Thought Leadership


Sustaining culture change by building a safety infrastructure

October 30, 2013
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ISHN Guest BlogOver the past couple of weeks I have criticized the mad rush of snake oil salesmen from BBS to the new –found goldmine of one form or another of “culture-based” safety.  I like to alternate my posts from the critical, to the (hopefully) helpful.  Much ado is made about the holy grail of injury prevention, but scant little has been offered around sustaining change.

Creating the will to, and vision for, change is tough enough, but sustaining it can feel all but impossible, and, as with all safety solutions there will be companies out there who will attach themselves tick-like on the soft white underbelly of your organization all in the name of sustaining safety and the more you pay the tighter they will burrow their tiny fangs into the flesh of your organization. The key to sustaining safety gains lie in making substantive changes to the infrastructure in which safety is managed.

A compelling vision without a clear roadmap for achieving the desired state does not create lasting change as much as it will appear otherwise. In fact, a strong vision without clear next steps tends to lead to climate change rather than the more lasting and desirable culture change.

Building a safety management infrastructure requires clients to develop a project plan focused on closing the gap between the existing state and the desired states of what I call the seven pillars of a robust safety management process:

Training

For workers to perform their jobs safely, they must achieve mastery level competency in the core skills required for their jobs. Beyond this need for workers to possess the core skills required of their jobs, training is also essential for workers to participate in problem solving, understand the subtle nuances of their jobs, and to truly internalize the risks associated with their jobs. This plan should evaluate the efficacy of its training strategy and tactics. In general, I’ve found safety training woefully inadequate to protect workers (in fact, I’ve written several articles on the shortcomings of training relative to worker safety, so I won’t revisit them here).  When determining what training needs to be improved consider:

Orientation. Increasingly, companies are loath to hire a worker outright, preferring instead to have a sort of a on-the-job interview where workers are in employment limbo—some of the practices by major companies are absolutely shameful (no set hours or schedule, work when called, no benefits, none of the traditional things associated with the employee-employer relationship. Too often this extends to training.  Irrespective of how you feel about this practice, it puts workers at risk, and what’s more, the first 90 days of employment are the most important for imprinting the new culture on new hires; it’s a incredible opportunity that is wasted. 

What is even more troubling is that after the new employees are converted to full-time workers going back and properly training the workers is often neglected.

A good orientation servers multiple purposes. First, it teaches new hires what the company expects of them and what the workers can expect of the company.  Orientation should focus on more than just safety, but the safety of the workers should be a key part of the orientation.  Most orientations that I have seen do a poor job of this, preferring instead to focus on the circumstances in which the workers would be fired.

Contractor Training. In most municipalities, there is a shared responsibility between the employer of record and the host company for safety training. Even if the training is a simple session that identifies the company expectations coupled with awareness-level presentation on the esoteric dangers of the host company.

Compliance Training. Most companies understand the potential consequences for not keeping up with compliance training, but compliance training could do so much more than just allow companies to check a box. 

Investing in compliance training that is embedded into a richer context that is specific to the company and its working environment can yield valuable results.

For example, confined space training that is part of machine-specific maintenance training or that is part of a course on excavating will be far more powerful than a confined space training course offered in isolation and out of context.

Hazard Recognition. Create a specific focus on hazard recognition so that all workers can vigilantly approach the identification and containment of hazards in their work areas. This too should be contextual and should be part of core competency training.

Leadership Training. Additionally, an important competency set that directly affects worker safety is leadership.  Unfortunately, many leaders are not selected because of their leadership skills and abilities; rather they are selected because they have high-level technical skills.  When developing your infrastructure you need to determine where the skills gaps exist and provide first-line leadership training  (and perhaps senior leadership) in the following areas as appropriate:

● Coaching,

● safety leadership,

● hazard observation and recognition,

● safety data analysis and trending,

● incident investigation,

● problem solving and causation identification,

● safety strategy development and deployment,

● managing performance inhibiters, and

● decision analysis

Process capability

Too many companies draw a line of demarcation between the safety function and process capability, but in the broadest sense it is variability, not behavior that causes injuries.  It’s also true that variability weakens the organization’s ability to sustain safety improvements. A process that isn’t robust and stable subjects your workers to risk of injuries.

