Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mud is Good – Living with your local cultural realities


During a week long trek through the jungles and mountains of Peru, we hiked through a small remote community that seldom sees outside world visitors. A small, muddy boy met our troop as we entered the village and prompted our guide, Dalmiro, to exclaim, “Mud is good!” This happy child was oblivious to his mud splattered body because he was having fun with the life and circumstances that were available to him. Dalmiro then pointed to the thatched roof of one of the small nearby huts and asked us to notice the single beautiful orchid that was bathed in sunlight as it grew out of the thatch.

As safety pros, we often get to dig in the mud of a safety culture that just isn’t right. There are corrections to be made, but the local culture in which we work is not open to a complete makeover that might help us to achieve what we believe our western safety leadership would desire. 

How is your attitude? Can you be happy nurturing an orchid of success you are able to grow, even if there is some mud of reality splattered about?

The Doc

Monday, May 21, 2012

Guinea Pig – Celebrations that make a lasting impression

On a recent business trip, I took some vacation time off to trek through the mountains and jungles of Peru.  My wife joined me in this part of the trip. At one of our evening lodging locations, we participated in an interesting and memorable local celebration. In their part of the world, roasted guinea pigs are considered a delicacy and served only for significant events. In this case, the significant event was my wife’s birthday. Yes, we do have a picture of her with the bar-be-qued rodent, complete with a roasted red pepper stuffed in its mouth.

How does this apply to safety? In our world, it is not uncommon to have some kind of safety celebration and food is often a part of this event. Some questions need to be answered before planning the celebration:

  • Why celebrate? Try and make the reason predominantly based on upstream measures, and not on being lucky enough to have a low injury rate. The achievement of the safety goal being celebrated should be about our people doing the right things that led to the success. If the goal does deal with a significant safety injury rate milestone, point out the upstream activities of the people who made this possible.
  • Who participates? The whole organization that was a part of achieving the goal being celebrated.  This could be a small Continuous Improvement team that just finished launching its solution, or the whole facility that finally, and collectively rolled out such an initiative.
  • When to celebrate? I like once a quarter as a part of a business review. It’s an opportunity for everyone to get up to speed with cost, quality, customer service and safety realities.
  • Who leads the event? If it is a meal celebration, management serves along with the hourly safety committee members.
  • Who plans the event? My preference is for a Continuous Improvement team to have a quarterly focus assignment for the celebration. In this way, the voice of the customer, our employees, gets input as to who, when, where, how and what to celebrate. They also choose the menu and, unless you are in the jungles of Peru, guinea pig is not likely to be on the menu.


The Doc

Monday, May 14, 2012

1970 – Approaches to today’s safety issues


Many of you are able to think back to your personal realities world in 1970. I was a recently graduated, just-married engineer working in an experimental pesticide development laboratory. An ongoing assignment dealt with how to get rid of our toxic wastes in (then legal) tidal area landfills of the San Francisco bay area. My wife and I shared a 1966 Ford Mustang and we pulled down an amazing $1,000 or so a month. Life was good as major safety and environmental regulations were being talked about and battled over by industry and government personnel.

Shortly after, a number of sea change laws were passed and we feverishly sought out technologies, policies and procedures (PNPs) to comply with this whole new world of regulations. Over the years since then, there have been various tidal changes to the regs. However, we still have similar foundations and approaches. The rest of our technology world, cultural world, education world and other areas of how and where we live and work have changed, and continue to change, more and more dramatically.

I often feel that, in the safety world, we keep using the tools of the 70’s (regulations, PNPs) and somewhat updated 1930’s era (H.W. Heinrich) observation programs to address a whole different world of realities than existed when they were last revised. The injury numbers for our nation have changed, but not all that much. We just keep slogging along at about the same pace as organization after organization hits its own personal injury rate plateau.

This is not good enough for the ever increasing number of global and domestic companies that are committed to living safety as a value. They do not count on government programs or dated approaches to help them achieve results beyond these unsatisfactory plateaus. The companies I deal with first assess their safety culture with a valid diagnostic. They then begin engaging their hourly and salaried employees in continuous improvement teams that relentlessly resolve the true root causes of their safety culture areas that are just not quite right.

Regulations and observations still exist in the foundational framework. However, the world we live in has changed so dramatically that the safety surgeons of leading edge companies are using other proven people technologies. This helps them to deliver a zero-incident safety performance culture that is far beyond what is available with the 30s and 70s tools to which downstream indicator approach companies continue to cling.

The Doc

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