Monday, November 29, 2010

Surprise- The danger of taking short cuts

People who travel in foreign lands on occasion experience gastrointestinal distress. In fact this is such a common event that each country has its own special name for the traveler’s woes: In Mexico Montezuma’s Revenge; in Morocco the Infidel’s Reward; in France the Ugly American; in Egypt the Curse of the Pharos; on Safari in Tanzania the Surprise of the Big 5. My wife often travels with me to these places. Being a dietician she has a better understanding of the dangers that lead to these sudden, painful, debilitating events. Many times as I have stepped into the danger zone she issues a warning that goes something like, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Normally I pay attention to her sage advice and yet on occasion I am so sure that I will be ok and the situation looks so simple and gastronomically safe that I choose to follow my own personal, private culture and make a questionable decision/act.

Not always, but not never, I pay the price for my decision and experience another sudden, painful, debilitating event. She shakes her head, smiles and hands me the pill of the day as I go about suffering the consequences of my shortcut. Our trip slows down, but I don’t!

As you ‘sit and think’ over the next week; what are the cultural realities that you and your organization live with, ignore and take shortcuts you know are risky. They don’t always lead to injuries, but when they do the root cause is often traceable back to something we knew we shouldn’t be doing. There are usually work rules, procedures and Job Safe Analyses that have addressed this same issue in the past. For one “good reason” or another we just choose to ignore that still small voice that says “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Sit, think, act correctly and stop experiencing the sudden surprises that lead to the pain and makes us feel so stupid.

The Doc

Monday, November 22, 2010

Island Hopping- How to set priorities that will help you succeed

In World War ll’s war in the Pacific some strategic islands needed to be taken while others were bypassed. The term Island Hopping described this reality. 
In the world of safety there are often too many needs for the available resources. That leads to the question; How do we handle this common difficulty? In all the situations, in all the countries, in all the cultures I have worked in there has always been one or more work groups that are a local success culture. There is just something different about this kind of team. They get things done well and on time.

As I enter local difficult situations I often ask various employees and managers; “What are you proud of?” Inevitably I will eventually find someone who has good answers for this open ended question. From there the path leads to one or more groups that are the strategic objectives for a world of limited resources. Give this group all the support you can and they will turn the mess into success.

And the support has to go beyond just dolling out cash. They need training, mentoring, attention, communication and the like. If they didn’t need this, they would have already solved your safety problems. With your help they are your best hope for victory in the war against injuries that all too often just doesn’t have enough resource to do everything for everybody.

The Doc

Image 1: Za Rodinu

Monday, November 15, 2010

Termites- Succession planning

The Savannah (grass lands) of Africa is home for the Macro Termite. This insect lives in colonies which make huge (6 feet high) termite mounds that are evident throughout the land. The Termite colonies have a queen that lives for about 20 years and untold thousands of workers that last about 5 years each. Each of the workers has a specialty job it diligently performs for its whole life. And it is not uncommon for the lifespan of any members of the colony to quickly end as an Aardvark (termite/ant eater) chooses their particular termite mound for an evening meal.

OK, so what does this have to do with a safety culture? 

Have you done any succession planning to ensure that your plans for an injury free safety culture continue in the event of unexpected (or expected) personnel changes? We don’t live forever, nor do our people stay around forever. What you are doing is too important for it all to come to a sudden end because of an “Aardvark” like event that takes one or more critical people out of action.

A good succession plan is important to termites, businesses and safety cultures. Why not update (create) yours soon.

The Doc

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Spill Panel Says Rig Culture Failed on Safety

