Time to polish up your program
Complacency can be your reward for success in workplace health and safety. Consider this email from a subscriber:
â€œWe are a small construction company involved with drilling, blasting, crushing, and road building. Manpower fluctuates between 70 to 150 employees.
â€œWe have had dramatic reductions in our accidents and compensation costs, and our external safety audits have given us the highest ratings in our province.â€
So whatâ€™s the problem?
â€œComplacency. Top management is satisfied with the status quo, and supervisors and employees only do what is required. I see more short cuts being taken.
â€œPlus, we are experiencing too many â€˜close calls,â€™ but supervisors and employees are not overly concerned as long as no one gets hurt.
â€œSooner or later we will have a very serious accident unless this attitude changes. What can I do as safety manager to fight complacency?â€
Call it safetyâ€™s back-handed compliment. â€œThe longer a successful safety program has been in effect, the less important or relevant its seems,â€ says Nancy Leveson of Safeware Engineering.
Idling along?Our subscriber is far from alone. Many work sites are safer than ever. Work-related injury rates in the U.S. have been sliced in half in the past 30 years, from 11.0 total cases per 100 full-time workers in 1973 to 5.3 in 2002, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (OSHA recordkeeping practices changed in 2002, making direct comparisons somewhat inconsistent.)
But there is certainly room for improvement. OSHA inspectors in the mid-1990s ran a pilot program where they assigned ratings to work sites they visited. Scoring safety and health programs on a scale of 1 (non-existent or ineffective) to 5 (outstanding), most programs earned a 3 â€” described as a â€œbasicâ€ level of performance.
That jives with consultant Richard MacLeanâ€™s assessment of corporate EHS strategies. The most common: Do only whatâ€™s necessary to keep things running; just meet the law; and follow the competition.
In this article, experts show you how to shake companies out of a maintenance mind set. Snap a wet towel at complacency. â€œSafety leaders create dissatisfaction with the status quo,â€ said Gene Earnest, a former Procter & Gamble safety manager. â€œThatâ€™s your job.â€
Reporting pressureâ€œWe had the same problem,â€ says Jeff Meddin, CSP, CHMM.
Hereâ€™s how the corporate safety director for RailWorks Corporation attacked safety smugness: First, he put in place a â€œSupervisorâ€™s 24-hour Report.â€ Close calls, accidents, incidents involving damage to equipment or third-party contractors all had to be reported by email or fax to the CEO, corporate safety director and all managers in between corporate and the first-level supervisor.
Top managers and the corporate safety department periodically call the supervisor who filed the report using the phone or cell number listed on the form. â€œThis lets everyone know that the close calls are being looked at and reporting them is a corporate priority,â€ says Jeff.
To keep the spotlight on safety, incident briefings (no matter how minor) are the first agenda item on all group teleconferences and management meetings.
â€œIt works,â€ says Jeff.
Going transparentGary Rosenblum, CIH, knows something about keeping safety fresh in a small operation with limited turnover. Heâ€™s the risk manager for the city of Palm Desert, south of Palm Springs in California, managing 145 employees, many of whom have been on the city payroll for years.
â€œThe advantage of a small program is itâ€™s very hands-on and personal,â€ he says. Gary likes to show up on a job and if allâ€™s well, as it usually is, he sends a note to the supervisor saying he was there and what a good safety job the guys were doing.
Circulate. Pop in and out. â€œPractice the â€˜One-Minute Managerâ€™,â€ says Barry Weissman, CSP. Tell employees youâ€™ll be dropping in. Catch â€™em doing something right and praise it on the spot (or correct it if itâ€™s something unsafe).
Rosenblum also emphasizes reporting. â€œI put in an instant e-report system for all incidents that result in either a first aid or more serious event, or property damage of any kind. I encourage reporting for almost anything out of the ordinary.â€ For a while employees would call first and ask, â€œDo I report this?â€ Fire away, heâ€™d say. â€œI always ask for a report. It needs to be simple and easy. You want the message to get out that management is interested in knowing whatâ€™s happening.â€
To avoid showing the same old videos every year, Rosenblum changes out his training video library using an annual rental process.
He asks his safety committee to make small changes in the safety award program each year. Sometimes the prize changes, sometimes the award criteria change. Last year everyone got a free city logo shirt after sustaining only one lost-time injury. Next year it will be a Starbucks gift certificate.
Rosenblum believes in safety performance transparency â€” letting everyone know how youâ€™re doing. He sold his managers on it (â€œit isnâ€™t hard for a municipality where we are required by law to provide so much information to the publicâ€) and you can find the cityâ€™s OSHA 300 summary on the Internet.
