Monday, January 26, 2015

Fatigue Series - Introduction

This new fatigue blog series is written by Caterpillar Safety Services’ Fatigue Services Manager and Senior Consultant Todd Dawson. Over the past 20 years, Todd has become one of the leading experts in developing and implementing comprehensive fatigue risk management systems in large and complex environments. He has played an integral role in shaping the landscape of fatigue management, particularly in the transportation and oil/gas industries. Recently, he has focused many of his efforts in the pipeline industry and assisted companies with fatigue mitigation due to PHMSA regulations. Todd mixes a strong academic and research background with invaluable real world experience to provide fatigue management solutions that are both practical and effective. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Anthropology from Harvard University.

It’s 4 a.m.; do you know where your circadian rhythms are? 

We often misunderstand our quest to manage fatigue.  We attempt to eliminate it or expect that through our efforts it will go away.  Whether it is through caffeine, changes in behavior, or fatigue detecting technology, we do our best to improve our alertness.  But believing that fatigue will ever be eliminated is just not feasible.  However, understanding that we will ALL experience fatigue is crucial to implementing programs, policies and solutions to MANAGE and MITIGATE fatigue.

Once we understand that we will all experience fatigue, and some of us in drastically different ways than others, we can then begin the journey to create multiple layers of protection against the potentially devastating effects of fatigue in the workplace. 

So, where are your circadian rhythms at 4 a.m.?  For most of us, they are nearing the lowest point regarding alertness.  Many other biological systems are slowed down and other systems (like those that put us to sleep) are at their highest.  Our human machine just wasn’t designed for working through the night.  While some of us are night owls and like to stay up late (and sleep in when we can), we still aren’t fit for staying up all night.  So, how do we deal with the challenges of working night shifts?  Do we just caffeinate and tough it out?  That has been the practice for many years and hasn’t eliminated fatigue.  One way to begin to consider how to manage and mitigate is to consider countermeasures that incorporate people, process and technology. 

But through a systematic process such as a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS), we can understand the source of the challenges better and put in place the countermeasures to mitigate the possible negative outcomes and significantly minimize risk. Over the coming weeks, we will examine each of these in a bit more detail.  Keeping these three elements in mind, we can then begin to identify layers of protection in our FRMS that will mitigate the chance that fatigue has to lead to a negative outcome.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

De Rigueur – A safety strength


Regulations and standards often seem to get in the way of the day-to-day operational decisions we have to make to keep things going.  As I have been involved with industries across our planet, I have noticed the people involved in operations have a “get ‘er done” attitude in the workforce.  The personal push to deliver the end result makes a difference in throughput performance.  And the safety professionals cringe at the shortcuts that are taken in order to get ‘er done. 

The dangers to people, equipment and environment have led numerous industries to investigate, study and experiment with the variables until the optimum performance and safety interaction is determined.  This work resulted in documents, policies, procedures and principles which assist organizations to deliver world class operations, safety and environmental performance.  In the power distribution industry, the SSM (Safety Systems Manual) is consistently updated to reflect new technology and field learnings that make a difference.  Mining typically has FRP (Fatal Risk Protocols), the safety protocols that when violated have proven to lead to fatalities.  Numerous industries publish and train cardinal rules; safety protocols that must not be broken and if they are will lead to employee and manager terminations.

And yet over time without de rigueur, a culture of rigorous adherence to these kinds of standards, the “go-getter” culture seems to regress into dangerous practices that get a little more done.  This leads people to hear words such as, “We haven’t had that kind of accident for a long time.  I am sure we will be ok just this once.”  Once this assumption starts, the slippery slope to the next disaster rears its ugly head.  This can cause new employees to learn the culture of accommodation that replaces a culture of correct.   Many of you safety professionals and I have experienced the tragic results that show up down this kind of pothole packed road.

One of the strengths of our safety profession is that “we don’t make assumptions – we make informed decisions.”  We are all a part of the support staff that is to make sure we have not joined the slippery slope culture. We do this by observing, researching the information banks, informing leadership, and training the appropriate personnel. In the world of safety accountability, this process would be termed Define – Train – Measure – Recognize / Feedback.

