The Hierarchy of Safety Needs, Part 6

This is part 6 to a series of posts based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The theory takes that same basic premiss of having a progression of needs based behaviors and applying them to how safety progresses in an occupational environment.

This phase of the pyramid is a focus on progressing the teams and having the teams watch for safety issues for each other. It is important to note that the progression to this phase is marked by having an effective safety program that creates a strong sense of safety in the individuals in the organization.

The change from team work to recognition is slight from a mechanical approach, but dramatic from a behavioral aspect. The teams are no longer reliant on management for the solutions. The teams are finding and implementing solutions on their own. The resources are available and accessible. The teams know how to correct, report, and follow up on any safety concerns that are arising. They have the support of management through financing, resources, and attention. The supervisory responsibilities would include following up on work to assure corrections were complete and assuring the team stays focused on the tasks they begin. The most important aspect that has to be fulfilled is the need for recognition. The environment has to recognize these teams individually and publicly for their accomplishments. Their need has grown beyond simple social interaction, but now the desire to be appreciated is apparent. The company should take time to recognize and reward the work of their committees. The goal is to fulfill the need to be recognized.

This phase is marked with behaviors that are looking for the next safety improvement. The team knows that the company is committed to correcting and improving the safety of the site. The teams are now on the look of any predictive measures and items to correct to assure that injuries and incidents are prevented.

The teams are conducting self assessments for behaviors and conditions that can lead to safety issues. They are not worried of offending or judging others. The primary focus is helping each other to be safer. They coach each other and share success across the organization. If one department find a creative solution to correct a safety condition, that practice is carried to other departments. The key factor is to seek ways for the team to improve various aspects of the safety program.

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs, Part 5

So far, we have discussed the inherent process of having a job, creating a safety culture, and creating a team culture. At this point, it would make sense to have a simple validation process of understanding needs based safety.

A reverse logic approach can be applied as part of a validation of the behaviors. If a company has a functional safety committee with good participation and ideas, then it can be implied that the company has fulfilled the obligation to provide a workplace that is perceived to be free from serious hazards. This process does not take the place of a strong physical hazard auditing system, but it gives indication of the culture, behaviors, and perceptions that are present among the members of the workplace. With all the behavioral tiers of the pyramid the same reverse logic can be applied to the needs below. If employees feel safe, then there is a perception of employment stability as is seen with workers’ compensation when layoffs are a potential. Safety can be affected when gainful employment is at risk. The lowest filled need is the one that behaviors gravitate toward. The perceptions drive the behaviors, as the behaviors are driven by a fundamental needs based approach as theorized originally by Maslow.

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs, Part 4

To recap the needs based safety theory so far: 1) Safety is a needs based behavior 2) Before an organization can progress to the next need, the previous one has to be fully realized 3) The process is: Gainful Employment, Personal Safety, Team Work, Recognition, Continuous Improvement. 4) The previous posts have: discussed the theory and promoted personal safety. This post is in regards to creating a team based safety culture.

This phase is marked by a behavior that is more inherently concerned with the “we” rather than the “me.” The individual first has to feel personally safe before he can look to his team member and have concern for them also. In this phase of the behaviors approach, safety committees can start to realize their full potential. The lower needs have been fulfilled, and the individuals can start to become more socially aware of safety. The goals are for the groups to begin to identify issues and work together to avoid injury. The social process of safety is simply an approach that is broadened beyond the individual. It will be a process of where the work group will share safety items, be aware of hazards to the group, and work together to improve the environment. The goal is to encourage the teams to self-develop and empower them to solve problems along with progressing safety.

A key management behavior in this phase is to conduct technical training. This is so the teams understand the safety regulations and programs the implement those laws. For the team to be effective, they have to understand the end of goal of not only meeting but exceeding the safety regulations. They cannot be expected to accomplish this task without some technical training on the relevant regulations. The team will also need some training on what it means to be a functional team. This would include fostering team work, listening skills, and facilitation workshops. The team has to function singly with and have the interpersonal skills to support one another.

A critical component of this phase is open and honest communication between the company and the committees. It is the company’s responsibility to assure that the committees understand the constraints of the business. The scope of the work has to be set to that items such as time, resources, and money are defined. There is no reality of having unlimited of any of those three. On the other hand, it is the company’s responsibility to assure that those items that can be corrected are accepted with the utmost importance. Quick wins should be implemented with speed and longer projects should be tracked with milestones being publicized. The two way street of implementation and communication between the company and the employees start to emerge, grow, and take on life. Overall, this is a phase where team work among the individuals and between the company and employees starts to bloom.


