrate on lowering injuries through hazard management. Solid hazard management works very well in injury reduction, but too often safety professionals lose steam after the low-hanging fruit has been picked. From there Safety professional need to be prepared to tackle the tough problems of serious injuries occurring seemingly randomly. To face those challenges safety professionals need to have a significantly deeper understanding of probability and statistics. Throughout this evolution safety professionals need to do a better job at linking their activities to strategic initiatives of the overall organization. If Safety is going to survive it needs act quickly and decisively. First, safety professionals have to demonstrate the value they provide to the organization and to advertise the contributions that they make to the overall operating efficiency. If your overly complex safety initiatives are costing the company more than it can ever hope to recoup you need to simplify your process and connect it to the continuous improvement of business systems. If Safety can’t directly impact the bottom line, it can indirectly impact the cost of injuries by reducing its expenditures, or at very least it can stop pissing away profits on non-essential safety activities. The economy will eventually rebound and recover, but unless Safety begins to see itself as a partner in making the workplace more efficient it may not survive in any meaningful way. Those safety professionals who ignore the changes in the business landscape will go the way of the Moa, the dodo, and the Tasmanian Tiger, but hell, they got a free trip to Brazil out of it.

#asse, #asse-people-to-people, #attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #brazil, #can-safety-survive-this-downturn, #contingency-planning, #culture-change, #dont-hurt-yourself, #driving-while-distracted, #fabricating-and-metalworking-magazine, #increasing-efficiency, #just-cause, #michigan-safety-conference, #national-safety-council, #oil-and-gas, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #rockford-greene, #rockford-greene-international, #safety-incentives, #worker-safety

The Disturbing World of Fallacious Conclusions and Specious Arguments

Almost a month ago I was engaged in a spirited and contentious debate, again about the supposed merits of Behavior Based Safety.  Once again I was shouted down on line for having the unmitigated audacity to question the long-term impact of Behavior Based Safety.  It started when I made the admittedly blunt assertion that the contention that “people either choose to work safe or unsafe” is an unsupportable position. I thought the statement was clear, concise, and accurate. I certainly wasn’t trying to cultivate controversy.

Almost immediately the forum filled with people who questioned my experience, knowledge of safety and credibility.  After all, who was I to call the emperor naked? Millions have been made on systems that seek to make the workplace safer using basic, Skinner-based behaviorism.  How dare I question all of that?

Behavior-Based Safety proponents point to a study conducted by the National Safety Council that found that 90% of all worker injuries were caused by unsafe behaviors.  Most safety professionals hold this study sacred; it makes sense.  We’ve all seen instances where worker injuries and even tragedies could have been easily prevented had workers just acted with more care, professionalism, or plain common sense.  Even though this study is over 30 years old and to my knowledge never been independently confirmed in the safety community to question it is to commit the worst kind of blasphemy (Some of the more staunch allies will point to Heidrich’s Injury pyramid that also found (over 70 years ago) that a high percentage of injuries are caused by unsafe acts).  But I don’t question these findings.  I believe that 100% of all injuries have some behavioral causation, in so much as if no one is doing something than no one is likely to get injured.

My point is who cares? I don’t want to quibble with statistics, my point is, okay, so now what? BBS providers seem to have had this “aha” moment that holds that since behavior played a role we now have the magic bullet to prevent all injuries because all we need to do is remind people to be more careful or motivate them to be more safe, or use basic behavior modification to “fix” people. Many BBS theorists never asked “why” the people behaved the way they did. And without Root Cause Analysis to understand not only why they behaved the way they did, but also why they believed what they were doing was safe.

The crux of my view of safety is this: nobody wants to get hurt and you system wasn’t supposed to hurt them se we had ought to fix the problem not the blame. Recent, well-documented repeatable studies on how the brain works indicate that human error is an inevitable (and in an evolutionary sense desirable) human characteristic. So we can only train people to work safely to an extent, and we MUST be more proactive, which allows us to apply controls that are higher and more effective on the Hierarchy of Controls.

In most cases, I believe that too much emphasis is placed on individual behaviors and not enough on organizational behaviors, in other words too many people worry about modifying individual behaviors (while ignoring human error research, Maslow’s work, Fredrick Taylor’s work, Edward Deming’s work, the entire fields of organizational psychology, neurology, anthropology, and more) at the expense of modifying systemic issues that cause people to make bad decisions that ultimately get them hurt.

