Monday, January 31, 2011

Crotch Rocket – My personal risk assessment

What is it that gets your adrenaline flowing? I think we all have something we do that “turns us on.”  For some it is low risk; my wife loves to garden, and will even go out in the winter to make sure the next season’s perennials have the best chance. For others the ‘turn on’ has a much higher personal risk.  From a profession viewpoint NASCAR drivers and football quarterbacks come to mind.

 But what about you and me, “the average Joe” who holds down a job and still looks for something beyond the day to day.  In this arena friends who consistently drive high horsepower motorcycles (or sports cars) have many more opportunities for personal disaster than the gardeners of the world.  From personal experience, those who frequently ride bicycles or jog on public roads may not get the adrenaline rush, but do qualify for consistently engaging in hazardous hobbies.

Remember “The Big Five” article a while back? How do your off the job activities with high risk assessments come into play with those things that are most important to you?  As you answer this question keep in mind that injury statistics consistently point to off the job activities as being the leading cause of injuries and fatalities.

As safety pros what are we doing to reduce our off the job risks, those of our family members, and those of our employees?  As with on the job safety culture, the personal examples we demonstrate to others greatly affect their personal actions.  Is it time for you to do a personal off the job risk assessment and then professionally do something positive about it?  It will greatly affect your Big 5 and that of others.

The Doc

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: Developing organizational excellence

I have been engaged with many organizations, in many industries, in many cultures, in many countries, with many different kinds of people.  I guess you could say I have lived in the world’s organizational scatter diagram.  There have been the good, the bad and the ugly to quote an old Clint Eastwood movie.  Every once in a while there has been one where everything and everyone has aligned to deliver true excellence.

Digging a little deeper and analyzing the scatter diagram there have also been a number of findings that stick out about these great performers.  One of the “Aha moments” discovered as a part of many long airline flight navel gazing sessions is that “A company is only really the people.”  There are a couple of corollaries to this; the first being “The best processes with the wrong people equals disaster.”  And yet when faced with a struggling organization, disappointing results and frequent errors many leaders insist on writing more procedures and policies that spell out what must be done to cover the many mistakes that just keep on occurring.  The mountain of paperwork grows and the problems continue.

Enter the second corollary; “Weak processes with the best people equals success.”  Our chances at success truly depend on the people we employee.  And here comes the third corollary, a quote from Walter Meisner who developed Citi Bank into a world financial power; “If you have the wrong person in the right job no matter how hard you manage them they will fail.  Conversely if you have the right person in the right job no matter how poorly you manage them they will succeed.”

A key to success then becomes hiring and retaining the right people for the jobs at hand and then supporting and empowering them to do the very best they can.  Sure they will undoubtedly launch some procedures to follow, but that’s secondary to developing a successful organization.  Whether it is in safety or any other function it is all about the people.

The Doc

Monday, January 17, 2011

Aaarrrrgggghhhh!!!! Emergency Preparedness

A thorough overall risk assessment will uncover potential workplace emergencies. Responses to those scenarios must be well thought and appropriate.  Of course there is also a need for abatement plans to lessen the possibility of the disaster.  All this is a basic and legal safety necessity.  That being said, over the years I have experienced some real difficulties with emergency preparedness. I have noticed the following trends:

Written procedures are often lacking. Organizations bring together a group of field people and practice a scenario, but don’t document it.  The crew may well practice their approach, but over time tribal practices degrade this experience. Problems arise when there is no firm reference or source document that establishes clear cut procedures. Without a reviewable document training and improvement are impossible.

Procedures are not created by personnel who will practice them in the event of an emergency, instead written by technical staff.  This creates a document that is cumbersome or ineffective in the real world of chaos that is frequently a part of these “Ah Sh*t!!” events.
Procedures are blindly followed and not updated to take into account the changes that always occur over time.

Practices are neglected or only given cursory attention.  After all when we do real practice actual potential disasters they truly disrupt our normal productivity.

If any of the shortfalls listed above is a part of your emergency (lack of) preparedness, and if you are not adequately prepared when sh*t happens, don’t expect to be able to execute procedures correctly in the face of a true disaster.

When there is no time to make up for the false sense of security we counted on, were we really prepared? Even Superman needs clothes. Emergency preparedness is a very important part of safety excellence. Do it well.

-The Doc


Video: Avista Utilities 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Leading Vs. Lagging Indicators

LEADING vs. LAGGING INDICATORS....I would like to hear from others on what Safety Indicators their organizations use to measure their Safety Performance. My company currently uses Lagging Indicators (i.e., Incident Rate, WC per Hour, etc.) - to assess and measure its Safety Performance - which is very good. But we currently are hiring field personnel and expanding what we do - therefore are measures will not predict our future risk exposure. I would like to hear from others on what type of Leading Safety Indicators that they use - such as Near Miss Severity, Employee Safety Participation, etc. Also please comment on what you think is the best Leading Indicator to measure and why.


