Monday, April 21, 2014

Rich – Understanding what being rich means

On a recent assignment in the Middle East, I met some fascinating people from different cultures.  During the events of the days and nights, we shared many interesting tidbits on names, cultures, beliefs and favorite sayings.  The given names in this part of the world are very different from what I am accustomed to hearing.  Besides that, the names often have real significance and are given by parents with the heartfelt desire for their children to grow up with a hope of significance.  While preparing a campfire dinner, Fawaz explained his name means ‘winner.’  Later, during a conference session, Waddah told me about ‘the clarity and inspiration of the sunrise’ his father and mother desired him to be. 


As we dug into names, we also discussed sayings and philosophies from our upbringing.  For the sake of a short blog article, I will only share two of these gems:



  • Train until you cannot get it wrong (like done in the airlines) vs. train until you get it right (like is often done in general industry).

  • Who is the rich man?  The one who is happy with what he does!


The reapplication to our safety profession struck me; pay grades do not make safety pros winners.  Nor should our training be as superficial as it often is.  What kind of clarity and inspiration can we achieve and deliver by performing the best we can while being happy doing so?


The Doc

Monday, April 14, 2014

Values – Strategies and safety excellence

Providing a published document that states the organization’s values is a common business practice for many companies.  This values document, in turn, should lead to strategies that help establish a culture that lives and delivers these values.  Many times, employee safety is a stated value.  


 I think many of us have experienced stated safety values that are not strongly practiced or enforced in the real, front-line operations culture. There are some companies I have worked with that professed ‘zero harm,’ had great safety policies and procedures, but lived a noticeably flawed production culture at the work face.  Then, there are other organizations that talk about how important front-line safety is but have no mention of safety in their values statement. Consequently, they seem to have a weaker safety reality where their employees are most at risk.


The values statements are intended to influence upper level management on issues such as communication and decision-making that drives the delivery of the values across the whole organization.  These typically come into play on a regular basis, but should also play a noticeable role in difficult decisions.  When push comes to shove, tough circumstances need to be guided by values instead of what is expedient. It sometimes seems like these higher risk events cave into the pressures of operational demands when the going gets tough.


What variables make it hard to deliver and comply with the stated values in your organization?  How do these values influence your corporate strategies?  Can you describe a time when the ideals/beliefs/values were disregarded to maintain team unanimity?  How did the situation ultimately turn out?  How has this affected both your organization’s and your own personal realities?  How will such an event affect you and your actions in the future?


The Doc    

Monday, April 7, 2014

Job Titles – Striving to improve our status in safety

A while back, I read a story about the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) asking for examples of important-sounding, obscure and even bizarre job titles.  One of the entries offered her job title of Underwater Ceramic Technician; she was a dishwasher at a restaurant.  Sometimes titles are used to make a job sound more important.  Upon further analysis, all parts of an organization or a body are necessary to function properly.  No one part is necessarily more important than another. 


In an organization, it doesn’t matter what title we hold.  What is important is the purpose of the talents we have and how we use them to improve, strengthen and sustain an organization’s excellence.  When we gauge our effectiveness by this standard of excellence, it will not matter when we are moved to another role or no longer hold a specific title. As safety professionals, we do not work for praise based on our job title or position, instead we serve to build up and help our fellow employees. Our gifts and talents are not for us, but for the benefit of others. 


Whether we are a vice president, safety resource manager or part-time, hourly employee focused on improving safety excellence, the real issue is what we are doing to eliminate the possibility of incidents in the workplace and off the job with our family and community.  Maybe one of the better titles for safety professionals is ‘someone I can count on to do the job I need done.’


The Doc    

Monday, March 31, 2014

Truman – Anger management in safety

Former U.S. president Harry Truman had a rule:  any letters written in anger had to sit on his desk 24 hours before they could be mailed.  If at the end of the “cooling off” period, he still felt the same sentiments, he would send the letter.  By the end of his life, Truman’s unmailed letters filled a large desk drawer. 


How often in this age of immediate communication would even 24 minutes of wise restraint spare us embarrassment!  My calendar of sayings recently commented on the dangers of an uncontrolled tongue:  “No man can tame the tongue.  It is an unruly evil full of deadly poison.” 


When we are gossiping or speaking in anger, we find ourselves outside the lines of what our profession and professionalism should desire.  Our tongues, our pens and even our keyboards should more often fall silent with restraint.  When we ‘speak’ in anger, we all too often remind others of our own brokenness.  When we show restraint, there is another noticeable but silent message that honors our personal character by what we do and do not say. 


This is not a message about anger management; rather it is about professionalism, maturity and being realistic about our spoken and written words. The world is waiting for our intelligent input and evaluating who we really are by how we communicate in times of stress and passion.


The Doc    

Monday, March 24, 2014

Earn – Safety as a career

Safety as a career has many challenges with good days, mediocre days and bad days.  Then, there are the inevitable organizational changes that have us starting over in a new position, company or both.  I think we have all been in positions where the circumstances have us wondering why we ever chose safety as a career or why we should continue in this career choice. 


Recently, I had a short-term safety job assignment working with a large, privately-held company in Holland.  The week prior, I was working long hours on an assignment in Canada. Then, after less than one day spent at home, I embarked on a series of long flights to Europe. This led to one long day after another, working with the many safety culture challenges in this organization’s various countries of business in Asia, North America and into Europe.  The sleep deprivation and significant time zone changes finally overcame my resistances, and I had the worst cold I have had in years.


