The 5 Pitfalls of Safety Metrics

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 they systemically prevented. The data they provide is nothing more than a method of knowing where problem solving needs to occur. Once an injury has occurred, there are so 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: 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 of 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 too many times “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 to we allow this process to be driven by sheer quantity when quantity is at the expense of quality.

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 Chemical Safety Board, 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 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 which is who those actions should be protecting.

Items to Consider for Improvement: Any metrics that are being tracked or published should have be timely enough have impact on the employees. Even is 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 of continuing to collect them. I have seen where an organization required safety audits. The only data required to be entered and tracked what 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 metrics. 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 has 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.

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.

Five Stages of Behavioral Change: Part 7

In 1983,  Prochaska & DiClemente theorized that there was process of making behavioral change. This five step model was developed while evaluating how people changed from unhealthy to healthy behavior. From a safety standpoint, there are many similarities in how behavioral change is made. Safety is about choices and behaviors that come with a healthy approach to the workplace and risk.



If I were to summarize the past few weeks worth of posts, it would be that culture takes time to create. Behaviors are not created or changed quickly.

Stage 1: Time = Unknown

Stage 2: Time = 6 months

Stage 3: Time = 30 days

Stage 4: Time = 6 Months

Stage 5: Time = Ongoing

For the entire course of the process of change, time = 13 months. Over one year to make the change!

An analogy to think of is to compare culture and behavior as a flower. The flow grows and blooms at its appropriate time. Not sooner, not later. The flower can be encouraged through having the right environment. It may help the flower grow faster and stronger. But, it is still at the right time when the conditions are ready.

Creating a new culture of behavior in an organization takes time. There are ways the the environment can help to speed the process, but the process still has to take place at its own time and means. The goal of safety leadership is to provide the right environment to assure that the environment is ripe for the culture to emerge and take root. The process is worth the time and effort as once it is in place in the correct way, it can help in creating a self-sustaining cycle of improvement.



Five Stages of Behavioral Change: Part 6

In 1983,  Prochaska & DiClemente theorized that there was process of making behavioral change. This five step model was developed while evaluating how people changed from unhealthy to healthy behavior. From a safety standpoint, there are many similarities in how behavioral change is made. Safety is about choices and behaviors that come with a healthy approach to the workplace and risk.


Stage 5: Maintenance(monitoring)
People at this stage changed their behavior more than 6 months ago. It is important for people in this stage to be aware of situations that may tempt them to slip back into doing the unhealthy behavior—particularly stressful situations.

It is recommended that people in this stage seek support from and talk with people whom they trust, spend time with people who behave in healthy ways, and remember to engage in healthy activities to cope with stress instead of relying on unhealthy behavior.


From a lean standpoint, this is the part where continuous improvement is key. There is no such thing as having the perfect safety program. For any program, if it is stagnant; it is not functioning correctly. The safety culture has to be continually reviewed and improved. This is part of a plan-do-check-act process.


A culture has been establish, the focus changes to more of finding small ways to continually cultivate the culture and behaviors.

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Over time, there are time of great cultural improvement and then times where the culture has to be maintained. After a series of gains and sustainment, the process finally yields a culture that the organization wants. This would be a self-actualized team. From the graph above, the line stays close the the desired culture but it is slowly rising. When zoomed in the gains are very similar but more on a micro-scale. There is still a series of continual improvements.

Like any other behavior or culture, safety is a series of small improvements overtime. Maintenance on a culture is not maintaining the behavior but finding incremental ways to continually engage and motivate the team.

Five Stages of Behavioral Change: Part 1

In 1983,  Prochaska & DiClemente theorized that there was process of making behavioral change. This five step model was developed while evaluating how people changed from unhealthy to healthy behavior. This was primarily focused on items such as making choices of exercising and eating healthy. From a safety standpoint, there are many similarities in how behavioral change is made. It is not the 8+ hours a day that people spend in the workplace that overall determines their health and safety. It is dependent on many factors including good systems and behaviors. There are many similarities between wellness and HSE processes. The most obvious is the “H” for health. HSE is about health and choices and behaviors that come with a healthy approach to the workplace and risk. So in that spirit of the theory, this seems to apply very well.


Stage 1: Precontemplation (Subconsciousness)
The model consists of four “core constructs”: “stages of change,” “processes of change,” “decisional balance,” and “self-efficacy.”

People at this stage do not intend to start the healthy behavior in the near future (within 6 months), and may be unaware of the need to change. People here learn more about healthy behavior: they are encouraged to think about the pros of changing their behavior and to feel emotions about the effects of their negative behavior on others.

