Why Me? Why not me!

You might have noticed that I have not posted a blog in a month or so. I felt that in the new situation we are in with COVID19, the discussion of “world class safety” should be paused for a while. That left, though, a void of what I would discuss. I gave it a month to see how life would change with the new wellness protocols that are in place. The situation put me in a unique position that I now feel is worth discussing.

I currently work for an e-commerce company. With so many people being at home, e-commerce is booming. The company is in an interesting situation in which we need to hire many people across the entirety of the USA all while keeping them safe and well. In the new abnormal of COVID19, there was a needed amount of creativity of how to bring people into the company, meet regulations, and do it on a national scale.

Part of the creativity was the creation of a virtual new hire orientation [VNHO]. From a safety standpoint, it had to be facilitated to allow interaction, questions, and feedback live as part creating a compliant and effective learning experience. Around this same time, I was moved into a new role as a safety liaison for learning, communications, and projects. This began my journey of teaching 12 VNHO classes per week.

When it first began, dedicating 36+ hours a week to repeating the same presentation over and over became disheartening. Over 15 years ago when I first started my journey in safety, annual and new hire safety training was one of my primary items. Since that time, most safety training was delegated or performed by someone else. I was not the primary person for safety-focused training. I was thinking “why me?”. “How is it that after all these years, I am back to where I began. Repeating the same message over and over.”

One morning, I woke to do more training and began the same lament of “why me.” I am still not sure why or how [I have my theories], but my thought changed to “why not me”. That was my breakthrough moment! Who else should be welcoming all these new hires to the organization and prepping them with the knowledge and tools to work safely? I am the one that spent years of my life studying how to make lecture training meaningful to employees. This is exactly where I need to be. It is time to put all that knowledge to work. It is time to use all those theories to make something useful. It is time to do my very best to give these new team members the best learning experience I can provide. Who else would be better equipped with the title, knowledge, and experience other than me? The answer was clear, it was time to put my money where my mouth was, to put the rubber to the road, to pull out all the stops. . . to do my job the best way I know how.

In these strange and trying times, I was fortunate to learn this lesson. It is not “why me”. It is about “why not me”

World Class Begins with Attitude

This year, I am dedicating my blog posts to exploring what is world-class in safety. As I we closed 2019, the discussion was about how some organizations like to throw the term “world-class” around when it comes to safety. They use the term as a part of marketing safety without really thinking about what it means to be best in class for protecting their people. For some, it means compliance with the law. For others, it might mean having lunches when there are no injuries for a month. When it really gets down to the real meaning of world-class, it begins with having a world-class attitude toward safety.

There is much debate about world-class safety. Does it exist? Is it measurable? Are there metrics? How is it performed? Can we compare it to other companies? Honestly, those are good questions. Honestly, I am not sure there is a right answer. I do think that there are principles that an organization can develop to create a world-class safety attitude. Before any of the metrics or processes can really be evaluated, there first has to be the right mindset. There has to be the overall compass directing the efforts and organization to the path of world-class. So, here are my five principles of world-class safety.

1. It means we care enough to focus on reducing and eliminating harm

Measuring all the injury and first aid rates does not compare to actually looking at your team as people and realizing that their pain is bad for business. There are too many stories of the zero injury companies that have a large incident. We are not chasing a zero incident rate. We are driving for solutions that prevent people from hurting for doing their job. Yes, seeking no harm will affect an incident rate. But it is not the incident rate that is the goal. We have to learn from every incident, adapt based on near misses, and improve through observation.

2. It means there are no boundaries for protecting our team

A 1987 speech from Paul O’Neill as he took the helm of Alcoa summarizes this best (Full Story Link)

“I want to talk to you about worker safety. Every year, numerous Alcoa workers are injured so badly that they miss a day of work. Our safety record is better than the general workforce, especially considering that our employees work with metals that are 1500 degrees and we have machines that can rip a man’s arm off. But it’s not good enough. I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America. I intend to go for zero injuries”.

A shareholder asks about inventories in the aerospace division. Another asks about the company’s capital ratios.

“I’m not certain you heard me. If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures. If we bring our injury rates down, it won’t be because of cheerleading or the nonsense you sometimes hear from other CEOs. It will be because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important: They’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be an indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution. That’s how we should be judged”

If there is a solution to prevent harm to our team, we must drive relentlessly to complete it.

3. It means our people are our most valuable asset and resource

Too many companies have trouble believing that if you really care and protect your people, they will protect the company. It is a lean mentality idea. Use a good process, give it time to work, use the results to course correct the path. A good process will yield a good result. We too wrapped up in seeing immediate impacts and results. These short-term, micro-managing, profit first processes get in the way of world-class in more ways than just safety.

4. It means we will communicate openly about safety

This loosely ties to the first principle. We cannot shut down communication because we reached the goal of zero. We cannot quit driving to find other hazards to eliminate, listening to the team concerns, or seeking improvement because it has been a year since the last lost-time injury. The organization must be open and available for dynamic and honest two-way communication. If there is a hazard, it needs to be communicated and fixed. If there is a better way or new technology, it should be evaluated to see if or how it might work. If someone claims that having too many Pepsi machines and not enough Coke is a safety issue, we need to be able to say no. It is about sharing the message and keeping the team going the right direction.

5. It means the safety culture is indistinguishable from the company culture

This is where world-class begins

Beginning the Journal to World Class

One of the more interesting conversations that a safety profesional enters into from time-to-time is that of world class safety. This statement is used as part of an interview where the company is attempting to attract a better than average safety person or as part of a generic statement that makes the company sound marketable to the masses. It seems that the term world-class is thrown out a lot in many different aspects and scopes.

What I find most amusing is the idea that when someone outside of the safety profession says they want a world class safety program, it usually means they want one that meets basic OSHA compliance. Given the condition of many companies’ stance to safety that might be a very true statement. World class may be just simply meeting basic compliance. I once knew of a manager who stated that OSHA was the Cadillac of safety programs. He was looking for more of a Toyota. *heavy sigh*

I tend to believe that world class is more than OSHA compliance. A company should not use that term unless they really plan to put the money, time, and energy into that process. There are a few statistics that define world class. A couple of really large scale safety consulting firms have created the metrics and have the data to help support what drives the top 5% of all safety performing organizations. The data gives some strong indicators but I am still a skeptic at heart. I know that the methods of evaluating injuries goes back to the OSHA 300 log and the OSHA incident rate. This is a metric that can be deceiving and deceived.

What I do believe is that world class is based on a simple principle, is the company really looking out for the best interests of their workers? The data definitely shows the truth in this principle. Case studies about safety progress and turn-arounds show the same. It really is about caring about the team. A company that is really striving for world class is looking beyond compliance. They are looking for ways they can better protect and adapt to their employees’ needs

One of the first principles of world class is a functional safety committee. I have read many articles and attended various conferences that talk about what makes a great safety committee. A safety committee can lead many positive activities for a company. It is the voice of the employee, an advocate for projects, a sounding board for ideas, a public relations group, and so much more. One of the first items most companies talk about when they approach their idea of world class is starting a safety committee. My response is always, “Great! What is the committee’s capital and expense budget?” *wide eyed, mouth open, astonishment* “Budget?” They say, “we were not wanting to spend anything.”

So the not so long journey to world class begins and ends

As we enter the year, my plan is to continue this look at world class. What it is and what it is not. How do we begin the journey? What are some of the basic ideas of focusing on our employees and that real long-term, never-ending process that leads to real world class safety programs.