When I say safety culture, what comes to mind?

When you think of your organization approach to safety, what picture comes to mind? As a safety professional or someone who is committed to safety, take your personal opinions away. Take the 50,000 foot view of the culture. If your safety climate had a mascot what would it be? What would it look like? Was it good? Was it bad? Was it funny? Was it sad?

 

Your organization is a series of micro cultures of the pockets personal experience. The individuals working each day are a key determination of how that culture functions and its motivation. Here is another vision question: On any given day, how you categorize or picture the typical leader in your organization? What is their mascot? What is their theme music?

 

These are strange questions, but they create an interesting outcome of what your safety climate is telling you and how that culture is affecting key results.

 

I love the lean process. Here are a few quotes from W. Edwards Deming that will help illustrate the point that I have not yet made. 🙂

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.”

“Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting”

 

In my experience, there are really four key organization that are present based on the people that are leading those pockets of influence.

SuccessPIc

The Superstar

The Evader

The Accepter

The Burnout

 

I hope that we can all agree that a safety person or even a safety team cannot be the key safety cultural influencers in the organization. It is the leadership and the front line supervisors that make those decisions and drive the safety climate of a site, company, or organization. Each day with each decision, the safety culture is shaped and molded into the presentation and personality of those leaders.

 

Now think of which of these four categories your supervisors fall into. What about the company? What about the organization? How does each feed into the other? How do these traits affect the overall safety system that is in place? What does it mean for the future of the safety system?

 

I have lots of questions. These are the same questions that I ponder each day. It is through understanding that we as safety people can start to make adjustments in how we manage. This drives the evolution of the safety systems.

 

For the next few months, I will focus more on these drivers of success and/or accepters of failure, some of the tools I have used, and some of the adjustments that can be made to help adjust, improve, or accelerate the culture of the team.

One Simple Improvement for Safety Training

Mind blowing idea: Not all training is created equal

 

You probably already knew that, though.

 

Imagine a simple idea that would lead to better employee engagement, improved training, and safer behaviors. Sadly, it is a commonly overlooked aspect of health and safety training. The answer is to let people know they are receiving training that is for their safety.

 

I am a huge fan of the research conducted by Dr. Kristina M. Zierold. Some of the works focus on the young workforce as they enter into the labor market for the first time. They receive training, usually on-the-job-training. They are told these are the ways things should be done. But there is no distinguishing the safety aspects of the training from just the way to do the job. In some cases, there is no safety training at all. That, though, is for another time.

 

So, imagine entering the workplace for the first time. You are given training that is based on the work that you are doing. This is not a bad thing. It helps in building real world cognitive learning of how to perform the job. But, there is not distinguishing what parts of the job are there to protect you, what parts of the job are to help in quality to the customer, or what parts of the training impact other functions. This is where things get sticky.

 

Safety is not an inherent trait. Safety is something that is learned and observed. With later generations not as much working manual labor at home, being part of shop classes, working on farms, etc. there is a loss of that “common sense” approach to knowing safe from unsafe. As they enter the workplace there then has to be a focus on teaching safety.

 

For someone new to the workplace, safety systems and protections can appear to slow work down or even seem cumbersome if one does not understand why they are doing it. For a new employee if they do not know it is a safety system, then it is something that could be ignored. They may hear the talk that safety is the most important thing they do every day, and that may very well be true. The trouble is that if they do not know that something is in place for their personal health and safety, then how do they know that they need to always use it.

 

That is why it is absolutely critical that when training is conducted, the safety features are pointed out. The trainer has a very important role is setting the new employee up for success not only productively but in creating that first feeling of the safety climate. In some places, the standard work can be posted right in front of the workstation. The safety items can be highlighted in green or have a green cross beside those important protective steps. They still need to be trained, educated, and understand why it is a safety feature.

 

How do we make our safety training more effective? Make sure that as we conduct the training, we communicate effectively the procedures, processes, equipment, and PPE that is place to help protect our employees. Safety training has to exclusively dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our team.

