Monday, November 26, 2012

Mud – Growing a vibrant safety culture

Safety pros seem to frequently find themselves in a situation in which the safety culture is murky at best. One of my favorite analogies for safety culture is a word picture of fish swimming in a pond. Different kinds of water grow different kinds of fish and bad water leads to bad fish.


When you become a part of this kind of safety culture you need to clean out the mud. Going to a single type of filter, like a focus on just regulations, or observations, or conditions clears up some of the mud, but not all of it. There are other impurities in the culture that are not all that obvious, yet these bad water elements must also be removed if a zero-incident safety culture is to thrive. This is why I favor a robust safety culture survey and individual interviews with workforce personnel. Once you have a thorough culture analysis it is possible to pick out and pick off the cultural impurities that are sickening the people you have to deal with up and down the food chain (organization levels).

The next step in the process of improving safety cultures after removing the obstacles (mud) switches to a land based analogy. The word picture here is ‘you can’t pull grass to make it grow.’ The water is pure enough, we need to nurture our people if they are to improve and thrive without injury or incident. As our people across the food chain participate in error proofing the fundamental safety processes, they build in safety accountabilities (activities) that deliver consistent process excellence at all levels of the organization. Developing safety culture excellence goes beyond water purification. This important goal must also include developing our people and their ability to daily do what it takes to deliver excellence. And you can’t pull the grass; you must keep nurturing, reinforcing, relentlessly staying focused on the never ending issues (weeds) that seem just to happen in the organizations we live in.

And there you have it, the key to safety culture excellence; remove the obstacles and weeds while nurturing the people across the whole spectrum of your business realities.

Well, yes, in fact I do live on a small farm.

The Doc

Monday, November 19, 2012

Going Global – Creating a culture of safety excellence everywhere

I was recently asked the following questions:

What questions would you like to ask safety professionals? What thoughts have struck you about the EHS pros?  Do you see anything going on in the profession that is different? What about corporations and their views on safety and health?

My first overview addresses “The new marshal in town.” After three plus years, I see that the current administration is about as ineffective with its “aggressive approach” and entrenched bureaucracy as the last few administrations and that this marshal will leave town with no discernible impact. The bureaucracy resists any kind of change. 

This leads me to favor the Mike Rowe ‘dirtiest jobs’ comment that safety is not first, but third. The first two important concepts in safety need to be common sense and personal responsibility. Safety reality requires each of us to be responsible for our own safety and that of those around us. Government regulators, policies and procedures, the next observation program and the like cannot replace a focus at the brain wave level of personal responsibility. Dr. Dan Petersen gave one of my favorite quotes about this when he said: “If the answer to who is responsible for your safety is anything but ‘I am,’ it is an accident waiting to happen.”  How do you get this grassroots level of safety responsibility to be a part of the safety culture reality?

As for safety pros, I see about four kinds: 
  • Placeholders who train the regs, investigate injuries and maintain status quo no matter what
  • Resistors who, when presented with a new wrinkle in safety, do all they can to squelch it for the security blanket of regulations and the way it has always been
  • Frustrated pros who would like to try new concepts, but have management that will not support anything other than the inexpensive basics that have been a part of our profession for decades
  • Challengers who figure out a way to get out of the box and piece by piece try innovations that may help improve their real performance
Unfortunately, the challengers seem to be less than 10 percent of the safety pro population. This includes both corporations and individuals who are trying to move out in a way that has a chance to make a discernible difference beyond which a regs marshal always seems to fail. Dealing with these ten percenters is truly a lift to my life as they challenge our profession and me personally to ‘Boldly go where no man (or woman) has ever gone before.’

