Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Over the years I was blessed to have a long standing relationship with the late safety pioneer and innovator, Dr. Dan Petersen. I had hired him as a consultant when I suddenly became safety manager for a Fortune 20 company when they experienced another fatality. This was a big change from the position I was originally hired for as corporate manager of their struggling maintenance organization. However, after the fatality their search for an in house safety leader came up as only me. The lion’s share of corporate employees were in sales, marketing or accounting; not really much of a surprise for a consumer food products organization. I guess the company leadership noticed that my years of leading facility operations and engineering functions gave me lots of first hand knowledge of “the good, the bad and the ugly” with respect to safety. The three years or so I spent first hand with Dr. Dan developing and implementing a very successful zero injury safety culture also gave me plenty of one-on-one time with this world famous safety culture thought leader.

One of his favorite topics was the “traps” that organizations inadvertently build into their culture. Just as in the wilderness, traps catch and maim some of the animals in an environment. In the industrial world the animals are people like you and I that happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unlike wilderness animals that happen to be just plain unlucky, we humans are put into the trap danger zone by our actions and non-noticed situations that put us at risk (well maybe the animal world situation does have some of these same parallels?).
Dr. Dan had some favorite safety traps that often captured our fellow workers. These included things like:
  • Long hours of work under difficult circumstances that led to tired workers who then made bonehead mistakes that they otherwise would not have done were it not for fatigue
  • The crush to get production quotas out at the end of a shift, month, quarter, year
  • Safety training that is more of a boring “check in the box” than value added learning by people who will be at risk
  • Unengaged management leadership that focuses on output rather than safety first – always, i.e., a culture of production first – always
  • A culture that does not engage the talents of the employees in the elimination of the many traps that do exist in the organization
  • Any item that you and/or your employees know should be addressed, but instead continues to remain one of ‘the usual suspects’ that we just never get around to fixing
  • A Failure to diagnose your organization’s underlying safety culture problems and engage your employees in solving them
How many of these (and other) potentially harmful/fatal “traps” do you have in your organization’s safety culture?
The Doc


  1. I was in a meeting with a VP of safety yesterday at a good size company... he was on his blackberry most of the meeting. He was sending a strong message to his staff. His staff wants to change the culture at their company...do you think the VP wants to?

  2. Ouch! You are correct, he sent the wrong message! This does happen and all too often. The last time it happened to me I called for a break and then asked to talk to the VP outside for a minute. In a safe environment I explained what was happening. He got better, but not perfect. Each time we met again I verbally set expectations to the group and to him. They did much better. The Doc


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