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   

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monsoon – Seasonal safety realities

Global and regional companies experience seasonal peculiarities that can have a definite impact on the employees and their families.  Last month I received a warning notice from a facility cautioning their employees about “Monsoon June.”  The anticipated heavy winds and rains have caused major damage, injuries and deaths during previous monsoon seasons.  Many of our readers have their own regional dangers; brush fires, heat index spikes, subzero temperatures, hunting seasons, home repairs and the like.

Many monsoon seasons ago when I was a part of our country’s armed services, every Friday we mustered to hear about anticipated safety realities for those who were granted a weekend pass off base.  Each week the message was fresh based on weather, anticipated regional activities in our area and what young people who were footloose and off base might expect to encounter while being outside the control of the service regimen.  The Friday after I had a motorcycle – automobile collision I had the opportunity to give the safety briefing based on my personal experience. 

You might consider beginning appropriate, timely off-the-job safety briefings on the days your people are most at risk, i.e., when they are on their own away from the work site.  A number of studies show that most injuries to industrial employees occur while they and their families/friends are off-the-job.

The Doc

Monday, July 7, 2014

Evaporative Acts – Addressing front line safety culture weaknesses

Recently, one of our safety pro acquaintances made a disturbing discovery; his responsibility for improving safety was being hampered by a culture of evaporative acts in the work groups with whom he was to meet.  His approach of engaging in open-ended safety conversations with front line employees had developed trust among many of the people at each of the work sites.  As he did a casual one-on-one with the workers he was surprised to hear that there were two sets of safety rules:

  • When the crew knew a safety vehicle was sighted or when a safety resource was scheduled to do a drive by evaluation, front line employees were stringent about following all the PPE and procedure rules

  • When the crew was not bothered by the safety cop visits, there was a get ‘er done attitude that lacked the correct safety culture

When the safety resources were present the lackluster safety realities almost magically “evaporated” and all the safety correct culture items and attitudes were donned, but only temporally.  The results of this kind of evaporative acts culture include:

  • A false sense of security that inevitably leads to injuries 

  • A  realization that as long as front line supervisory leadership does not take the initiative to address safety issues the safety professional remains trapped in a reactive mode of correcting safety incidents

Another realization he had was the need to provide the strong leadership necessary to improve the front line safety culture.  A current initiative is to develop and live a safety culture that embodies the following:

  • If you see it, you own it

  • Do it safe, do it right all the time

  • Stop, think and act correctly

Are evaporative acts a weakness of your organization’s safety culture? 

The Doc

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fly Swatter – Fixing Safety Problems

Recently, our group was assisting a heavy manufacturing organization that commonly used Total Quality Manufacturing (TQM) and Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) techniques.  They had some small Continuous Improvement (CI) Teams that engaged in solving the front line day-to-day difficulties which commonly occur in operations of organizations worldwide. 

Our Zero-Incident Performance (ZIP™) Process includes resolving safety issues by engaging teams of employees in a structured problem solving process.  One discussion quickly went toward why the front line CI Team concept struggles with delivering in depth solutions to more complex safety problems.  At the end of our discussion, we concluded that day-to-day problems are kind of like swatting the flies which buzz around and need to be eliminated.  A small front line employee group comes together and relatively rapidly solves the equipment related issues that typically occur with TQM and TPM.  Our thoughts were that TPM-type maintenance teams dealt with about 90% equipment and about 10% human interaction.  The TQM approach within the quality environment was felt to be more like 70-80% equipment/product-related process issues and 20-30% human interaction.

We also agreed that in safety, solving the day-to-day, reactive level one and level two equipment and condition issues occur relatively quickly with a fairly classic CI Team approach.  However, once the hardware weaknesses are mostly in control, the focus quickly shifts to about 90% people/behavior realities which cause the overwhelming majority of workplace incidents/injuries. 

Herein is the issue for the front line CI Team approach.  In safety, culture and behavior process issues require far more time and involvement intensity than is available with the typical 1-2 hour CI Team event.  These more in depth safety process Rapid Improvement Workshop (RIW) teams are monitored and their progress is adjusted by a cross-functional, cross-organizational steering team. In turn the RIW teams are made up of hourly, supervision and upper management personnel who are trained on how to do the more intensive error proofing of upstream human processes. This results in error proofed processes with well thought out and tested people components which help deliver sustainable downstream low incident number realities. 

