Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Road Less Traveled

I recently lead a two day safety excellence workshop in the Middle East. Shortly thereafter one of the attendees, Ricardo, emailed me the following question: “Would you please tell me from your experience with the organizations you've surveyed, what the average Safety Sigma is? I would appreciate very much your reply.” My answer to this intriguing question is as follows:
Thank you Ricardo for the asking a key question. As for where most organizations fall along the six sigma continuum: My opinion is that their average is between a one and a two, more like a 1.5 to a 2.5.
  • Level 1: Lots of regs (regulations) focus, though not really built into a culture of compliance excellence, more like rules that the culture doesn’t really carefully follow, especially during production crunch time
  • At level 2 the elephant in the room is that the observation programs are more about paperwork focused on the regs than engagement on the real issues. With Near Miss, Inspections and JSAs being similar ‘check in the box’ paperwork focused marginally effective “programs.” The organizations are typically missing living a culture of excellence and employee engagement when it comes to doing the foundational things that really can help deliver a culture of zero injuries
  • Level three Safety Accountability, the tipping point of safety excellence, is mostly a “big huh?”
  • Level 4 diagnostics: The sleeping giant that if awakened would really start a revolution focused on zero
  • Level 5 Continuous Improvement teams: This tool waits patiently in the wings. Many organizations already use this approach in other areas, but just have never thought of doing it in safety. My guess here is that all the regs focus has kind of blinded the safety pros to anything outside the past 50 years of traditional approaches
  • Level 6 Passionate Safety Leadership: These people too are in the wings, an undiscovered gold mine of talent that needs to be unearthed. It is there waiting to shine forth if we could just dig out the overlying rubble of doing what we have always done and expecting different results
I hope this doesn’t sound to you like I am a cynic. What I have found is that most organizations are well prepared to go forward and achieve huge improvements in safety culture and the resultant decrease in injuries and incidents. All the training in the foundational necessities of regs, observations, JSAs, Inspections and Near Miss Reporting is in place! What is missing? I think the catalysts that get the whole safety excellence culture up and running deals with:
  • Training of leadership in safety culture excellence models that make sense and paint a credible, achievable vision that is now lacking. Once these people get to a place of “knowing what they don’t know” the level 6 leaders will come out of the woodwork and engage
  • Doing a diagnostic. As Plato once said: “Treatment without diagnosis is malpractice.” An excellent safety perception survey starts to clear the rubble and expose what level 5 teams and level 6 leaders want to and need to engage in to really get to zero
  • Safety Accountabilities! All other operations functions live accountabilities. A one day workshop opens eyes to a viable future state and kick starts the engine that delivers excellence
And the $64,000 question: “How do we do this?” My answer is that you are right there now. Time and again as we have given this type of six sigma seminar a few people in the audience have the “Aha!” moment. They then go to their leadership and get approval to do the last three things listed above. Once this occurs you are off and running on a journey that will deliver safety excellence culture performance that was never dreamed possible. May you and your organization take that first step soon.

Thanks for asking Ricardo.

The Doc

Monday, April 19, 2010

Training Beyond Compliance

For what feels like forever I have had to sit in on boring safety meetings and training. It’s always the same old movies, and when the lights go off we all struggle to stay awake. At the end, the safety department rep smiles, puts a check in the training box and we in the audience break out of the slumber and go back to work. Crud!! What a sorry, ineffective way to try and improve safety! Sure the government regs are important and they must be trained on a regular basis. But do we have to park our brains along with our behinds in this process that is more a never ending cycle of numb than anything that remotely represents a value added safety activity?
One of my safety pro colleagues decided to end the cycle of numb and pulled together a Continuous Improvement team to do something creative about the dumb of numb. Their Purpose statement went something like: “Develop employee delivered safety training that is inspiring, effective and fun.” Fun? Where did that come from, certainly not from the dumb of numb!

