Monday, January 28, 2013

Verb or noun? – Safety accountability realities

Accountabilities that help deliver good safety performance are another one of the hot safety topics of our times. Many of us have been a part of teams that have studied and delivered safety accountabilities for various levels and work groups within our organizations. And then our safety accountability documents are filed away in safety’s equivalent of the dead letter office. Safety Accountability became a noun instead of a verb. 

There are lots of reasons for this demoralizing reality:
  • Do safety accountabilities really get measured and significantly rewarded?
  • Has upper management been a part of developing the safety accountabilities they will have to perform?
  • Have we followed the four-step model of accountability: Define, Train, Measure, Recognize?


You probably have a few other reasons to throw into this list of “should haves.”  The real shortfalls for safety accountabilities are resolvable.  However, to become a productive initiative, both your team and your follow up efforts will have to focus on the practical realities of getting safety accountability from the noun stage of definition to the verb stage of action.  There is an involvement process you must follow to be successful in safety accountabilities and “Define” is only the first step.

The Doc

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lipstick – Improving your safety culture


A long while back, my Papa and I had a few years of bonding as we bought an old car body and began a multi-year project to build my first automobile. First we did body work on the dents and holes. As we finished priming, I stepped back with a big smile enjoying how good it all looked. And then one of my Papa’s moments of wisdom came into play as he said: “Son, it takes more than lipstick to make a pig beautiful.”  And for the next few years, we toured various wrecking yards to purchase old parts, refurbish them and finally get the ol’ pig up and running. It sure was a good looking pig that went way beyond our original lipstick.

When my son reached high school age, we spied a somewhat newer derelict car, bought it and did our own bonding adventure for the next few years. Yes, I did get a chance to pass on my papa’s wisdom about pigs and lipstick. We had a number of good laughs and heartaches over his slowly beautifying pig. Once he got married, his wife thought they needed an even better looking and more reliable vehicle than his ’62 Willys wagon, so my son’s beautiful project pig now rests under a tree on our farm. From time to time we circle the ol’ Willys pig and reminisce about these challenging times together.

Truly, it took a lot more than lipstick to get these much neglected derelicts to be serviceable and safe. They both were in need of a significant makeover that required time, money, on-going effort and a commitment to see the work through to completion. Many of you safety pros have stepped into a new job situation and been faced with a safety pig that was pretty ugly to behold. You all made a decision where to start and, on completion of the first round of efforts, stepped back and marveled at how well your safety pig looked. To get to a finished safety culture that just doesn’t accept incidents or injuries, we all know that you will have to go way beyond the first lipstick effort that brings a smile to your face and that of the people for whom you have responsibility. The true safety pros are committed for the long run to what it takes to turn a pig into a beauty queen. Don’t call it quits and move on to the next safety pig without first completing your current project.

The Doc  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Senior Leadership – Getting meaningful safety engagement from those at the top

Senior leadership is an easy target for most any complaint. Politicians, hourly workers, organized labor, front-line supervision and middle management all seem to blame ‘rich, uncaring upper management.’

As a safety person who regularly works at the VP and C-levels of organizations I see a very different story than that portrayed by those using this blame game. For the most part upper-level managers possess good talent and ability. More money in their pockets (greed) is not much of a motivator, though they, just like the rest of us, enjoy receiving the money we earn. They do live a comfortable lifestyle and they have worked hard to get to this point in life. Their motivation comes more from doing a good job (making a difference) and receiving recognition for doing so. In their part of the world recognition is usually more money and regular bonuses.

Most of these upper-level managers live in a world that reads something like ‘what gets measured is what gets done;’ and ‘what gets rewarded is what gets done first.’

So, if the barrier to a visibly engaged leadership isn’t selfish intent, what is it? Typically, it comes down to some key troubles with the safety focus by most upper-level management:

  • They really don’t know what it takes to deliver good safety performance. The government regulations don’t do this, nor do all the canned safety programs that pervade the market. In general I have found these upper-level managers would like to make a difference in safety, but they just don’t know what they don’t know. Our solution here is to train them in a one-day roundtable on what it takes to deliver safety culture performance excellence. Once they understand what it takes to deliver a sustainable, high-performance safety culture the overwhelming majority of upper-level managers are willing to engage in a journey that will deliver this value added missing link to their organization
  • The metrics for safety that get measured really don’t make a difference in safety performance. We measure what we don’t want, injury rates (failures). These numbers don’t give upper managers a hint as to what to do. Accountability-based leading metrics for safety resolve this stumbling block
  • Incentive programs for safety are insignificant when compared to those for things like quality, productivity and cost. However, the metrics that drive the dollars must go beyond downstream luck injury rates and the dollar amounts must be on a par with the usual big three: cost, quality and customer service. That means the safety incentive becomes 25-30 percent of the payout. This amount gets their attention; the two items listed above deliver knowledge, vision and a believable approach.


Upper-level mangers want to make a difference; it turns their crank. When we can successfully remove the above barriers, we can achieve meaningful engagement. None of this comes through the traditional approaches to safety. When dealing with execs safety resources need to go beyond doing the same old things that deliver the same old, flat-line injury metrics.

The Doc

Monday, January 7, 2013

Precursors to Safety – Indicators and solutions to weak safety cultures


Before an organization begins to curse safety it is likely that one or more of the following have occurred: regulators with a limited knowledge base of safety have shown up and caused grief, a condition of supposed danger has led to an operations shutdown, a series of injuries or a severe injury has caused notable concern. 

All humor aside, events like these get management’s attention, and should.  When this sort of thing occurs the organization seems inevitably to enter into the safety event reaction cycle, which goes something like; an event occurs, management reacts and demands more safety activities, incidents go down in frequency, the organization breathes a sigh of relief and shortly returns to the predominant production culture.  Inevitably, a while later another event occurs and back we go into the safety event reaction cycle of insanity. 

The real issue is a weak safety culture that puts safety subordinate to a more predominant culture.  This is the true precursor to workers’ safety issues.  The solution is to develop a strong safety culture.  Engagement of personnel throughout the organization in developing and living appropriate safety accountabilities (activities) for all processes is the solution to safety incident reaction cycle insanity.  Upper management, middle management, supervision and hourly labor all need to be engaged in this safety culture resolution initiative.  It is not about regulations or observations; it is about developing a culture of correct that relentlessly pursues and delivers a culture of appropriate accountabilities at all levels of the organization for all of the at-risk processes on and off the job.

The Doc

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