Monday, March 29, 2010

Good Ju Ju

An African word for witchcraft is Ju Ju. I guess some people might translate it as luck. And over the years I have watched many an organization focus on a kind of witchcraft when it comes to safety. We break out the “trinkets and trash” (belt buckles, hats, coffee cups) to reward no injuries. For a while injuries go down as people report the incidents in hope of getting some kind of nominal reward/incentive. But then the program of the month awareness declines and we experience “bad Ju Ju” as someone gets injured, and we call it bad luck.

What’s next? Either a re-launch of the “good Ju Ju” trash culture, or change to another program of the month. Maybe this time we try having our hourly employees fill out cards that supposedly focus on unsafe acts. Well of course the awareness factor of this good Ju Ju leads to a drop off of incidents. That is until this low value Ju Ju wears off and another injury occurs—more bad Ju Ju. And so the cycle of safety witchcraft continues with good and bad luck being blamed or claimed.

The real solution is not to focus on tired old approaches that come and go with the tide of safety witchcraft. How about we diagnose the real cause of the safety culture weaknesses and stop throwing the safety dart at the Ju Ju board? Do a real valuable diagnosis and then act on the true root causes by engaging your people in solving their problems. Stop buying the patent medicine salesman solutions to the injury illness.

No more good and bad Ju Ju. It’s time to analyze, focus and develop meaningful solutions that last. Fire the safety witch doctors and get out of the game of safety luck.

The Doc

Monday, March 22, 2010


From time to time I work with military organizations. They too are trying to improve their safety cultures and reduce the many unfortunate injuries and deaths that are all too common with the dangerous profession they are tasked to execute. Of necessity and principle the military community takes the life and death realities of their combat cultures extremely seriously. Their planning, training and practice is excellent, well thought out and well executed.

But what about the off the job military culture? Universally most of the injuries and deaths occur off duty for all branches of the services. I have been frustrated time and again as the press of their “mission is all important” focus overwhelms any discussions and meaningful actions on what is the most serious threat to their battle field (mission) viability.

And most industrial organizations do the same thing when it comes to an off the job safety culture. There are numerous statistics to the reality that go something like:

  • More than 10 times the number of fatalities occur in vehicular (traffic) related events than occur on the job
  • More than 12 times the number of fatalities occur from non vehicular off the job activities than occur on the job
  • Serious medical injuries occur at a rate of more than 50 times that of fatalities
And yet how many organizations have a serious off the job safety program? Not many, because, just like the military, we focus on our mission safety culture. And just like the military, when we loose one of our members to an off the job injury it significantly affects our ability to perform the mission that supports our livelihoods.

What is your plan for eliminating off the job injuries? If it is not as well thought out, trained and executed as your prime mission safety culture you are setting a trap that can be extremely painful for your employees and your organization. Is it time for you and your organization to develop and live a zero incident off the job safety culture?

The Doc

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

Let the Excitement Begin!

Welcome to “The Doc” or at least the thoughts of this guy who has been involved with organization turn arounds for a couple of decades or so. In these years of working with people who desperately needed to improve there have been a number of consistent threads. I got deeper into safety as a result of a fatality. In time it struck me that safety culture excellence and organizational culture excellence were basically in need of the same tools and the same approaches. It is about a business model or approach that engages people up and down and all across an organization in the relentless pursuit of eliminating errors.

The ‘relatively short’ posts you are about to experience on this blog are not about academics, they are not about government mandates, they are not about catch and correct. They are my thoughts on the genuine, practical engagement of you and your people in a culture, a lifestyle that just does not make mistakes.

Thank you for engaging with me on these thoughts. I look forward to our social networking on the elimination of injuries and incidents in our lives and those of the people we know.
The Doc

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