Building a safety infrastructure requires you to evaluate the extent to which your organization’s process improvement efforts interrelate to its safety improvement efforts. Process improvement efforts like 5S, Total Productive Maintenance, Kan Ban and Poke Yoke must completely integrate safety within them. 

This is also a good time to evaluate your safety metrics and to determine which leading and lagging indicators will most appropriately meet your needs. Many companies miss this step and the results can be catastrophic; you have changed significant portions of your organizations and you must ensure that your business systems that directly relate to safety are changed as well.

Hazard and risk management.

Almost all successful changes in a culture that result in safety improvements shift the way (often radically) the organizations view and manage hazards. A revamped approach to hazard management is essential, because for an organization to assess its risk of injuries it needs sufficient data to analyze trends. Hazards need to be identified, contained, analyzed, trended and tracked. This effort typically requires a multi-disciplinary team which continually reviews hazards and looks for patterns and trends that provide insights into the overall robustness of the business.

Removing hazards before people get hurt is the key to a sound safety management system. Whether the nature of workplace risk lies in unsafe worker behaviors, lack of process capability, or physical hazards, the elements of hazard identification, containment, and correction collectively are the cornerstone of any effective safety effort. Building the infrastructure will identify the gaps in the existing hazard and risk management processes/procedures and provide guidance on how to close them.

Hazard management begins with the supervisor’s in-depth understanding of the jobs in the area for which he or she is responsible. This knowledge is initiated by basic skills training, but also requires the intimate and holistic knowledge of a process that can only come from work experience. Once that knowledge of the job exists, supervisors need a systematic approach for recording findings/hazards and tracking them to completion.  Typically, an organization will need to customize its own IT systems such that it can successfully track hazard closure.

Incident investigation.

When your organization understands and corrects the causes of injuries it can prevent them from recurring in other areas. You should assess the efficacy of your existing incident investigation process to ensure it is rooted in the understanding of how the process works and where the risks of process failures lie. Effective incident investigation mirrors hazard management in its ability to feed the organization the information it needs to make tough choices and to draw inferences about the risk of injuries workers face from process failures.

Read-Across is also an important element of incident investigation. Read-Across is the practice of determining where an issue that caused an injury may exist in other areas. By sharing the findings of an incident investigation with representatives of another area, the overall safety of the organization can be exponentially improved. It’s essential that your communication methods and tactics accurately convey risks and opportunities to learn from other areas (even across locations) of the organization.

Strategy deployment

A key component for ensuring that an organization does not apply static solutions to dynamic safety issues is the development and deployment of a sound safety strategy. A key to sustaining your gains and preserving culture change lies in taking a big-picture look at the safety of its workplace. You must ensure that the team responsible for safety strategy development establishes periodic reviews of policy to ensure that anachronistic rules, policies, and procedures do not jeopardize worker safety.

Accountability

Systems for accountability are essential to a strong and positive safety culture, but leaders must be made to understand that accountability is different from blame.  To achieve safety excellence you must ensure the collaborative development of good systems of accountability that hold employees answerable for the risks they take, but also for identifying the best way of avoiding future missteps.

Empowerment

Empowerment is different from motivation.  While a motivated employee will work to earn a reward, an empowered worker is intrinsically motivated to do what he or she believes is the right thing to do. Workers at all levels must be empowered to make sound decisions and to take action to make the workplace safer. It’s important to develop empowerment initiatives based on respect for the workers at all levels of the organization.

Getting help

There are plenty of vendors who can help with the development of a sound infrastructure for sustaining positive changes in a culture; some good and some bad.  What’s most important is that you have a clear understanding of the plan and how exactly the process being offered works.  Without a clear roadmap for sustaining change you are likely to spend a king’s ransom on a climate change that will only last as long as you continue to pay the vendor (if that).

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