Precontemplators typically underestimate the pros of changing, overestimate the cons, and often are not aware of making such mistakes.

One of the most effective steps that others can help with at this stage is to encourage them to become more mindful of their decision making and more conscious of the multiple benefits of changing an unhealthy behavior.

Stage 2: Contemplation (consciousness)
At this stage, participants are intending to start the healthy behavior within the next 6 months. While they are usually now more aware of the pros of changing, their cons are about equal to their Pros. This ambivalence about changing can cause them to keep putting off taking action.

People here learn about the kind of person they could be if they changed their behavior and learn more from people who behave in healthy ways.

Others can influence and help effectively at this stage by encouraging them to work at reducing the cons of changing their behavior.

Stage 3: Preparation (pre action)
People at this stage are ready to start taking action within the next 30 days. They take small steps that they believe can help them make the healthy behavior a part of their lives. For example, they tell their friends and family that they want to change their behavior.

People in this stage should be encouraged to seek support from friends they trust, tell people about their plan to change the way they act, and think about how they would feel if they behaved in a healthier way. Their number one concern is: when they act, will they fail? They learn that the better prepared they are, the more likely they are to keep progressing.

Stage 4: Action(currentaction)’
People at this stage have changed their behavior within the last 6 months and need to work hard to keep moving ahead. These participants need to learn how to strengthen their commitments to change and to fight urges to slip back.

People in this stage progress by being taught techniques for keeping up their commitments such as substituting activities related to the unhealthy behavior with positive ones, rewarding themselves for taking steps toward changing, and avoiding people and situations that tempt them to behave in unhealthy ways.

Stage 5: Maintenance(monitoring)
People at this stage changed their behavior more than 6 months ago. It is important for people in this stage to be aware of situations that may tempt them to slip back into doing the unhealthy behavior—particularly stressful situations.

It is recommended that people in this stage seek support from and talk with people whom they trust, spend time with people who behave in healthy ways, and remember to engage in healthy activities to cope with stress instead of relying on unhealthy behavior.


The reason I found this theory so interesting is that there is still a belief that culture and behavior can be created quickly. Each organization, and in such, each individual have to go through this process of creating new and positive behaviors. There is nothing about these steps that can be rushed or completed without due time or in their respective order.

So far in my career, I have been part of organizations that are undergoing cultural change because of:

  • 2x = Downsizing
  • 1x = Startup
  • 1x = Expansion
  • 3x = Safety program turnaround
    • 1x = Less than 6 month poor culture
    • 2x = Greater than 5 year poor culture

I have seen a trend of how these work. The first six months to one year, the company is patient. They let the work happen and focus on the process and not as much on the results. Then, they get impatient for results. Just like a quality or production problem, they want to see results and now! When we look at the model above, three of the five behavioral processes are all about mindset and preparing for the change. The forth item is where the change actually occurred, and the last is maintaining and improving on the behaviors and culture that has been created.


It is my experience behavioral and cultural change is exponential. It takes time for the processes to work and help people internalize that change. Assuming that each of four phases are equal in time it takes to implement (removing maintenance as that is a termination step). It takes 75% of the time to prepare for the change and 25% of the time to make the change. This analysis supports the exponential idea of the process. The best outcomes that I have seen is that for each year a behavior or culture is not nurtured, it takes 50-75% of that time to create a positive culture. For example, a site that has not had a robust safety program for 10 years will most likely take 5-7 years to create the process and results of a good safety program once organization starts making the right changes.

Change takes time. Behaviors take even longer as there are complex emotions and cultures that have to be influenced. The next series of postings will focus on each of the five elements and how they can be applied to creating safety behavioral change.

Cognitive Dissonance in Safety: Part 4

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological principle that occurs when the mind encounters a principle that is contrary to the person’s current belief. The mind creates a “dissonance” between the thoughts as a method of adjusting

This discussion focuses on the aspects of the cognitive dissonance and how that applies to occupational safety.

The free choice paradigm is an aspect of cognitive dissonance that creates a greater difference in a choice when the decision is actually very close in proximity. An example: Someone is given a choice between two very similar items. When they are evaluating which to choose, they rank the two items very close. The person makes a choice between the two similar items and is polled again at a later date. At this time, they create a much wider gap between the two items, heavily favoring the one they chose. The mind wants the decision that it made to be the best choice. So in retrospect, it creates the idea that it made the better choice by a wide margin.

I think as a safety professional, I have found myself doing exactly this. There are times where I am having to explain why I made one choice over another. The regulations sometimes allow a decision to be made on how to conduct compliance. In those cases, it often feels like “six one way, half a dozen another.” Once the decision is made, it is easy to look back and really feel that the decision was clear and well made.