DOL Report on Injury Inequality, Part 2

To continue thoughts on the DOL report on how workers’ compensation creates inequality in workers.

This report is getting quite a bit of attention from various media sources and confirms some of the same items that reports from both PBS and NPR have investigated.

The report goes through a number of ways that the lack of worker safety along with a potentially failing workers’ compensation system can create a disparity among injured workers. The report is summarized very simply as the best approach to workers’ compensation is to prevent worker injuries. If a worker does not get hurt, a workers does not need work comp. The report is put together well, but there are a number of ways OSHA is not as effective as it could be in creating momentum for worker safety.

First, OSHA has an amazing amount of red tape before a new law can be propagated. Do we have a comprehensive combustible dust standard? No. Do we have an ergonomics standard? No. Are the PELs for chemicals inclusive and up to date? No. Is the injury and illness prevention plan (I2P2) ready for use? No. Too many times a safety professional’s hands are tied due to the lack of comprehensive legislation. I was speaking to a fellow regulatory professional one day, and he relayed the story of a manager who felt that OSHA was the “Cadillac” of the safety world. Amazing, right? OSHA is the law. It is the bare minimum standard. OSHA still relies heavily on the general duty clause which has too much room for interpretation.

Second, OSHA is understaffed and inconsistent. What prevents someone from speeding? The idea that there could be a cop around the bend that will catch and fine you for it. Without sufficient coverage of compliance officers, there are businesses that can operate with minimal fear of the local OSHA office. Certainly, OSHA comes to visit when there are significant injuries (see the updates to the reporting law) or complaints. The key factor, though, is that a company has to be honest with the law. If an organization has made the choice to not follow the law, why would they choose to inform their employees of their rights or report correctly when warranted. Certainly, there are very stiff penalties if caught for willfully under reporting. Overall, the best way to catch problems is to have people in the field finding them. Please forgive the oversimplified analogy: If the police want to stop speeding, they do not create a self reporting hotline for speeders.

Third, in my experience, OSHA compliance officers are inconsistent. I have had some really good compliance officers that evaluate my processes and programs find they are functional and move on. I have also had some visit who did nothing but write citations for anything and everything. It was like an egg on the wall theory. Smack it against the wall and see how much sticks. There has got to be consistency in the process. If a compliance officer is judged effective through sheer number of citations, then they will write more citations. What gets measured, gets done. Just to be clear, though, if there is a true violation; it should be cited clearly and consistently. I can accept tough regulations as long as they are enforced consistently. The problem comes with the grey areas of the law or the lack of legal understanding.

Which leads me to my fourth point, the regulations are not user friendly. In someways, I find that perfectly acceptable as companies need people like me to help them comply. On the other hand, it is not easy to find a clear answer to questions. When speaking in terms of worker safety, the topics are not only a broad array but in-depth. When researching a standard, there are many considerations. What does the regulation say? Are there interpretations to read? What was the intent when the law was written? How did public comment change it? Are the references such as NFPA, ANSI, etc.? How has recent citations affected the interpretations of the law? Are there state specific laws? It takes time to implement a process right just in understanding alone.

Worker injuries are devastating. They should be prevented. But, there is more that can be done from an OSHA standpoint to help that accountability, education, and simplification.

DOL Report on Injury Inequality, Part 1

This morning on my Twitter feed (@thesafetydude), the Department of Labor posted a link to a new report that was released in regards to how an injury to a worker actually creates inequality. The report is quite thought provoking. Sadly, those who will probably read it already are concerned with creating a safety workplace. I would like to think that the report will help progress the safety field and create safer work environments.

Click to access 20150304-inequality.pdf

I am going to take a short break from the Hierarchy of Safety Needs to walk through this report. There are a few topics that I feel should be explored a little further in depth.

One of the key taglines in the report is “(safety) statistics are people with the tears washed off”


That one struck me like a thunderbolt.

