Safety: Behavior or Motivation

I was recently at my final residency. Part of this process was to complete my dissertation research plan. The discussion around my topic about safety was talking about the theory behind the process of safety psychology.

On a complete side note, I did learn that with a qualitative research plan the theory is really something that gets built into the process as the research is conducted and not as a basis like quantitative research.

Back on topic: One of the discussions in my group was if I was studying behavior or if I was studying motivation. This whole discussion turned my thoughts upside down. Since I first began in safety over twelve years ago, I have been told that changing people’s behaviors was the ultimate goal of the safety professional. What if for all this time, I really should have been seeking to create motivation not change behavior. Mind blown!

With this new way of looking at how safety should be integrated into a organizational culture, it begins with the most simple thought: why do people need motivation to be safe? The over simplified answer is that going home whole should be enough motivation for anyone. Yet national statistics show that there are still 4,500 people a year that never go home to their families at the end of the work day. There are still too many people needing medical attention just by going to work. The real answer is much more complicated and infinitely more varied.

When evaluating motivation for safety, I personally subscribe to the Mazlow’s Hierarchy model. I feel this explanation fits the Occam’s Razor approach of being the most simplified and easiest to understand. The hierarchy shows that safety is the second key motivator of people. The first motivation is physiological: food, shelter, warmth, etc. In modern society, this need is met by having a job and affording a place to live and food to eat. So, the motivation for someone to have a job to meet their physiological need is greater than their motivation for safety. In my experience, this holds to be generally true.

Looking deeper at the motivation of the workplace, the comparison of the major metrics of business is safety, quality, delivery, and cost. Employee’s get very different messages when it comes to these and how they are motivated among them.
For example:

The site is able to have zero quality defects for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to meet all production targets for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to meet all cost metrcs for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to have zero safety incidents for a day = An expectation of the job
Another Example:

An employee misses their quality target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their production target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their cost target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their safety target = Probably nothing happens. They have found a work around to potentially help compensate for quality, production, or cost. They are seeking the most primal motivation of the physiological need.

Additionally with safety, the unsafe action statistically will not lead to an immediate injury. Someone could perform an unsafe act multiple times that would not lead to a direct injury. The more the act is performed, the more the individual becomes accepting of the risk. Ultimately though, risk will create a hazard and potentially an injury.

All that said to simply summarize that this whole time I have been wanting to change behaviors when really I need to be seeking to create motivation. As a safety professional or as a supervisor or as a manager, what can we do to create the motivation for our team to go home injury free? There is no simple answer. There is no silver bullet approach. Even though it is not all about behavior, there are cultural components and norm setting that has to occur to create that motivation for the team.

So here is a closing thought exercise: Look at the way your team is motivated and the systems that are in place to motivate, what behaviors and culture is it creating?


The 5 Principles of Root Cause Analysis

I have been very fortunate in my career to have learned to perform 5-why or root cause investigation in various industries and using various techniques. This knowledge from automotive, Japanese automotive, food manufacturing, chemical, and nuclear as a facilitator of RCA has given me a very unique perspective of how an effective investigation is conducted. Across all the various methods and industries, I have found there are five very important aspects of RCA that a facilitator must have to drive a successful root cause and corrective action.

1) Time
Too many times, the RCA was just another item that had a very short deadline along with dozens of other items that everyone had to get done. What this led to was a fast and easy RCA. The team or sometimes individual would look for the obvious and easiest answer to the problem that was at hand. Many times this led to the answer of human error and to conduct a retraining of the process. This was fast, simple, and cost the company no money. This was the perfect way to close the investigation. The only problem is that the training was never sustainable because the team never had the time to really find the real root cause.

The best practice is for the management team to let the facilitator know that the most important task they now have is to really seek the true root cause. That is not only for the facilitator but for anyone who the facilitator will need to complete the investigation. If there are employees, supervisors, or even managers; they should be made available with ample time to work with the RCA team to answer and participate in the process. 

If time is not given to the team to do the task, the process will immediately breakdown. There may be corrective actions that are found and implemented, but they will be as short lived just like the time spent performing the RCA. Not to say that an RCA should take an unlimited amount of time, but it should be given the time priority of the team. It should be the priority to find and prevent the incident from happening again, especially when finding ways to keep people safe.

2) Access
The team must have the resources available to make the right decisions. Of course, there are some things that the team should not have to need to have access too. There are times, though, that the information is not provided in which they need to perform the work. 

Access is a very broad term, but it includes items such as data, recreation photos, ability to go see the area, ability to interview witnesses and read statements, and access to those who can aid in the investigation. I found in the chemical industry in particular that there were some key people who had strong knowledge in certain areas. It was those people that we needed access to so as to really understand the complexity or background of an issue.

