Happenings in the Safety World

June 17, 2005
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Dear Subscriber,

What's hot, and what's not — this month's ISHN E-zine offers observations from the annual American Society of Safety Engineers' Professional Development Conference and Expo, where roughly 3,050 safety pros met this week in steamy New Orleans.

HOT - METRICS — NOT - PERCEPTIONS

The hunt for new measures of safety performance continues. Dan Petersen has published a new book on metrics. Organization Resources Counselors has produced a matrix of leading, trailing and financial metrics.

"The old OSHA recordables measure is an albatross on the profession," said Skipper Kendrick, former ASSE president, at one session. "They don't show you how to get better," said one attendee.

Another reason to get away from over-emphasizing injury incidence rates: "My president said, 'This year's number is higher than last year's number. Your program is not doing crap," related one attendee.

But perception surveys, an alternative metric advocated by Petersen and ORC, scare many companies afraid of opening a can of employee complaints. "Responses are so anecdotal they don't identify organizational causes of the perceptions," asserts BST in a handout distributed at the meeting.

The search continues…

HOT - RISK — NOT - HAZARD

Slowly but surely "risk" is replacing "hazard" in the language of safety pros. ASSE's conference presented sessions on risk assessment, risk auditing and risk management. "Isn't everything in life a risk assessment?" asked one speaker.

Speaker Gary Lopez went so far to predict the death of the "safety manager," replaced by the title, "risk manager," which resonates more with loss-conscious management.

"Safety man" is obsessed with body counts, regulatory black magic, and hazards," said Lopez. He argued that "hazard" is an imprecise term that causes pros to lose focus, chasing dangers that may or may be significant. "Risks" sharpens the focus by quantifying and prioritizing hazards, he said.

HOT - MORPHING — NOT - STANDING STILL

It's 2005, what are you doing to keep yourself relevant? BST, a prominent ASSE expo vendor and pioneer in behavior-based safety, now espouses safety "as a foundation for excellence in reliability, productivity, quality, and profitability."

Dr. Scott Geller attracted long lines at the meeting for autographed copies of his new book, "People-Based Safety." Another BBS pioneer, Geller says in a handout: "Behavior-based safety is good, but People-Based Safety is great!"

ORC, exhibiting at the meeting for the first time, started in the 1970s with an OSHA compliance focus, offering clients access to key officials. With OSHA something of a lion in winter, ORC promotes its EHS executive business issues forum, its ties to European Union regulators, and has plans to develop an Asian-Pacific network.

Even the language of safety is morphing. Accidents are becoming known as incidents. Hazards become risks. Behaviors evolve into exposure events.

Still, change comes hard. "We need a Betty Ford clinic to wean professionals off reg-speak," said Gary Lopez.

HOT - PEOPLE — NOT - ORGANIZATIONS

The conference kicked off with a keynote by Curt Coffman of The Gallup Organization, describing how to "unleash human potential." He quoted Henry Ford, who lamented that all he wanted for his assembly lines was a pair of hands, but he kept getting human beings.

One hundred years later, safety pros are still trying to figure out how to deal with the whole person. Sessions at ASSE discussed behaviors, of course, plus attitudes, personalities traits and states, beliefs, values, emotions and egos. "People are messy," said Coffman.

But most pros still find it simpler and more direct to deal with "human factors" and "human error" than truly messy and Byzantine organizational structures and pressures.

"In the U.S you don't emphasize the role organizations play in creating risks or pressures," said an attendee from the U.K. "God forbid you drag the manager into it."

HOT - ENGAGE — NOT - ENFORCE

The verb of the hour is "engage." Every speaker at ASSE seemed to work it into his or her presentation.

Describing how to engage employees, Gallup's Coffman said, "Don't put in what was left out, draw out what was left in."

"EHS pros must get more engaged in global debates," urged ORC's Frank White in a session on what's driving EHS activity today. Right now, noses are pressed up against windows.

