Monday, October 28, 2013

Personal Risk Assessment – Complacency

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on personal risk assessment. Read the series introduction here.

Repetitive tasks exist in most workplaces and wherever they’re present, so does a frustrating safety risk. It seems like the more we perform a particular task, the better we should be at it. I guess that is true for the first few times we do a task, but then our human minds have a tendency to wander. The safety principle of eyes on task and mind on task gets cloudy, and to some extent, we become complacent. Whether it’s the 50th or the 100th time, each of us has a different complacency threshold. We get sloppy, and the risk for personal injury increases and the probability for personal injury becomes even greater.

When experienced hands become complacent and unfocused, there is a tendency to pass this dangerous auto pilot mindset on to new hands, furthering the problem. One of the better safety pros I know suggests we use some simple but effective techniques to re-engage those doing repetitive jobs:

  • When engaged in a repetitious job, mentally and verbally treat it as if this were the first time performing the task. Verbally? Yes, audibly talking ourselves through the job helps our minds concentrate on the task afresh.

  • Have the new employee train or talk another employee through the job.

  • Stop and think: what could go wrong with this job, this time?

  • Stop and think: is the procedure for this job correct at this time under these conditions?
This kind of refocus technique is referred to as situational awareness –  being able to focus on the job every time as if it were your first time performing the task. Verbalize how to do the job and engage the brain before stepping into the field of fire. It is all a part of the culture of correct: training our minds, actions, and employees how to do every job perfectly, every time. In this case, the training is not the responsibility of a supervisor or upper management but rather the responsibility of the person doing the job, every time he/she does the job.

The Doc

Monday, October 21, 2013

Revolutionaries – Building effective safety steering teams

A different kind of corporate safety guidance is delivering a strategy and results beyond what the traditional compliance-based corporate group has typically been able to achieve.  A safety steering team with a focus on safety culture strengths and weaknesses brings together front-line practical personnel, safety professionals and upper management.   The safety steering team process engages corporate and front-line leadership, safety culture survey data, continuous improvement teams, and emerging safety needs.  The combination of corporate support, front-line practicalities, safety culture reality and effective solution techniques delivers rapid workable solutions that include functional safety accountabilities.  The resultant zero-incident safety culture intensity spreads and takes hold site by site across an organization.

Our October 23 webinar will present techniques that include purpose, deliverables, process, membership priorities, meeting scheduling, training and solution approaches.  Together these techniques can revolutionize an organization’s safety performance.

Takeaways for this webinar presentation include:


  • Why organizations plateau with traditional regulations and observation focus

  • What does a safety steering team focus on and deliver

  • Who the typical cross-functional safety steering team includes

  • When, how often and where the team meets

  • Data that is used to guide the team safety culture improvement actions

  • Typical topics focused on by a safety steering team

  • The rapid Improvement workshop approach used to deliver solutions

  • Results organizations have achieved using the safety steering team approach

This in-depth review of safety steering teams is about how to engage people across the levels of your organization in the delivery of an effective safety solution culture. Register now and join us live on October 23.

The Doc

Monday, October 14, 2013

Personal Risk Assessment – Over-estimating personal capabilities

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on personal risk assessment. Read the series introduction here.

Way back in time I had the distinct opportunity to join a military service branch and go through the boot camp experience.  “Young and stupid,” physical fitness at its peak, “10 feet tall and bullet proof” – all these and other attributes, like adrenaline and testosterone, made each of us raw recruits confident we could take on the world and come out unscathed.  It didn’t take very long for me to realize I needed far more than personal confidence and physical fitness to come out of the Marine Corps unscathed.  Just having confidence in my ability would not keep me safe and uninjured in the real world dangers of the military profession.  Common sense, personal responsibility, team work, training and attention to situational reality were absolute must-haves – it was drilled into us daily.

As the new recruits come into your organization they encounter dangers with which they are not familiar.  They are likely to be over-confident in their personal abilities and underestimate the dangers of the job at hand.  And like all new employees they are a high-risk reality trying very hard to prove their worth on the job with a ‘get ‘er done’ attitude.  The young and vigorous can lift more and work longer in challenging environments and they often feel a need to prove this to themselves and others. When it comes time to correct this behavior, challenging these workers’ ego and pride does not seem to work all that well.

