Monday, April 29, 2013

Keep it Simple – The need for policies and procedures in safety

James Madison, fourth president of the United States, was instrumental in drafting the United States constitution.  He warned against creating laws “so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”  Based on some of the complicated government forms, promulgations, policies, procedures and the like I read Madison’s warning as timeless advice that should be heeded in safety and other areas, as well. 


A common tendency in safety deals with addressing an injury, incident or close call by writing a new procedure or rule that gets published, read to the troops and a short time later completely forgotten.  I remember a conversation with safety pioneer Dr. Dan Petersen in which he railed against job safety analyses (JSAs) because the engineer who wrote them felt good about addressing a dangerous issue and the operations group never really implemented the intent of the JSA.  The net result was a false sense of security and a safety culture that looked strong from a paperwork standpoint, but in reality was a house of cards. 


Is there a simple solution for this common pitfall?  Some of our customers’ continuous improvement teams have delivered rules of engagement for their work cells that are to the point, easily understood and as a result lived by the people in the work group, those most at risk.  Examples include: “The following PPE will always be worn when this work cell is operational: ………...”   “No metal tools will be used on equipment that contains 1.1 energetic materials.” LOTO becomes something like “Before any equipment is worked on it will be completely de-energized.”  Other employee-based teams write practical JSAs and then are required to train them to the rest of the employees as a part of job safety briefings.


How can you and your organization “de-obfuscate” and get to a simplified, more effective safety culture?


The Doc   


Editor’s Note: Join our May 22, 2013, Safety Culture World Webinar to hear how one customer achieved cultural transformation with Caterpillar’s continuous improvement model and now leverages its own personnel to deliver the Zero-Incident Performance (ZIP™) Process. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Call Sign – What is effective safety communication?

You probably have heard a saying that goes something like “If you are safe, it is not by accident.”  The world of inspirational posters continues to be an industry that papers our facility walls with good looking, feel good platitudes that have no real, positive impact on safety. I wonder how many responses this blog site would get if you in the readership were asked to send in your favorite safety slogan?  Do our people who are most at risk really ever get impacted by safety posters, or bulletin board notices, or email blasts? I honestly don’t think so. We all live in a media intensive, social network world that has taught us how to quickly ignore messaging that is generic.


This brings to mind a comment from my brother-in-law Tom who retired from the Air Force after a couple of decades as a navigator in various fighters and bombers. I used to get frustrated trying to talk to Tom and getting no response. One day I asked him how he could concentrate so completely on what he was doing and thereby totally ignore outside input. Tom’s answer made a lot of sense. “In the high intensity, high speed, high risk combat theatre around Vietnam the radio traffic was non-stop and we all quickly learned to ignore any and all airwave communications that did not have our personal call sign as a part of it.”


And now we pretty much all live in this world where the battle is for our personal attention. Posters, emails, bulletin board notices, etc., are just background noise to our workforce. Personal one-on-one genuine communication gets our attention and that of our at-risk employees. The rest is NVA (non-value-added drivel). I am now committed to the catch phrase that sounds something like “I can’t trite.” Save your company’s poster budget and invest in being genuine by talking to your people.


The Doc 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Togetherness – Safety transitions that occur with mergers and acquisitions

Leadership changes affect performance in production, quality and safety. There is a true level of uncertainty with both the mergers and the mergees. Sure ‘Due Diligence’ takes place, but typically only to a minimum level when it comes to safety. Often the safety pro gets an email or phone call that succinctly states whether you are a new merger or mergee; and then the real work begins.

When put in the mode of being responsible for bringing a new company on board, there are some consistent approaches I have found to be helpful.

  • We pull together a fairly complete package of what our organization expects. There are policies and procedures (PNPs), near-miss system particulars, downstream safety statistics, best practical safety practices from other sites, safety accountabilities for typical positions in an organization, continuous improvement culture process and expectations, Safety Perception Survey results, regional safety contacts and the like. I guess you could call this a sort of kind of ‘Death by Power Point’ compilation which represents who our company is with respect to safety.

  • Next it is time to contact the newly acquired site leadership and schedule an onsite review of all its safety system/program realities. We are purposely precise with the timing of this event and purposely vague with respect to our request for information. We want to quickly see who they are and what they have with respect to safety culture and onsite realities.

  • Once on site we have a full day of shared dog and pony time.  We are interested in what kind of leadership shows up at all levels of the organization, from hourly through site management. They get the first turn in the barrel followed by our Death by Power Point depth. Very quickly mutual evaluations take place complete with expectations and targets. There is also in-depth time as to how the mergee organization can become a viable part of the owning company and our safety culture realities.

  • The next days are dedicated to an onsite level-one type review of how the organization stacks up to regulation requirements and front line physical conditions. During this workface phase we also schedule formal and extemporaneous interviews with hourly, supervision and salaried workforce personnel. This face time gives us a checkup on the safety culture reality as it is practiced by those who live the organization’s safety culture truth.