â€œEventually we will be placing more leading indicators out on the Web site for the public to see,â€ he says.
Beyond accidentsHow you measure your safety performance can create false security and over-confidence â€” or it can keep people hustling.
The subscriberâ€™s organization appears to focus on a metric â€” accident statistics â€” â€œthat masks the realities of what is going on in real time,â€ says consultant Tom Drake of The Drake Group.
Leading indicators of how you are performing in safety are limited only by your imagination â€” and your capacity for paperwork and numbers-crunching.
Perception surveys push you past after-the-fact injury stats to give you a dose of what employees really think about whatâ€™s going on. Survey employees, supervisors and management levels to discover gaps in perceptions about your safety program.
Many leading indicators are expressed in percentage terms. Here are a handful from metrics being developed by Organization Resources Counselors:
- Percentage of managers and supervisors who lead safety initiatives;
- Percentage of safety meetings with leadership participation;
- Percentage of supervisors and managers with written safety roles and responsibilities;
- Number of safety goals accomplished versus total number of safety goals in business plan;
- Percentage of incidents investigated per year;
- Percentage of hazards corrected versus total number of hazards identified;
- Percentage of safety suggestions acted upon versus total number of suggestions received;
- Percentage of safe behaviors observed versus total observations;
- Percentage of employees involved in activities such as safety committees, audits, training and job safety analyses.
Track these percentages year to year to gage how vital your safety activities are, and how far your activities penetrate all levels of your organization.
Rocking the reclinersA few more suggestions for shaking people out of their easy chairs:
1) Donâ€™t forget to have some fun. Take a page from the best-seller â€œFISH!â€. The authors saw employees in rubber boots and white aprons at Pike Place Fish market in Seattle tossing salmon over counters, juggling crabs, generally acting like stand-up comics, and turned it into a book on the benefits of play and creativity at work. Safety activities easily lend themselves to creative applications of fun.
2) Get out and about. â€œInsularity is a growing threat to the safety culture of the nuclear industry,â€ said the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a 2001 speech. Thatâ€™s true of any safety culture. Donâ€™t believe you have a lock on best practices. Find new partners to benchmark.
3) Broaden your focus beyond the day to day. â€œHave you developed a five-year plan for safety?â€ asks Mark Hansen, CSP, of The St. Paul Company. â€œThis gives you a road map for the future.â€ Do you produce an annual safety report? â€œIf not, start now,â€ says Hansen. Model it after your companyâ€™s annual report. Organize and analyze safetyâ€™s contributions to your organizationâ€™s business goals.
â€œSafety improves management-labor relations,â€ says consultant Dan Petersen. â€œYou also use it to push employee involvement. Itâ€™s super not only for safety, but for quality, morale, productivity. We havenâ€™t communicated this well. Weâ€™ve kept a low profile with management. I think it has something to do with wanting to protect our mystique in safety.â€
You canâ€™t fight complacency from inside a cocoon. Now, with the â€œnumbersâ€ looking good and companies feeling no pressure, safety needs to come out swinging and show what itâ€™s worth.
SIDEBAR: Pride is the ultimate motivatorWhatâ€™s the point of investing more bucks in safety when your rates are already good enough, according to industry averages, OSHA data, peer benchmarks, etc.?
Fear, greed or pride could be three reasons, according to Pat McDonnell, a former VP of Coopers & Lybrand.
The fear argument: You wonâ€™t get better doing business the same way. Your competition is using safety to build better operational efficiency. What are you doing about it?
This can get managersâ€™ attention, but only for so long, says McDonnell. You can also be accused of crying wolf. Fear and threats are a short-term ploy, he says. The greed argument: We have an opportunity here. Excellence will differentiate us from our competitors.
Another pitch with a short life-span, says McDonnell. Plus, greed is not team-oriented, he adds.
Pride is the ultimate motivator, according to McDonnell. Organizations that pride themselves in integrity, teamwork, respect and accountability will go the extra mile for safety â€” or any other aspect of business, he says.
Bechtel Corporationâ€™s VP of EHS Services Kevin Berg quotes a plant superintendent: â€œIâ€™ve got a son working at this site. The only goal is zero incidents. One in a million hours? That one person is not going to be my son.â€
If he wasnâ€™t clear enough, Berg quotes Will Rogers: â€œEven if youâ€™re on the right track youâ€™ll get run over if you just sit there.â€