I recently received the following inquiry: “We're getting ready to perform safety coaching sessions with some of our frequently injured employees. Do you know of anyone who might have a script to outline the dialogue?”
Here is the response our Caterpillar group delivered for this all-too-common question:
Injuries result from a complex mixture of management systems, behaviors and conditions. Prior to performing a safety coaching session with an employee, the following should take place:
- A thorough accident investigation that searches for multiple causes and identifies any weaknesses in the management system (have we established traps that are leading to the incidents [i.e. job incompatible to worker]; not consistently holding everyone accountable for performance; not providing correct, appropriate, quality training to employees and supervisors alike).
- A frequent experience with safety discipline is that the employees will do what the manager demands and that, quite often, the real safety culture issue for frequently injured employees is one or two levels up. It is often these managers’ ideas, beliefs and attitudes that significantly influence the norms and hidden safety culture realities. In turn, the front-line employees are put at risk and get injured for doing what the tacit boss culture emphasizes. If this is the underlying issue, it becomes something like: "Yes, you may punish this employee and his/her supervisor and manager as well. Slop flows downhill and you need to cut off the source of a sloppy safety culture." Therefore, it is important to interview the supervisor, the supervisor’s manager and the supervisor's direct reports to capture any additional information on why this person is frequently involved in incidents (are there workload capacity issues, state of mind issues, pattern of incidents within the work group, etc.?). The interview of the supervisor’s manager, supervisor, and direct reports should also identify what past actions were taken with employee (previous coaching, training, discipline, etc.) and assess the supervisor’s and manager’s performance in carrying out their safety responsibilities.
This information is critical in conducting a coaching session. Without it, the focus is centered squarely on the employee and does not take into consideration contributing factors.
The coaching session should be constructed to allow for open dialogue with the employee in as positive a manner as possible, not a lecture from management. An example session might look like the following:
- Coach explains to employee why they are meeting (i.e. too many injuries) and that the goal is to improve performance, not necessarily to discipline the employee.
- Coach reviews previous incidents with employee and allows employee to openly discuss each incident. Coach should have reviewed these incidents and notes from interviews with the supervisor’s manager, supervisor and supervisor's direct reports before this session (are we illuminating issues that have to do with the manager, supervisor, work group, other?)
- Coach should then review the company’s procedures, policies, best practices and training efforts. Ask employee in what ways these may not have been clearly defined, trained adequately, measured appropriately, or lacked feedback/recognition to support the desired behavior or to correct the undesired behaviors.
- Coach should then talk about the organization’s safety goals (values, mission statement, etc.), safety activities and the role each employee has in meeting these goals. It is a team effort and each person is on the team. And now comes the focus on the employee; ask how they can be a safety leader and what contributions they can make to ensure the team is successful in making sure there are no injuries or incidents.
- Establish mutually agreed upon safety performance goals for the employee. The goal should not be something like, "Don't get hurt or contribute to an accident within the next six months," but activity based. What can they specifically do to contribute to safety and to help develop and live activities that address the kind of incidents in which the employee was involved.
- Identify a measurement plan. How often will the employee be measured on their activities, and by whom?
- Clearly establish consequences for not meeting the agreed upon safety performance goals.
- Ensure the supervisor and the manager are aware of and coached on outcomes of this coaching session. Coach the supervisor and the manager on their fundamental roles to - define, train, measure, and recognize safety accountabilities.
If the result of the entire process points towards systemic issues within the organization or work group, then consider conducting a continuous improvement team on the issues.
Most employees want to contribute and be part of the solution (regardless of the issue). However, sometimes you get a lemon or two and you need to know when to stop trying to make lemonade. What has been your experience with frequently injured employees?