Monday, January 30, 2012

Placeholders – What is your performance level?

I meet with safety groups around the globe. On occasion, translators are on hand to ensure that the message and teachings are clear. Along the way, I have identified some truisms that affect how I engage with people and what I can do to help them. Two of these truisms are:

• Most (not all) countries, companies and local leadership personnel care about the safety of their work force.
• There are two types of safety leaders: improvers and placeholders.

Improvers review concepts presented to them. They then actively engage in using what is a fit for their needs and local culture in an effort to get to a zero incident safety culture. These are the people I enjoy working with, and who I tend to give assistance to first.

Placeholders come in two varieties:

• Those who have very little knowledge of safety and are trying to help by addressing the latest injury realities. Although they don’t know much, they do provide care and some level one and level two condition improvements. Though this group wants a safer workplace, they do not know enough nor do they put forth the effort necessary to improve the skills and abilities of themselves and their work associates that in turn are needed to improve the safety culture. They tend to use a lot of safety buzz words, and often seem to try to solve safety issues by letting people know they actively care. Unfortunately, this approach is not nearly strong enough to make any lasting improvement to the (usually) predominate production culture, and the end result is status quo. A member of this group will ask for a business card, but are likely to never take the time nor put forth the effort to make a contact that might enable them to improve.

• Those who view themselves as extremely knowledgeable safety professionals who are truly experts in all that they do. When presented with new concepts, they focus on defending their policies and procedures, and then rip apart any new ideas that might be presented. This is classic WITOID RICSAS behavior (When In Trouble Or In Doubt, Run In Circles- Scream And Shout). Though it feels good to vent, this unproductive approach has no lasting effect on a strong production culture. This type of defensive safety leadership is very comfortable in analyzing the latest accident and then writing more procedures and/or condemning the perceived stupidity of the workforce and management. They are experts in justifying their own superiority in defending all that they do, and resolutely resisting any changes to the current system with which they are so contented. These placeholders seem unable to consider anything other than what got them to where they are, but will never get them to a zero incident safety culture. Again, the end result is status quo.

With so many potential organizations to work with, and so little time to do so, it is logical that I try to make a rapid evaluation as to whether I am engaging with an improver or placeholder. Though I hurt for the people who work under placeholder leadership, there is not a lot one can do to help those who will not do what it takes to extract themselves from the mire of status quo. I learned long ago what one of the previous blog articles, “Wrestling With Pigs,” taught about the futility of trying to deal with the woefully obstinate.

Why not give some thought to which group you fall into, and what you can do to fully embrace the concept of Continuous Improvement?

The Doc

Monday, January 23, 2012

How to eliminate boring safety training

Safety training is often concentrated on the “what” with little of the “who,” the “why” or the “how.” Training is also taken out of the hands of the people who are responsible for safety, the operations department, and is often done instead by a resource group such as the safety department. Below you will find some solutions to these safety training shortfalls to help make your safety training productive and more dynamic:

• Make up a safety training plan for each job type, including those in management and supervision.
• Engage those who have to do the job safely by training the “who,” the “what” and the “how” at each level of the organization.
• Make the operations department responsible for doing safety training in their organization. They must do their part to have a “culture of correct.” The safety department acts as a resource, the responsible department (i.e., operations department) does the hands-on work and the hands-on training. This makes the people on the front line the SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) in safety excellence and this is where it belongs.
• Train your new hourly, supervision and management trainers in how to effectively present and get audience participation.
• Do training beyond safety and observation to develop professionally capable hourly, supervision and management leadership. This material includes things like:
  - How to be communication interactive (giving and receiving effective feedback)
  - How to lead Continuous Improvement initiatives in safety and solve your own problems
  - How to be an effective presenter
• Give management a safety accountability that includes some safety training and/or introduces safety training to reinforce the importance of a culture of correct in the “who,” the “what,” the “when,” the “how” and the engagement of everyone within the organization.
• Develop an interactive culture of correct video that delivers a message on how important safety truly is. This video has on screen presence of hourly, supervision and management personnel. It has scripted interaction breaks so that during this safety culture training the work group stops and discusses the material. Once again this can lead to hourly, supervision and management on-stage presence in safety excellence.

The Doc

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Culture of Correct – Why pay attention to low risk incidents and injuries?

One of the spin offs for the never ending Heinrich Accident Pyramid controversy deals with the type of risk that leads to serious injuries. In turn, this leads to discussions about not sweating the small stuff and just concentrating on the fatal risk issues. This type of organization typically has a tight focus on downstream indicators, like severity rate because “After all, this is where the real money is.”

I truly struggle with all that is behind this kind of thought process. I believe it is necessary to have an organization live the principles around a culture of correct in all that they do. My personal focus on this approach was reinforced during a turnaround leadership position I worked some time ago. This organization was suffering from both safety and operations perspectives. They lived a culture of “get ‘er done”, which, in turn, led to frequent downtime, quality defects, injuries, VP level scathing, destructive demands, high stress, explosions, ad infinitum, etc. As the local operations executive, my decision was to either follow the previous autocratic approach that delivered frequent, non-value added demands, or to begin a culture of correct. We modeled our culture of correct after the Deming philosophy of a relentless pursuit of zero errors. Whether it was small stuff or high risk, we resolutely stuck with what was the correct thing to do.

