Dear Subscriber,

"If nothing else, we'll engage in just what the hell is world class safety," said American Society of Safety Engineers President James "Skipper" Kendrick, kicking off ASSE's two-day symposium last week in New Orleans on "Achieving World Class Safety."

It's a slippery subject, one that attracted 500 safety and health pros to the Hyatt Regency hard by that huge golden spaceship, the Louisiana Superdome. Rare is the company that has truly defined world class safety or can lay a legitimate claim to achieving it, said one symposium speaker, researcher and former DuPonter Dr. James Stewart.

In this edition of ISHN's e-newsletter, we ask: What is world class safety? And is it worth going after?


Of all the speakers in New Orleans, Dr. Stewart was most specific about defining world class status in workplace safety. You need exceptional numbers, backed by exceptional, meticulous recordkeeping, he said.

Specifically, your lost-workday incidence frequency should be less than 0.1 per 200,000 hours worked. Your total recordable incident frequency should be less than 0.7. And your off-the-job lost-workday incidence rate should be lower than 0.5.

"Most companies are amazed at how good the rates are of world class companies," said Dr. Stewart. In researching the best of the best, Dr. Stewart studied five Canadian companies with an LWIF average of 0.008 over a five-year period.

Keep in mind in 2002, U.S. industry averaged a total recordable rate of 5.3 and a lost-workday rate of 2.8.

Dr. Stewart mentioned other world class criteria. The percentage of workers who perceive that management is committed to safety is "an extremely fragile but valuable predictor." Occupational illness rates must be low. Contractors held to the same standards as the organization. Off-the-job safety gets much more attention than pay stuffers. And values and beliefs about the importance of safety are untouchable — embedded so deep into the organization's culture they are immune to CEO turnover and zig-zagging profit trends.

Some professionals were troubled by Dr. Stewart's (and other speakers') emphasis on so-called lagging indicators. OSHA rates have come under mounting criticism in recent years. Organization Resources Counselors points out that OSHA data have little statistical validity in smaller companies and companies recording few injuries each year. The measure does not really tell a company if they are better or worse — or why. And the numbers don't tell management what it needs to do to fix what's wrong.

But if not outcome numbers, then what? For all the talk about a "Balanced Scorecard" of leading, trailing and financial metrics to more accurately gage safety performance, very few companies have invested in such a "dashboard" of indicators. Why?

"You just can't get away from bottom line numbers," said one professional. "That's the way all executives think. I've been in enough meetings; they want to cut to the chase and know the number of defects, complaints, end of week or month or quarter financials. Execs understand the logic of key performance indicators and the importance of process. But what's the point of reaching your goal of 1,000 sales calls if you didn't hit your sales revenue number? If you don't make the bottom line, the business doesn't grow or survive."


Most experts at the symposium agreed excellent results are only part of the world class equation. Beyond rates and frequencies, attendees received two days' worth of critical elements, components, strategic blueprints, leadership attributes, goals, visions and values.

Let's face it, ask 500 professionals to define world class safety and you get 500 different opinions. Safety is art and science, after all. No scientific method exists to guarantee success. Here are some of the world class markers culled from the presentations:

  • Senior management commitment and involvement — more than "support" it is "engagement."

  • Inspired, passionate coaching, cajoling, influencing, selling and advising by staff safety and health pros — the catalysts.

  • Well-schooled, aware and motivated employees and supervisors active in training, auditing and problem-solving.

  • Aggressive goals and objectives. It's a mind set thing. "World class companies don't consider that they have made it," said Dr. Stewart. Bechtel Corporation's VP of EHS Services Kevin Berg quoted a plant superintendent: "I'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."

    If he wasn't clear enough, Kevin quoted Will Rogers: "Even if you're on the right track you'll get run over if you just sit there."

  • A durable but flexible infrastructure — it boils down to Deming's plan-do-check-act model. You plan assignments, responsibilities, goals, activities. Then you do what you said you would. You monitor and audit and track and document performance, of individuals, teams, programs and progress toward goals. Based on what you learn, you fine-tune, make changes when necessary, and draw up new plans. The cycle repeats itself.

    Management systems are today's buzzword to describe Deming's model. OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program, ISO 9000 and 14000, the forthcoming ANSI Z10 health and safety voluntary standard are examples. Whatever you call them, the best-practiced systems are sustainable and impervious to personnel changeover.

