Monday, September 24, 2012

Morass - Managing the workers' compensation system


“The workers’ compensation system takes care of our injured employees. We should let the system take care of itself. This is an ethical/moral issue, not a financial one.” 

The other side of this argument is, “There are millions of dollars tied up in this morass. We can treat the injured employees fairly and still manage the system in a fiscally responsible manner.” 

Upon becoming the corporate safety manger for a Fortune 50 consumer foods company with 10,000 production employees across dozens of states and hundreds of annual injuries, the $37 million question/debate described above became my reality. In the end, we used two approaches:

  • Eliminate the injuries from the workplace and thereby eliminate the cost associated with managing our injured employees 
  • Develop a business system approach to fairly manage the cases once they occurred
Our business culture was one of “world-class excellence” in all functions, except safety. So we began the continuous improvement process in safety. This led to a very well defined safety accountability system for hourly and salaried personnel at all levels of our organizations. In this manner, we were able to reduce lost time injuries by more than 80 percent in two years. But what about the thousands of open workers’ compensation cases that existed?  There were some in almost every state in the union “with all the local laws thereto pertaining.” 

We started off by meeting with our nationwide comp carrier in the office closest to our own headquarters. They had more than 100 open cases, some of which were more than six years old. Many of the people in our local facilities had never even met the employees involved with the cases. The local office proceeded to bring out their own personal “nightmare” cases. These were files that were three or four inches thick. Every month they had to review the data and every month they added to the pile, but never got any closer to closure.

So we agreed to begin a continuous improvement team with the compensation carrier. There was so much baggage that had accumulated over the years that it was difficult to get out of the “accuse-denial” mode that had been a part of our dealings for so long. We finally got around to agreeing to “let bygones be bygones” and started focusing on what we could do to solve the mess that we were both in. We began by listing all the complaints that both sides had. Next we combined these into logical categories (or “buckets,” as the accountants would say). We then focused on the low-hanging fruit, the easy ones to solve. We set up a twice monthly meeting routine that focused on legal and ethical closure of all these easy issues. A parallel sub-team began developing a process and associated flow chart to handle all previous cases in a rapid, legal, ethical manner. This is the same approach our continuous improvement teams in the plants used and it was just as effective for the workers’ compensation difficulties once we got out of “shame and blame.”

The process and associated flow chart is shown below.


If you need to break out of the workers’ compensation morass why not consider a similar approach?


The Doc

Monday, September 17, 2012

Probability vs. Performance: the Heinrich accident triangle revisited


H. W. Heinrich changed the world of safety fundamentals forever with his pioneering work in the 1930’s. One of his concepts that continues to make me think is his accident triangle (pyramid), a concept that we all are familiar with.


So many near misses lead to a lesser number of first-aid injuries and thence onward through the logic to recordables and ending in the inevitability of a fatality. This inevitability of disaster has always bothered me. If I cross the railroad tracks too many times I will die, or drive to work, or something else like that. I am not a fatalist, and thus my pondering is on what exists that will enable the industrial work place to overcome this fatalistic teaching. My work with companies and individuals that have done both well and poorly in safety always leads to individual behaviors as a foundational key, after workplace conditions, training and safety standards are addressed. In many cases, the “behavior foundation” appears to be made of sand. It is not a firm foundation on which to build a zero-injury culture. So how does one attack this foundation of the triangle? Years of thought and effort in this area have led to a whole different level of sub-foundation as shown below. 


If our new safety triangle (pyramid) is built on the “stone foundation” of excellent fundamentals that modify behaviors and actions, can we limit (reduce) the base of improper activities that lead to 90+ percent of the injuries in Heinrich’s pyramid? Each time I have rebuilt the foundation, the results have been similarly excellent. The following sub-foundation fundamentals significantly reduced injuries.
·         Visible upper management leadership in safety
·         Noticeable involvement of middle management
·         Focused supervisory performance
·         Active participation of hourly employees
·         Training that both teaches and reinforces this type of foundational excellence 

The above principles tie in very well with the quality function’s 6-sigma initiative for significant improvement; DMAIC (define, measure, act, improve, control). Only in our safety case it is:
·   Define the correct behaviors that eliminate unsafe acts and injuries
·   Train all personnel in these behaviors
·   Measure that they are indeed doing these correct behaviors
·   Reward their accomplishments of these correct behaviors

The key then is not to focus on compliance, or reward “acceptable injury levels/goals,” or on any other single tactic approach. The key is to concentrate on the foundational fundamentals that eliminate the activities/behaviors that in turn move us out of the chance probability of the Heinrich inevitability triangle. We must error proof the fundamental safety processes and deliver safety accountabilities at each level of the organization. We then engage in a daily practice of the upstream activities that deliver downstream performance.