Downstream results aren’t dependable in sustaining a proactive approach to safety culture excellence. Using injury statistics to drive a safety system is just not effective in the long term. To achieve a safe work environment, the employees’ specific tasks and activities that eliminate incidents need to be well defined, trained, measured and recognized. And individuals up and down the total organization need to know these tasks matter to management and their peers.  In essence the organization has a safety culture that focuses primarily on the presence of safety (what we want to occur) rather than just reacting to the absence of safety (the incidents).  
I recommend a shift of focus to the upstream activities that deliver the downstream results. In other words, focus on activity-based objectives that can be measured and rewarded. This also means your team needs to get together and agree on what to regularly measure and reinforce.
Without measuring the upstream activities, you simply won’t get the downstream results you want.  Once you’ve established that the primary focus needs to be on what goes on upstream, the downstream numbers begin to take care of themselves. That is, assuming you have the right person at the right job. A worker can do all the right activities, but perform them poorly because of the role s/he is in. The lesson here is to match the right worker to the right job and hold them accountable for their activities that deliver the results you want.   

Friday, January 7, 2011

Discipline: Handling People Who Won't Follow the Rules

I'm writing an article on handling people who won't follow the rules, procedures, policies etc and seek input and insight. The article will cover the role of discipline, but from this august group I hope for more sophistication than "fire them".  -Norman

Enforcement...does that mean discipline? Wait…what is discipline? As I was growing up and in need of firm guidance, discipline was often kicked off when my papa told me “You’re in a heap a’ trouble, Boy.” In my adult years, when I have been trained and am responsible for my own actions, discipline is mostly in accordance with the dictionary definition; “Training that develops self control.” So for the most part work place discipline becomes adult correction, and that means personal coaching/engagement, not punitive enforcement. 

I have worked in organizations with leadership that always went to Disciplinary Action (DA) as the first approach when something went wrong.  During those dark years I learned that punishment seldom worked effectively.  A thorough investigation that focused on discovering and resolving root cause issues around the incident often showed the organization to have a significant part in the causes.  The overwhelming percentage of times our processes were weak, and/or our culture reinforced taking dangerous shortcuts in order to “feed the production dragon.”  I can remember a circumstance where punishment was demanded until I stood firm that if we gave the employee time off without pay we would have to do so for his supervisor and the superintendent.  It was obvious they knew that what was going on in the background was wrong and had been so for a long time.

I believe there are four steps in the process it takes for employees to consistently do the job right:
-Define what must occur to get the job done correctly and safely.  Not a soft/sloppy definition, but a robust, well thought out, error proofed procedure with appropriate actions and accountabilities
-Train the employees and supervision how to do the tasks safely and correctly, with no short cuts
-Measure the employees performance in doing the tasks/process correctly and safely
- Recognition or feedback is provided to the employee on their performance, and appropriate corrections made if need be.

When an incident occurs, see if this model has been followed.  Usually there are one or more flaws in these four fundamental steps that have directly, or indirectly, led to the mistake.  Correct the process with the employees and their leadership and the need for punitive discipline is seldom necessary.

But what about “Cavemen” (Citizens Against Virtually Everything)?  I have found that there are hard core cases that exist in some organizations.  Most organizations have a multi-step process of progressive discipline to address these problem children (who are usually less than 1% of the total population).  My experience is that this process, too, is neither robust in how to go about separating impossible employees, nor is it followed correctly.  If you have employees who willfully violate important and correct processes you must take progressive action to resolve the cancer they cause.

In this case I use a “three T model” to guide my decisions.  Employees who consistently do the wrong thing either need:
-Training to do the job correctly
-Transferring to another position where their talents match the job requirements
-Termination if you can’t train them to do the job, or find one they can do, it is time to “get them off the bus” and send them on to some other organization

The Doc

Monday, January 3, 2011

How to have an effective safety commitee

Monthly Safety Committees - What makes them effective? How do you measure? How do we ensure it is a benefit to are management system? I would like to know successes and failures other people have had.

As with many others involved with safety, for years I have struggled with ineffective safety meetings. Untold hours are spent by valuable people resources with little or no perceptible value added results. As we began involving Continuous Improvement (CI) safety teams to fix the many broken parts of a safety culture, safety meetings were high on everyone’s ‘needs to be fixed’ list. The result of these CI efforts typically has a well defined ‘POP statement.’ What is the Purpose of the safety meeting; What are the measureable, value added Outcomes of a safety committee; What is the Process by which these Outcomes will be achieved. Here is an example of an organization’s POP statement for safety committees:

Purpose: Develop safety accountabilities for all levels of our organization that will help us eliminate injuries.

Outcomes: Accountabilities that make a difference in safety for every job in the facility; a tracking system to follow accomplishment of these accountabilities; a reward system that reinforces these activities; reduced injury frequency as a result of doing this work well.

Process: How will we accomplish our purpose and outcomes?

Typically what follows is a description of how the team will work. Often this is to split up into small problem-solving teams that include ’volunteers’ to accomplish small tasks. Why volunteers? When people get to place themselves in performance zones where they are comfortable, they are much more likely to succeed. Conversely, quick delegation can possibly lead to having the wrong people on the wrong task. If there aren’t enough volunteers to do all the work in the time allotted, time or resources (or both) might need to be increased. This is not a crisis team; it is an improvement team that works the Continuous Improvement process. If no one wants to work on the needed tasks, then either the leader does them, or other people are asked, or the task goes undone until a later time when people, resources and time are available.

An entire safety program was developed from scratch in less than nine months using this effective safety meeting process. Hourly and salaried improvement team members applied these guidelines for all safety processes. The resultant safety system led to a reduction of serious injuries by more than 80% in its first two years.
Effective safety meetings engage your people in developing solutions to the issues they believe are the current problems keeping the organization from achieving a zero incident safety culture. This is the process that will energize your safety meetings and deliver excellence through active participation of your people. No more boring, ineffective coffee and donut safety meetings!

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