Monday, September 1, 2014

Smarter – Improving safety performance

Recently my son and I were in a hardware store to purchase a new wax seal for his family’s leaking toilet.  It had been a while since I last had to replace a wax seal and therefore was surprised to see a range of technologies that were available for this pretty basic household element.  As we discussed the options with the sales person he expounded on his formula for success in any endeavor; “You have to be smarter than what you are working with.”  He then added “In this case, I think the two of you will be able to successfully change out the toilet seal.”  Hmmm, was this a compliment or a sarcastic put down?  We did some push back about this, had some light hearted laughter, then went home and successfully and safely conquered the toilet challenge.


However, the dialogue about being smarter than who you are working with just doesn’t sync with my personal experience in safety or management.  Successful continuous improvement teams have good people who individually excel in necessary attributes like leadership, practical problem solving, execution, communication, etc.  As with any well performing team, no one person knows it all, or is superior in all aspects of what it takes to successfully execute the challenges before them.  Success has each member contributing to their best in the difficulties that the total team must wrestle with. 


I have worked on many teams with numerous people who were far better than I was at the individual tasks we faced.  However, together with each of us doing our part where we had individual expertise we succeeded way beyond what one superior person could have done.  This is true in operations, quality and most definitely in safety where a wide spectrum of knowledge, skills and capabilities are necessary.


The Doc

Monday, August 25, 2014

The full plate – Being strategic with safety

Recently, I have been reading a book on achieving superb results in all that we do; on the job, at home, in the community, in life.  The Excellent Experience by C. David Crouch has numerous concepts that easily apply to our world of achieving safety excellence.  We all get to juggle and struggle with the never ending daily tasks that seem to consume an inordinate amount of time and deliver little or no worthwhile results.  I guess we all have a full plate.  And so the question, and a piece of the answer, comes down to what do we allow to be on our plate?  And how do we prioritize what is on our plate?


In previous career positions of responsibility, I found the tyranny of the many often obscured the necessity of focusing on the critical few.  I could check off any number of small items on the “to do list” and feel good at the end of the day about all the small line items that had been accomplished.  Yet when the next day reared its ugly head the critical few seemed to laugh at me for being consumed with the never ending day-by-day stuff and nonsense.


David Crouch writes about the solution nugget to this activity trap that in turn comes from the legendary world famous basketball coach John Wooden:   “Never mistake activity for achievement.”  My experience with this critically necessary solution approach had two paramount aspects:



  • Sit down individually with each team member and go through their overwhelming repetitive “to do list.” We would discuss and then decide what to cross out or severely limit the frequency of in all the non value added stuff that kept robbing them of the time needed on the critical few.  But these were the friends they had been living with for a long time and it was hard to not regress to the good old ways with which they were so comfortable.  That meant a periodic review of their “not to do list” to make sure that these time consuming dogs had truly been dispatched and not just wounded, healed and returned to the land of the time waster living.

  • Begin a team engagement process that brings many of the hourly and salaried team members together in continuous improvement (CI) teams which deliver root cause solutions to all the daily difficulties.  Some solutions focused on equipment issues, some on paperwork, some process, some personalities, some…….  What we were doing was adding knowledgeable resources to drive a stake through the hearts of all incoming minutia that kept us from concentrating on resolving the critical few.  These CI teams resolved literally hundreds of issues which had been burying all of us; and which all the while had been making us feel good about daily task closure/fire fighting; which all the while kept us from digging out from under the pile of activities that did not deliver achievement.  Each of the CI team small solutions also delivered additional moments for all of us to work on the critical few.  At the end of a year, their hundreds of small improvements freed up time to work on the bigger items.  Additionally, they also picked off pieces of the bigger issues that in turn made the harder items easier to solve.


You might want to order a copy of C. David Crouch’s book.


The Doc 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pura Vida – Your safety legacy

Recently, I was in the Central American country of Costa Rica.  While there I kept hearing the phrase Pura Vida as people greeted one another.  As I discussed this with our host he gave me two translations; the word by word meaning is the pure life.  However, to the local people the real meaning being expressed is akin to “we are living the good life.”  And thus the greeting was really conveying a national belief that these times in our lives in our country are really the good life we are being blessed to experience daily.  I was being treated to their national pride face-to-face as individuals from all walks of life gave me this greeting accompanied by an infectious smile.


And then it struck me that Pura Vida is really core to the safety profession.  What we do on a daily basis is to help our employees, family, customers and guests live a personal careful culture that is always about eliminating the possibility of incidents which can destroy the good life.  However, unlike a catchy happy phrase, our Pura Vida goes deeper into each of us (employees, family, customers, friends, guests) having a personal set of safety accountabilities that when practiced helps deliver a personal Pura Vida.  As safety pros we have a responsibility to use our professional knowledge, skills and experiences to help ourselves and others live a personal safety culture of correct in all that they do on and off the job.


Pura Vida


The Doc    

Monday, August 11, 2014

Juice – How much safety effort is enough?

The technical detail available to members of our profession is incredible.  It also has the potential to be suffocating as the voluminous regulations, ISO policies, procedures, local site requirements, paperwork, basic training, etc. become overwhelming commitments of our time and effort.  With all this focus on reactive and condition-based issues, where is the time for a safety engineering focus that goes beyond traditional safety?  Is there a time when this traditional approach to safety gives a marginal return on investment of our time and efforts that approaches zero?  In short; “The juice is no longer worth the squeeze.”  A performance plateau has been reached that requires another set of tools and techniques to deliver beyond the current status quo.