Safety is a qualitative measurement that most companies treat as a quantitative measurement. If company A has less injuries than company B it does not necessarily follow that company A is a safer place to work because as you point out there is an element of luck. Certainly there is a correlation between risk and injuries, but safety is a relative term used to describe risk. And as long as we view safety as a body-count things will continue to erode.

Safety is the probability of a worker doing his or her job without getting hurt. There needs to be a paradigm shift within the safety community.  At the foundation of this paradigm shift is the question of exactly how do we calculate risk. I’ve been working on an answer to that question for sometime and still don’t have a formula I’m happy with, but in broad strokes, I believe that the more hazards you have the more likely you are to injure workers. But there are other factors at play that raise the overall risk of injuries in the workplace.  Factors that directly influence the likelihood that people will make poor choices: ineffective communication practices, weak incident investigation, high amounts of nonstandard work, processes that aren’t in control, production bottlenecks, unstable work levels (layoffs/hiring), etc. The presence of these factors increase risk of injuries and safety can only be increased if we identify and manage these risk factors. Yes, behaviors play a key role in risk and should be managed, but not necessarily through behavior modification.

Millions are spent on Behavior Based Safety where the goal is to reward people for working safely, and yet most decisions made regarding safety are made in a reactive microsecond where there isn’t really time to make a conscious decision as to how the best and safest way to respond. Even in cases of mechanical failure, the true fault can often be traced back to a behavior: poor maintenance, poor inspection process, improper installation, etc.” I agree. But generally speaking, BBS has been bastardized to the point where organizations are only looking at behavior at the production level. They do a shoddy job of root cause analysis and if they do go far enough up the decision tree they far too often cop out without addressing the organizational system flaw that provides the “why” behind the behavior.

As I have said, all injuries are caused by behaviors if we look hard enough. But there is a huge leap to the conclusion that we can therefore use behavior modification to prevent all injuries. The debate between process solutions and behavior modification is pointless. We need to take a more holistic view of safety and focus both on improving processes, providing good training in how to correctly do a job (I’m talking core skills training not safety training—a welder who understands how to weld is infinitely less likely to injure himself or others than someone who has been given 40 hours of safety training but can’t weld.), reduce nonstandard work, and yes provide feedback on behavior.

Ergonomics, fork-truck accidents and lockout violations cost industry $100s of millions. And yes, there are significant behavioral elements to each of these but telling drivers to be more careful is like telling me to be taller. I’d like to be, but having my supervisor observe me won’t change anything for long. Do you ever speed? If you see a policeman do you slow down? do you resume speeding? This is because enforcement changes the climate of safety but does little to change the culture.

I was recently asked “why don’t we start to dissolve the artificial distinctions between protection and production in favor of effective total performance. (sic)” Why? because there are a LOT of people whose livelihoods depend on one methodology at the exclusion of all others. We can’t put all our proverbial eggs in one basket. We need to balance the need to protect workers against the need to produce at a competitive rate. But the first step in doing so is to recognize the quantitative “safety” does not exist, and that only by viewing safety as a comparative, qualitative measurement can we ever hope to recognize the apparent dichotomy between safe and productive. If we view both these terms as qualitative in nature we can begin to see them as supportive of one another, look at correlations between improved safety and improved productivity, quality, cost, and morale.

Behavior management has a place in any good safety program, but it needs to be counter-balanced by mistake proofing (which really isn’t about not making mistakes but in most cases its about ensuring that mistakes don’t kill anyone.

BBS alone will always fail because it ignores the fact that people don’t WANT to get hurt or always CONSCIOUSLY make bad decisions that lead to injuries. A fair amount of unsafe behavior is not a conscious decision so trying to modify it by rewarding a “good” decision is pointless.  Process based safety alone will always fail because…well you can’t bubble wrap the world.

#attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #contingency-planning, #culture-change, #dont-hurt-yourself, #fabricating-and-metalworking-magazine, #increasing-efficiency, #increasing-productivity, #just-cause, #phil-la-duke, #phil-laduke, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #rockford-greene, #rockford-greene-international, #safety-culture, #safety-incentives, #stop-trying-to-prevent-every-possible-accident, #variability-in-human-behavior

To Coach Or Not To Coach?