I can remember one decision in particular. It was a start up, and I was deciding which safety glasses was the best choice. The risk for eye issues was low, but still it was an avoidable problem through the implementation of a safety glasses policy. I had narrowed the choice between a light weight more slim line style or a wider slightly more heavy one. Both were equally good choices. Ultimately, the choice was for the wider slightly more heavy style. Some days/weeks later a near miss occurred where a small air hose had come loose and whipped against someone’s face. Instead of striking the area near the eye, it hit the glasses. I remember pontificating quite passionately of “that was why I chose the wider style.”

The truth  . . . the glasses may not have made a difference. The other style may have protected just as well. I see it now as a way that I created greater reasoning for why the decision was made.

In this case the cognitive dissonance was not destructive. Probably annoying, but not harmful. It does show that when we are faced with equal choices, we may be apt to increase the benefit of why we made the specific choice in hindsight or after an event.

For the safety professional, this is an aspect of human psychology to keep in mind. If someone has to make a choice of two equally justifiable items, they could be prone to unintentionally making the choice significantly more favorable than the alternate. This can come in handy as a tool for incident investigations or while gaining understanding of processes and procedures. There may have been a good reason for why something is in place, but there may not have been such a positive difference. In these cases, the facts could speak more clearly than the opinions.

Cognitive Dissonance in Safety: Part 3

Continuing the discussion on cognitive dissonance theory, this post will focus on the induced compliance paradigm.

The experiment that showed this in action goes like this: a group of kids are given a room full of toys. They are expressly forbidden to play with one toy in the room, though. One group is threatening with a mild punishment, while another group is threatened with a harsh punishment. Sometime later, the kids are told they can now play with the forbidden toy. The kids in the mild punishment group were less likely to play with the toy than the group with the harsh punishment. This demonstrated that the only reason the kids in the harsh punishment group had to not play with the toy was that they did not want to be punished. The mild punishment group created other internal reasons for not playing with the toy as they could not simply justify that the punishment was enough. They may have convinced themselves that the toy was not that fun anyway.

The cognitive dissonance is the act of creating a reason for not doing something because the other reasons that are presented do not seem reasonable enough.

This does speak some to motivational theory in that by having large punishments or by having large rewards a goal can be achieved. The behavior is changed, but it is only changed to meet the basic extent of the goal. For instance, a company has a large monetary goal for not having recordable injuries. The team meets that goal not by being safer but by not reporting injuries. Anyway . . . that’s a topic for another time.

I find that induced compliance actually applies more to the safety professional than it does for others. First, the goal is not manipulate people to think about safety. The goal is to create healthy behaviors. As a safety professional, there are conflicting ideas such as: letter of the law, spirit of the law, and risk reduction. A good example would be the confined space regulations that state that once any part of the body that crosses the plain the space has been entered. The spirit of the law is that the space hazards are mitigated, and the person can be rescued. The letter of law sets the standard very clear terms. Without a clear delineation, there could be opportunities to put people at risk. The risk of entering the space versus breaking the plain varies with the space itself. The letter of law is clear so as to create the safest potential environment.

I find that I have to create reasons why to absolutely comply with the letter of law (which is the intent). Many OSHA regulations make sense and can be liberally applied to keeping people safe. In this case of confined spaces, there are so many variations and application that sometimes the best reason is only that the law requires it. Instinctively, when explaining the situation, I want to find practical applications in which to show that the law has assisted in protecting people or reducing risk. I create in myself induced compliance to justify the idea of following the letter of the law.

Now, it is implicit that the letter of the law be followed. That is the intention of any safety professional. This was an example only. I used the example as a time where intuition, risk reduction, the spirit of the law, and the letter of the law may not always be in sync. In these situations in can be normal for someone in safety to create additional reasons to justify the process. Sometimes, the hardest job the safety professional has is to convince others that his services are needed. We take bureaucratic processes and help people realize how those processed keep them safe. Even the safety professional has to sometimes stretch to meet that internal need to explain and justify the existence of the law and the protections that come with it.

Compassion, Consistentcy, and Continuous Improvement: Part 1

Coming up in the fall, I attend my first weekend long seminar to begin the process of writing my PhD thesis. I am a little behind in taking this first class, but that’s what life will do to you. I am both excited and nervous about this first deep dive into the process of researching and writing the paper. My goal had duality when I began my PhD journey. I will first start with the more selfish reason why I began the process. I had just completed my MBA, and I was in a job where an internal promotion was available. I was never interviewed and at that point I thought, “What’s it take to get an interview around here? A Ph.D!” Two events stemmed from that experience: 1) I started a PhD program. 2) I found a new job.