There is a second class of employees who also suffer from over-confidence in their capabilities; the older, experienced hands who know the job and the dangers and take shortcuts they believe they can achieve without injury because of their personal experience factor.  After all, they have been on the job for years and this is just the way their work group operates, it is their norm.  And norms are very hard to change. So is the personal risk assessment culture they live.  They just don’t seem to see or comprehend the dangers they have ignored and lived with all those years.

My papa had a saying that went something like; “Change only occurs when the pain of no change exceeds the pain of change.”  Recently I was working with an electrical utility company.  The previous week a contractor for them had two of its employees free climbing a tower like they always did, instead of using the slower required fall protection.  The upper employee fell and took his friend down with him, about 120 feet to their deaths.  During a training break two linemen described how each of them had done a similar free climb and fell about 40 feet in separate events.  Obviously and amazingly, both survived, but more than a decade later both still suffer from pains associated with their injuries. Both were able to go back to climbing towers, but the pain of no change had them always using fall protection equipment and taking the time to do so.

How to handle over-estimating personal capabilities?  The young studs don’t handle personal challenges from superiors well at all.  The seasoned hands don’t believe they will ever roll snake eyes.  Both seem to charge blindly on in hopes that they will never walk off the end of the cliff they know is out there.

In military culture, there are rules and you must follow them. In safety we often call these rules of engagement JSAs (Job Safety Analysis).  JSAs must be well written and have the practical field content that gives them credibility with the people who are performing the tasks.  They must be practiced and trained by the field hands doing the job every day, for every job to which the JSAs apply.  Supervision and upper management must consistently, visibly and frequently reinforce the importance of these rules of engagement being followed.  There must be a culture of correct which is lived every day on the job so no one is put at risk of dying on the job any day.  It goes something like; “I don’t care if you are in such good shape you can lift 200 pounds.  For this company, no matter where you are working you will get assistance lifting anything weighing more than 50 pounds.”   There are similar rules of engagement in this kind of ‘culture of correct’ for each personal risk that the job at hand may present.

One of the struggles with living this culture of correct deals with how we consistently give the verbal feedback that effectively delivers this message.  Another policy or procedure is not the answer; physical presence and adult conversations do a much better job, and this theme will be followed on and added to as the personal risk assessment series continues.  I look forward to your input.

The Doc

Monday, October 7, 2013

Personal Risk Tolerance Series - The common threads

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on personal risk assessment. Read the series introduction here.

In the work place, at the home and off the job we all make untold numbers of decisions about what to do and how to do it.  From a personal risk perspective there seem to be three common threads:
  • Recognizing the risk.  The uninitiated worker may not actually understand what could go wrong with a situation.  I remember circumstances raising our children when we had to step in to protect our young from dangers they honestly did not know about or appreciate.  For a similar reason new employee orientation is of significant importance to the newbies who just don’t know what they do not know.  There are all kinds of statistics out there about a high percentage of injuries occurring to the newer employee who is not aware of the dangers or the mitigating factors he/she should employ.  The use of a good/thorough Job Safety Analysis (JSA) process is an important tool for recognizing the hazards which will be encountered with work tasks. The JSA must go beyond just recognizing the hazards and into what must be done to eliminate the possibility of injury.  And, of course, there must be a corporate and personal commitment to both train and live the JSA realities.  

  • Understanding why it is a hazard.  We all come with a differing set of perceptions based on things like age, physical capabilities, pride, previous experiences and the like.  These personal filters are often very effective in keeping us from correctly evaluating the problems we face.  In turn this kind of false confidence has a noticeable probability of resulting in personal injury.

  • Risk tolerance.  We see the risk, we understand the risk, we make a decision to either remove the hazard or proceed anyway.  At this juncture I like Mike Rowe’s “Dirty Jobs” perspective; our safety is not dependent on what the government or the company provides us. With respect to safety, our safety first and foremost depends on our personal common sense and the personal responsibility/precautions we take when faced with issues that can be dangerous to us, our fellow workers and our family members.
Over the next few blog posts there will be a focus on the 10 most frequent personal risk assessment faults, why “we” accept certain levels of risk and what you and your employees can do about this personal risk assessment reality on and off the job.

The Doc

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