Posted on February 22, 2013 by Rebecca Nigel
This post originally appeared as a Case In Point in BST’s
The Zero Index:


To get the most out of safety, we need to develop the right mindset. What we believe and how we think about exposure directly impacts the effectiveness of our exposure-reduction efforts. Clear thinking about exposure and its role on injury causation helps leaders make breakthrough improvements in safety performance.

Fielding Risk at E.ON

E.ON is one of the world’s largest investor-owned power and gas companies, generating electricity for UK homes and industry, and supplying gas to millions of people across the UK. Keeping the organization’s field sales employees, known as Home Energy Consultants (HEC), safe can be particularly challenging. In addition to the hazards of door-to-door work—changing terrain, weather, and the odd dog—the role requires working predominantly alone with minimal supervision.

A rapid expansion in 2007 swelled HEC ranks from 30 to approximately 600 employees. While an exciting time for the company, the changes also took a toll on HECs. The attrition rate approached 200% and by March 2008 the Lost Time Incident Frequency Rate (LTIFR) had risen to 70. Initial interventions, such as a near hit reporting process and an accident hotline, helped cut the LTIFR nearly in half.

However by 2009, the rate had stagnated. Analysis showed that the exposures were more complex than initially thought; HEC employees were 25 times more likely to be injured than E.ON meter readers, despite working in nearly identical conditions. The only difference was that these groups worked in different parts of the business.

The E.ON UK Centre Safety senior team partnered with the retail business to implement a behavior-based intervention that would identify and remove the unique exposures faced by HECs. Named GASS for Generating All Sales Safety, the team undertook observations based on a rigorously defined list of critical behaviors. The company also expanded its focus to cultural and leadership influences on exposure. Data that GASS team members collected was used both to remove barriers to safe work as well as provide leading indicators and a coaching strategy for leaders. The combination of a bottom-up input from employees and managed-down approach from leaders enabled HECs to be closely involved and own the process while providing managers with appropriate skills to be able to develop and protect their teams.

By 2011, the GASS team had logged over 7,000 observations. The LTIFR was down to 10.11 and attrition was at an industry-low 85%. The approach has also reduced customer decay (those leaving E.ON) by 8% and has played a significant part in increasing per-HEC sales, representing an additional £25 million per year.

The Value of Understanding Exposures

Leaders who believe that injuries are a result of a complex combination of variables at the working interface (the place where exposure to hazards is created, mitigated, or eliminated, and where adverse events occur or are prevented) and who believe that people do not come to work planning to act in dangerous or unsafe ways understand the value of putting time and money into investigating incidents and looking for the root causes of those incidents. Leaders who see the world that way recognize the importance of educating everyone in the organization about the role exposure plays in injury causation.