Monday, July 30, 2012

Stuck in the Now – Getting beyond crisis management


A popular business concept has organizations searching for how they can look to the future while still dealing with day-to-day crisis events.  These mini and maxi disruptions come from things like weather disasters, fatalities, spills and the like … and suck our resources dry. Those of you who have experienced such career shaking times know that pretty much all non-crisis activities and plans cease while you are in the midst of the moment—which seems like it will never end!

How do you engage in winning the long term war of delivering a zero-incident safety culture when you are drowning in the crisis battles of the moment? My personal experience is that while in the crisis mode, all our immediate support groups can do is cope the best they can. We drop our support of and involvement in other initiatives to deal with the serious, immediate realities. Once the tsunami passes, we do damage control, take a deep breath of relief (maybe a few days, depending on the crisis) and then re-engage with a renewed commitment to get to zero.

To win the war, we have to live a commitment to staying engaged in developing a culture of safety excellence. The relentless pursuit may get side tracked for a crisis. However, our active commitment and engagement must not get derailed by getting stuck in the now of daily difficulties. We must continue to look to the future and do what we can, when we can, to achieve the vision of a zero-incident safety culture.

The Doc


Monday, July 23, 2012

Feedback – Reality checks for what we do

After a presentation on effective recognition as a means of improving safety performance I received an intriguing question:  Can you advise how to measure if managers are providing feedback … and how effective it is?  I am pretty sure the person asking the question must have some experience with Behavior Based Safety (BBS).  Is all this front-line exposure by upper level people of any provable benefit, or are we just putting a check in the box that makes us feel better, but has no real measurable value?  If we are doing NVA (Non Value Added) work, we must stop doing so.

My short answer to this question has two parts:

1. We must train our managers how to be effective in giving and receiving safety feedback. The Speak Up – Listen UpRecognize It series does so if the students do some role play exercises to get practice

2. Our audit then requires engaging a few people to go out into the field and ask open-ended questions of the employees with whom the managers reportedly spoke. The questions go something like:
a.       When was the last time a manager talked to you about safety?
b.      How effective was the discussion?
c.       How many times in the last six months or so has a manger talked to you or your work group about safety?
d.      We are trying to improve our safety involvement. Based on your experiences with managerial safety discussions how would you improve them?

I am sure you can think up a few more practical questions along this line to determine how effective this kind of program really is. What you are doing with such an approach is getting “The voice of the Customer” and then doing something about the feedback to improve your safety processes. Yes, this same type of open-ended safety discussion with our safety customers (the front-line employees) works well for checking up on the viability of other safety processes as well.

The Doc

Monday, July 16, 2012

Semper Fi – Safety learnings from our times in military service


One of my longtime friends and blog follower, Phil Skinner, sent me the following:

I have heard that when you are taught something it is your duty to teach it to another. In the Marines, our entire wing would take one day off from flying each quarter to conduct what is called a safety stand down. Or, as this naïve lieutenant would say: safety stand around. (Really, a whole day without flying?) During these stand downs, every pilot, crew chief and 1st mech. would talk through close calls in the hopes that others would learn and thereby avoid similar dangerous events. 

The talks were not limited to aviation. One crusty old staff sergeant from the admin section of the squadron recalled hanging off the gutters of his house when the ladder slipped out from under him. He had overextended himself while painting. A former locomotive engineer civilian graphically described the dangers of railroad crossings.

Well, of course my first thought on these events was along the lines of, “That will never happen to me; I am not THAT stupid,” or “Wow, I could never be THAT unlucky”. These were my exact thoughts as a colonel described his close call with a compressor stall at night over an area with no place to land his CH-46 helicopter. The actions he took were ‘innovative.’  However, his quick thinking not only saved the aircraft, but also his life and those of his crew.

Nearly a year later, I was the one who was flying at night over wooded mountainous terrain and started hearing a series of loud ‘pops.’ Right then I knew the plane was going to be coming out of the sky, safely or not. Was I ever glad I had paid attention during that ‘stand around.’ If not, I wouldn’t be writing this account of my own close call.

At the next safety stand down, my attitude changed to “Maybe others will be alive as a result of hearing about my close call.”  That day, I learned teachers affect eternity; they can never tell where their influence stops.

Thank you, Phil, for sharing this. To the reading audience; why not consider a close call session with your crews?

The Doc

Monday, July 9, 2012

Who am I? Foundational safety culture requirements


One of my favorite Broadway musicals is “Les Misérables.” My favorite musical score for this powerful drama takes place when the hero, Jean Valjean, sings “Who am I?”  Though his performance ends with a prisoner number that represents his former life, the real song content deals with the actions and values he lives and demonstrates in his new life as a principled business leader.

