Monday, September 12, 2011

Developing industry wide solutions for safety excellence

The cynic’s comment on this challenge might very well go along the lines of “How to solve world hunger.” Sounds impossible and yet there is at least one model that has been successful globally. In the 1960s Dr. W. Edwards Deming approached American auto makers with a proposal to improve their product quality and sell more cars. Dr. Deming was shown the door. In general, people and organizations resist change.

Dr. Deming did not give up. He continued the search until he found a willing partner to try new approaches that were foreign to the conventional wisdom of the auto industry. That willing person was headed by a Japanese man, Mr. Toyoda. The Toyota organization took the Deming concepts and began experimenting with them and improving them with the assistance of knowledgeable guidance. Over a period of years Total Quality Manufacturing (TQM) was developed with results that broke the status quo performance of the rest of the world’s conventional wisdom mindset organizations.

As other manufacturing organizations decided to try these new approaches they too had paradigm breaking success that were evident to all consumers and competing manufacturers. And the ball started rolling from one manufacturing organization in one country to others worldwide. As they were playing catch up, Toyota continued the relentless pursuit of zero errors with the Toyota Production System (TPS) and thus this leader continued to stay far ahead of the followers and conventional wisdom masses.

Continuous improvement teams expanded from quality focus to productivity and into customer service initiatives. Those who committed to using this globally proven employee engagement problem solution approach in all areas of their businesses began to pull away from the competition as they error proofed the upstream processes that delivered the downstream results in all that they did……except safety.

Conventional wisdom maintained a death grip on safety, the same way conventional wisdom organizations spun into a death spiral when they resisted the improvement culture that went beyond doing what they had always done, while expecting different results.

For decades we have used three safety tools; regulations, observation programs and psychology. These tools deliver safety statistics that used to be acceptable, i.e., industry average. In the 1980s Dr. Dan Petersen researched a radical new approach; focus on the underlying culture issues that have been shown to be statistically relevant and develop value added personal accountabilities in safety at all levels of the organization. He started getting paradigm breaking downstream safety indicator (injury rate) results with his clients. Dr. Petersen found pioneers who were willing to break out of the conventional wisdom trap and focused his scarce resources on the leaders who helped deliver safety excellence.

Along the way, some of these same customers added an enhancement to culture and accountabilities; they introduced continuous improvement teams focused on safety along the lines of those they were using in the operations culture. As a result their downstream safety results got even better, much more quickly. A globally proven approach used by future state focused organizations worked in safety too; just like in the quality revolution organizations that were willing to commit to take the risk of being on the leading edge have found ways to eliminate the risks involved with people who work every day in our global world. However, just like with Toyota, there are a very few who are willing to break out of decades of conventional wisdom mind block. And yet, as the downstream safety indicators continue to significantly improve quickly, others are beginning to take notice.

What then is the solution to safety world hunger? I believe it is to focus on the usage of this new tool set that has been proven to deliver safety excellence beyond conventional wisdom. These approaches will be tried by leading edge organizations. In turn, these organizations will tweak the tools and techniques to get even better, even quicker. These solution approaches then must be publicized and more organizations will be influenced to go beyond doing the same thing and expecting different results.

We must go beyond the battle for more regulations, beyond using just another observation program, beyond more psychology. None of this conventional wisdom of more regulations, more quality inspectors, more caring helped deliver low cost, high quality and on-time products. The organizations that improved significantly all engaged their people in a structured approach that had them focused on a relentless pursuit of zero errors. Injuries are errors. More and more leading edge organizations are discovering that Drs. Deming and Petersen were right and that this (relatively new) approach works incredibly well in safety.

To change an industry worldwide?

1. Define what needs to be done
2. Train the organization leaders how to do this
3. Measure how well they do it
4. Recognize them for performance
5. Continue to have them improve the tools
6. Significantly publicize the results and in so doing influence others to get on board

The good news is that items 1 through 5 are all in existence for a few safety leaders.

The Doc

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