The RCA team should be able to make requests and have those granted in a reasonable amount of time. It is important that the team and organization knows that the RCA team is to have access to what they need to find the best root cause.

3) Data
Data seems like a no brainer when it comes to performing a RCA, but too many times this is the part that is overlooked. I remember a metal assembly laceration that I was facilitating. The ruling thought was that too much weld oil had led to the part being dropped and causing the laceration. What we really found was that the rack that held the part was not built to specifications and had an awkward angle that led to the potential for a weak grip. We only got lucky and stumbled on that information when a maintenance person told us about the reported issues with that assembly.

We almost missed a key point of the RCA by assuming we already knew the answer. We were not seeking data. We felt we knew. That is why the data gathering step of any RCA is so important. Some of the data will be useful, some may not be. The key is that you will not know what is and is not useful until you have it all for evaluation. The team should have the data and be able to use it appropriately. 

4) Independence
One of the critical aspects of being an RCA facilitator is having independence to be factual and based in reality. Sometimes, it is hard to admit there is a problem with a system or process. The facilitator has to be able to report that without bias, without showmanship, without personal opinion, but with total certainty that it is the truth. I have seen good RCAs go bad when a management team wants to “review” them before publishing. These little tweaks to the process take away the credibility of the work and sometimes gloss over the real issues of the organization.

This is also a deeper topic about the culture of organization. Are you in an organization that wants to learn or are you in one that wants to blame?

High blame = low independence

High learning = high independence

The RCA facilitator has some influence over this, but this is really a much larger cultural process. It is necessary, though, to allow the process to freely flow. Once people see that the process clouded by political judgement, the faith is the process is lost. This creates a significant degradation in the RCA process and corrective actions that are effective.

5) Training/Expectations
RCA is not common sense and it is not something the people learn on the fly. It is absolutely necessary that RCA facilitators are educated on the processes and procedures of the organizations investigation expectations. In my experience, I have always asked to be trained in the company’s RCA process. Some use the fishbone, 8D, charting programs, is is-not, 5-Why, and others. Those who perform the process need to know what process to follow.

The best way to comply with the expectations is to write them in a procedure. This creates the standard for the way the RCA process should work and the standard that the process will be graded to. It sets the groundwork for having a strong team and being able to benchmark when there is turnover. It has always been a relief to be able to come into an organization and find a procedure to explain the investigation process. This helps in giving clarity and streamlines the training. The key is to assure that the program can be sustained. A procedure helps to do that.

RCA facilitation can be a complicated process. There are ways, though, to make it an easier and more efficient methodology. Through making sure that the basics are provided for the team, the process will then drive a good solution. The goal of any RCA facilitation is to learn, correct, prevent, and improve. It is through allowing the facilitator to have time, access, data, independence, and training that this can be accomplished.

The 5 Reasons Your Safety Metrics are Not Working

5. They are Reactive

OSHA rates were never meant for the process of being competitive metrics. Their use was to create comparisons for better understanding of injuries and focused programs. If the only item that projects bonuses or success for a company is injury rates, then the organization is missing the point entirely. Injuries should be qualitatively studied, and systemically prevented. The data they provide is nothing more than a method of knowing where problem solving needs to occur. Once an injury has happened, there are  many systems that have failed in the organization to create that deficiency. Using that metric as a driving force is akin to being tracking a quality metric of customer issues that resulted in catastrophic failure.

Items to Consider for Improvement: Focus on proactive like – Quantity of safety work orders, time to close safety work orders, capital dollars spent on safety projects, hazards mitigated, safety audit findings closed, compliance calendar items closed on-time, employee interviews, safety committee projects.

4. They are not Meaningful

Maybe it is great that an organization has five safety observations per employee per day. What is happening to that data? Is the data real? Sadly, I have heard of too many times where these audits are being an exercise in the creation of paper. The employees are creating sheets of paper with check marks on them to simply stay off the “bad list” of people who are not performing their audits. Here is a quick litmus test if the metrics are meaningful. If the safety audits stats are posted in a public area are employees really interested in the results or do they walk past and roll their eyes. Employees know the truth of those metrics. I have heard, “We has rather have one good audit that makes us better than 100 that are pencil whipped.” Yet, that same organization continued to grade employees on quantity. If safety is important to the organization, then why do we allow this process to be driven by sheer quantity at the expense of quality. It is a placebo based on numbers.

Items to Consider for Improvement: If you were to present the metrics to the site safety committee, would they find the data actionable and meaningful? Even better, ask employees what data they want to see. It can be insightful to see the items that employees find interesting or important to the their daily work. Most are curious about safety because it directly affects them. Don’t be afraid to get that input.