Cognitive Dissonance in Safety

The next series of posts will focus on a social psychology theory called Cognitive Dissonance. This series could also be called “Maintaining and Changing Safety Attitudes.” When people encounter information that goes against what they believe, a mechanism in their behavior makes them want to find a way to maintain the current belief.

Here is a very generic example that would demonstrate the theory in practice. An experienced safety professional comes to a new company and realizes some equipment does not have lockout-tagout information posted. Even more so, no one is locking out the equipment when performing minor maintenance or unjamming. After the equipment has instructions created, the training begins. During the training, the safety person encounters significant pushback from employees.

Typical responses would be:
“This will take too long”
“We’ve never had any trouble”
“Why do we need this now”
“This will add too much work”
“We will never have time to make the product”
“Another example of safety slowing things down and causing problems”
“We’ve never had much trouble with these machines”

Just to make the story more interesting, let’s also assume that there have been minor finger amputations and OSHA citations from the same/similar equipment. All information points to that the change to make the equipment safer as a good thing and yet they are firmly resistant to the improvement

Now let’s add a new aspect. During this training, someone else in the room speaks up, “at my last job we had to lockout everything every time. This makes sense to me.” The safety person takes this opportunity to talk about the injuries associated with the equipment and the OSHA citations. Now people cannot believe that they had never had those procedures in place.

This is the heart of cognitive dissonance. When someone is confronted with facts that differ from their belief, they create inconsistencies with the facts so that they can maintain their prior beliefs. It is not about presenting the facts. It is about to modifying attitudes and behaviors. There are various facets of the cognitive dissonance theory that can be explored in regards to safety and how to overcome those thoughts from a negative perspective while enhancing the positive. Cognitive dissonance can be a tough process or it can be a new method of motivation.

My Thoughts on the ASSE Interview with Paul H O’Neill

A week ago, the American Society of Safety Engineers hosted a Q&A session with Paul O’Neill. He is the former CEO of Alcoa and is recognized as a true safety leader. I would highly recommend seeing the interview if at all possible. It was quite a sobering experience of how easy he made safety leadership sound. There were a few items that really struck me as pertinent.

1) Before taking over as CEO, he asked himself, “what do you want to be remembered for?”

His answer was “safety.” I think of my own life and career and wonder what I will be remembered for. As a safety professional, I hope that people will see me as a strong advocate for worker safety. A few other attributes that come to mind are leadership, compassion, and fairness. I also look around at other managers and leaders and wonder what their answer would be to that same question. If we are truly being honest with ourselves, what would that answer be? What would others say we stand for? There are leaders whose answer would be leadership, profitability, innovation, or productivity. Are we really considering the human factor in these decisions and assuring that we protect the most valuable resource of any organization?

2) If you take care of the non-financial aspects of the business, the financial aspects will be there.

He was specifically talking about people. If you take care of the people in the organization, they will help the company take care of financials, quality, and productivity. This message highly resembles my postings on the Hierarchy of Safety Needs. Until the people of the organization feel their safety need has been fully realized. they will not progress to higher levels that drives true breakthrough skills that progresses the company. This philosophy also strongly resembles Toyota’s systems. As Toyota’s systems continue to be bench-marked, there is one clear idea that resounds: follow good processes, and the results will be achieved. Instead of driving the results, focus on the people and processes. They will help create organization success.

3) All safety issues will be corrected

He actually said that this statement scared his financial team. He stated that he could not expect people to believe in the message of safety if there were limitations to what they were willing to do to make the sites safe. This is definitely a lofty goal, and it did not happen overnight. There were processes and methods in place, but the issues were addressed and organization was transformed.

4) All incidents/injuries can be prevented

There is no such thing as an accident. There are measures that can always be taken to prevent injuries. I also found it interesting that he did not classify injuries as OSHA Recordables. He meant that near misses and first aid cases deserved swift, decisive, and focused attention. A first aid case is still someone who has been hurt on the job. It is not as severe, but it is still a person who has been hurt at work. His vision was not just an OSHA related goal, but one that was people and process focused.

Overall, I enjoyed the interview and found it to be very informative. His methods were not complex or difficult. They were focused on a few key principles that helped revolutionize his organization.