Complacency

March 26, 2004
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Dear Subscriber,

COMPLACENCY

Complacency can be your reward for success in safety. Consider this email from a subscriber:

"We are a small construction company involved with drilling, blasting, crushing, and road building. Manpower fluctuates between 70 to 150 employees.

"We have had dramatic reductions in our accidents and compensation costs, and our external safety audits have given us the highest ratings in our province.

"So what’s the problem?

"Complacency. Top management is satisfied with the status quo, and supervisors and employees only do what is required. I see more short cuts being taken.

"Plus, we are experiencing too many 'close calls', but supervisors and employees are not overly concerned as long as no one gets hurt.

"Sooner or later we will have a very serious accident unless this attitude changes. What can I do as safety manager to fight complacency, and make everyone more concerned about close calls and taking short cuts?"

Been there, done that? "The longer a successful safety program has been in effect, the less important or relevant it seems," says Nancy Leveson of Safeware Engineering.

Don't let yourself by seduced by favorable reviews, they say in Hollywood. In this edition of ISHN's e-newsletter, experts show us how they avoid the seduction of safety.

REPORTING PRESSURE

"We had the same problem," says Jeff Meddin, CSP, CHMM.

Here's how the corporate safety director for RailWorks Corporation attacked safety smugness: First, he put in place a "Supervisor's 24-hour Report." 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. "This lets everyone know that the close calls are being looked at and reporting them is a corporate priority," 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.

"It works," says Jeff.

"NOT GOOD ENOUGH"

Soon after coming to Alcoa Corporation as CEO, Paul O'Neill called in his safety director to review the company's performance. Alcoa's rates were better than the industry average, he was proudly told. "Good," said O'Neill. But not good enough. "The only legitimate goal is zero." His safety director was told: Alcoa will never accept reaching the point of diminishing returns where it can't afford to get better.

"You always must be thinking about ways of refreshing the organization's thinking about safety," O'Neill told an audience several years ago.

To "freshen things up" at Alcoa, he handed employees his home phone number while on plant tours and told them to call him if their managers didn't fix safety problems. He had 26 business unit vice presidents call him personally whenever their group experienced a lost-time injury. And when Alcoa launched an intranet network, safety information came online first.

Safety leadership means more than playing a supporting role, says Gene Earnest, a former Procter & Gamble safety manager. "Create dissatisfaction with the status quo in safety. That's your job!" he urges.

That's what O'Neill did. Create dissonance. Tension. Of course your job will be much easier if your CEO tells employees to call him at home about safety problems.

GOING TRANSPARENT

Gary Rosenblum, CIH, knows something about keeping safety fresh in a small operation with limited turnover. He's the risk manager for the city of Palm Desert, south of Palm Springs in California, managing 145 employees, many who have been on the city payroll for years.

"The advantage of a small program is it's very hands-on and personal," he says. Gary likes to show up on a job and if all'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. "Practice the 'One-Minute Manager'," says Barry Weissman, CSP. Tell employees you'll be dropping in. Catch 'em doing something right and praise it on the spot (or correct it if it's something unsafe).

Gary Rosenblum also emphasizes reporting. "I put 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." For a while employees would call first and ask Gary, "Do I report this?" Fire away, he'd say. "I 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 what's happening."

To avoid showing the same old videos every year, Gary 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.

Gary is a big believer in safety performance transparency — letting everyone know how you're doing. He sold his managers on it ("it isn't hard for a municipality where we are required by law to provide so much information to the public") and you can find the city's OSHA 300 summary on the Internet.

"Eventually we will be placing more leading indicators out on the Web site for the public to see," he says.

BEYOND ACCIDENTS

How you measure your safety performance can create false security and over-confidence — or it can keep people hustling.

Your subscriber's organization appears to focus on a metric — accident statistics — "that masks the realities of what is going on in real time," says consultant Tom Drake of The Drake Group.

