Safety Culture Steering Part 4; Symptoms of the Cure


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By now your folks are trained, management is on board, groups have bumped heads and most of the conflict has simmered down some.  I was patient, but now what?  How do I know if any of this cultured touchy-feely, kid-gloved stuff is making a difference?

1. The most apparent sign is a spike in injury numbers.  Why would this number go up?  -If you are trying to steer the culture from being production-driven (accident = fired) toward safety and quality (accident = investigated/injury cared for) things will gradually start to change.  People will initially test the waters; 1 or 2 injuries will come in.  Others notice that not only did no one get fired for getting hurt, but the whole thing was investigated, everyone was briefed on the lessons learned/corrections, and their coworker was taken care.  Reports will go from trickling in to a steady stream.

*But this is ruining my DART/TRIF/TRIR/XYZ numbers!  I was hired to fix things; not make it worse!  -Much like sweeping the floor, no one realizes just how much needs correcting until everything is gathered into the light.  When the numbers begin to look bad is also where senior leadership tends to hit the panic button.  Do not abandon all hope and go back to old mindsets!  Staying the course with minor corrections with increasing momentum begins the snowball into other things that some may also view as problems…

Paradigm Shift

2. Managers complain that PPE is walking off and you are running out of safety glasses, gloves, etc.  This is actually a great sign!  If you want your folks to be safe at work, it must become habit everywhere.  The PPE they take home not only allows for this habit to fully develop, but sets an example when kids see dad wearing safety glasses to weed-wack.  This helps ensure they make it back to work instead of becoming temporarily (sliced hand tendon) or permanently (lost eye) disabled.

3. Associates beginning to pull you to the side as you walk production areas to show you things you may have never caught on your own.  You may also be lucky enough to overhear your folks peer pressuring each other into compliance.  As workers see you make corrections and feel empowered as members of the program, trust and credibility builds.  The worst thing you can do now is not follow up, not correct a hazard, not investigate an incident.  Perception is reality in the eyes of those that want to trust you.  If just one of your folks feels their report is ignored (intentional or not), you may lose them forever and create hurdles for yourself in the future.

4. Injury rates actually did reduce.  This whole process establishes a new baseline for safety metrics with the real problems being tackled for the company.  Don’t look at year-over-year with these new numbers to measure success (production driven injuries hidden vs. new leadership putting all in the open).  Don’t really take a hard look at metrics at all for the first 6 months.  -Compare your worst month of this transition to your most recent month.  Explain rates to judgmental customers with your strategy and how a spike in numbers is to be expected for long-term improvement.  As you gain momentum in changing how folks think about and approach their jobs and you have 24 months of new numbers, year-over-year may begin to truly reflect your actual improvement.

Please always keep in mind that these are people you are trying to take care of.  Nothing in the history of everything went perfectly where people were involved!  There are more issues that crop up, but these are the most obvious.  The length of this process depends on how resistant to change the organization is as well as how many and how far accepted norms deviate from what is desired.  Get the results.  Do the right things the right way. Always try to improve upon what you have in place.

See more posts like this here.

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Safety Culture Steering Part 3; The Rough


If you have not read parts 1 & 2, please click the numbers to spin yourself up to this post.

We have already talked about roping management into understanding the why’s of safety.  If you chose to shove it down their throats with rules and policy, you’ve already lost and should look into the many books, articles, and rules on leadership (both with authority and through influence). -This one is my favorite, but the verbiage does not coddle.

In my first post after saying to give a damn, I mentioned being hands-on, showing forgiveness, reinforcing policy, and patience.  What exactly does that mean?  What does it look like?

Hands-on:  Never ask someone to do something you yourself would not do.  When starting to steer your safety culture, get into the trenches with your folks.  Have them teach you how to do their job so you can feel the lower back pain from stooping to tie hotdogs; understand just how hard it is to cut and peel metal sheets; and feel the burn in your calves and backside from pulling 100′ of 3″ hose full of fuel on concrete covered in slippery deicing fluid.  This not only increases your credibility with those you need to buy-in the most, but also tunes you into understanding them as people first; some of the more difficult ergonomics issues; and possible procedural deviations.

Showing Forgiveness and Reinforcing Policy:  When taking over a facility that has safety culture problems, you will notice systemic problems with safety (no seatbelts, partial or no PPE use, etc. by all personnel).  -You can’t fire all forklift operators because they are complying with long-term accepted norms!  Praise in public.  Coaching on the right way and zealously voicing gratitude when compliance is demonstrated via initiative goes a long way.  Continued coaching in hushed tones for brief engagement and pulling supervisors into longer conversations is effective in the steering process with the late (non) adopters for the right trajectory.

Patience:  Everything one does to influence safety culture must be done with the patience of Job.  Leading with the approach that they can’t quit or be fired keeps one’s mind on working with folks to steer the culture in the right direction rather than divert valuable focus to hiring/firing and unnecessary drama.  Steering culture is a long-term goal with failure, unprecedented success, backsliding, jokes, as well as overt and covert resistance by individuals or organized groups all hitting at different times (or sometimes it feels like all at once) throughout the process.  Another reason for patience is that sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is a train… Groups may begin to reform from within with the new knowledge and empowerment of your new, great training.  At some point enforcement may become the way to go for hold-outs or egregious violations, but one must be very measured in this approach if you recognize the group is already in or about to tip into a storming phase.

Perception is Reality.  One must be at their most calm and engagement should be above professional to avoid getting pulled too deeply into the storming phase as taking a side (or appearing to) can tank your credibility.

Stay tuned for the last post in this series where we will discuss what some symptoms of early success are and how to deal with kick-back from other areas.