In my travels, I get to meet principled safety leaders who, over their years of service, have discovered foundational systems that must be in place for a safety culture to be truly excellent. One of the people who does this best is Dave Fennell, Senior Safety Advisor for Imperial Oil in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Dave uses a safety perception survey on a regular basis to check the reality of safety culture details that are not necessarily evident to daily observations. The results lead to focused work on improving the safety culture over time. However, over the years, Dave has carefully built a safety net of sorts that always delivers foundational, rock-solid performance day in and day out. The surveys provide minor tweaks to his system of core excellence.

Here are Dave’s core excellence requirements:

•             Supervisors with a high level of safety competency
•             Supervisors active in behavior and work site observations
•             Workers with a high level of understanding of safety processes
•             Alignment of company and contractor safety cultures
•             Management committed and involved
•             Implementation of a strong new worker mentoring and training program

All work groups at all sites live these principles. And this includes their contractors. The well thought out and practiced systems behind these principles are conditions of employment that are reinforced every day in all that the organization does. Dave’s vertically integrated petrochemical organization, which employs more than 3,000 people, regularly delivers a recordable injury rate of less than 0.4 and a lost time injury rate of less than 0.02.

And this leads to an ending question:  Who are you?  Is it time to build a different kind of safety net for your organization, one that has inviolate principles that live every day in the actions of all your people?

The Doc

Monday, July 2, 2012

Contractor Safety Management – A frontier in safety that must be improved

A number of companies have made significant improvements to their safety cultures. Their progress is so dramatic, they often come to the realization that it is highly probable that their next fatality will come from a contractor they hire. To safety leaders, this is not an acceptable risk.

These companies have two types of contractors; ones that they use constantly as contract employees/services, and contractors who are building their large dollar capital requirements. The safety leaders believe that by focusing on the contractor safety culture and its improvement, they are able to hire and retain the best construction contractors, no matter where they work on our planet.   

As a part of contractor selection, these leading edge companies perform two phases of screening. The first is based on the published injury rates. From the best quartile of these, they do live interviews of the upper management of the firms and ask open ended questions about the managers’ beliefs on safety. They do not really talk to the safety pros because they want to determine the viability of the contractor’s visible upper management commitment to safety. They then go into the field and ask similar questions of front-line leadership who must walk the talk and be doing what upper management says. They try to find out “Do we want them?”  and “Do they want us?”     

Interviews of the management team are to see if “they get it.”  The scenario-based questions include things like;

  • If you had a work group that was not up to standards, what would you do?
  • How do you evaluate subcontractors?
  • If you felt you had a drug/alcohol problem, what would you do?
  • Tell me about your safety training 
  • How do you determine and build competency?
  • How do you discipline employees who exhibit 'at risk' behaviors?
  • How do you train around 'at risk' behaviors?

The leading edge organizations provide training for the weak contractors who ‘get it’ to build them up, and also for the ones who are strong, to ensure the contractors continually communicate excellent safety standards. The training for these contractors almost always includes their own company’s safety training program. One of the hiring company execs, not a safety pro, introduces the training which starts with a slide that reads something like “When you step onto our site, you are stepping into the safest environment in our industry. Here’s why we are different. Here’s what we expect of you. Here’s what we believe. We only want to work with the best who are ready to do this with us. If you agree to support this culture, then stay with us. If not, it is time to leave.”

The safety culture leader companies also review details of the interviews to discover the gaps, and then put together a program for the contractors to close those gaps. The field work concentrates on contractor supervision, which has proven to be mission critical. They screen these front-line supervisors carefully. Safety culture training at the workface is beyond the regs. Because of turnover, it is crucial to keep training excellence in safety culture. Supervisors must support this, mentor this and help employees do this. As a part of this approach, they typically have two safety culture training programs that address:

·         Young employees with little experience at this company and who require mentoring
·         Longer service employees who require deprogramming of a past shortcut mentality and bad safety attitudes (It is harder to instill new values in this group)

The same safety excellence companies do have an observation program for their onsite safety pros which checks to see that their philosophy is operating. An interesting sidebar is that a cost-benefits analysis of this approach revealed that the initial cost for the best safety contractors and all this interviewing and training was higher than just hiring contractors for about the first three months. Then, time and motion studies showed that the lack of job shut downs for injuries made this group the most productive, cheapest contractors in industry.
Where do you stand with respect to achieving contractor safety culture excellence?
The Doc

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