In the competitive business world, performance plateaus are a common occurrence.  There are numerous books written about new techniques and technologies that, when innovators give them a try, are all about increasing more juice for the amount of squeeze being applied.  And when the next new technique plateaus another innovator does more research into hardware, software and people approaches which deliver a renewed return on the investment; more juice for the new squeeze.


Safety has a parallel that goes back 100 years or so from guarding hardware, through observations, policies, procedures, psychology, automation, etc.  At each technology plateau there is a lull as the next innovator tries and documents the next squeeze that needs to be tried.  All the while the other techniques remain in place as a firm foundation for what must come next if we are to continue the relentless approach to a zero incident safety culture.  Just like in business, in safety we build on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.


The Rapid Improvement Workshop approach that delivers intense, in depth engagement solutions from across the organization is a new and current squeeze which continues to deliver the zero incident culture juice that benefits us all on and off the job.  As in the business world there are leaders, followers and laggards when it comes to trying the new and challenging approaches which will shape our future and will, in turn, become our new normal.  If your traditional squeeze has stopped delivering the juice of ever fewer incidents the Rapid Improvement Workshop technology may very well be the return on investment you can successfully implement next as the never ending squeeze on your time and effort resources continues.  May the juice be with you as you apply the daily force.


The Doc      

Monday, August 4, 2014

Trust – Confirming safety reality

Safety pros have responsibility for a complex and wide range of issues.  There seems to be an endless list of policies, procedures, regulations, conditions, personalities, operations pressures, etc., ad infinitum, (ad nausea?).  There is just way too much detail and immediacy as we try to continually improve the protection of our fellow employees.  This leads to a tacit trusting of all the safety stuff other than what is demanding our immediate attention.


Safety pros are not the only ones who live in this kind of complex, ever more demanding work reality.  Time and again the news reports detail alarming failures from other professions and situations where a group failed to verify what they were trusting in.  I am sure that “TRUST, BUT VERIFY” is a concept most of us have heard more than once.  After all, isn’t this the basis for all the auditing we are tasked with doing? 


However, verifying must go beyond a paperwork process.  It must go into field practice.  Over the years, I have found that new eyes reviewing these policies, procedures and actual work practices make a subtle, but very real difference in proofing what we are doing in our ever changing work reality.  Front-line employee teams trained and tasked with verification have covered me more than once.  When trained and engaged in the protection of themselves, their co-workers and their families, these local subject matter experts add new life, professionalism and intensity to our areas of trust.  These safety trust areas must truly be verified with an intensity which defeats complacency and the dangers of focusing only on the immediate and expedient.


The Doc   

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Vulcan Mind Meld – Achieving a common, excellent safety culture

The basics of safety like PPE, JSA, OSHA, etc. are good fundamentals.  However, achieving true safety excellence must include both the basics and go beyond them.  The old Star Trek adventure series had the ideal solution; a Vulcan Mind Meld that transferred total knowledge from one person to another.  But somehow this fantasy solution is just not available to those of us who have to live and operate in the current world of reality. 


We seem to be more in an Enterprise Resource Planning world where a mile wide and an inch deep is just not good enough.  We must build systems, procedures and practices with intensity; an intensity that deals with error proofing and delivering excellence in all that our machines and people do on a daily basis.  We must develop, prove and live the safety culture which can meld the minds and actions of our people and families into living a culture of correct.  This goes into the hard work of reality and beyond science fiction and hope for the best.


What can achieve this mind meld safety culture?  I think it takes a pit bull mentality with respect to safety; one that is relentless, untiring, totally engaged, focused on just the next thing and all the while doing the basics very well.  I guess this would be called something like a Pit Bull Vulcan Mind Meld safety culture.


The Doc

Monday, July 21, 2014

Petting the tiger – normalizing safety dangers

For years, the Las Vegas tiger show wowed audiences as Siegfried and Roy petted the tigers.  Slowly and lethally the new normal lulled the entertainers into complacency with their truly dangerous pets.  And then one day…….


Are our level one audits delivering a similar complacency as we once again review the same paperwork, the same fire extinguishers, the same training logs, the same…..  What about changing our audits to look for:



  • Deviance in procedures actually being followed to the T

  • Critical risks being reviewed, recalibrated and reinforced

  • Actual employee knowledge being evaluated with one-on-one discussions

  • Training processes that deliver knowledge, skills and attitudes which make a difference in safety performance

  • A living, vibrant safety culture that consistently strives to engage our employees in a relentless pursuit of improvement


Unfortunately, many audit processes unwittingly serve to normalize an ever subtle slow degradation of standards which need to have progressed beyond what was good enough in years past.  This slow normalization of deviances can become like Siegfried and Roy petting a tiger that in the unobserved background is truly a dangerous, somewhat sleepy beast.  This kind of sleepy normalization of deviance is a cultural malaise that eats systems and procedures for breakfast. 


If we are to own the high ground and thereby own the planet for excellence in safety culture normalization of diligence is the answer, not normalization of deviance.  Our safety processes, communications and audits must go beyond petting the tiger of complacency. 


The Doc   

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