This leads to innovative work. 
  • I like the Australian concept of safety pros taking responsibility to mentor safety excellence in small companies that do not have safety resources. I’d like to see us try this and maybe have mentoring of small companies become a part of our CSP recertification process
  • It is a pleasure to work with global companies who bring the importance of personnel and process safety into locations that have little or no safety history or seeming care for their workers.  These few global organizations are rising to the challenge of how to develop a zero-incident safety culture in a zero-safety culture world. Here, innovation is an acceptable challenge that is both funded and nurtured. This start up world of safety culture leads to a euphoria of experiencing noticeable successes where none existed before. The challenges do not lead to easy solutions, but to trials of innovative approaches, especially in the global construction organizations that want to achieve zero, no matter where they find themselves working
  • I see the safety world as still being stuck in the reactive approach dictated by a focus on lagging indicators. It is inspiring to see an ever growing set of organizational initiatives to develop meaningful leading indicators which have the tools behind them to significantly improve the safety culture realities both at the personal front line and the corporate levels

This last point leads to another challenge for our safety professional, and that would be a meaningful dialogue on leading indicators.

The Doc

Monday, November 12, 2012

10,000 hours – Achieving excellence in what we do

I think we have all read articles or had conversations on achieving excellence. The concept of spending 10,000 hours performing a particular set of tasks is a popular paradigm to achieving excellence. If we work 40 hours a week that amounts to about 2,000 hours a year, or a minimum of total concentration for at least five years. This is a lot of concentrated effort!  Ben, a professional golfer acquaintance of mine who makes his living on the PGA circuit has been practicing since he was about six years old. On his non-tour event weeks, Ben frequently plays 36 holes of golf a day and makes innumerable practice shots on areas of his game that are just not quite up to his expectations.

My own personal professional safety journey began in 1985. I guarantee you I am not satisfied with my level of performance and keep working to improve it. ASSE and NSC events, improvement teams, technical journals, focus groups, certification preparation and many more hours in grade are a part of my regimen that focuses on personal improvement.
How are you doing on your personal 10,000+ hour professionalism?

The Doc

Monday, November 5, 2012

Excuses — Moving from blame to high performance

I was asked recently to comment on the following:  Here we are in an election year. In politics, worker safety gets scant attention, relegated to the “back bench,” so to speak. The labor secretary is hardly a first-tier cabinet member. Rarely does the regs agency OSHA speak loudly and with impact. It is of course underfunded, undermanned.  Is there a parallel between the way worker safety is treated in politics– almost as if it does not exist –and worker safety in many organizations, where it is underfunded, undermanned, put in a “silo” and more or less forgotten about?

Underfunded, under staffed, under regulated, under appreciated …  ad infinitum.  In the trenches a common phrase for excuses goes something like; ‘Excuses are like [certain orifices], everyone has one.’  And that leads to an understanding of how much we can count on outside entities like OSHA, MSHA, politicians, etc. to facilitate change. For quite some time now my belief is that we can count on them for absolutely nothing.  If it is to be, it is up to those involved to do something about it.  Sure, this is an uphill battle when you are starting from scratch in a resource restricted environment which pretty much exists no matter where we are.  The big three of operations (cost, uptime, zero defects) always get in the way. We know this low safety focus is not good business, but it is often reality.

How do we get out of this kind of hole?  First we must stop digging the hole deeper, and that means ‘complaint = what we do every day’ must be replaced by ‘complaint = goal.‘  There is always a piece of an organization that will begin to seriously tackle safety issues and ultimately safety culture reality if it is brought into meaningful engagement. This means start small where your limited resources will bear fruit, i.e., stay away from world hunger issues you can’t solve anyway and concentrate on delivering one success at a time. 

Somewhere in this progression you will come upon the Mike Rowe (of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”) concept that safety is not number one, safety is number three; first comes common sense, then personal responsibility, then safety. We can’t count on outside support for safety excellence. Safety excellence must start with the people who are at risk taking responsibility and delivering accountabilities (actions) that protect their own safety.  Find a group that will develop this kind of personal safety culture reality, nurture them with the resources you have and then square-by-square spread their solution approach. Count on outside resources for absolutely nothing and be glad when (if) you ever get any outside help. ‘If it is to be, it is up to me.’ You (we) must take responsibility for leading the improvement charge, and for utilizing the resources that are available.

The Doc

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