The Evolution of Safety Auditing

There are many ways that safety programs are audited and evaluated. There are some that are internal to the organization or site and there are others that are used external. Some companies use the idea of intra-site auditing where safety people from other sites perform a documented audit on another site. Year-over-year there are rotations among all the sites. The other choice is the organization chooses to hire an external auditor on a contract to perform these evaluations. There are also opportunities to leverage the organization’s loss prevention or insurance company to assist with performing or coordinating audits.

As a safety professional, it is easy to enter a site an find multiple unsafe behaviors or conditions. From a strictly technical standpoint, there are always opportunities for improvement. The reason an audit should be conducted is to get an idea of where the total compliance attitude sits on the organizational scale. Getting lost in the trees and forgetting that the forrest exists does not create benefit.

Regardless of how an audit is performed, there are some basic items about an audit that gives indications about the performance of the audit team, the site behavior, and the organizational culture. I have created a scaled list of how an audit should give insight to the organizational compliance.

Poor performance = few findings. High complexity

When a site is still developing the audit should be focused on big ticket items like: creating a lockout program, training employees on hazard communication, performing personal protective equipment surveys, and creating written programs. Inundating the site with lists and lists of detailed items is not helpful in this phase. They should be focused on simply developing programs. It is the idea that something is better than nothing. The natural cycle of continuous improvement will help the details become addressed.

Medium Performance = high findings, low complexity

When a site has become the typical performing organization, the transition begins to see more punch list style items. Depending on the overall performance of the site, this will drive the number of those items. The major items of program creation are gone. In their place is a list of items that need to be completed to enhance compliance such as labeling specific bottles, updating placards, and

Good performance = Few findings, low complexity

One of the best auditors I know has three categories of findings that he creates as part of his process:

Nonconformities are findings where the program is not implemented or not followed

Deficiencies are where the program is in place but there are elements that are not up to the standard

Opportunities for Improvement are where the auditor finds ways that the program can be improved and is fully in compliance.

A good performing plant will be mostly focused on the opportunities for improvement. The complexity will be low, there will be minimal findings, and the goal is to keep the momentum rolling. The site has many good aspects of the program, but even a good program can go bad if it does not seek continuous improvement.

Overall, the process of auditing is value added when it is properly scoped, controlled, and helps create improvement in the process. The sake of auditing for auditing sake is overall a losing prospect. The audit program should have a governing policy and process that should be followed. There should be a defined outcome and mission statement for the audit. It is through planning and a focus on improvement that the audit program brings true value to a safety organization.

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?

Nature and Nurture for Safety Part 3

When it comes to behaviors, the idea of nature and nurture always becomes a debatable position. In some ways, managers and companies like the idea of blaming nature for work place injuries. I hate the saying “can’t fix stupid.” Too many times in my career, I have heard that from supervisors and managers who feel this is the end all, be all for explaining their poor departmental safety performance.

The reality is that safety behavior is much more complex an issues than the simplicity of blaming the individual for any and all items.

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To better illustrate the point that the culture of the organization is a significant factor, the evaluation of someone who has a good safety nature can be affect by a climate of negative nurture is a prime example.

Imagine a new employee to a company. This employee has generally a strong safety knowledge and comes from a company that had true value of safety behaviors. The employee has not just joined a company that has not safety culture, the culture is actually negative. This is the culture that case studies are made of.“Get it done and get it done yesterday.” “No matter what never shut the equipment down.” “You don’t need tools, your hands are tools enough.”

This individual may first think that they can influence the culture of the site. What happens, though, once that does not work? In a large scale, there are three possible outcomes: The employee becomes a whistle blower, the employee leaves the organization, or the employee watches out for self and becomes defensive. The first outcome is really not a behavior that can be evaluated, but a reasonable option.