3. They are not Timely

Here is the scenario: A chemical company has a major release. The regional news is carrying days of coverage, the CSB, OSHA, EPA, and other agencies perform investigations. Everyone knows that a the site in their company / division / region / etc has had this significant event. The company proceeds to publish nothing internally to help other sites learn from the event. Over a year passes and the company releases a lessons learned and policy change based on that event. Those corrective actions are important, but by this time they are meaningless to those working in the company. It has been too long. The employees are no longer as passionate about that event. It also sends the message that safety is not important. If production numbers or customer complaints are negative, the company adjusts immediately. Something safety related that gains media attention takes over a year to fix. The importance and prioritization is not there. These corrective actions and the closure thereof has lost the meaning to the people who those actions should be protecting.

Items to Consider for Improvement: Any metrics that are being tracked or published should be timely enough to have impact on the employees. Even if there is a smaller event that only affects the local site, the information about the event and the corrective actions should be communicated soon enough to still make a difference to the employees. They should still have passion and concern for making a course correction. This will help in gaining acceptance to make those changes in a fast and sustainable way.

2. They are not Actionable

Each month the safety committee reviews the corrective actions that are over due that are safety related. Each month a few get closed and a few more go overdue. It is a continuous cycle. If the metrics are not driving a change to the organization, there is no sense in continuing to collect them. I have seen where an organization required safety audits. The only data required to be entered and tracked were the quantity of audits performed. There is no action that is meaningful or has any impact to the safety of the team. The only action that is driven by the process is to create more paper. There was a huge miss in using that data to create real organizational change. There has to be a way for the data to have an action. If the site sees too many overdue corrective actions, then there should be a process to get focus on them and close the actions. If audits are being performed, there should be a way to create actions from the meaningful aspects of the data.

Items to Consider for Improvement: If the organization has a metric is has to also have a method for creating action. If the metric does not drive accountability and changes for the better, why continue to waste time collecting it. There should be a process for evaluating the data and finding meaningful ways to create action for the benefit of the employees.

1. You’re Guilty until Proven Innocent

This was an issue I just recently had to think more about. I saw a metric where there was a tracking issue of work delays. Sometimes, the work was stopped for reasons that needed to be corrected. Other times, the work was delayed to make the areas safer. If the work delay was not appropriate, there should have been corrective actions. If the work was delayed to make the work area safer, there should be positive recognition and rewards. The metric for success or failure did not have any differentiation from appropriate and not appropriate work delays. The supervisor either hit or miss the metric. I was struggling to understand why supervisors were rushing even when safety was a factor. The leadership team did a nice job of recognizing supervisors when they delayed work for safety, and there was never any negative repercussions from stopping a job to make it safer. It finally struck me that the metric assumed the supervisor was guilty until they proved themselves innocent. They were in trouble for having the delay until they explained in the shift report or verbally that it was a safety issue. They did not want to have to prove innocence, so they rushed to never be delayed. We as the leadership team had to change the metrics to exclude all safety items to assure that we empowered the supervision to take time for safety. We had to make it easier for them to be innocent and not called out on a metric that they would have to explain away.

Items to Consider for Improvement: If employees are supervisors are avoiding certain metrics or items, ask why. Also, take time to think through graded metrics. Do the metrics make any assumptions of guilt? If so, there has to be an over-communication of the scope of the metric. To create a proactive and safe environment and culture, the metrics have to empower the supervision and employees not encourage avoidance of attention.

We are asking the questions, but do we care about the answers?

As part of many safety audits, there are times where employees and supervisors are brought together to answer questions about safety programs, experiences, and feelings. The process is to ask open ended questions to draw out the employees to talk about what they are witnessing and experiencing in the workplace. The goal of these audit protocols should be to help the sites leadership see from the outside what the culture and people on the inside are creating. 

This process is perceived as an outside group taking a true interest in the goals and feelings of the people at the site. So the real question from these audit processes is: If we are asking the right questions and getting the true answers; what are we doing with the data?

What happens if the findings are that the culture is broken and workforce is burned out? Is there blame assigned to the site or even worse to the HSE Manager? If the site is showing some real development with people and culture is the site rewarded and recognized? If there are real issues that come up that require resources or capital outside the sites ability, is the audit team helping support the work to get those resources allocated to the site?

Too many times (not only in audits) people are asked the questions, the data is collected, there is a presentation of the information, there are some short term exchanges on change and process, but there is not sustainable, culture focused, and appropriate solutions provided.  

