Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Leading & Lagging Indicators

I recently talked about the 7 key components to safety success but ran out of time to discuss the last two components “Leading Indicators” and "Lagging Indicators”. These two pieces are critical to the 7 component package.
Leading and lagging indicators are both measures of performance. However Their differences are as unique as night and day. In years past we have always used lagging indicators as our measure of performance. I’m sure most of you have attended a training class or presentation and remember seeing the charts as part of a presentation showing how many injuries have been reported, how many medical treatment injuries, the costs of those injuries and on and on about how we need to get better and lower these numbers.
These lagging indicators are symptoms for upper level managers and directors to use in identifying what is happening at levels below them in the field, shops and offices. In other words, are we doing enough? Are the resources, systems and strategies being implemented to reduce the number of injuries and associated costs working? The employees who reported the injuries are still injured and the money is spent. There is nothing we can do to change those numbers and the dollars spent will continue to accrue until those claims that remain open are closed.
Okay, so lagging indicators can be depressing and sometimes disheartening, but they are a necessary component of the bigger picture.
The last piece of this puzzle is leading indicators and is something that we all seem to struggled with as safety performance measures. However, you may be surprised to stop and think that maybe you are already doing things that you have not realized could be measured as a safety indicator or performed without looking at it as a safety related goal. Maybe you have been closing more streets for construction this year? Traffic control with flaggers directing traffic into one direction exposes more of our workers to high volumes of traffic, increases costs, and consumes time. By closing the road with detours around the project, we eliminate the employee exposure to traffic and the job is completed cheaper and quicker. When a City experiences a power outage, it is frustrating. But the crew’s safety is much more important than getting the power back up by rushing through a restoration, taking short cuts and injuring or killing an employee. Pressure to complete a job and restore service comes from all over. The citizen or business is calling and sometimes complaining to City council who in turn calls the City Manager who in turn calls the manager who in turn calls the supervisor and the push is on to complete the job at all costs. We finally said stop! We will have the power restored as quickly as possible while following all the safe practices we need to in order to KEEP OUR EMPLOYEES SAFE.  Don’t think your employees feel this pressure? Ask them for an honest answer. The point here is that you may be doing things around your organization that can be measured as leading indicators for all levels of the workforce if we stop and consider them as such.
Leading indicators allow us to follow the age old adage of “what gets measured gets done”. Leading indicators should be used to get done those things that will result in lowering the numbers seen in lagging indicators. Like what you ask? Look at the other five system components talked about last week. Safety inspections and audits of your facilities to identify hazards; safety training specific to your work practices within your work groups; implementing some type of safety incentive program that will lead to things that you want done and will result in lowering lagging indicator numbers; holding your personnel (and yourself) accountable by establishing SMART safety goals to be accomplished; establishing safety policies and procedures unique to your work environment based on the safety policies and procedures.
I want to say one more time that holding your field, shop and office workers accountable for lowering the numbers measured in lagging indicators is a BAD idea. Holding them accountable for reaching their established SMART safety goals that lead to lowering those lagging indicators is a GOOD idea. Look at leading and lagging as reactive and proactive or preventive. Different levels of your organization should look at safety in their own way and need to assess their performance on safety differently. The top dog in the organization and Directors should likely focus on past records and costs. Field, Office and shop workers however should be focused on measures of activities they carry out to keep (or make) the job safe, such as the number of safety trainings attended.
Now let me turn things upside down by saying that the more injuries and near misses that are reported, the better our safety program will become. I’m not saying injuries are a good thing, but if you look at the work areas that have just as many “report only” injuries as “medical injuries”, their safety programs have probably reached a point where the employees are recognizing that safety within their work groups is taken seriously and the managers and supervisors want to know about it. We especially need to know about those near misses where the difference between no injury and a serious injury was mere inches or seconds. We can use those as tools to help identify where we have short comings in protecting our employees from injury.  But more on this later……..

Monday, January 14, 2013

Public Sector Is Unique To Most Employers

What makes the public sector unique to most working environments with regard to employee safety?  I think it is the fact that most public entities are made up of a diverse environment of work found individually in many private companies but all housed under one roof with regard to the public sector. There are many organizations out there that produce widgets. Granted, there are many private companies that produce many different products in a diverse fashion, but public entities perform landscaping, and arborist activities, perform road construction in the midst of ongoing traffic at all speeds, provide police and fire services, transit services, a plethora of clerical and administrative duties, operate zoo's from petting zoos to full scale exotic animal exhibits, design neighborhoods and engineering functions, provide water and electricity to millions of citizens through thousands of miles of both above ground and underground utility systems, provide refuse collection and disposal and the list goes on. The list of employee classifications in the public sector is a long one.