In the next two options, the employee will feel out of place. Their is little more that can demoralize a workforce than a blatant disregard for employee safety. Maslow’s theory of needs states that the idea of safety is one of those necessary needs people must have to grow. If the company denies this fundamental right, the employee will seek other opportunities that will meet that need. Ultimately, the company looses a valuable resource.

The next option is where the company will get the bare minimum. There is no desire to contribute. There is no desire to make the it the best it can be. There is no desire to find better methodology. This culture erodes into not just safety but productivity and quality. This is a situation where the company has made a choice to say the employees are not really part of the team. Imagine a sports coach believing that he can win a championship without his players. That is unbelievable, right? Well, this is in principle saying the same thing, “we don’t need our employees to be successful.”

The culture of a company is just as much a factor for behaviors as that of the individual. They have a relationship that works with or against one another. The complexity of blame should not be the go-to choice for safety behaviors and culture. There has to be a total evaluation of how the culture and the inherent behaviors are working systemically.


Nature and Nurture for Safety: Part 2

Overall, the debate of nurture vs nature is not one that I am will to address. There are, though, some aspects of nature and nurture in the way safety becomes behavioral and organizational.

For the sake of simplicity, nature will be defined as someone’s general safety philosophy before entering the workplace. Nurture will be defined as the way the company or organization creates safety or how they influence employees in regards to safety

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When nature is positive and nurture is positive, the outcome is a total safety experience. The individual comes to an organization with an innate ability and conscious of how to work safe and avoid unnecessary risk. The organization has also create a culture where safety is a top priority and the systems are in place to keep safety in the forefront. When these two items come together, it is nothing short of safety magic!

There is an individual that has a strong desire to see risk and find ways to mitigate that risk, all the while the organization is seeking ways to be more self-diagnosing and culturally open to continuous improvement. These two build a process in which they feed off each other.

As the individual’s nature leads to better ways to be safe, the nurture of the organization takes those methods and makes them systemic. The best methodology is found and then spread as a best practice. Since the nurturing organization is positive, they give the credit to the individual. Not only does this make the individual seek more opportunities, it invigorates others that may not have a natural sense of risk avoidance to seek new ways to overcome safety issues. The cycle self-perpetuates and creates an entire team seeking new and better ways to engage in keeping people safe.

This is a best case scenario. It creates a negatively skewed bell curve in which the measurement is safety behaviors per person. This creates an organization in which more people that average are exhibiting safety behaviors.

Nature and Nurture for Safety: Part 1

There is plenty of debate of the exact science, implications, and magnitude of nature and nurture.

To summarize for the sake to time and sanity, there are certain traits that people are born with that can hold some influence over who they are. Nurture comes in to whether or not a person chooses to go with or against their nature.

Nature is not a bad thing. Sometimes the traits we are born with are something we should nurture and use for the purpose of being better. Someone who is born with a naturally athletic build and then uses nurture to improve to become great at their talent should be encouraged.

For the discussion of safety, some may have a natural tendency to weigh risk and adapt a healthy approach to that risk. Or someone, may be completely prone to high risk taking with little thought. This is where  a robust safety attitude of an organization makes the impact.


There are many ways safety of an organization and at a very personal level can make big differences. An organization should be aware of the implications of not having a consistent and positive safety system in place. Do not confuse positive safety system with “warm fuzzy.” A good safety system is a proper balance of rights, responsibilities, training, education, accountability, ownership, consistency, and compassion.

So in other words the simplistic terms of “positive” and “negative” are much more robust in connotation through this set of discussions. A negative aspect of someone’s nature in regards to safety does not necessarily mean they are blatantly dangerous nor does a negative safety nurture mean a company is trying to overtly hurt people. There are many nuances and variations that can be in play with this very complex topic (see first paragraphs). The goal is to simply look at a very high level the outcome of when nature and nurture come together in the evolution of an occupational safety schema.

I am simply going to define nature as the way someone is before they enter the workplace in regards to safety. Nurture will be defined as the safety environment of the organization.