WASHINGTON—A federal panel probing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on Tuesday put the spotlight on the safety culture at companies drilling the well, seeking to move beyond findings a day earlier that rig workers didn't consciously put costs ahead of safety.
"The problem here is that there was a culture that did not promote safety and that culture failed," said Bob Graham, co-chairman of the panel created by U.S. President Barack Obama. "Leaders did not take serious risks seriously enough; did not identify a risk that proved to be a failure."
William Reilly, the other co-chairman, said that "BPHalliburton and Transocean are major respected companies operating throughout the Gulf and the evidence is they are in need of top-to-bottom reform." He said that "we know a safety culture must be led from the top, and permeate a company."
The comments came one day after the panel's chief investigator, Fred Bartlit, said he found no evidence that individual workers made conscious choices to put costs ahead of safety. His emphasis left an impression among people such as Ronnie Penton, a lawyer representing some workers on the rig, that the commission was not focused enough on probing the root causes of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
"The investigators have to want to investigate whether safety was sacrificed for money and time," Mr. Penton told reporters on the sidelines of a second day of spill commission hearings. While the investigators "did a great job" laying out some basic facts, "we're looking at the operations--we're not looking at the root cause."
Some possible root causes were the subject of Tuesday's commission hearings. On Tuesday, Steve Lewis, a drilling engineer for Seldovia Marine Services who has reviewed evidence related to the BP oil spill, said one reason that rig workers may have missed red flags is that the well was designed as an exploration well with only the possibility of producing oil—meaning that the primary focus was on exploration. When workers shifted to developing a production well after oil was discovered, BP may have had to rush to put new plans in place.
"That detail was left unattended to probably due to the lack of availability of mental resources—engineering time—until it became apparent that it was going to happen," Mr. Lewis said. "Then there was what I would have to describe as scrambling to catch up on that design."
He said the evidence is a lack of detail in the company's plans for wrapping up work on the well—known as abandoning a well. There were a series of changes in procedure as workers sought to temporarily plug the well before production occurred, sparking confusion and argument aboard the rig on the day of the disaster.
"There was no real detail of abandonment in the initial plans," he said. The final plans were "totally deficient" in providing guidance and simply ordered workers to "accomplish these major steps," he said. "That's totally inadequate," he said, attributing the problems to a "lack of command and control."
A BP spokeswoman wasn't immediately available to comment.
This Article is from the Wallstreet Journal

Monday, November 8, 2010

Economics- How to Excel in a Tough Economy

As we’re all faced with the realities of a depressed economy, it’s not unusual for some to believe it’s reasonable to lower a few expectations. After all, how realistic is it to sustain a high level of safety excellence when morale is suffering from the economic uncertainties that come with layoffs, pay cuts and a seemingly unending stream of gloomy forecasts?

There are lessons here, as I’m reminded of my late father-in-law’s perspective on the Great Depression:

“If elephant overalls were selling for a dollar, I couldn't buy leggings for a canary.”The lesson: conserve cash to be able to survive and live — and engage — for another day. Companies, local governments, and individual consumers are doing this now, and it’s unlikely to change until we have reasons to believe that the economic climate is improving. Things will get better, but it will take time, even as it did in the ‘30s.

“When times are rough, if you’re gonna survive you gotta be tough.”
Individuals and organizations have to look to different approaches to be successful. Many old ways have to change in order to make it through the difficult times. The classic definition of insanity, “doing the same thing and expecting different results” applies. In many areas we have to make some tough decisions and stick with a new course that is uncomfortable, yet seems to have a better chance of success than the old ways.

If you are looking for comfortable, life ain’t the place to be.” 
Complaining doesn’t make it better. Face reality and work through it.

As an example of all the above, in 1998 I took over as managing director for a nearly bankrupt munitions manufacturing facility. The lagging indicators were terrible: the company had not been profitable in 14 years, it had been successfully sued for fraud on multiple occasions by the federal government, the previous six managing directors had been fired in less than six years, management and employee relations were miserable, and safety performance was horrid (e.g., severity rate of 142, annual explosions, etc.). As you’d expect, morale at all levels of the organization was abysmal.

The safety department had a staff of nine degreed professionals who followed the locally accepted model of writing more procedures, training the same sleep inducing regulation-based material, and conducting inspections that often ended with “power plays” like closing down operations for any kind of supposed violation. 

The facility had shelves full of procedures, in part because the onsite government inspectors made sure of it. Internal specialists and government inspectors coexisted, but the “partnership” was rarely pretty. It wasn’t unusual for the frequent condition inspections of these two groups to have widely disparate conclusions. Observation programs were ineffective throughout the 43,000-acre facility, but worst of all were the turf wars, power plays and other assorted miseries that doomed the entire safety culture. More policies, procedures, or observations did not help the safety incident rate, production performance, or morale. In our dire economic straits adding staff personnel was not an option, everyone had to be doing, or unfortunately, be laid off.

My decision was to begin a kaizen culture of continuous improvement teams in every work cell, one that would hopefully bring together both hourly and salaried workforces. It was a hard sell to the management, at-large employees, and the safety department. Every work cell began an improvement team that focused on eliminating all impediments to excellence in operations. 

Our mantra became “Complaint = Goal,” which replaced the previous unofficial “Complaint = Grievance.” In addition, we worked to promote a “no excuses” approach and pushed everyone to be engaged and actively involved in developing solutions. 

