Monday, December 15, 2014

Confusion – solving tough safety issues

The guru of the safety revolution Dr. W. Edwards Deming is known for saying, “If I had to reduce my message for management to just a few words, I’d say it all had to do with reducing variation.”  Before you can reduce variation, you must recognize that it exists. 

Another way of stating this is what my papa once told me; “Son, confusion always precedes revelation.”  Time and again I have been bothered by what I did not understand or comprehend and there was just no simple, quick solution.  What was required on my part was “soak time.”  In order for a revelation to appear, I had to separate myself from the difficult problem, think about it overnight and put together a ‘to do list’ that I reviewed every day.

For field problems, I was often not the correct person to solve the problem because I did not have the experience necessary to get to the solution.  For these cases of confusion, it helped to go to trusted hourly employees and front line supervisors to ask for some guidance.

This led to another important personal lesson; the value of ‘show me’ versus ‘tell me’ leadership.  Once the revelation was birthed from the confusion, I/we had to be able to correctly deliver ‘show me’ leadership.  To paraphrase old man Yoda, “There is no try or tell, there is only do.”   If you want to be sure the confusion has the correct revelation, you and your team must also be able to effectively do what you say is the answer.  This is indeed a smoke test for making sure confusion has been solved, and it takes time and engagement with you and your team to get to the correct solution.

The Doc 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Innovation or Violation – Improving safety carefully

Organizations vary in their tolerance for change.  A bureaucracy is usually very intolerant of change whereas a start up organization thrives on it.  Many mature organizations have studied what it takes to become and remain market leaders. These organizations   concluded that change is inevitable if they are to remain competitive with the others who are searching for ways to take market share away from the market leader.  The many knock off varieties of the Toyota Production System (TPS) come to mind as a structured approach to managing the relentless pursuit of excellence.    

Change agents I have met try to keep pushing the improvement envelope. All of them have a history of making some mistakes along the way.  Business literature has made comments in regards to the way innovators are treated. The literature states that punishment of occasional errors is not a good idea for those organizations that are in need of improvement.  How then does one take into account the inevitable errors for those who are leading the necessary efforts to improve the numerous processes which need adjustment for the many attributes of performance?

Innovation is seldom revolutionary.  Usually there are many small steps to improvements.  These must continue. However, there must also be careful consideration not to cross a critical barrier that takes innovation to violation, which could lead to potentially serious consequences.  The innovators are often blind to the cliff edge as they are focused on the next step of improvement. There is a need to consistently evaluate risks and make sure your well intentioned innovators do not violate significant risk barriers that must be in place. 

The Caterpillar safety improvement model has a small safety steering committee made up of executives, middle managers, front line supervisors and hourly technicians.  This group is tasked with both leading strategic safety improvements and evaluating innovative Rapid Improvement Workshop (RIW) team solutions for appropriateness and implementation risk reality.  If your organization is involved with an ongoing improvement culture, you might consider forming a similar oversight group which can help prevent innovation from becoming violation.

The Doc

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

ALARP – Shifting safety realities

I was recently working with a multi-billion dollar sales construction company that has a history of “good safety performance.”  A couple of years back they won a national safety award with an Experience Modification Rate (EMR) of less than 0.6.  However, this year they are struggling not with severity, but with what used to be a good industry Recordable Injury Frequency (RIF) of less than 5. The low EMR and average RIF had been getting them into bid pools because they were viewed as ALARP (As Low As Reasonably Practicable) with the competition and with the potential customer. 

In recent years, it has been decided that Loss Time Accidents (LTAs) is no longer an acceptable risk measure for large global companies who are trying to build for the future.  The standard for these companies to even consider hiring a contractor is a RIF of less than 1 and a desire for much better than this. The progression of safety excellence standards has slowly, but steadily been improving in the background.  Some 50 years ago the push was to eliminate fatalities. About 20 years ago, fatalities for large organizations were mostly under control, which allowed the big companies to focus on eliminating LTAs.  In the last 5-10 years, the next step became RIF.  Large companies that have big, expensive projects can demand an even closer to zero incident performance from their contractors.  An industry average RIF used to be ALARP for bid purposes, but now a RIF of 1 can get a company who provides high work quality dismissed from the bid pool. 

The brutal mirror of truth facing this contractor and equipment suppliers as well as service providers is that there has been a sea of change in safety requirements.  This will not go away and in fact it is accelerating.  The old tools of OSHA, compliance inspections, observation focus, policies and procedures, check in the box safety activities are foundational, but they are not delivering anywhere near the zero injury rates that are being desired/demanded.  This is today’s wakeup call; five years from now companies that have not reacted to the call will be locked out of business by those who have answered the call. 
In 2003, Caterpillar heard the alarm, looked in the mirror and saw an ugly RIF of about 6.  This ignited a structured progression of safety improvement initiatives that now includes a culture of employee engagement and appropriate value added safety accountabilities for our approximately 150,000 employees throughout all levels of the organization. It has taken 11 years to reach our current RIF of less than 0.75, and there can be no “good enough” complacency when it comes to employee injuries.  The journey continues to 0.6 and then beyond.  

How is your ALARP culture?  What brutal mirror of truth is looking back at your organization?  Can Caterpillar Safety Services help you move beyond your safety history and into a culture that engages in and delivers zero?