The RIW cross-functional teams typically meet off and on over a 60-90 day time frame to develop and proof a complete solution safety process which includes components like: pilot trials, accountabilities that help deliver solutions, practical accountability based audits, policy statements allied with the processes, cookbooks as to how the total organization delivers the interpersonal results and…..  This is way beyond what a 1-2 hour CI Team can accomplish.  And, likewise, so are the upstream and downstream results noticeably beyond that available via day-to-day fly swatting.  However, both approaches are necessary to get a zero-incident safety culture to occur and to be sustainable in the long term.

The Doc            

Monday, June 23, 2014

Kangaroos and Emus – Safety Directions

Two of Australia’s indigenous creatures, kangaroos and emus, have something in common – they seldom move backward.  Kangaroos, because of the shape of their body and the length of their strong tail, can bounce along with forward movement, but they cannot easily shift into reverse.  Emus can run fast on their strong legs, but the joints in their knees seem to make backward movement difficult.  Both animals appear on Australia’s coat of arms as a symbol that the nation is to be ever moving forward and making progress. 

There is a similar approach to the life of a safety pro.  I cannot think of a time when I have arrived at a conclusion of safety excellence with nothing left to do.  One thing we have in common is a journey that doesn’t concern itself with what is behind us.  Rather, we are to strive toward a goal of those things which are ahead.  While it is wise to learn from the past, we shouldn’t live in the past.  We cannot redo or undo the past, but we can press forward to serve our profession’s focus on protecting the lives of those we serve today and in the future.  Ours is a journey forward.

The Doc    

Monday, June 16, 2014

Big Whoop – Safety excellence awards

Many private and public organizations publicize significant accomplishment of downstream safety measures, such as the reduction of injury rates.  I am not fond of this recognition, but I do acknowledge that celebrating “an adequate number of injuries” seems to be a current weakness of our profession.  I am thankful that there are fewer organizations handing out monetary rewards for reducing injuries.   Monetary incentives for improved injury rate performance often lead to hiding injuries which, in turn, can keep organizations from resolving the root cause of safety incidents.

A number of years ago, I hired safety pioneer and legend Dr. Dan Petersen to assist my employer’s organization in developing a world class safety culture.  This company prided itself as being number one or two in all the markets in which it competed.  This kind of lofty goal kept their leadership and employees focused on what it took to dominate competition in a rugged marketplace with ever-shifting and ever-escalating high demands.  After a gut-wrenching fatality, upper management discovered they were in the bottom quartile for safety performance in their industry, obviously a disconnect with the brand image of being number one or two.

That led to a discussion on what is world class safety performance.  Dr. Dan defined world class safety performance, back in the 1980s, as an organization that achieved a recordable injury frequency (RIF) of 1.0 to 1.2 and a lost time rate of 10% of the recordable rate, or about 0.1.  When asked how he decided on that number, Dan answered that it represented the downstream indicators of the best 10% of his customers.  Fast forward to our current era, Caterpillar Safety Services’ top 10% of customers have a RIF of 0.3 to 0.7 and go multiple years without a lost time injury.

More and more global companies have had to employ non-traditional continuous improvement employee engagement techniques to reduce costs, improve productivity and customer service while eliminating quality defects.  This engagement of employees in a relentless pursuit of zero incidents in core operations areas is an engine that helps deliver number one or two industry performance for a globally dominant organization. 

These same companies generally recognize there is less and less to be gained in the traditional operations areas of cost, quality and customer service.  However, when they strategically look down the road 5-10 years, they also recognize that excellent safety performance is a necessity in their future state corporate culture. 

  • It is ever more difficult to find, train and retain high quality employees. 

  • Non-value added medical and legal costs associated with injuries are all necessities for them to eliminate. 

  • Government intervention that results from injuries and other safety related events is unacceptable.

  • Press exposure for safety disasters is too painful and needs to be avoided.


Put all this together and it is very apparent that getting the Big Whoop Award for average, or even 50% of industry average, injury performance will not be a part of the future state for excellent company metrics.  If they are to be number one or number two in all that they do, Big Whoop mediocrity for average performance will continue to become a part of their past.  Traditional regulation and observation technologies are not robust enough to stay on the leading edge of an ever-demanding decrease in injury numbers. 

As you know, I am not a fan of downstream injury rate numbers.  And thus, our definition of world class safety is along the lines of an organization which is actively involved and engaging its employees at all levels in a relentless pursuit of a zero-incident safety culture.  No matter what the downstream indicators are, globally excellent companies will improve each year by engaging their people with this kind of initiative.  Is it time for you to engage in more modern safety improvement technologies that will help deliver the future state safety injury metrics you and your organization need to accomplish? 

No more Big Whoop safety mediocrity awards!

The Doc

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