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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 7.14.18 PM

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!

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs. Part 2: The Safety Need

Through applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to an occupational setting, a needs based safety equivalent can be contrived. At the base of the pyramid is the primal need that is filled through having gainful employment. The next tier up is one of safety. The safety portion of the pyramid is based on creating the fundamental feeling that someone can come to a place of work and be able to return home at the end a shift in relatively the same condition and they arrived (tired from a day of work but uninjured). Creating a safe environment is fundamentally the responsibility of the employer. This was the whole reason the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was created. OSHA is in place to assure that the employer provides a basic safe working environment. It was not created to assure that the employee worked safe, but with any system that involved people there is always a choice.

First, I want to say that employee safety committees are very important, but looking at the situation through a “needs based” set of metrics shows that basic safety programs have to be in place first. It is interesting to come into a situation where safety performance is poor and those who have watched the programs (and usually safety managers) come and go will push for an immediate safety committee. Usually, this statement of absolute knowledge is followed with the statement that each time a safety committee is started there is a lack of employee interest and the committees disband. Why does this happen? The committees fail because the basic need of safety has not been met. Those in the work place cannot graduate to the team based (esteem) need because they do not feel personally safe and perceive that the company is not providing a safe environment.

What could be the reasons for the safety need not being fulfilled?

First, the site should review if there is truly a safe workplace. Are there glaring safety issues that have gone unabated such as guarding, chemical, or procedural problems? This would be a clear case of the employees’ inability to move on to the next behavioral phase due to a lack of fulfillment in the current one. Most likely though, there are some other underlying issues that are present that have not been addressed. One method to find the cause of the behavioral issue would be to conduct a series of employee surveys or interviews. The survey would include “agree or disagree” questions such as:

  • I feel management is committed safety
  • I feel safety concerns are addressed in a timely manner
  • I feel like safety concerns are taken seriously
  • I feel comfortable talking about safety issues with my supervisor
  • I believe the company wants me to be safe
  • Safety is the most important task I perform

The information provided from the survey would give a good overview of the site’s generalized feeling about safety. The survey would indicate a potential area of the safety process that needs to be further developed. The results of the survey could lead to a stronger focus on timely performance of maintenance safety work orders or allow for more supervisor training on engaging employees and mitigating safety hazards. When it comes to people, especially groups, perception is reality.

The good news is that perceptions can be changed. The goal is to make the change as simple as possible. Some examples of utilizing small changes to make large impacts would be:

  • Publicizing the safety work order metrics
  • Performing visible management safety audits
  • Posting before and after photos of safety corrections
  • Training the management team and supervisors to make a personal contact with employees through the day to simply thank them for working safe.

Here is the bottom line for the safety need:

  • The company is responsible for providing a safe workplace.
  • Review/Create programs for compliance
  • Assure that the programs are being utilized
  • Make sure that training is clear, up-to-date, and reflects the work place
  • When safety deficiencies are found, correct them with urgency or communicate the plan for longer projects.
  • Communicate, communicate communicate. The goal is to change the perception of the safety programs. Show progress where progress has made. Use small changes as a springboard for large scale change*
  • Listen to the feedback coming from the employees. If they perceive something as a problem, there might be one.

*For more on making big changes, I highly recommend “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard”

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs: Part 1

One of the more fascinating theories that I enjoy thinking about in relationship to safety is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

I realize that I just cited Wikipedia, but it does give a good overview of the process. So, I’m going to let that one ride.

Basically, Maslow says there is a pyramid of needs and that until someone fulfills the bottom most need, they cannot progress to the next one. Once that one is also filled, one could progress to the next one in line until an individual reaches the top.

The bottom most tier is the basic/primal needs where the higher-level ones are more advanced.

To Summarize the needs:

Physiological: Primal needs such as eating, sleeping, clothing, shelter

Safety: Personal, financial, etc. What makes someone feel secure in their element

Love: Family & Friends

Esteem: Self-esteem

Self Actualization: The highest progression of needs. Self awareness.

In other words: one cannot feel safe until their basic needs are met. One cannot love until they feel safe, etc. etc.

My thoughts on this theory: Can it be applied to occupational safety? Are there needs in the workplace that are or are not being met that create unnecessary risk taking that could lead to an injury? How are those needs fulfilled?

This theory of needs is a  way of looking at a workplace and the people in it to see where they are on the needs scale and possibly predict their attitude or aptitude toward safety. The idea of needs based safety could be the basic root cause of unsafe behaviors in the workplace.

So, what are the hierarchy of safety needs?

Physiological: Inherent to the theory. If you are concerned about workplace safety, then the job itself is providing this need through employment.

Safety: This is the company’s commitment to safety through policies, procedures, investments, and accountability

Love: Love for self and concern for personal safety

Esteem: Concern for not only one’s self, but the team

Self Actualization: Where the team is empowered to make safety their own and progress the programs and processes through continuous improvement.

There is an element of social contact interwoven to this process. The company has an inherent responsibility to provide a safe workplace, and the employees have the responsibility to follow those programs. Based on the needs, though, the company has to make the first move to meet that need of safety through their safety programs and processes.

In my next entry, I will go into more detail on the “safety” portion of the needs pyramid.

Why “TheSafetyDude”?

Many times people wonder how or why I settled on the moniker “TheSafetyDude.” It all started with my first true safety job. I was still fresh into the safety field and not sure if I would stay with it or try to find to find a job using my major rather than my minor. As in typical safety dude fashion, it was a pseudo-turnaround. Performance was not where it should be, and I was there to hopefully help improve the safety programs. Whether I knew it or not, this was a preview to where most of my career would take me (startups and turnarounds).

This was the early phase of my career where I did not really know how I wanted to manage being a safety professional. So, I had to learn by trial and error what would work and would not work. My early approach was to play the role of safety cop. I went around finding everything wrong and reporting about it publically. Looking back, this worked just as would now expect. It put some good supervisors in some bad places. It made it look like the front line supervisors were not managing the safety side of their business. One of the more outspoken of those supervisors coined the term safety dude.

“What’s up safety dude?”

“What are you going to find tonight, safety dude?”

“Do you think we need to install seat belts on the office chairs, safety dude?”

This bothered me fundamentally because I knew my process was ineffective in either making safety better or helping to education others in how to manage safety. Instead of making these comments into a moment to pick a fight, I used the opportunity to see where I was failing. I started working side-by-side with this supervisor. I would go to his pre-shift meetings and simply listen. I would talk to his team and understand their needs and obstacles. I started to see where I could use safety as an integrated benefit to his department. If they needed better PPE, I would try to find it. If they needed forklift training, I would provide it when they needed it. If they had a concern, I would be that voice to champion it. Instead of “safety dude” being a mocking term, it took on a tone of respectful camaraderie.

“Safety dude, come look at this issue.”

“Hey safety dude, let’s figure out how to fix this”

“What training can I provide to better help my team, safety dude?”

I have kept that nickname since as it reminds me of how I had to learn the hard way the right way to manage safety.