The Doc

Monday, November 24, 2014

DPE – Difficult, problematic employees

I think we have all had unpleasant experiences with difficult, problematic employees, or as we’ll refer to them in this blog, DPEs. They come in all different sizes, shapes, backgrounds, levels in the organization and education realities.  The only consistent characteristic seems to be their attitude, which causes you and others ongoing trouble.  My first experience with a DPE came right out of college when I was responsible for a toxic pesticide manufacturing operation.  I followed the union contract rules and continued to council and escalate appropriately until my DPE was one step away from discharge.  After normal work hours one day, while I was still in the office, there was a knock on my window.  The DPE’s wife asked permission to speak with me and out came a story of how their family really needed him to stay employed.  We had a heart to heart discussion as to what the problems were and how we were both boxed into a corner unless she could influence him to improve what was causing the three of us real troubles.  The next day he came into the office and laid out what he would do to change his behavior.

I wish all DPE cases were that simple.  My next experience was in an integrated metal manufacturing facility where front line supervision had responsibility for several difficult employees. The supervisors followed the contract’s progressive discipline for their DPEs’ poor behaviors.  However, at this point, upper management intervened and would not allow implementation of the discipline. From that point on, the whole mill culture changed for the worse and the supervision that stayed had to live with a cancerous culture of uncaring poor performance. 

More jobs, more industries and more experience have taught me that:

·         I must have upper management on board with what to do with the DPEs, how to manage them, how to correct them and how to discipline them if they do not turn around.

·         If I can deliver corrective actions I must then deal face-to-face with the employee and must do this in the presence of union/labor and human resources leadership.  The discussion must be factual, must have employee corrective actions and must have management and supervision accountabilities to track the employee executing their own personal DPE correction plan.

With these ideas in place, I have found about a 20% success rate with the DPEs permanently improving their own issues.  The other 80%, hourly or salaried, seem to have developed a lifestyle/attitude that they slip back into after about three months of good behavior. Once they do their performance, cancer returns and you must deal with it if your organization is to move forward. This is not an enjoyable aspect of leadership.  However, for less than 5% of the workforce it is a necessity.  And one way or another when the change occurs a number of your frontline workforce, hourly and salaried, will thank you for being firm, fair and  sticking it out with the DPE who was causing them trouble as well.

The Doc

Monday, November 17, 2014

Right Now! – Effective safety goals

I have been working with an excellent surface mining organization that has a very low injury rate. They have a Recordable Injury Frequency (RIF) of less than 0.3.  They were working on leading indicators, but still struggled with a long history and the traditional draw of injury rates.  In our discussions, they related an interesting and humorous story of how their group finally put an end to setting injury goals.   

As the hourly and salaried team discussed the next year’s safety goals, their low RIF allowed for only two recordable injuries.  At that moment of truth, a mechanic team member excused himself and momentarily returned with a sledge hammer.  He looked around, focused on the safety manager and said “Let’s get this out of the way right now!” 

The team looked shocked and then started laughing.  In short order, they agreed that injury rate goals were just plain ridiculous.  A sledge hammer mechanic became the catalyst that got them seriously on the road toward worthwhile leading indicator/safety accountability goals.  This is a reality of what will make a worthwhile difference in achieving excellent safety performance.

Is it time for you get out the sledge hammer reality and become serious about what value added goals and activities it takes to improve your organization’s safety performance?

The Doc

Monday, November 10, 2014

Excellence – an achievable goal for the safety professional

“Excellence is accomplished through deliberate actions, ordinary in themselves, performed consistently and carefully, made into habits, compounded together, added up over time.”   This quote is from Anson Dorrance – Head Coach UNC Women’s Soccer, who is arguably the most successful soccer coach of all time.  Dorrance continues; “I want to play on the edge, to attack rather than defend, to play to win rather than to avoid losing.”  His fierce sense of mission was about developing team members to perform at their highest level.  To read more about Anson Dorrance and his success story click here.
There are clear parallels between striving for excellence and safety.  Are we about playing out the same old script of regulatory audits, collecting observation cards or surviving another boring non productive safety meeting?  What deliberate actions (accountabilities) are there to engage our whole team of employees in the relentless pursuit of no injuries on and off the pitch (job)?  Yes, there are careful fundamentals that become habits.  Yet we must go beyond safety 101 and bring in plays to develop all our players on a team to support each other and implement what it takes to win rather than defend the safety basics.  A safety culture of excellence builds on the fundamentals and beyond to be the daily winner for all of us in our ongoing game of life.  Take a look at the plays (resources) presented in the web site for many achievable challenges your safety team can accomplish once you decide to attack the numerous real safety issues and risks that face your on- and off-the-job teams and families.

The Doc    

Monday, November 3, 2014

Life – a safety career challenge

“Life is what you make of it – always has been, always will be.  There will always be challenges.  It is what we do with them that counts. I have written my life in small sketches.” The previous quote from famous New England painter Grandma Moses (1860-1961) has some real truth and a challenge for the safety professionals of our era.  As I look back over a “career” that includes some 20 organizations, there are many sketches; certainly not all are success stories.  When I talk to others who have stayed with one organization for their “real career,” they too have familiar ups and downs. 

If we add family realities, volunteer work and off the job experiences to the work environment, there are an infinite number of sketches that help weave together the real “who” we end up being.  Few I talk to are settled into the grand success plan they dreamed they would have; are you? 

We still have some sketches left to paint.  As a safety pro, and even more so as a person, how can we make these final sketches clear, long lasting and satisfying to the others we interact with on and off the job? Ongoing employment or retirement can have meaningful value to you and those with whom you interact. What is needed from us is to focus on delivering a meaningful, personal sketch in what we are doing in our current stage of life.

The Doc 

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