Indulge me as I take my soapbox for a few moments. When I was getting my undergraduate degree, I never saw myself as a safety person. This was a career that took me by surprise. I thought my minor would be a means to a degree and really not serve me any real purpose. I am so thankful for it now as it has become not only my career but a defining piece of who I am. I love what I do! I really feel that what I do each day makes a difference. I see the benefit of having a great safety culture. I have seen what injuries can do and how they affect people. I have always viewed my job as an underrated necessity for companies. The misunderstanding comes from a lack of quantification. The business of safety is the business prevention. How does one really quantify prevention? When looking at the profession from that standpoint. Each day is the prevention of catastrophic loss. Speaking in those terms, a safety professional is worth their salary thousands of times over. Unfortunately, many organizations do not see the need for true safety professionals ( One topic that I try to teach when I have to opportunity to is that there are no second changes with safety. From a SQDC standpoint, safety has no mulligans. If the quality of a product is off, it can be fixed or the customers items can be replaced. If a delivery is missed, it can usually be made up. If cost is missed, there may be ways to make up the loss over time. When a safety incident happens, it cannot be undone. The person hurt may recover but will never be the way they were. The people who saw it will remember. There is always the unquantifiable time and effort in understanding, reporting, and managing after an incident. There are not ways to undo the injury.

This report takes time to really focus on many of the unquantifiable aspects of injuries. There are many unexplored ways that injuries in the workplace create inequality for those who are affected. I am looking forward to diving into a little more detail of the report.

The Heirarchy of Safety Needs. Part 3

There is much effort and time that goes into building the base of the pyramid but for good reason. For the process to be layered upon, the bottom sections have to be strong and stable. The bottom of the pyramid is the largest in area, holds the majority of the weight, and creates stability for the next steps. As the pyramid is being build, any flaws in the lower sections jeopardizes the work of the behaviors above it. Before taking the next steps, it must be assured that the current layer and the layers below are stable and secure. Cultural and behavioral change takes time. The process cannot be rushed because any uncertainty will eventually be felt through eroding of need based behaviors. For example, take a site has progressed from basic safety programs to creating team based approaches and committees The process is working well, and the teams are starting to make some dramatic changes in the site behaviors. Suddenly, market conditions change and the plant is potentially faced with a layoff. The base of the pyramid has been dealt a staggering blow. People are not as focused on safety, much less the safety committee. They are now focused on how they will keep or find another job. In times of uncertain economics, people will seek what they perceive as certain. They are seeking stability based on needs. The needs of the employees revert to a lower level of the hierarchy because that need was no longer fulfilled. An event such as an economic downturn is out of the control of the safety professional, but it serves as an example of how when a more basic need is a not met a person will return to the lowest unfulfilled need. The culture and behaviors of the team will reside with the lowest stable tier of the pyramid.

Safety Professional?

A really nice article appeared in the ASSE Journal this month in regards to performance standards for safety professionals.

Outcomes Based Accreditation: Advancing the OSH Profession by James D. Ramsay, Elbert Sorrell, and Wayne E. Hartz

Click to access F2Ramsayetal_0215.pdf

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. The article gives some good indications of what does it take to be a safety professional or what should it take.

I remember a few years ago flipping through the local paper, and my eye caught a help wanted add for a safety person. They wanted a high school diploma or GED, 3-5 years of experience, paid $12-$20 per hour based on experience, and CSP preferred. I really wish I had saved that ad or taken a photo of it. I really doubt they wanted a CSP and the expectations that come with that credential. In that case, it seemed that the company was more interested in looking like they had safety rather than really wanting a robust program. I remember an interview years ago where they asked me the stock question about ethics. I cited the BCSP ethical bylaws. At that time, it felt that after they saw I was very serious about ethics; I was not longer a viable candidate.

There was a great table as part of the article that demonstrates that further.

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Another way to look at the situation is that no company hires an accountant by finding a guy who is just good at math. By looking at the chart, though, it would appear that some organizations do hire safety people based on that odd idea.

There have been times where someone will ask me a question about a safety program and they feel my answer is too tough to implement or too technical. It always seems that they have met a safety person who will exclude certain items from an OSHA log or give variances to the regulations where no wiggle room is allowed. These items are usually not willful, but a lack of understanding of the regulations and the interpretations to the regulations. They practice safety under the “safety, that’s common sense stuff” approach. There are even times that the phase, “that’s just an occupational risk, people should just work safe” is used. The safety profession is still relatively new to the scene. I think there will be several evolutions of how companies will evaluate the use of safety professionals. I have seen where safety is part of engineering or operations or human resources or legal. Finding the right fit for safety in the organization is as varied as organizations are. As companies see the value in degree/credential holding safety professionals, the professional will gain from having stronger experience and expertise in the field.

Is safety rocket science? No, but SAFETY IS ABOUT PEOPLE!