Beyond my pettiness, the real reason that I began a PhD in I/O psychology is that it really interests me. There are not many researchers that are taking that deep look at the behaviors that drive safety compliance and safer behaviors. I wanted to start my journey of learning focusing on how to influence people so that they are safer at work and home. Now that I am at the part of the program and beginning the process of drafting my thesis, I am honestly a bit overwhelmed. When I start to craft the question that I want to explore further, it continues to get bigger and bigger. I suffer from a case of scope creep. I think of a good idea, then think of a dozens ways to expand it. I do this because I am concerned that my small scope research will not be good enough, and I feel that I need to solve a bigger problem. I keep seeking that silver bullet approach to creating safer behaviors. I want to find that amazing simple answer that everyone is looking for in how to transform an organization to one of safety excellence. The problem with that thought process is that it is faulty. There is one thing my years of safety experience has taught me is that there is no one simple answer to making an organization safer.

All the prior information finally leads me to the point of this post. The answer for a safer organization is really three big topics that are neither easy nor simple. What does it take to have a safer organization (the title gives it away): Compassion, Consistency, and Continuous Improvement. It is the combination of those three items that create not only create a safer organization but creates a better organization. Safety is so people oriented, that relatively small waves in the rest of the business can create big impacts. They are also not felt immediately. Good work in the organization pays off later in safety. It takes time for those changes to impact the influence of safety. Again, it reinforces why I am studying industrial and organizational psychology. It is the interactions between people and the organization that has the largest impact on the safety of the workforce.

In Part 2 of this series, there will be a deeper dive of what does compassion, consistency, and continuous improvement mean for safety. Unfortunately, they are not easy topics to define, implement, or quantify. These items take organizational excellence to accomplish, which would also explain why so many companies struggle with safety excellence. This, though, makes sense. If it was easy everyone would have mastered it.

Typologies of Safe Behaviors and Safety Programs – Part 5

This is a continuation of the thought experiment in the consideration of what does an organization look like based on two criteria, behaviors and programs. To make the process simpler, the goal was to view the process that an organization has either high or low behaviors and programs. This gives four options for how the organization can be classified. As the exercise continued, I began to see that that four types of organizations were very similar to the parenting typologies that are theorized by Baumrind and later Maccoby and Martin.


In this post, I will remain in the low program zone and move into high behaviors. This would be categorized as an authoritarian organization for safety.

According to the parenting typology, “authoritarian parenting is a restrictive, punishment heavy parenting style in which parents make their children follow their directions with little response. Children resulting from this type of parenting may have less social competence because the parent generally tells the child what to do instead of allowing the child to choose by him or herself. Children raised by authoritarian parents tend to conform, be highly obedient, quiet and not very happy.”

These traits can be transferred to the workplace. The biggest way to categorize this type of safety organization is fear. The company creates a strong sense of fear for failing to follow a safety rule. Rather than empowering the employees with programs, training, and interaction; it is all dictated with minimal clarity and heavy discipline for those that do not conform. Some other considerations of this type of environment would be how much turnover the organization sees. Fear is a strong way to govern (see Machiavelli’s “The Prince”). It is effective in keeping the organization structured, but people exit frequently (both forced and voluntary). This type of organization might pride themselves on how many people they have terminated for safety issues and claim that this stance shows great support for the safety endeavor.

In recent years, OSHA has been critical of safety incentive plans that focus alone on recordability and lost time rates. An authoritarian safety program would rely heavily on these types of programs. The goal is not to create good programs and learning environments, but to stop the reporting of injuries and hold individuals absolutely accountable for their own safety. Safety committees might exist, but they exist only as a check-in-the-box approach. They would have no budget or empowerment for change.

Overcoming an authoritarian culture begins with empathy and empowerment. The organization has to accept that there has be consistency in the programs. The programs also have to empower the employees to help improve and create those programs. When there is a sense of ownership, there also comes a sense of pride. The organization has to directly seek out input on how to improve the way the organization performs. It cannot simply be an act of collecting data and not creating action. The trends will be apparent. There will be a certain amount of pride that will have to be put aside along with an admission that the company may need input on how to improve the programs and that all the answers cannot be simply dictated to the employees. One of the largest hurdles that would have to be overcome is defeating the sense of fear and replacing that with a sense of accountability and ownership. Investment back into the employees is a great starting point,. Specialized training and employee input to programs will go a long way in moving the process forward.

Overall, an authoritarian environment must accept that program have to be in place to help gain consistency and fairness along with eliminating an overwhelming sense of fear.