What this is really about is if we are really ready to ask the questions. If the organization is ready to make the plunge and ask the culture questions, there has to be a method to address and create real solutions. As safety professionals, creating culture not only in the workforce but in the leadership and management is one of the greatest challenges. The answers are more important than the questions when it comes to building trust among the workforce. I once heard trust defined as empathy combined with action. The questions create a sense of empathy but the real challenge is turning that into action. And one could say that real empathy creates action. 

Creating a sense of trust in the workforce is one of the key components of Maslow’s hierarchy. Without trust, there is no basis for people to give the best. Without trust, there is no giving more than the minimal. Without trust, there is dysfunction to a higher degree. When we ask the questions and we act toward a solution, trust is created. We create a culture in which we can find solutions. We can create a culture where the questions are no longer as important as the issue are apparent as part of the dynamic continual improvement process. 

So when the audit comes to town, the questions are asked, and the answers are given; there must be a process to create solutions to the cultural needs. If the solutions are limited to a site or group and not evaluated on a inter-organizational level, there is a significant loss of sustainability and effectiveness.  

Can you predict safety culture

I commute about an hour one-way for my job. It is open road travel so I have time for thinking and listening to books. I am a huge sci-fi buff. So, my recent addiction is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series. In the series, a mathematician names Hari Seldon has created a new science called psychohistory. This science is able to predict the patters of large groups of people to be able to see how society is to react and even predict large milestones of the future.

While listening the series, it really made me think that as a safety person, how can I predict where culture is going and how various stimuli would affect the safety climate of an organization? What if I could even go beyond the typical leading and lagging indicators or even population surveys of safety culture questions? Could there really be a way to absolutely predict where a culture is going?

On a more individual level, I have seen where similar events at a work place create very different futures. When I browse through news articles about injuries or environmental releases, there are those companies that change the way they do business when those extreme stimuli occur. And then, there are those that appear to never get their act together. Why is that? Leadership is a very quick and mostly truthful answer. It is the leaders of an organization that set the path and tone for where the culture will go next. If they do not take a stand to make a definitive change, then change is hard to create.

Beyond the leaders, though, are the people who make the change, or lack thereof, real. It is through their work and deeds that safety and environmental issues are handled first hand. They have power to make change at the grass roots level. So, from a predictive standpoint, back to square one. The culture of an organization is more than a leader and it is more than the people. Culture is as tangible as it is intangible. Culture is both qualitative and quantitative. Culture is as simple as you believe it to be and as complicated as the people who make it up.

Even though there is no one-size-fits-all approach to measuring safety culture, here are a few ideas that can make the process more transparent and hopefully better to predict.

1) Is there someone in the organization that is really in touch with the culture and is willing to tell you the hard truths?

It can be easy to allow a few data points to allow an individual to be swayed. Many times I have either under or over reacted to a situation simply because the information I received led to me to think I made the right approach. It is because I have listen to any/all opinions of culture that I heard. I have found, though, that in an organization there is someone who is very observant that has some really good insight to what the culture is feeling. Seek that person out and listen. But never that be the only voice you hear. Let it be an indicator of where to go looking.

2) Do you have an annual culture survey?

Using a Likert scale approach to the overall organization is a good process for trending the culture. A quick ten-question survey once a year can give a different approach to viewing the culture.

3) Are you walking and talking . . . And LISTENING?

The more data that is taken in, the better the process to understand the data can be. It is very qualitative, but invaluable to a safety professional. For example: During a walk, a discussion begins about how nothing ever gets fixed. Using the idea, a statistical measure of safety related repairs is created, published, and reviewed. This can create a culture that no longer feels ignored but empowered to use the process to create more safety repair requests.

4) Are you really seeking to understand the culture and can you control it?

Some of the lessons that a culture will show are tough ones to hear. Sometimes in a large organization, the local culture is being influenced by a larger and harder to handle overarching culture. Nonetheless, we cannot simply throw our hands in the air and give up. One of my favorite quotations is “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” by Mahatma Gandhi. I choose how I am going to react and act each day. Many times I am not pleased with my choice but each day I try harder. Even if we cannot change the large, we must endeavor for make the change we can.

5) Do you have committees that have members that can give voice to the site?

Never underestimate the power of your HSE committees. They have a voice in both as a committee member and when they are out performing their normal duties. As a committee member they should be talking about the culture and opportunity that they observe and hear. When they leave the committee they should be working to make improvements and to be an advocate for the HSE process. Empower that team and use its ability to make change.

We do not yet have an exact science like psychohistory, but we have tools at our disposal to help us engage and measure our culture. It is through the culture that we reach the individuals. It is through the individuals that we make the impact.