"Get them interested in things other than accidents," says Paul Esposito, CSP, CIH, of Star Consulting.

At least do a show-and-tell with Heinrich's famous triangle: 330 near misses lead to 30 minor injuries which will lead to one lost-time case. Track near miss incidents, all types of incidents, and post the trend lines where employees gather, says Barry Weissman. "Draw the danger line (upper limit) in red and label it: 'This is your accident waiting to happen'," he says.

Leading indicators of how you are performing in safety are limited only by your imagination — and your capacity for paperwork and numbers-crunching.

Perception surveys will push you past after-the-fact injury stats to give you a dose of what employees really think about what's going on. Survey employees and 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:

  • Percentage of managers and supervisors who are leading 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 are penetrating into levels of the organization.

ROCKING THE RECLINERS

A few more suggestions for shaking people out of their easy chairs:

1) Don't forget to have some fun. Take a page from the best-seller "FISH!" 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 comics and clowns, and turned it into a book on the benefits of play and creativity at work. Safety activities certainly lend themselves to some creative applications of fun.

2) Get out and about. "Insularity is a growing threat to the safety culture of the nuclear industry," said the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a 2001 speech. That's true of any safety culture. Don't believe you have a lock on all of safety's best practices. Find new partners to benchmark.

3) Broaden your focus beyond the day to day. "Have you developed a five-year plan for safety?" asks Mark Hansen, CSP, of The St. Paul Company. "This gives you a road map for the future." Do you produce an annual safety report? "If not, start now," says Hansen. Model it after your company's annual report. Organize and analyze safety's contributions to your organization's business goals. That won't be a complacent exercise.

INFAMOUS MOMENTS IN COMPLACENCY

Custer marches into Little Bighorn (1876)

The RMS Titanic's maiden voyage (1912)

IBM (1970-80s)

Detroit's Big Three automakers (1950-70s)

U.S. nuclear industry (1970s)

Napoleon takes on the Russian winter (1812)

NASA (pre-Feb. 1, 2003)

Martha Stewart's defense strategy (2004)

Tyco's Dennis Kozlowski's toga party in Sardinia (2001)

Dot-com hysteria (2001)

"Nothing is more fatal to happiness or virtue, than that confidence which flatters us with an opinion of our own strength, and, by assuring us of the power of retreat, precipitates us into hazard." — Samuel Johnson (1759)

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Tell us about a challenge you face with your safety and health program. We'll ask ISHN's advisors for feedback. Many subscribers will relate and benefit from our opportunity to be interactive. Fire away.

Dave Johnson is the ISHN E-News editor. He can be reached at djsafe@bellatlantic.net, (610) 666-0261; fax (610) 666-1906.

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ASSE's Professional Development Conference & Expo

Your company depends on you; - can you afford to miss SAFETY 2004?

Join us at ASSE'S Professional Development Conference and Exposition, June 7-10 at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Details at http://www.asse.org/safety2004.htm

Earn 1.7 CEUs, with additional CEUs available at pre-conference and post-conference seminars.

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Thanks and we hope to see you in Las Vegas!

Books from ASSE

You can order these titles and more from the American Society of Safety Engineers Bookstore on ISHN’s Web site. Visit — http://www.ishn.com/FILES/HTML/ISHN_ASSE_index/

Among the books you'll find:

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WE NEED YOU!

Are you a safety and health pro or a manufacturer or provider of occupational safety and health products or services who enjoys writing?

Shakespeare need not apply, but ISHN is looking for authors to publish short articles (1,000 words) in our monthly issues.

Topics include: safety success stories, close calls and personal experiences, training tips, use of software, engineering controls (machine guards, lockout-tagout), gas detection and air monitoring, confined space safety, personal protective equipment, and OSHA compliance issues.

If any of these topics interest you — or if you have other ideas — e-mail editor Dave Johnson at djsafe@bellatlantic.net

We will also consider articles you’ve already written but not submitted to any safety magazine.

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