  • The last onsite day includes a debrief, which once again is shared information and technology time. Our objective is safety excellence and how to get there, not punishment or degradation. We do go over the good, the bad and the ugly as well as reinforcing our principals, values, expectations and support realities. We will have regional safety professionals in attendance for the whole event which allows us to begin a more formal practice of on boarding the new organization so it can become a successful member of our safety culture excellence family.  

  • All this leads to an action item matrix of what needs to be done, by whom and when. Included in this is our Safety Perception Survey diagnostic which furthers the process of safety culture reality and what to do to improve this important part of all of our family of sites’ safety cultures
The Doc

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ambassador – What is your role in safety?

As I think of the word ‘ambassador’ a number of images come to mind along with additional words to describe what I would expect from such a person. To me, this role requires a knowledgeable, caring person with true integrity who assists others to engage safely and effectively with the organization the ambassador represents. The ASSE organization volunteers do this very well at local, national and international conferences and events. Additionally, the safety professionals in the workplace need to go beyond being just enforcers of the rules. Sure, there is an obligation to insist on people acting correctly. But what about providing personal training to those who need to improve their performance?  The safety pro ambassador must live these and other valued examples of a personal safety culture.


An excellent safety culture has other classes of safety ambassadors. Another important type lives in a cubical or office in a different part of the organization’s hierarchy. How does a non-line leader-manager earn his/her safety ambassador status?  By providing the support it takes for the organization to win the zero -injury safety culture battle at the front lines. When they visit where the action is they need to be both genuinely knowledgeable and supportive of the mission. The upper level manager has to put forth visible, viable effort to earn the title of safety ambassador from the troops for whom they are responsible; emails, bulletin board announcements and policy statements are not enough. Visible upper management commitment to safety excellence and support thereof are necessities.


These kinds of professional safety and upper management support people are what make it possible for the front line leader-supervisor to stay focused on safety the same way they would for their other job one responsibilities, like cost, quality and customer service. There are no secrets in an organization. Supervision quickly knows the reality of an organization’s safety culture by all the verbal and non-verbal messages they receive from the safety pros and upper management. It is hard for a supervisor to be a safety ambassador when the organization’s leadership and technical talent sends and rewards a mixed message.


The bottom line for being a safety ambassador certainly rests on the shoulders of the hourly employees actually doing the work. These folks are most at risk for injury. They have all the pressures coming down on them from above. Every day, the hourly employees make a continual series of personal risk assessments which eventually pay out in injury statistics. Once again, support from above makes a huge difference in the organization’s ability to deliver final safety numbers and real safety culture excellence. However, at the bottom rung of the ladder, where work actually takes place, each individual worker must be his/her own safety ambassador. The hourly employee must become the knowledgeable, caring person with integrity who assists others to engage safely and effectively with the organization’s other output requirements.


The Doc

Monday, April 1, 2013

Clich̩ РSafety Culture Reality

I was recently asked to comment on the perceived over use of the phrase ‘safety culture’ by Dave Johnson, Chief Editor of ISHN magazine. Here are my thoughts on this:


Dave, your editorial article on safety culture cliché is appropriately provocative. Your various editorial contributors reinforce the safety culture controversy with a wide spectrum of input. For this author/contributor every organization has its own spectrum of cultureS, with a simplified definition of culture being ‘just the way it is around here.’  A career of engagements with struggling organizations has shown me that numerous subcultures typically operate concurrently, influencing productivity, quality, customer service, safety, diversity, recruiting, etc.


This leads to a litany of politically correct descriptions of the various organizations’ subcultures, such as ‘safety is number one,’ etc., ad nausea. When we push through the PC fog and get to the front line of reality, each of these subcultures has its own dynamic of processes, accountabilities and priorities. In turn these are all influenced by corporate, regional, site and work group leadership. Unfortunately in this kind of spaghetti culture a fatality typically leads to a stand down with its temporarily high safety focus that in time fades back into leadership’s multi-cultural reality.


Sure, improving an organization’s safety culture (the way it is) is easier with genuine corporate backing. However, local and work group leadership determines the safety culture reality at the workface. The cultural reality is not determined by OSHA, BBS, policy statements, bulletin board postings, emails, PC rhetoric or the like. At the Gemba (where real work takes place) work group hourly and salaried leadership is the determining factor in safety culture reality. Upper management influences this, but the front line delivers reality in cost, quality, customer service, safety and so on. No matter what corporate speak says, in the equation of excellence for each of these subcultures, front-line leadership is the independent variable; the rest of the organization only has dependent variable influence. What gets measured and rewarded is what gets done in a culture. In safety if we focus on/measure what we don’t want to occur – injuries – there are no lasting solutions. This is just another culture built on a foundation of sand. A culture of excellence must measure and reward the upstream activities that deliver downstream results; safety accountabilities that make a real, value added difference in performance by all personnel from the board room to the front-line supervisor and hourly worker.


The Doc    

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