    And their accepted procedures bring safety and health issues and activities in sync with overall business goals and values.

  • Tom Cecich, CSP, CIH, adds another qualifier. Your achievement of results — OSHA numbers and meeting system-related activity goals — must be independently verified.

    After struggling to come up with all-inclusive criteria, some presenters such as Tom backed off and said world class is really a pursuit. A committed frame of mind. "It's an aspiration," said Tom. It's about not accepting "good enough."

    "Every organization can and should strive for safety excellence, whether or not they ever achieve world class status," he said.

    BUT WHY?

    "I don't want to be the best," Tom Cecich recalls one plant manager telling him. He wanted to be among the best, but he didn't want to climb to the top of the mountain. Maybe he didn't see the benefits. In this "what-did-you-do-last quarter?" economy, investing to be the best of the best is a tough sell. Why bother?

    Here's what Dr. Steven Aldana, professor of health and human performance at Brigham Young University, said recently about the state of corporate health promotion in an interview published by the Wellness Councils of America.

    "The business world is primarily focused on the bottom line and I don't think it has anything to do with us not doing our best to educate CEOs. There are other business strategies that have more bite and are more important to the bottom line than health promotion right now."

    The same goes for safety promotion in many organizations.

    "Our operations manager appointed a new EHS executive who doesn't know and doesn't want to learn what the job's about," said one safety manager at a luncheon table at the symposium. "That's why I've gone bald in the last 18 months," he said, rubbing his head and smiling. "I'd love to get management to own up to their real feeling, which is they accept people getting hurt. But I can't get them to admit it."

    As usual, management came in for a fair amount of flak at the symposium. "How do you get managers to buy into leading indicators?" asked one attendee, rolling his eyes.

    "Management doesn't understand the depth of reform needed to achieve world class safety," said Dr. Stewart.

    "Most companies don't have a clue how to get to world class safety," said an attendee.

    "Seems you can buy your way to world class," said another. "The best companies pay the highest salaries to professionals, managers, associates." You get what you pay for.

    Of five well-researched traits of leaders, executives usually are strong in conscientiousness (discipline and technical competence), less so in the other four: extroversion, agreeableness (trust and straight talk), emotional stability and openness, said Dr. Tom Krause, CEO of Behavioral Science Technology, in a presentation.

    One attendee new to these safety gatherings stepped back and mused: "It sounds like we think managers are stupid. I think most managers are competent. They're just convinced that safety will not matter to the bottom line. They think the safety guy just wants to spend money. Our assumptions of management's ignorance could be wrong. We should examine those assumptions."

    Pursuing safety excellence is a journey, more than one speaker said in New Orleans. Perhaps the journey starts by examining assumptions.

    Assess where you're at, urged Dr. Stewart. That's the first step. Conduct a perception survey. Hold focus groups. Interview employees one on one.

    Then convince leaders of the need for change, Dr. Stewart continued. Develop a foundation of beliefs surrounding safety. Draw up strategies and goals. Put your new systems to work. Track and audit activity, and make corrections where needed.


    But why change? Why take that long walk through the "Valley of Death" as speaker Pat McDonnell called it — denial (We don't need it); fear (What if we fail?); anger (You can't make me do it); resignation (OK, what do I have to do?); and finally triumph (Let's go for it).

    Why bother, especially if your "numbers" are good enough?

    Fear, greed or pride could be three reasons, according to McDonnell, a former VP of Coopers & Lybrand.

    The fear argument: You won't get better doing business the same way. See Will Rogers. You competition is using safety to build better operational efficiency. What are you going to do about it?

    This can get managers' attention, but only for so long, said McDonnell. You can also be accused of crying wolf. Fear and threats are a short-term ploy, he said.

    The greed argument: We have an opportunity here. Excellence will differentiate us from our competitors.

    Another pitch with a short life-span, said McDonnell. Plus, greed is not team-oriented, he said.

    Pride is the ultimate motivator, according to McDonnell. Organizations that pride themselves in integrity, teamwork, respect and accountability stand the best chance of becoming world class in safety — or any other aspect of business, he said.

    Thinking about raising the bar of excellence? You might start by taking a pulse reading. How much pride is coursing through your organization? Without pride you won't have the passion all the experts say is needed to prime you for the leap.

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

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    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.

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