Our old culture of “They should have . . .” or “She should do. . .” was no longer acceptable (i.e., no one was allowed to “should on” anyone). The point was to focus on solving the problems at-hand by putting emphasis on the issues we could control at the moment. The high injury rate (poor safety performance) was an absolute necessity culture change initiative. Each of the self-directed improvement teams was tasked to resolve both operations difficulties and the many safety issues that existed. The safety professionals had to become accountable to actively participate with positive efforts that helped us improve in every work cell.

Getting started was difficult. There was a significant, palpable negativity by the majority of all employees to any change, especially one that involved teamwork between “warring parties.” This was reality, even though the CEO had let everyone know that there would be no 8th managing director; failure meant facility closure with a total layoff of all personnel, including the 7th managing director (me).

The safety pros were similarly uncomfortable with a change in roles, responsibilities and associated accountabilities. I explained that they were not members of ASSC (American Society of Safety Cops), but the ASSE, and we all desperately needed them to get engaged with people, not more procedures, and to start doing some of that “engineer stuff.” 

In our dire straits none of us could afford to be interested in our own personal comfort. We had to be about personal and team growth. We had to stop whining and engage in the hard work of culture change. There was to be no hesitation about shutting down an operation faced with “red” (immediate) risks. However, we agreed that a red-yellow-green danger rating system ensured that safety decisions would no longer be a “one size fits all” proposition. 

And for every safety CAR (Corrective Action Request) that was written, they were to become a part of the solution, and not just a part of the problem. Our world was now Complaint = Goal, this included the safety department team as well as the managing director. They (we all) had to become mentors and coaches of how to become a zero error culture. Injuries, incidents and “sudden deflagrations” (aka explosions) were neither to be a part of our present nor our future.

Sure, there was resistance, particularly during the “heavy lifting phase” of culture change. However, when we looked back after 12 months our new culture was delivering:
The first profit in 15 years
637 small, documented improvements (kaizens)
A severity rate that plummeted from 142 to 9
Zero sudden deflagrations

In the following year our interactive teams completed more than 700 kaizens and we had gone from “worst in safety injury performance” to placing among the top third of all the corporation’s facilities. Morale, as you can imagine, was at an all time high! As year three began, the two surviving safety pros along with the much leaner team of all employees were well on their way toward their first 1,000,000 hour LTI-free celebration in more than a decade.

In the end — and with our current difficult times in mind — I believe that you can learn more from bad times than you can from good.

So, what should safety professionals do proactively in our current time of economic troubles?

-Become interactive, interpersonal problem solvers that relentlessly assist in solving issues (safety and otherwise) that exist in the organization
-Turn complaints into goals
-Stop worrying about your own comfort and focus on growing yourself and your organization
-And, as Winston Churchill once said: “Never, never, never give up!”

The Doc

Monday, November 1, 2010

FNGs and FOGs- Protecting the new employee

There was a time in my distant past when I was on active duty with a branch of our United States military services. There were many important lessons that I had to learn and apply in the combat exercises we practiced on a regular basis. Our personal ability to learn these life and death lessons in many ways determined our ability to graduate from an “FNG” (‘Fantastic’ New Guy) to an FOG, if you will accept the obvious socially correct usage of the “F word.”

Was it luck, learning, application, consistency, focus, skill, intelligence, effort, etc., that lead to surviving long enough to become one of the Old Guys? Probably it was some of each of the above. Now that I am no longer an adrenalin pumped 20 year old (as my papa once told me, “young and stupid”) I see the same parallel in the global world of safety. All our employees start out as FNGs who are at risk.

Numerous safety studies continue to show that new employees experience something like 40-60% of all injuries. As in the military, the FNGs of our organization just “don’t know what they don’t know” and they are greatly at risk because of their lack of experience, knowledge, skills and attitude.

As leaders in safety culture we all need to do whatever it takes to get our FNGs to become FOGs without their acquiring any “Purple Hearts.” With that in mind, what is your company boot camp for new employees?

Do you toss them to the wolves, or is there a carefully thought out engagement and learning process to insure their achieving a zero injury survival and graduation from FNG to FOG? The FNGs typically have high enthusiasm and low knowledge. The FOGs often times exhibit apathy and high knowledge. If our tribe is to be successful we have to pass on the knowledge and improve the attitude at every step in the process.

How do you “on board” the valuable new employees you will need to have your organization excel in the future? Is it an excellent process or a matter of luck?

The Doc

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