Keeping safety meetings on track

To make monthly safety meetings more active and inclusive for attendees I often try to incorporate some type of interactive activity. The “Six Thinking Hats” is a technique I learned at a lecture given by the American Society for Quality (ASQ).

Traditionally, argument is the basis of our normal thinking. In the law courts, the prosecution takes one side and the defense the other. Each strives to prove the other wrong. Argument, however, lacks constructive and creative energies that are critical to business. There’s a need to design new opportunities, not just argue between two existing possibilities. Parallel thinking or the “Six Thinking Hats” is a method where each thinker puts forward his or her thoughts in parallel with the thoughts of others — not attacking them.

The method is used to focus on particular aspects of a problem or situation that the organization would like to improve. The “Six Thinking Hats” method forces small groups to think in a parallel fashion while brainstorming ideas and solutions.

Striking a balance

For instance, a safety committee might be instructed, “For the next ten minutes write on a flip chart all the negative aspects of the health and safety program in the organization.” Then they might be asked to do the same with all the positive aspects of their health and safety program. It’s a good way to generate lists of items to keep or enhance, and things to eliminate or improve upon with regards to your program.

The “Six Thinking Hats” are:

1. White Hat – What information do you have? What information would you like to have? How might you obtain the information?

2. Red Hat – What does your intuition tell you? What is your gut feeling? No explanations, just feelings at the moment.

3. Black Hat – What are the points of caution? What are disadvantages? What could go wrong? What are the negatives?

4. Yellow Hat – What are the benefits, values and advantages? What are the positives? What are the good things?

5. Green Hat – What can be done to resolve some of the Black Hat items? What can be changed to improve? Are there alternative and better ways? What creative and new ideas?

6. Blue Hat – Summarize the thinking that has taken place. Can you come to a conclusion? What should happen next?

Depending on the problem or issue, you might use any or all of the hats. For example, in my safety meetings I used the Yellow, Black and Blue hats to come up with ideas for improvement. It forces the group to think in a parallel way for a concentrated short period of time. If someone gets negative during a Yellow Hat session, they are instructed to, “Save the thought for the Black Hat session.” It keeps the group from arguing, and keeps them on track. It becomes the safety manager’s job to summarize the lists in front of the larger group and implement some of the ideas.

Reference: “Revolutionary Nature of Parallel Thinking, Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats”, Advanced Practical Thinking Training, Inc., Des Moines, Iowa 50322.

Submitted by Dan Hardwick, Safety Director, Allegheny Plastics, Inc., Leetsdale, Pa.

Motivating managers

I use this “safety story” to try to motivate corporate management:

Each employee has a decision-making “bag.” They use this bag every day, trying to be a good performer for the boss. The boss contributes to this “bag” by providing a “green bean” for every safety message given to the employee. Correspondingly, management also provides a “red bean” for every encouragement of production.

The number of beans provided is directly proportional to the emphasis provided by management. The sight of a safety poster is worth one green bean. A boring safety training program is worth one green bean — or less. The sight of a production chart is worth one red bean, while a reprimand for less than anticipated production by an angry supervisor is worth ten red beans. A safety training program presented as “we’re required to complete this training” receives red beans, because employees understand this is cutting into our production and is really of no value. The recognition of “safe performance” observed by management generates numerous green beans. Recognition of unsafe behavior doesn’t contribute any beans. Once a bean is placed in the decision “bag” it lasts for a long time.

Decision time

When an employee has to make a decision — even something as simple as to move a ladder closer to what he’s reaching for — he uses the “decision bag” to decide what the boss wants him to do. If the employee sees mostly red beans in his bag and doesn’t move the ladder, and then falls, he apologizes and says, “I knew better.” The boss says, “Stupid employee error.” But nobody considers what went into that employee’s decision not to take the time to move the ladder.

The issue is not to eliminate production demands — it is to deliver them in an appropriate manner. Recognize that long-term and indirect issues result from every signal sent to employees, through signs, conversations, etc. Take time to recognize and encourage safe performance. You can’t give out too many green beans.

I do not normally work with Fortune 500 companies or the “safety elite,” and I find that this simple message gets managers to think about safety in a different light.

Submitted by Bob Gottschall,

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