Monday, December 17, 2012

Gotcha!! - Safety coaching


I recently received the following inquiry: “We're getting ready to perform safety coaching sessions with some of our frequently injured employees. Do you know of anyone who might have a script to outline the dialogue?”

Here is the response our Caterpillar group delivered for this all-too-common question:

  • A thorough accident investigation that searches for multiple causes and identifies any weaknesses in the management system (have we established traps that are leading to the incidents [i.e. job incompatible to worker]; not consistently holding everyone accountable for performance; not providing correct, appropriate, quality training to employees and supervisors alike).
  • A frequent experience with safety discipline is that the employees will do what the manager demands and that, quite often, the real safety culture issue for frequently injured employees is one or two levels up.  It is often these managers’ ideas, beliefs and attitudes that significantly influence the norms and hidden safety culture realities. In turn, the front-line employees are put at risk and get injured for doing what the tacit boss culture emphasizes. If this is the underlying issue, it becomes something like: "Yes, you may punish this employee and his/her supervisor and manager as well. Slop flows downhill and you need to cut off the source of a sloppy safety culture."  Therefore, it is important to interview the supervisor, the supervisor’s manager and the supervisor's direct reports to capture any additional information on why this person is frequently involved in incidents (are there workload capacity issues, state of mind issues, pattern of incidents within the work group, etc.?). The interview of the supervisor’s manager, supervisor, and direct reports should also identify what past actions were taken with employee (previous coaching, training, discipline, etc.) and assess the supervisor’s and manager’s performance in carrying out their safety responsibilities. 


This information is critical in conducting a coaching session. Without it, the focus is centered squarely on the employee and does not take into consideration contributing factors.

The coaching session should be constructed to allow for open dialogue with the employee in as positive a manner as possible, not a lecture from management.  An example session might look like the following:

  • Coach explains to employee why they are meeting (i.e. too many injuries) and that the goal is to improve performance, not necessarily to discipline the employee. 
  • Coach reviews previous incidents with employee and allows employee to openly discuss each incident. Coach should have reviewed these incidents and notes from interviews with the supervisor’s manager, supervisor and supervisor's direct reports before this session (are we illuminating issues that have to do with the manager, supervisor, work group, other?)
  • Coach should then review the company’s procedures, policies, best practices and training efforts. Ask employee in what ways these may not have been clearly defined, trained adequately, measured appropriately, or lacked feedback/recognition to support the desired behavior or to correct the undesired behaviors.
  • Coach should then talk about the organization’s safety goals (values, mission statement, etc.), safety activities and the role each employee has in meeting these goals. It is a team effort and each person is on the team.  And now comes the focus on the employee; ask how they can be a safety leader and what contributions they can make to ensure the team is successful in making sure there are no injuries or incidents.
  • Establish mutually agreed upon safety performance goals for the employee. The goal should not be something like, "Don't get hurt or contribute to an accident within the next six months," but activity based. What can they specifically do to contribute to safety and to help develop and live activities that address the kind of incidents in which the employee was involved.
  • Identify a measurement plan. How often will the employee be measured on their activities, and by whom?
  • Clearly establish consequences for not meeting the agreed upon safety performance goals.
  • Ensure the supervisor and the manager are aware of and coached on outcomes of this coaching session. Coach the supervisor and the manager on their fundamental roles to - define, train, measure, and recognize safety accountabilities.
If the result of the entire process points towards systemic issues within the organization or work group, then consider conducting a continuous improvement team on the issues.

Most employees want to contribute and be part of the solution (regardless of the issue). However, sometimes you get a lemon or two and you need to know when to stop trying to make lemonade. What has been your experience with frequently injured employees?

The Doc



Monday, December 10, 2012

Voila – Your personal safety culture


The safety world has a wide spectrum of people and talents. Over the last year I have traveled extensively, worked in challenging environments and cultures, spoken to diverse audiences, written dozens of articles that all have some kind of review, and have met all kinds of people. In times of reflection it appears these unique individuals all have their own personal safety culture. There is no real surprise about reactions from the academic set being vastly different from those at the front line of operations. Though we are all interested in our personal safety and that of our families and fellow workers, we all approach the situation differently. For sure none of us knows it all.

I think this leads each of us to work to our own level of complacency, and that is a dangerous reality. Safety pros everywhere care about others and diligently work their skills and backgrounds to help improve working conditions. Yet we often act more as lone rangers doing all we can without seeking much assistance from others; another dangerous reality. Someone once said: “None of us is as smart as all of us. No matter how smart you are, you are stupid not to listen to the experts around you.”

This applies in business where the pressure for performance improvement is often intense and unrelenting. It also applies to safety and the business of developing a culture that does not tolerate or experience complacency when it comes to preventing the potential of incidents. As a safety pro, or a person on the front line whose desire it is to go home safely every day, or an academic; how can we help people understand the value they bring to our culture that helps us get to the next level of performance?  As we function in our own level of competence, how do we reach out to others and bring them into the important game of a relentless pursuit of zero? 

May this be your personal safety culture.

The Doc

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Jelly Layer – Front line safety reality


One of the safety pros I have had the pleasure to work with describes the front line work environment as the “Jelly Layer.”  Sure, companies have absolutes when it comes to values and principles such as ethics, safety, quality, cost, schedule, etc. However, when you are facing the reality of the many multiple inter relations at the front line, life is not all that crisp or firm.  You are in the Jelly Layer and all the regulations, policies, procedures, principles, etc., seem often to deliver some level of conflict and the reality of compromise begins to creep in. 

Many of us have been a part of the Jelly Layer more than once in our careers.  Add to the uncertainties and conflicting priorities the dynamic of demanding and/or authoritarian leadership and our Jelly Layer gets even more complex and dangerous to our employees, ourselves and our careers. We all get to juggle more than one ball at a time in our life spans.  On occasion we all have more balls in the air than we can successfully handle and inevitable drops begin to occur.  We then make a personal risk assessment that guides us to the unpleasant decision of which failure (compromise) to live with.

A strong team with multiple talents to assist us definitely leads to fewer drops.  But in the endgame at the Jelly Layer of front line realities personal values dictate our drop decisions.  To successfully play this Jelly Layer endgame you must have carefully thought out your personal values and be prepared to live them at a moment’s notice.  There is no time for navel gazing at the Jelly Layer. 

Is it time for some personal reflection and commitment on your own values?

The Doc

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