The Doc

Monday, September 10, 2012

Safety Training – A detailed, effective approach


In today’s economy, what are the greatest assets for companies? Recently some believed it was offering their wares in the virtual world. They were later named the “.dot.bombs”. Others aggressively pushed for shear volume. They felt that building more factories to make more and more widgets to demonstrate strength would win the hearts of many. They, too, suffer in economic downturns. Through it all, two indicators of a successful company remain: The ability to adapt quickly in a rapidly changing, technologically advanced world; and the ability to develop and retain high performing employees.
It was once said, “Give a man a fish and he’ll have food for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and he’ll have food for a lifetime.” Effective training of employees is a core requirement for an organization to achieve these interdependent needs. Determining when and how to train presents a different set of issues, most of which depend on the standards and expectations set by management.
1.   Is training necessary, or are there other reasons for performance issues?
2.   Do employees learn best by observation or participation?
3.   At what level will performance be satisfactory? (If the golf score required to achieve par was increased, would the standard at the professional level decrease accordingly?)
Regardless of the training standards your company culture has in place, research has shown that employees want to be participants in the development of something greater than themselves. They do not simply want instruction on the development process that uses memorization techniques. If it doesn’t relate to what they are doing, how they are going to do it, or what’s in it for them, it’s unrealistic to expect them to retain the information.
The Cone of Learning represents the relationship between trainee participation and retention.


We’ve all seen this diagram before. But do we apply it? Simply stated, as you move toward the bottom of the cone, the learning methods are more active and result in much greater retention by the learner. In order to adapt quickly in the rapidly changing global market, interactive training is the most effective method to achieve rapid successful knowledge retention. Employees respond positively when they believe they are part of something greater and have the ability to impact the outcome. Evidence of this comes from a 1994 national survey by Princeton Research Associates that showed:
·          63% of workers want more influence in workplace decisions
·          76% believe their companies would be more competitive if employees were  involved in production and operating decisions
·          79% believe employee involvement improves product and service quality
For years we have measured student success in terms of how much time has been spent in the classroom, and how well a student does on a series of tests, most of which assess memorization skills. But how important is memorization skill to a supervisor that needs employees with a critical mass of all three job performance necessities; the Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes (KSA’s) to competently do the tasks required? When employees have both a high level and an equal balance of Knowledge, Skill, and Attitude, it leads to both performance and accountability.


If we want people to really get it, we need to do more than just have them read a placard or manual, or watch a video. One way to measure the effectiveness of training is to have employees train other employees. Most people can remember the sweaty hands the first time they had to present or train others. Silence can be deadly when you have an audience and you don’t have the competent words to speak. William Glasser, (MD in psychiatry and author of 21 related books) states, “We should provide opportunities for students to teach what we want them to learn.” In one of his studies, he notes:
WE LEARN…
·          10% of what we read
·          20% of what we hear
·          30% of what we see
·          50% of what we both see and hear
·          70% of what is discussed with others
·          80% of what we experience personally
·          95% OF WHAT WE TEACH SOMEONE ELSE
Andrew Carnegie once said “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what people say. I just watch what they do.”
We need to go beyond trying to identify what employees need. Rather, we need to have them demonstrate the real thing! When we specify the level of accomplishment that meets the company cultural standards, then we can hold employees accountable for meeting those standards.  
This does not mean reading a manual, watching a video, viewing a demonstration, or even engaging in a web-based training course are ineffective methods. Each has its own place and purpose and can be effective when put into proper perspective. But studying to get a driver’s permit can’t be compared to driving the car for the first time. It’s the real thing.
It’s clear that workplace changes and a focus on continuous improvement are essential to the economic future of this nation. When compared to other developed economies in the 21st century, advantages will come to organizations that work better and manage smarter. Unleashing the full potential of the workforce is critical in sustaining our nation’s safe economic growth, and demonstrating the real thing is the most effective mode of training our workforce how to get there.

The Doc

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The 10 percenters – Being serious about safety


I once had the privilege of interviewing safety legend Dr. Dan Petersen.

“So, Dan,” I asked, “which of your many reference books on safety is your favorite?” 

“The best ones are business books!” he replied.  “It’s not about compliance, it’s about performance.”

There seems to be a small but noticeable 10 percent of the safety professionals that are serious about engaging in significant safety cultural changes.  They are willing to discover and pursue initiatives necessary to make dramatic differences in their organizations’ safety culture and performance. 
  • It is not about achieving minimum government compliance standards
  • It is not about feeble observation programs
  • It is not about policy statements or executive pontifications
  • It is not about actively loving our employees
  • It is not about trinkets and trash for “adequate injury numbers”
This “faux safety” is nothing more than a waste of precious time and resources that delude people while making them feel good about engaging in activities that deliver little or no significant, sustained results.

What energizes me?  It is working with the “10 percenters” who are ready, willing and anxious to engage in the meaningful work of relentlessly pursuing a never ending effort to develop and deliver a zero-incident safety culture.  I long to share and assist in their passionate pursuit of safety perfection.  They are the glorious sunrise of my days.

The Doc

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