The debate over safety culture continues to rage largely among people who aren’t qualified to way  in one way or the other. But let’s suppose that we do achieve that Utopian safety culture, we reach El Dorado; then what? Organizations are dynamic and exist in a dynamic environment; to think that we can preserve this elusive state without taking active measures to preserve it is naive at best and reckless at worst. A simple, practical, fast way to sustain cultural improvements is through coaching.

Coaching is one of those skills that charlatans hawk as quick fixes—not quite training, not quite supervision coaching has become one of those non-skills that people shill without any real foundation. But there are also some terrific programs designed to teach and institutionalize coaching skills so I guess my message is simply to be careful in what you invest.

One of the greatest challenges to sustaining a culture change isn’t in the efficacy of the coaching it’s knowing when and how to coach.  This table is based on coaching an organization with a fairly robust safety process, but I think it will serve as an adequate model for less sophisticated environments as well.

Indicator What does it indicate Where do I get the information? How do I coach? How do I know if I’ve been successful
Inspections are not being done Less priority is being placed on safety by the supervisor 

The safety committee is not effectively ensuring that the inspections are being conducted

Safety Inspection Report from the Hazard Tracking Database Raise the issue at the safety meeting and coach the meeting owner prior to the meeting to have the supervisor report to the safety meeting the reason that his or her inspection has not been done  

A review of the Safety Inspection Report should indicate that the inspections are being done
Inspections do not find enough hazards No hazards are found on an inspection, or a small number of inspections are found in an area with a number of injuries 

The safety committee is not effectively ensuring that the inspections are being conducted properly

Safety Inspection Report from the  Hazard Tracking Database Raise the issue at the safety committee meeting and coach the meeting owner prior to the meeting to have the supervisor report to the HIT the reason that his or her inspection has not been done A review of the Safety Inspection Report should indicate that the inspections are being done
The risk of  a hazard is inappropriately assessed The inspector lacks the skills to properly assess risk 

~or~

The inspector has an ulterior motive for increasing or decreasing the risk level

Randomly reviewing hazards Speak to the inspector and find out why he or she is inappropriately assessing the risk of a hazard, if the inspector doesn’t know that he or she has assessed the risk inappropriately then review the process for assessing hazards.  If the inspector has an ulterior motive for this behavior, advise him or her to refrain from the behavior in the future.  If the problem persists raise it at the HIT meeting. A review of  hazards entered by the inspector should show improvement.
The containment action is inappropriate The inspector lacks the skills to specify an appropriate containment action Randomly reviewing hazards Speak to the inspector and provide feedback as to why the containment action is inappropriate and suggest ways on which the action could be improved A review of the hazards entered by the inspector should show improvement.
The hazard entered is not a safety issue The inspector lacks sufficient skills in hazard identification or is hoping entering an issue as a safety issue will get faster action An email from the database disputing the hazard Talk to the inspector and explain why the issue is not a safety issue.  Retrain the inspector in hazard investigation if necessary No further emails that dispute hazards
A hazard IS a safety issue but the person responsible for correcting it disputes it The person responsible for correcting it lacks sufficient skills in hazard identification or is hoping to avoid fixing an issue An email from the database disputing the hazard Talk to the person responsible for correcting the hazard and explain why the issue is not a safety issue.  Retrain the person responsible for correcting the  hazard
No further emails that dispute hazards

#attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #contingency-planning, #culture-change, #dont-hurt-yourself, #driver-safety, #efficiency, #fabricating-and-metalworking-magazine, #increasing-efficiency, #increasing-productivity, #just-cause, #just-culture, #oil-and-gas, #phil-laduke, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #process-safety, #rockford-greene, #variability-in-human-behavior, #worker-safety

Ending The Checklist Mentality to Safety Inspections

Often while training people how to identify, contain, and correct hazards , I find that people often miss obvious  hazards because they are looking for something on a mental checklist; instead of viewing the work place holistically the look for one hazard at a time.  Inspecting a work area for potential hazard is hard—in  many instances the hazards are contextual and given the right conditions virtually anything can increase the risk of injuries.  And as our familiarity with the workplace increases our respect for workplace hazards diminish until we become blind to the risks in a given area.  If forced to find hazards in the area, people will indeed find hazards, but typically these will be obvious hazards that pose no serious risk to workers.