In the beginning, the going was very rough. Our 40 year culture inertia of “get ‘er done” was very resistant to change. In the end, our teams of employees fixed everything in sight, as well as lots that was not visible. We also addressed the invisible mindsets of our people. When our value became a culture of correct in all that we did, neither the low risk nor the high risk issues led to injuries. On the rare events when high risk situations presented themselves, the employees thought about what was correct, personally lowered their own risks and performed most excellently.

I think a culture of correct is the solution to the never ending Heinrich controversies. Why not try this approach within your organization?

The Doc

Monday, January 9, 2012

Observation programs – A look at another safety controversy

It is hard to tell when observation processes first came on the scene. Maybe they came in back in the 1930s with H. W. Heinrich as he developed his ever so controversial injury pyramid. No matter which of these two topics is brought up with a safety crowd, the battle lines are drawn. Over the last five years or so, the debate about observation programs seems to have subsided. There was a period of time when national safety conferences would have a score or so of presentations on Behavior Based Safety (BBS) observation programs. These days, there will be maybe one such presentation. BBS has faded for a number of reasons.

Recently, I had a chance to talk to three well-respected safety professionals on a variety of topics and sure enough BBS came up. My first friend was ordered to use the program to ensure that upper management had visible involvement in safety. The data cards and the contact information were all of little or no real use, and went into the proverbial round file. All that really mattered with this level two approach was that a manager had been visible at the work place with some seeming interest in safety. The end result was of marginal safety value, but under the circumstances, better than nothing.

The next safety professional has a very different observation technique. He shows up at the front line and watches a tailboard meeting and then some individual crew instructions. All the while, he is checking instruction reality, technique, engagement style, etc. In other words, evaluating safety and operations leadership at both the supervisory and worker levels. And, of course, there are times when he chimes in and sends a strong personal message of visible upper management support for safety.

A third pro’s favorite field BBS tactic is to ask employees to explain the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) instructions that apply to the job they are doing. That often leads to the worker training the observer (or safety pro) on how to correctly and safely do what is their day-to-day safety reality. In a short period of time, this observation process moves to credible, value- added safety engagement and demonstrates genuine, visible upper management engagement in caring about a safety culture of correct.

Yes, a level two BBS approach can be value added. However, it really needs to become a level four focus on employee knowledge utilizing the genuine one-on-one engagement of workers and managers. In doing so, there is an element of level six- passionate engagement and leadership in safety excellence. With these techniques, BBS becomes EBS (Engagement Based Safety). It is not about sitting in the background and then filling out a data card. Face-to-face safety engagement that goes beyond just watching and waiting is the key to improving the old style BBS. I have found this inevitable controversy goes away when there is noticeable, value- added engagement as a part of any safety process.

The Doc

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Safety Culture Challenges – Implementing Near Miss in India and Pakistan

A question came through from the ISHN Near Miss Reporting webinar archive ( How can we implement this in 3rd world countries like India & Pakistan?

It is my belief that no matter what country or culture we live in our human DNA is pretty much the same. We all think and all have basic human needs, safety being one of them. The direction of local leadership has a lot to do with what we basic humans can accomplish. At the work cell level, there are always acknowledged leaders no matter what the task. Within reason the local leaders frequently have more leeway than they realize (see blog article titled “Boundaries” --

An effective Near Miss initiative will require buy-in from some level of your organization. If this leadership values employee safety enough to help you with such an initiative then you have a chance to implement. Assuming you have such a guiding coalition the next step would be to sell them on the concept. The PowerPoint that was shown on the webinar will hopefully help you to do so (reference archived link above to view presentation). However, the local leadership (you) knows best how to sell the members who must agree to doing anything like this. Here I would suggest a small team that would discuss the who, the why, the how and the when of selling the approach. Usually one person needs others to help develop and present this kind of idea. Personally I would not go into this kind of upper management meeting without both your planning team support as well as a target work group that supports their assisting the implementation of a comprehensive Near Miss system.

You will likely need other back up information on Near Miss. The internet is usually a decent source and of course Caterpillar Safety Services has some very good materials. We could set up a personal webinar if you needed one to present ideas, ask questions and give further detail. Assuming you have successfully sold your decision team, I have an important caveat as you head toward detailed development, launch and implementation: Pick your development team and pilot work cell very carefully! Doing Near Miss in an excellent, value added fashion in the Western culture and location is not an easy task. I would think there would be some very real challenges to a similar initiative in India or Pakistan.

I don’t think it is impossible because we are of common DNA and have common human needs. I have found that global companies bring a value set that decidedly assists in helping other cultures to succeed in implementing foreign culture concepts like this one. This response is likely just the start of a greater dialogue that I hope will assist you in this effort.

The Doc

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