Nature can only be positive or negative while nurture can be positive, negative, or non-existent. A non-existent nurture is simply an organization that neither has fully embraced a total safety culture nor has it completely ignored safety. It is organization safety purgatory which could also be defined as an organization that feels it is “good enough” and has no reason to make or seek improvement to safety systems or culture.

Now that the terms have been defined as much as can be for such a topic, here is what it will represent for the upcoming discussions:

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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 5

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 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.


In the last post, the causal relationship of the Gemba (go and see) and communication was discussed.

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This is the phase where the change is new. The organization is working to create the new behaviors and culture. The work is to keep the team focused on the goal that has been set. The organization has to keep the team motivated and focused. Small wins have to be celebrated! When people do not see the benefit of the change, they will lose the motivation to continue.

Here is a real example that is near and dear to me. I make the decision to loose some weight through diet and exercise. After a couple of weeks of feeling tired and deprived, I step on the scale and see no change. Suddenly, the desire for a cheeseburger and milkshake is overwhelming.

Just in the example, it is our job to help keep the motivation flowing. This can be through peer-to-peer interactions, congratulatory meetings, or even through showing of some metrics that people may not have seen before.

In the example of the weight loss issue, maybe the focus should be to track blood pressure or resting heart rate to show that the body is changing. The single data point of weight lead me to believe that the process was ineffective or at least not worth the effort invested.

Safety cultural change is worth the investment. The injury rate may not immediately make a large difference, but are we really measuring the right metrics. How many observations helped eliminate hazards? How many safety work orders were completed? Are there annual cultural surveys that could be affected? Are people more willing to talk about issues openly with ideas of resolution? There are many ways to measure change in a way that helps keep the team motivated. The organization has to be committed to this new change or it will fall to wayside as another failed attempt. This is also why change has to be taken in small sections. It is hard to keep many programs fully motivated all at the same time.

Through many turnarounds and culture experiences in safety, I have an analogy to summarize how too many changes too fast can get out of control.

“It like spinning plates on poles, except you’re in maze”

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There are many changes coming: once we get one going, we forget where the ones were before and we are not sure which ones are coming next.

The ultimate goal of this phase is motivation:

The change is worth it!

We can do it!

We are willing to invest fully in this change!

Five Stages of Behavioral Change: Part 2

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. There is a process for behavioral change, and it does not occur overnight.


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.


If you have any involvement with safety, let me ask you a question. How many times have your heard the statement after someone is injured, “I just knew that (insert any piece of machinery or process here) was going to hurt someone.”?

It is the great frustration. After the incident has occurred, there are many people who come the realization that they knew an injury could happen. This is the stage of precontemplation. The person/team/organization is subconsciously aware that the process or equipment could hurt someone, but it is not to the point where conscious action is ready to be taken.

This is not a conscious choice to ignore a hazard. They may not even be fully aware of the hazard or how the hazard will occur. As the definition implies, they on on the cusp of starting to become aware of the change that needs to happen, but they need some motivation or understanding to help their mind open up to the potential.

This is not the post for solving safety behaviors. This series of posting will take us through that journey as we explore the other four stages. What I will say is that in this stage there is a vague recognition of a hazard but the clarity and the awareness has not become apparent.

Here is a generic example: A worker is on a production floor where there is a potential for water or oil to be present creating a potential slipping hazard. There are many processes going on in the area including mobile equipment moving around. The employee has an odd feeling about the issue, but cannot conceptualize the root of it. One day, someone slips. Suddenly, the realization hits that the issue is the slick floors. Management is now involved to train people on recognizing slick floors, increase the PPE for slip resistant shoes, and increase housekeeping.

The example is reactive. The goal, of course, is to create awareness and behaviors that prevent the injury. In this phase of the behavioral journey, the team is not aware yet of the need for proactive change.

The takeaway is that an organization in this phase has a choice progress to the next stage through reactive or proactive approach. The next postings will describe the behavioral change approach along with the time and investment it takes to really create behavioral change.

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.

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.