To prevent this dynamic one should begin by asking a couple of questions:

What happens here?
If you ask someone what they do they will tend to tell answer in broad, general terms (“this is a deburring station”) so one will have to probe further. Ask the worker to describe in detail the tasks—lifting, walking, material flow, handling parts, attaching fasteners.
This detailed description of the basic elements of the process forces you to move away from the checklist and really think about the forces and inputs that go on in the area.

What could go wrong? What injuries have I seen in this area in the past?
Typically whoever who is inspecting a work area is  intimate with every possible problem one is likely to encounter in the work area and can tick off a list of process failure modes complete with a list of triggers, from there it’s easy to scan the area for these triggers.

What doesn’t belong here/what is out of place or out of process?
By targeting the sources of process variation we teach ourselves to focus on the critical few hazards that are most likely to seriously injure workers. This technique is also useful for eliminating the tendency to “pick the low-hanging fruit” and ignore those issues that tend to be more difficult to anticipate or readily observe.

What has changed since the last time you toured this area?
Variation creates problems in the workplace.  And provided the system is stable, once the root causes of  process hazards have been identified and corrected the one need only focus on things that have changed. On a side note, I start every incident investigation with the question, “what was different in this case than in the way this operations is usually done?” I typically get a resolute “nothing” to which I respond, “if that was  that true either the worker would never get hurt or would get hurt every time. And since neither condition is true, there must have been SOMETHING different in this case.” Differences represent process variation and where there is process variation there is heightened risk.

Holistic versus Category Based

Viewing the work area holistically, that is, as a complete system versus as discrete elements can be difficult if one doesn’t truly understand the process.  And while this is easier in manufacturing than in non-production environments like a hospital ward or a warehouse, viewing a manufacturing operations as a system can be very challenging.  When we look for things that have the potential to harm someone the shear magnitude of the hazards can be overwhelming, and a checklist is a logical tool for keeping one organized and for ensuring one doesn’t miss anything. Unfortunately, because we are typically moving around when we are inspecting an area for hazards we tend to inspect as we go and we move down the list as we move geographically through the area.  For a checklist to work one would have to walk the entire area for each checklist item and that’s just not sensible.  But holistic inspection means that the inspector must have an in-depth knowledge of not only of the systems active in his or her work area, but ergonomics, human factors,  and more specifically each subset within an operation.  Such knowledge is useful not only for improving safety, but all of the SQDCME.  Unfortunately, this kind of sophisticated knowledge of the work being performed is exceedingly rare in the modern workplace.

The Human Behavior Wildcard

The biggest source of process variability is differences in human behavior.  People do stupid things, do things subconsciously, or just vary the way they do things.  This variation can combine with other process variation to create injury triggers.  It is no secret that the majority of all injuries have some behavioral component to the cause.  Unfortunately, variation in human behavior is also the most difficult variable to control.  Organizations, acting on the dubious advise of Behavior Based Safety advocates have spent millions trying (largely in vain) to manipulate human behavior such that the workplace is substantially safer.  Most of this money was wasted, or resulted in organizations that significantly increased overhead and costs preventing injuries.  Instead, these companies would have been better served investing in mistake proofing their processes or investing in contingent measures to reduce the likely severity of an incident and or protecting workers.

Striking an Acceptable Balance

Ending the checklist mentality completely is neither possible nor desirable—the categorization and trending of hazards and injury root causes is beneficial and useful—but there are better ways than working from a checklist.  When looking for hazards one should take a page from Stephen Covey’s playbook and seek first to understand and THEN work the checklist.  In other words, take a failure modes effects analysis look at the area before pulling out your checklist.  Use the checklist to confirm that the absence of hazards after you have walked the area instead of using it to prompt you to look for a hazard.  This may sound like a trifling distinction, but it may well mean the difference between  identifying and correcting dozens of hazards and finding one or two.

#attitude, #behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #contingency-planning, #culture-change, #increasing-efficiency, #increasing-productivity, #just-cause, #phil-la-duke, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #process-variability, #reducing-process-variation, #rockford-greene, #variability-in-human-behavior, #worker-safety