Greetings, and welcome to the year 2016. In case you missed it, we have self-driving cars, performances by holographic Tupac, and a new Star Wars movie with CGI that you swear you could reach out and touch. What a time to be alive! So, I’m asking you as a friend, why are you still performing safety inspections with paper and pencil? Change and technology can be scary, but it can also transform your safety culture for the better. Back away from the rotary phone, stop fidgeting with the bunny ear antennae, and let me introduce you to the future of your safety program.
Paper and pencil has long been replaced by the electronic mobile device, AKA your cell phone and tablet. Apple and Android have put aside their differences to help your organization more effectively gather, dissect, and organize your safety data. Gone are the times of overstuffed filing cabinets, bursting at the seams with inspections that will likely never again see the light of day. Sure, the upside of pencil and paper is that anyone can use it, and also that it doesn’t require electricity or an internet connection, but that’s about where it ends. A piece of paper cannot help to keep workers accountable for resolving issues, and furthermore, it’s extremely difficult to run reports on the leafy contents of your file drawer without the tedious manual entry of data into a reporting program. Paper inspections are also uselessly wasteful. You can only perform one inspection at a time while using a different piece of paper for each. I may not be the Lorax, but someone’s got to speak for the trees.
Efficiency, accountability, proactivity
Mobile devices empower the work force to really get involved in their respective safety programs by revolutionizing how data is collected and stored. Inspectors now have the ability to take photographs of unsafe observations, assign that issue to whoever needs to fix it, and then track it until it’s taken care of. Whoever was assigned to fix that issue may also add an “after” photo for further proof that the safety hazard has been fixed. Once an inspection is completed on the device, it is synchronized with a cloud-based program that stores and reports on your safety information. These reports can be used to enhance your safety program by shedding light on causal factors and common areas of risk, allowing the opportunity for proactivity. Completing inspections on your mobile also saves time. There is no need to switch to a new phone for a second inspection or a new type of checklist. Much to the delight of interns and admins everywhere, there is also no need for the miserable deed of transferring the information from paper to database.
Aside from the most basic functionality of housing an inspection, the only other notable commonality of paper and mobile device is that each yield the best results if they’re kept dry; and even that is beginning to become a thing of the past with certain new cell phones. Ultimately, paper and pencil inspections cost more in wasted time and heartache than it would cost for a fleet of refurbished electronics. Paper cannot track an issue and hold someone accountable for its remedy, paper cannot report, and paper cannot store itself for eternity while still remaining easily searchable. The use of handhelds allow your safety team to work smarter, not harder – the most payout for the least amount of work. That’s what the future’s all about, right? The trees that you’ll save in the process will ensure that the future is also significantly less oxygen-deprived as well. Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, inspections are never going to get easier, they’re not.
As safety professionals, we want employees to go home as healthy as they came in. As such, we adopt methodologies that aid in incident and injury prevention. Usually, these methods are detailed in a company’s health and safety plan. Follow the plan and nobody gets hurt, right? Suffice it to say this doesn’t always happen and can be summed up with this famous euphemism: “The best laid plans of mice and men”. Often there are competing priorities the cause the deviation from plan to process such as production pressures, psychosocial factors such as fear and stress, costs, peer pressure, positive consequences that reinforce or encourage the breaking of rules, drift, and a host of other things. If not just a robust plan, then what can be done to remedy these gaps?
It can be said that there are two facets of safety – a plan and a process. The plan outlines what is desired. The process is how things are actually carried out on the front line. The wider the gap between the two, the more likely injuries will occur.
Workplace observations are usually performed so that these differences can be spotted and remedied prior to injury. However, what usually happens is a ‘whack-a-mole’ evolution where hazards or at-risk behaviors are sometimes spotted yet only the apparent symptoms are addressed.
A great example is this: Oil is spotted on the floor. The oil is recognized as a hazard and addressed – the oil is cleaned up. The hazard is documented and everyone gets a pat on the back for safety. The problem, however, is that even if this is done daily, or even several times a day, the causal factor(s) are often never addressed. In the case of the oil on the floor, is the leak or source of oil identified and corrected? Is there a systemic issue that underlines why the at-risk condition or behavior is present?
Let’s suppose hazard identification is occurring frequently and being documented. Let’s further suppose that the hazards discovered and documented are being recorded in a central repository. If an Excel spreadsheet is the tool of choice, then it is fair to say that your company has missed the technological boat.
There are software solutions out there that can easily house documented worksite observations and categorize them easily so that tracking and trending on many different levels can be conducted. The transparency and visibility a software solution such as this can provide offers safety professionals, and the companies who employ them, insight into the gaps between plan and process. In addition, once a gap is identified in a systemic negative progression (at-risk count increasing and percent safe decreasing over time), proactive steps can be made before an injury occurs. Causal factors can be identified and countermeasures can be employed through positive interventions. In fact, with the ability to track and trend, the efficacy of the countermeasures can easily be seen and measured (at-risk count decreasing and percent safe increasing over time).
Why your spreadsheets are limiting your safety efforts
So ask yourself a few questions to know if it is time to employ technology:
- Can you turn observation data into actionable information?
- Can you obtain real-time reporting from the data collected?
- Can reporting of information be done beyond the single worksite assessment?
- Can you trend the information collected such as by category, area, and observer?
- Can you track and trend observation data beyond a single facility or project?