They went through a risk analysis and came up with a list of needed safety training. From there they did a web search for available materials and after review sorted down to what seemed to be “sorta – kinda” a fit. There was very little out there that really was an on target match for what they did. With some more creative problem solving, the team members developed:
  • Interactive exercises that engaged the people who were to be trained
  • A list of SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) for as many of the topics as possible
  • Ice Breaker introduction pieces that warmed up the crowd
  • Simple, fun, inexpensive rewards like candy for audience members who participated well
  • A session ending quiz that made sense to the topic and the company business
  • A training plan with time allowed for each topic that insured both content and crispness
  • Practical training for hourly members, supervision and upper management that helped them to become better, more comfortable trainers
  • A spread sheet that tracked who had given the training and who was “next in the barrel”
  • Personal accountabilities for employees from all levels to lead and participate in training appropriate to their job function
They then ran a pilot of the training in a focus work cell that wanted to be involved with this training improvement process. After a couple of iterations the dumb of numb was replaced with competent involved and yes, fun, learning across the organization. This initiative helped to greatly improve the three people-focused safety fundamentals of any job: Knowledge, Skills and Attitude.

Use this approach in your organization? “Try it, you’ll like it!”
The Doc

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Times, They Are A Changin'

We see it again and again. Companies with passionate workers learn how to capitalize on their strengths, and accomplish tremendous achievements as a result. Oftentimes, they are surprised by how fast they notice a change.

The training I’m talking about is called a Kaizen Blitz. I realize that some industries don’t like the “K” word. But really, Kaizen means “quick change process”. And that’s exactly what it is. Teams are small (about 5 to 8 people) made up of a few supervisors and front line employees. Therein lays one of the secrets to success: Kaizens aren’t some generic formula. They are as unique as the people that are a part of the team.

Kaizen Blitzes are intense, and focus on a company’s most pressing issues. Not just the physical symptoms, but the process (root cause) of the problem. They allow the people who are most affected by the dilemma to create the solution.

Wagner Equipment is a great example of this phenomenon. Mike Fields, General Manager of Parts and Services at Wagner Equipment was excited about taking the first steps towards an authentic safety culture. He was passionate about molding a culture of safety accountability among all company members, and he got what he wanted.

Mike sponsored a Kaizen event and the weeklong training session (designed to solve problems with Near Miss reporting, Job Safety Assessment, Safety Meetings and Inspections) was a great success.

They reaped the results when they had their first recordable free month in history - just three months after roll-out. Additionally, there was a reduction in recordables from 28 in 2008 to ONE in 2009 and over 350 reported near misses – or about 3 per employee – in the first 6 months. 95 % were closed within 3 days. Nearly 3,500 pre-job checks were voluntarily submitted by motivated employees.

If you want to read more details about the process, and how you can utilize the Kaizen Blitz process in your company, read the rest of Wagner's story.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Safety As A Value

afety as a Value was just released last week and people are already thrilled about it!

We’re excited to share our new interactive DVD with people who care about starting genuine safety conversations in their company. Anyone who deals with safety (from managers, executives, supervisors and front line employees) knows how tough it is to get everyone involved in valuable discussions.

Thankfully, Safety as a Value was designed to fill that gap. Shot on site, the video features executives, managers and supervisors being honest about their tragedies, triumphs and lessons learned. It’s a great way to start a conversation in your business.

Authentic Topics Create Genuine Discussion

Genuine Discussion Ignites Culture Change

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wrestling with Pigs

Behavior Based Safety—the ground war goes on. From articles and presentations I experience there seems to be a never ending mud slinging contest. The “debate” seems to center around “unmovable objects being subjected to irresistible forces.” They go something like this:
  • Management says it’s all about employee involvement in safety
  • Union representation says it’s all about management abrogating their responsibility for safety
I am sure that you readers have heard both sides of this story on multiple occasions. And there is another similar debate that usually gets included in the dog fight:
  • Management says injuries are the result of employee mistakes
  • Union representation says poor conditions are to blame
I am sure that you all have been chased around this tree forever as well. With this, and other seemingly endless debates, I typically fall back on the old parable that my papa once done told me. It goes something like: “Don’t wrestle with pigs! You get covered with ‘fecal material’ and the pigs love it.” Yes, I believe that there are pigs on both sides of this endless wrestling match.
So what is the alternative? These endless debates are all about level one and level two issues that just don’t have a chance of delivering a sustainable zero incident safety culture. Let’s bypass these firmly entrenched islands in our war to eliminate all injuries and concentrate on what can deliver zero: Continuous Improvement teams with employees from all levels of the organization that turn complaints into goals and then work relentlessly to solve the issues. Enough debate already, move on to value added actions.
Debates won’t stop the carnage, only adult leadership focused on achieving meaningful lasting results from all those involved has a chance of winning.
Change your culture from wrestling with pigs to leading focused, action oriented excellence.
The Doc

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pay More – Expect More?

