Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Monday, January 14, 2013
I don’t know of many safety professionals that consider themselves experts in all the fields mentioned above. How many do you know that have a detailed knowledge of NFPA 70e the electric arc flash standard, fall protection while working in trees, traffic control, police defensive tactics training, the intricacies of firefighting, and, the ergonomics of both field and office environments including vehicle ergonomics for our police officers that spend hours on end in their vehicles to name a few?
I mentioned in a previous post that the injury rates of public sector employers (taken as a whole) are nearly twice that of private industry. Public sector employers need to make a decision to accept that a given number of injuries every year is either acceptable, or not. Oh, and by the way, I am not one to accept that even one is acceptable. I also am a realist and HAVE to accept that cultural change does not happen overnight. As much as I want it to, I know for a cultural shift to be sustainable it must grow and be nurtured to take hold.
I have provided trainings and asked the audience if they thought zero injuries was an attainable goal for their group. Initially, many respond with a “no”. They typically respond with something like “we work in a construction environment; we are going to get hurt on occasion”. So the next obvious question is, “is it acceptable if you are the one who suffers that career ending injury? How about your friend that has worked alongside you for the last 10 years? How many injuries in your department is an acceptable number? 30? 8? 1?” And then ask, “is it possible for you to come to work tomorrow and not get hurt? If you show up to work tomorrow thinking about everything you do with a safety component attached to it, is it possible to not get injured?” Ahhhhh, the lights begin to glow and flicker light a fluorescent light coming on, but I digress.
Let’s move back to the topic of a compliant workforce, versus a workforce that incorporates safety into everything we perform. Granted, OSHA has established regulations that all employers are required to implement. Now, whether you work in an OSHA rule State or not, the OSHA standards are the bare minimum requirements of a safe and sustainable workforce. When I first came from my private industry job and into a State where it had no jurisdiction, I thought I was in heaven. That thought came back to bite me when I found a portion of the organization that had never had to comply with the OSHA regulations because they didn’t have to. It was starting at square 1 just to help them understand that compliance was just the beginning of their journey to come. But compliance is foundational of everything that is to become a true safety program. Without a basic understanding of the concepts of compliance with the rules and regulations of the OSHA requirements, a successful safety program is probably not in the cards. I want to be clear though, that an organization that depends on the OSHA regulations to make their organization safe will fail at ever attaining a sustainable safe environment. You can follow every rule in the book(s) and still have injuries that plague your organization. In fact, I will confess that in performing our own early tracking and trending showed that 80% of our injuries were not the result of not following an OSHA regulation. A saw blade unguarded, a trench left un-shored, an unprotected opening, an overloaded forklift, unused personal protective equipment, a mobile crane working outside of its load limits, an unprotected pinch point, or even an uneducated workforce is not where we were seeing most of our injuries. Our injuries were coming from employees that made a decision to perform something that was outside of what they knew they should have done. In many instances, they were incentivized to do the wrong thing and the result was an injury.
It’s late and I need to sleep as you can probably tell from my rambling and the substance of this post, so I will stop here. But want to say that I hope this blog begins to flicker the lights on in your quest for improving your injury rates within your organization. I don’t profess to be a professional writer but hope I am able to communicate a few key ideas in future posts for you to consider.
“No one cares how much you know unless they know how much you care.” Bottom line…..Safety is about people, not numbers. The numbers benefit the organization with data and if you use the numbers to help the people, the people will help you with the numbers. If you try to use the people to help get the numbers, in the long run we will usually fall short.
Define safety as what you do, not as what is not happening. In other words, stop looking for what is wrong and start doing things with safety ingrained in everything you perform. You will empower yourself, your management and your workers with a sense of direction and purpose that will help you achieve the success you thought was out of reach in your traditional approach to safety.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
Yes, I am writing this blog to address public employees and the environmental health and safety (EHS) cultures built within (most) of these agencies. This is where I live. I'm a guy and I will be the first to admit that much of my self worth comes from my work. So there. You have your first glimpse of who I am. I happen to like work. I enjoy the people I work with and when I first moved from private industry and into the public arena, I saw a lot of opportunity. It's okay to work at something that already operates well, but its tremendously rewarding to work at something that has the huge potential and opportunity to transform cultural norms.
I'm not a huge fan of Hollywood, but I do enjoy a good movie on occasion and once in a while, a writer will place a line of dialog into a script that really catches your attention. In the movie Moneyball, Billy Beane is the general manager of a baseball team working in an organization with a low budget mindset of survival. Billy Beane makes a decision that if he and the team are going to succeed, he has to change the way the organization has perceived recruiting and attracting new players. He has to overcome the organizations view of status quo and do something nobody else has ever done. Okay, it's a 2 hour movie and my goal for this blog is short and consistently interesting so in that keeping........ Billy Beane achieves some level of success but is beaten and bloodied at every corner he turns in trying to change a broken and blinded culture. Toward the end of the movie, an owner of another ball team, John Henry, who has been watching Billy's quest says to him
John Henry to Billy Beane: I know you are taking it in the teeth, but the first guy through the wall... he always gets bloody... always. This is threatening not just a way of doing business... but in their minds, it's threatening the game. Really what it's threatening is their livelihood, their jobs. It's threatening the way they do things... and every time that happens, whether it's the government, a way of doing business, whatever, the people who are holding the reins - they have their hands on the switch - they go batshit crazy.
I want this blog to be an idea log. I want to look at the way we have performed our EH&S functions for the past 100 years to be put on a shelf and reviewed for historical reference. Correct me if I'm wrong, but we have been working at reducing the number and severity of workplace injuries for years and years. We have gobbled up the regulatory standards that OSHA has mandated and came up well short of saving lives, reducing the severity and frequency of injuries AND I'm sorry to say, there remain many organizations out there that don't care. Our tradition of tracking lagging indicators shows that public entities (in general) have injury rates nearly double that of general industry according to BLS statistics. Addressing work site hazards and conditions as mandated by OSHA will never give us a workplace free of injury. Never.
Today's EH&S professional has to be not only a safety person, but also a counselor, an engineer, an attorney, an accountant and a wealth of information from numerous other professions, but most of all.......... A visionary. Not satisfied with the status quo. I hope that when we get a pat on the back because we helped reduce injuries from 100 to 90 in one year, we cringe that 90 of our co-workers were still injured. I am not willing to accept that as a compliment. And, as I have learned, that unless something significant took place to make that reduction, next year we could be back to injuring 100 or more.
I hope many of us out there have chosen our professions in public agencies, to give back to the communities that give so much to us. I am one of the fortunate ones who works for a community that I love. Yes, it is local government, and there are days when the politics involved in my job leave me banging my head against the wall. But the people I work with every day are by far the most dedicated I have ever worked with in delivering services to the community we serve.
So I welcome your comments and suggestions as I post to this blog the things I learn that can help us all move forward at changing the cultural norms from organizations of acceptance to organizations that are willing to opening their eyes to new ideas that will not only lower injury rates but maybe even eliminating them one day.