Think about this kind of reality check in your organization.  What important standards are our people starting to bend?  What informed decisions can you help deliver that will help to move the safety culture back on the correct track?

The Doc

Monday, January 12, 2015

Rocking Chair Safety – Staying involved

When my Papa retired, he had to adjust to the different kinds of involvement in his life. Mom was glad to have him at home most of the time and she quickly developed what looked to be an endless “to do list.”  This was good because all too often the retiree seems to vegetate into a mental and physical death.  However, my Papa also believed there should be a limit to all the “honey do projects” one is given to execute.  His escape mechanism became being a volunteer van driver for the local community’s senior wheels transportation program and a couple of other local and family volunteer activities.  I guess I could quote Papa as saying “Variety was the spice of life.” 

One day, while I was across the room and he sat in a rocking chair, more words of wisdom were shared. He said, “Son, don’t let your career or life become that of this here rocking chair.  Such a focus on comfort above all else in life makes you feel good, but you get nowhere.”   This inspiration has not led me to change jobs whenever the tasks became comfortable.  Rather, it has led me to frequently be available to others needs when I could have just as easily opted out by rocking away in a non-engaged comfort zone.  In turn, this kind of decision could soon become a one way ticket to a self imposed oblivion.  Yes, now that he has passed away, I do have my Papa’s old rocking chair in our home.  However, I only use it in the evenings when a favorite program, book or grandchild demands my attention.  The rest of the time I try to keep rocking on by using the talents and abilities I have been given to help my wife, family, current employer and others.

The Doc     

Monday, January 5, 2015

Making Progress – The safety end game

Pablo Casals was considered to be the preeminent cellist of the first half of the 20th century.  When he was still playing his cello in the middle of his tenth decade of life, a young reporter asked, “Mr. Casals, you are 95 years old and the greatest cellist who ever lived.  Why do you still practice six hours a day?”  Mr. Casals answered, “Because I think I am making progress.”

What a great attitude!  Should we ever be so satisfied to think we have reached some self proclaimed pinnacle of success?  Shouldn’t we rather continue to grow and try to improve the performance of our group and our profession?  I remember interviewing safety culture pioneer, Dr. Dan Petersen just three months before he passed away.  At that time, he was still writing and talking with people in our profession and was still looking forward to making further contributions. 

We are fortunate to be able to continue to use our background, experiences and knowledge to help present and future generations in eliminating injuries and fatalities.  If we look back a mere 50 years, the progress toward an injury free workplace has indeed been impressive.   Truly, there is still much to be done that we can assist in if we will just continue to use the gifts, abilities and knowledge each of us has gained over our decades of experience.  What is needed is a personal commitment to continue to grow and bear fruit for as long as we are able.  May you and I plan to stay in the game and continue to practice that which will make a difference to those who are coming along after us.

The Doc

Monday, December 22, 2014

Simplicity – Improving safety understanding

Few people take the time to study the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) income tax regulations – and for good reason.  According to Forbes magazine, in 2013 tax codes surpassed the 4,000,000 word count mark.  In fact, tax laws have become so complex that even experts have a hard time processing all the regulations because it is burdensome in its complexity.  Some other three and four letter agencies come to mind with multi-million word count challenges; EPA, OSHA, MSHA, etc. 

People can only retain certain amounts of information, similar to a sponge only being able to hold so much water. Does another safety policy or procedure really help us drain the sponge so our people can better understand and better perform?  I guess we could look into our safety training packages for similar overload.  Maybe those of us who do a number of conference presentations should also consider that less is often more. There appears to be real value in the old advice of only having a three part sermon if you want any part of it to be remembered. 

As I have engaged field personnel who have to effectively use all this download material, there has been real value in having the front line employees put their simplifying touch to what gets presented.  If we want our message to be effective, it is not about how much detail there is or how fast we spread the material.  It is more about how understandable, memorable and applicable the important few communications are to those who have to implement them.  Who better to help the safety professional in getting the message across than those who have to effectively use all this download material?

Is your safety sponge too full of trivia and detail to help your organization clean up the potential safety messes that will occur?

The Doc   

Monday, December 15, 2014

Confusion – solving tough safety issues

The guru of the quality 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

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