I have often used a safety perception survey originally developed by Dr. Dan Petersen as a safety culture diagnostic to help focus an organization’s efforts on areas that the employees believe need improvement. One of the questions in this safety perception survey reads something like “Would a safety incentive/recognition program cause you to work more safely? It is surprising how many people answer this question with a “yes.” If you pay me more will I really work safer and be more careful with my own personal safety and health? I guess that means if you pay me less I’ll make a point of going out and hurting myself. Give me a break! This is crazy!


One of the safety industry’s more inane endless debates deals with safety incentive systems. One side is that paying people more based on injury rates has been shown to reduce injury rates. You all know the other side; we end up paying people to hide injuries. And this continues until a big event occurs that cannot be hidden. That is usually followed by a rash of injury reporting until all the old aches, pains and hurts are flushed out of the system. And then the cycle of pay to hide injuries starts all over again. We are back to BAU (business as usual) and a continuation of this cycle of safety insanity.

This kind of safety incentive system addresses the symptom, reporting of injuries, instead of the cause. What are the physical conditions that continue to trap our employees and injury them? Rather; what are the safety culture realities that continue to put us at risk and then trap our employees.

On occasion I have dug deeper into what kind of recognition the employees really would prefer. Based on scores of one-on-one interviews with hourly and salaried employees the answer to this question is overwhelmingly “Some kind of short, genuine personal, face-to-face thanks that applies to the job I was doing.” Realistic personal attention given in an adult manner is what “we humans” really want. This kind of sounds like a type of one of the following:

  • Visible upper management commitment to safety
  • Active middle manager involvement in safety
  • Focused supervisor performance in safety
  • Active hourly participation in safety
Well son of a gun those are four of Dr. Dan Petersen’s Six Criteria of Safety Excellence! The “ol’ perfessor” got it right again. No more meaningless safety $ games. Let’s do what we all really want; genuine engagement at the workface by all levels of the organization.


It’s about face time not money. Come on now, get out of the comfortable office and talk to the people that are working to pay your (and my) wages. A “better, faster, cheaper” solution to improving safety performance.

The Doc

Friday, April 2, 2010

Speaking of home safety....

This weekend I was playing up in the attic of our family cabin with Elijah (my son who is 6) and his friend Nate (who is 5). It has a trap door and a ladder built into the wall, not a pull down stair like many attics have. We have a large slot car track and train set up in the attic for the kids.

The kids play up there often. Most of the time I remind the kids about the hole in the floor. I have never seen it as risky, until.... this weekend Nate fell from the attic. It’s probably close to a 10ft drop. He was distracted and moving across the floor and forgot about the hole. I watched him fall. I can still see him falling.....

I have watched our program “How We Lead” numerous times. I’ve heard Skipper Kendrick and others say things like, “why is it that we have to experience traumatic events to change the way we think?” and others say, “..it was a failure of procedures, intent really..” Meaning I could have done something about this. It could have been prevented.

It still increases my heart rate to think about. It still brings tears to my eyes.
Praise God that his life wasn’t permanently changed. He did break his shoulder.
We treated the hole in the floor as if it was an acceptable hazard. As if it couldn’t be fixed. Nate paid for it.
 Now we will fix it.

In our business we call this “Level 1 – Safety.” It is totally reactive behavior. Sad that it takes these types of events to change the way we live.

May your eyes be opened to risks that you have accepted. May you choose to be proactive.
Safety can be brought into control when accountability systems are developed by those at risk.
-Tim

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