- Can you benchmark and compare your observation data with other companies?
- Can you track leadership’s engagement in the safety process?
- Can the data you collect help you predict where your next injury will occur?
If you answered no to any of these questions, then the time may be right to investigate a change in how you are doing things. Should safety efforts rely on building a perfect plan and expect everyone to follow it unfailingly or should the safety effort rely on identifying barriers to adoption of the plan and proactive implementation of a solution? If the latter is your choice, then technology can be a marvelous aid in driving continuous improvement. That is, unless you enjoy living in the stone age and whacking moles!
A plant safety manager just finished his presentation of plant safety performance results and key activities. It was the plant’s best year ever. Injury rates were down, lost time days were reduced and improvement projects had been completed on time and on budget. Associate involvement and morale was high. Most importantly, there had been no serious injury or fatality events. By all accounts, it had been a successful year.
Then a member of the review panel asked “Who is best in class and why?”
At first, it seems like an easy enough question. Yet it is almost impossible to answer, especially on the spot in front of your leadership team. It’s like what is your favorite flavor of ice cream and why?
As we know, most companies measure safety performance as a ratio if injuries per hours worked. The government requires us to maintain these rates on our injury logs. But, the devil is in the details – do all companies keep records as thoroughly as we do? Are support man-hours included in the totals? How do you know?
The problem with injury rates is that you get them for free – if you do nothing to manage or improve your safety performance, you can still add up your injuries and illnesses, multiply by 200,000 and divide by man-hours. It is not a measure of leadership or culture.
So where do you go and get this information? Does it fit into a graph or chart? How do you know when you see it?
Without defining safety excellence within your own company first, it might be a mute point. Although each company may have different long and short term targets, excellence probably includes 1) commitment to identify and eliminate potentially catastrophic hazards, 2) involvement of all levels of associates, including those in a leadership role, 3) the focus on continuous improvement in physical work conditions and environment, and 4) the discipline of all associates to conduct daily actives with the successful outcome in mind, regardless of other conflicting priorities.
Benchmarking is from the perspective of the organization who is trying to improve. If our culture is to continuously improve, we may never be satisfied with our safety accomplishments. Even if we reach our ultimate goal of zero injuries, there will still be work left to be done. Perhaps, when those outside of our organization look to us more than we look outside our organizations to improve, then we might be best. But we may never stop looking.
Make mine vanilla with sprinkles and a cherry on top. Why, it just tastes right.
Even the safest organizations frequently identify problems and opportunities for improvement. In fact, many best-in-class organizations actively seek out even minor potential problems so they can address them before they lead to accidents or incidents. In such companies the lack of large numbers of problems and improvement opportunities identified by the workforce is often seen as a warning sign for complacency. (Loud, 2004, p.35). Companies that recognize the need to find and fix problems, and the importance of continuous improvement, have long developed lists of corrective actions and generally track closures. This approach, often called “stack and track,” is better than nothing but is far from optimum.
Virtually all companies collect worksite safety observations. Sadly, most companies collect only unsafe findings. This results in a very incomplete picture, as discussed in “The Value of Safety Observations, Especially Safe Observations”. Those companies that do collect safe observations use a standard metric called Percent Safe (% safe). This metric is a simple calculation that factors in the number of safe observations and the number of unsafe observations, providing a percentage.
In his book ‘The Righteous Mind’, Professor Jonathan Haidt of New York University’s Stern School of Business suggests that there are essentially six basic moral foundations. These foundations are all set differently in each human, due to differences in genetic makeup, development (particularly fetal development) during ontogeny, and environmental factors such as culture and experience. Each foundation has different settings and, like the settings on a music sound system, can be set high in some people and low in others. Just as some sound systems have the base turned up and some don’t. These basic moral foundations are: caring, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity.
Over a series of articles I looked at how the responses to the questionnaire could be interpreted under each of those categories. However, it was apparent from very early on that most of the responses were character orientated (Persistent, Inquisitive etc.). And of these, most were moral judgments (Trustworthy, Conscientious, etc.). But I left this category until last, because character and morality are very difficult concepts to pin down. Character in particular has been considered by some of the greatest minds of all time, and they have all struggled to offer a satisfactory explanation of what it is, where it comes from and why it is valued.
This article is the third in a series that details the characteristics of an efficient safety professional. As detailed in the introductory article, Technical Proficiency, Teamwork, and Character are three attributes that a qualified safety professional possesses. This article will focus on the second of the three qualities – Teamwork. Teamwork is the heart of any enterprise and the most effective mean to achieve goals and objectives. To maximize the team’s ability, safety professional has to recognize the individual role, strengths, and weaknesses within a group. I will expand on the value of team work by discussing nine specialist group roles observed by Maredith Belbin, a researcher and an author.
To do his job well, a safety professional must earn the respect of his team and the foundation of this respect is technical proficiency. The safety professional has to equip himself with knowledge about the role and the profession in order to execute a plan or to resolve a situation. I introduced three characteristics of an effective safety professional last article. In this article, I will expand on the first characteristic – Technical Proficiency.
What makes an effective safety professionals? Based on the my experience, there are three crucial factors which are technical proficiency, team work, and character. Having all three of the attributes is a rarity which explained why I only met one such person after years of working in the industry. He was efficient, persuasive, and invaluable to the team. Here I will introduce the idea and I will expand on each characteristics in the later posts.