However, there were bright spots as well.  The organization responded well and moved toward a path of developing a safety culture that will significantly reduce the injury frequency of its employees worldwide.  Additionally, I had another chance to meet with my relatives in Holland.  Over dinner, my cousin Jan gave me some insight from his global career that helped me in the moment and I hope will also help you in your safety career challenges.  Jan’s striking comment was: “You get the clients you earn.”   


As I thought this over, there were multiple aspects that impacted me and may very well help you in the readership audience as well.  For the hard cases, we have to invest the time and effort it takes to have them succeed.  There seems to be no laydowns in this profession.  We are hired and retained to make a real difference in personal injury performance, and we have to earn our stripes by helping the organization that pays us succeed. 


The other significant epiphany from Jan’s simple comment allowed me to recognize weak spots in my background and abilities, keeping me from being as effective as I can be.  I must work through these personal challenges and earn my way to better performance and ability.  These personal growth areas must be accomplished if I am to continue with a career in safety that can assist my “clients” with improving their safety performance in areas that present insurmountable challenges. 


What is in your safety and personal life reality that has earning potential?


The Doc     

Monday, March 17, 2014

Truth –The voice of frontline employees

What is truth when it comes to safety culture reality?  The regulation-oriented data tells us a part of the story with respect to training, incident records, safety meetings, work orders, policies/procedures and the like.  Observations add a bit more insight to what our people are actually doing when they are occasionally being watched/evaluated by others.  However, this is mostly surface data that lacks the depth and engagement to fully understand the real safety culture on the frontline, where risks are encountered every day.


The regulations and observation processes fail to capture the attitudes, beliefs and ideas that are in operation every day between the ears of our workface people.  Knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of frontline safety reality requires one-on-one contact with the hourly employees and their frontline leadership.  In my experience, there are two good ways to gather this kind of safety culture information.



  • Use a safety perception survey that leads to quantitative data on what frontline personnel believe about important aspects of the workplace safety culture.  Typical safety issues evaluated by the survey include processes like hazard control, incident investigation, new employee orientation, supervisor safety performance and management credibility.  It is quantitative data because there is a resultant number which indicates how strong or weak the employees feel these fundamental safety processes are as implemented by the organization.  This kind of safety culture data goes beyond what is available through the evaluation of regulations or observations data.  And yet, there is another step which allows an organization to dig even deeper into the frontline safety culture.

  • Perform one-on-one interviews and small group discussions that are structured to engage the employees and reveal more in-depth information about the safety reality on the frontline.  The interviews do not ask yes/no or rank order questions, but rather is structured along the lines of “Tell me about a particular issue or practice.” This kind of detailed discussion reveals what the quality improvement approach personnel call “The voice of the customer.” 


With this kind of safety data, an organization can more readily determine where the biggest gaps are in issues like communication, safety contacts, training, etc.  In turn, this greatly helps a safety steering team decide what to work on first in the organization’s efforts to make sustainable safety culture and performance improvements. 


My advice:  heavily weigh the input of the frontline hourly and supervision workforce, and be very clear in your communications that the voice of this group is driving the areas of your safety culture and performance improvement.


The Doc    

Monday, March 10, 2014

Not Again – How to resolve recurring injuries

Recently, a manager in one of our service organizations asked some questions about recurring injury trends.  The trends revealed a higher incident rate among newer employees and also an injury pattern around time of day. The manager understood how newer employees can have a higher injury frequency rate; however, he was intrigued by the other data. He wondered how the specific day of the week, and particularly the time of day, could influence an injury rate. Why are injuries between 10:00 a.m. and noon so common? Have you seen this trend before?


I want to share some statistics with you. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are the days which experience a higher injury frequency rate. Thursdays, Tuesdays, and Saturdays follow. The time period from 10:00 a.m. to noon experiences the most incidents.


Our consulting group provided some input on these issues. One response was as follows:


I have experienced similar statistical dilemmas in my career. There is no way to be assured of the reasoning, but here are some possible ideas:



  • Assuming that the first break is scheduled around 9:00 a.m., these are injuries occurring soon after a break.



  • With this time frame just prior to lunch, it potentially indicates that workers’ minds are on things other than the task at hand.


Here are some questions to consider:



  • After their first break, are workers required to re-engage in a review of the risk analysis for their work and the work environment to ensure that risks are controlled?

  • Are certain work groups/areas more affected by the 10:00 a.m. to noon time, meaning is there a concentration of injuries during this time in a specific area?

  • Are there any prescribed safety activities that leaders engage in during this time period?  If so, what are the activities and what does the quality of these activities look like?  If not, should there be and what should the activities be?


I've known organizations that have identified similar trends in their analysis and decided to introduce another tool box (switch-on) meeting along with safety exercises and a review of risk analysis after breaks.


Another consultant responded with the following:


In the past, I have conducted interviews with questions focused on the identified time of day injury pattern. The injury trend occurring among less than 2 year tenure employees is fairly common.  More injuries per capita typically occur to employees who are new.  Often, the solution is to develop an excellent error-proof New Employee Orientation (NEO) program. This program could involve the use of indicator clothing (different color hard hat or vest) worn by new employees until they pass certification tests or have been there for a period of time which gets them through the new employee phase.  This phase is followed by a graduation ceremony, which has safety components and other recognition as they graduate to experienced employee status.   


It is also fairly normal for certain jobs to have predominant injury types like hands and fingers, slips-trips-falls, backing up vehicle damage and the like.  In turn, this kind of discovery leads to a Continuous Improvement or Rapid Improvement Workshop team which analyzes, focuses and delivers policies, procedures and training on the injury trend.


The Doc

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