The last thing you want: employees with disengaged brains, said Lawrence Waterman, describing the freeze-out effect of too many rules and codes.

Actually, the last thing you might want is to be known as an "enforcer." Yes, there's still a place in the EHS world for enforcement — even acting OSHA chief Jonathan Snare slipped enforcement numbers into his speech. But you heard much more at ASSE about coaching, facilitating, advising, coordinating and of course, engaging.

HOT - BEST FRIENDS AT WORK — NOT - CEOs

Work world relationships are in. The most significant correlation to a company's number of workers' comp claims and incidents is whether or not employees say they have a best friend at work, according to Gallup's Coffman.

Many ASSE speakers tried to advise safety pros in the relationship business. Write notes, say 'thank you,' give high fives, smile, ask questions to build positive feelings, said speaker Rodney Grieve.

But many CEOs aren't faring well in the relationship game — to the detriment of safety efforts. Monday of conference week USA Today reported CEO departures have taken a "stunning leap." Among the world's 2,500 largest public companies, 14.2 percent left in 2004, versus 9.8 percent in 2003, according to one study. CEO "disengagements" are up 300 percent since 1995.

"I'm on my fifth president in five years," said one attendee. "To be honest, I don't know who's calling the shots." That makes long-term safety planning and initiatives problematic.

Just ask BST. Two months after Michael Griffin replaced Sean O'Keefe as NASA administrator, the space agency pulled the plug on its multi-million-dollar "culture change" contract with BST. "As is true with any organization, the new senior executive arrived with his own ideas and preferences for how the organization should be run and what issues should receive high priority," said BST in a web posting.

Many EHS pros will attest to that.

HOT - HARMONY — NOT - CONFLICT

"I want people feeling good," shouted Scott Geller to several hundred attendees at his session.

You can't duck discipline and malcontents, several speakers conceded, but clearly today the focus is on creating "great places to work" and "managing around weaknesses," as Gallup's Coffman said.

The case was also made for global harmony at the conference. Multi-national corporations don't want to contend with 25 different EHS management system laws around the world, said speaker Waterman. It makes it hard to transfer managers around and maintain quality consistency across global supply lines.

Work is also underway to harmonize material safety data sheet formats and content worldwide. Look for OSHA to give advance notice by the end of the year of its intent to revise the hazcom standard to conform with the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System for classifying and labeling chemicals.

In this feel-good era of engaging and empowering employees to free their talents, as Coffman urged his audience, confrontation and conflict don't get a lot of air time at meetings like ASSE's.

OSHA's Snare spoke at length about "success stories" built on cooperation and partnerships, and the agency's 349 alliances.

Reality reared its ugly head at a training session led by Jonathan Klane, aka Trainer Man. Attendees wanted to know how to deal in a training class with Mr. Negative, the guy who always argues "no, that won't work, that won't work."

Answers from the floor: 1) Engage him, of course. 2) Empathize with him. 3) Challenge him — in a friendly way.

At ASSE's meeting, the "soft side" of safety carried the day, dominating the slate of sessions. "It's time we got more personal," said one attendee. "Engage hearts and minds before hands. Show genuine caring. That's a more effective message to employees."

HOT - BEADS — NOT - TIES

In a funky mood — Even OSHA boss Jonathan Snare gave his speech with four strands of silver and purple Mardi Gras beads hanging from his gray suit. Scott Geller was bedecked with beads autographing copies of his book.

On the other hand, only magazine ad salesmen and editors were observed wearing ties at the meeting. You could see them coming from the other side of the expo floor. Speakers, vendors, attendees — all were casual and informal. "Trainer Man" led one session wearing a red cape and pajamas.

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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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:

  • "Refresher Guide for the Safety Fundamentals Exam"
  • "The Participation Factor," by Dr. E. Scott Geller
  • "Safety Training That Delivers"
  • "Building a Better Safety and Health Committee" •
  • "Safety Management - A Human Approach," and "Techniques of Safety Management - A Systems Approach," both by Dan Petersen.


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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

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