Monday, August 29, 2011

The electrical industry surge – A different kind of approach to improving safety cultures in our utilities

For years, electrical utilities mimicked general industry with respect to eliminating injuries; they followed the OSHA regulations and used observation systems (Behavior Based Safety). As a result, just like general industry, the utilities plateaued at unsatisfactory injury rates.

In the past two decades, intense global competition has forced general industry to significantly improve their productivity, quality and customer service levels. Industry leadership learned that Continuous Improvement teams composed of hourly and salaried employees do a superb job of delivering effective solutions for these problems. The teams do a diagnostic to determine root cause issues, and then develop systems with appropriate accountabilities that deliver zero-error results.

Recently, industry safety culture leaders have expanded the Continuous Improvement team approach to eliminate injuries, commonly achieving total injury rates of less than one and going multiple years without lost time injuries.

Now leading edge utilities have begun to follow suit. They:
  • Do a statistically validated safety diagnostic
  • Develop a 3-5 year safety culture improvement plan based on the diagnostic weaknesses
  • Train their people how to use Continuous Improvement teams in safety
  • Use these teams to solve their previously hidden safety systems issues
  • Enjoy consistently decreasing injury rates that are far better than utility industry averages
This approach works as well in the utility industry as it does in general industry.

The Doc


Monday, August 22, 2011

Nuances vs. hard decisions – the Likert or binary scale as a safety culture indicator

One of the frequent questions about the Safety Perception Survey deals with the use of the more traditional Likert (1 through 5) evaluation scale vs. our binary (yes or no) scale. A number of our safety culture improvement customers have commented on this. Their input comes down to a familiar “central tendency” reality. It seems that when humans are given the option of a 1 – 5 answer scale for a safety survey about 70% of them choose the central tendency answer of a 3. Yes, there are 1 – 7 and 1 – 10 scales out there, but the central tendency reality applies to these slightly modified Likert scales as well.

My discussions with Dr. Dan Petersen about his use of a binary scale revealed that the developers of our Safety Perception Survey noticed this same middle of the road reality in the early stages of their research. Dan’s comment went something like: “We decided that we weren’t interested in the nuances of a 2.8 vs. a 3.2 score. Rather, we wanted to find out if the safety processes were fixed or broken (well or sick).”

As we work with large numbers of customers and 10’s of thousands of surveys some other benefits of the binary answer scale have appeared:

  • The binary scale offers a third option; “I don’t know the answer.” This is a third data bank which reflects a lack of knowledge about questions and processes that have been statistically proven to make a difference in safety performance. In turn ‘no response’ answers allow an organization to relatively quickly and inexpensively train in areas of low safety knowledge and understanding
  • Hourly employees quickly decide the binary yes – no answer they believe is workplace reality. Managers often struggle with making the yes – no decision because “Sometimes we do this and sometimes we don’t.” The managers often take longer to answer the survey questions because they stop to consider this uncertainty that at its root is an indicator of safety culture weakness; “We are inconsistent.” When the Continuous Improvement teams begin focusing on resolving safety culture weaknesses the hourly abruptness and the manager contemplation both help the teams get to in depth, rigorous solutions to safety culture problems.
  • Central tendency survey approaches do not have either of the above strengths.
My experiences after interviewing our customers is that once presented with the brutal facts of what is fixed and what is broken, they are much more able to deliver viable solutions that go beyond the traditional observation systems and psychological approaches to safety culture weaknesses. They too feel that when you pay a doctor for a diagnosis you want a yes or no answer not a “sorta – kinda” maybe. But then our customers are predominately operations type cultures that like the rapid “find it – fix it – move on” approach rather than what is often found in the slower reality of an academic “more study is required” persuasion.

The Doc

Monday, August 15, 2011

The four Seaborgs – Principles to live by

My undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering is from the University of California. One of the fond remembrances of this difficult and challenging time in my life was being taught by Noble Laureates. A noticeable number of the faculty had received this extremely high honor. I guess my favorite of these was Dr. Glenn Seaborg, a man who had discovered, or co-discovered a number of elements at the local Lawrence Radiation Laboratory that was associated with our Berkeley campus.

To me and many others Dr. Seaborg was a great scientist, a great teacher, a great man and a great role model. In an interview I read, he stated the four principles he lived by that made all the difference in what he did and who he was:
  • Do not procrastinate - Do it now
  • Do the most unpleasant task first
  • Talk to the person you dislike most first
  • Keep everyone informed - Force communication to occur
I try to live up to these four simple, yet powerful Seaborgs. How might they impact who you are and what you do?

The Doc

Monday, August 8, 2011

My boss – reporting relationships for the safety function

Another frequent controversy in the safety world is what part of the organization should be responsible for the safety function. To whom do we report? Common answers I get are: 
  • HR because it has always been that way
  • The president because therein lies the most power and it sends the right message
  • Operations because they have the problems and more resources to help solve the problems
My answer deals with where the safety function will get the most support. Where is there leadership that will actively support improving the safety culture and not just, at best, provide lip service? I want a driving force to help drive safety performance. It is not about “the where” it is about “the who” that makes a difference in safety excellence. 

The Doc

Monday, August 1, 2011

Money – safety incentives

A topic that never seems to go away is safety incentives. One of our survey questions deals with the concept of whether employees would work more safely if they were paid more for doing so? Once again today a customer posed this question as it is a frequent battleground for the 900 or so separate organizations they are responsible to assist with safety.

My opinion on the matter continues to undergo some adjustment as I work with various safety cultures around the globe. Last week in New Orleans, Louisiana I was presented with a new safety incentive wrinkle. The construction organization that had me on site brought up the question as they described paying the one lucky employee each quarter whose name was pulled out of the hat (if the total organization had no lost time injuries). The smiling employee came up front and was given a $100 credit card which was activated after they had passed a drug screening!!! Amazingly no employee in their organization had failed a drug screen for more than two years. Hmmmm….this bears some more thought.

You all have heard of the 80-20 Pareto principle that 80% of your problems are concentrated in 20% of your occurrences. In this case, I think monetary incentives are more like 1% and one-on-one contacts dealing with genuine feedback for a job well done are the other 99%. The 1% monetary reward occurs when a significant downstream milestone is accomplished. The milestone is not publicized before it occurs, so people don’t hide injuries. The people in the safety culture do not tolerate employees not reporting all injuries and the hourly and salaried leadership concentrates on credible positive one-on-one reinforcement of the people in the work culture who continually do things right from a safety standpoint.

Frequent one-on-one contacts are worth more than money. And sensitivity to the local culture helps if you do not have to compromise principles, values and ethics.

The Doc

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