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.

Goals, Stratagies & Systems

The Goal: Eliminate Employee Injuries
The Strategy: Incorporate key safety systems into the work processes already in place
The Systems: Audits, Training, Incentives, Accountability, Policies & Procedures, Leading Indicators, Lagging Indicators

Since the early 70’s, safety has been measured by the failure rate. The “Recordable Accident Frequency Rate” (RAF), Days Away, Restricted or Transferred (DART), etc. These lagging indicators provide a snapshot of the performance of the safety strategies & systems put in place. Wouldn’t it make sense to also measure leading indicators that measure the implementation of the strategies and systems that should result in lowering the lagging indicators?
Lowering the RAF or DART rates, lowering the number of injured employees, requires the implementation of a system and a strategy behind it. It’s one thing to tell employees to work safely. It’s another for them to embrace and sustain it making safety an integral part of the culture of the organization.  To accomplish this level of safety requires a strategy and systems for implementation.
We have identified seven key components to a successful safety system and will briefly describe each component and strategies that can be used in implementing them into your unique work environments.
AUDITS: Simply an observation or evaluation of (in this case) the safety systems and conditions in place to protect employees from injury.  Safety Audits should be performed in some way shape or form by everyone in the workplace on a regular basis. Regular may be daily, weekly, monthly or annually, depending on workplace. Audits may be informal, walking through an area and noting observations both good and bad. Or, they may be more formally documented and performed by risk management, safety personnel, or an outside resource. Sometimes audits may be of more value if the person performing the audit knows little about how the work is performed. Questions need to be asked which leads to more questions and identifies things that maybe have been done a certain way for years, but identifying how things may be performed in another manner that provides greater employee protection.  Don’t forget to identify things that need correcting or addressing AND those things that are best management practices. Complement those folks that are responsible for the good things. Complements and recognition go a long way in helping establish what it is you expect when it comes to safety.
TRAINING: Look at your work processes and identify what safety training(s) should be required for the positions (job descriptions) within your work environment. A position that operates heavy equipment such as a backhoe should be required to attend a trenching and excavation class. An administrative position should be required to attend an ergonomics class. Then look at how often does this training need to be repeated or attend a refresher class. All required safety training within the work group should be specific to the work performed.
 INCENTIVES: Love them or hate them, they do have a place in the safety system if performed in the proper manner and incentivize those things you want done and not the desired outcome.  What does this mean? If your goal is to reduce injuries and you incentivize fewer injuries, you will probably get fewer injuries. However, you may get fewer injures because in an effort to meet incentive goals, employees will not report injuries. This is the opposite effect of a good incentive program. Incentivize those things you want employees to perform that will actually lead to lower injury numbers. (such as performing audits to identifying hazards or improving workplace processes or attending safety training).
ACCOUNTABILITY: Without this piece of the system, safety improvements will not be sustainable. Accountability does not mean you walk around with a big stick, but rather letting our people know what we expect from them. In most cases if people know what is expected, they will perform to that level when challenged to do so.  Accountability makes the statement of “Safety is up to me and my team. We can and will make better choices, resulting in a safer work environment”. And then, taking responsibility for the successes and failures that occur. While you may be personally accountable for improving the safety of you employees within the organization, you need a shared accountability throughout all levels of the organization that involves everyone to help reach that goal.
POLICIES & PROCEDURES: Policies are a course of action established to provide a guide toward strategies and objectives. Procedures provide the reader a clear plan of action to carry out the policy. Your organizational Safety Policies and Procedures should be written to provide all departments a basis from which to develop their own safety policies and procedures that are specific to the unique work performed within their own work group. It is important for employees to know the policies and procedures that affect the work they perform so they know what is expected of them. This holds true for both organization wide and department specific policies and procedures.
 I’ll hold off on Lagging and Leading Indicators for the next issue but wanted to use these last few lines to remind you that employee safety should not be viewed as one more thing to add to your employee’s busy schedule and tasks to complete. Rather, safety should be built into what they are already doing such as quality, schedules, budgets, etc.
Don’t ya just love the banners with the slogans that read “Safety is number #1”? If safety is #1, then what keeps the doors open? Safety has to be equal to everything else we do. In many cases it is a mindset shift that we take into account when we are performing everything we do from designing a golf course to creating a financial report or re-paving a roadway.

What Does Success Look Like

The surface definition of safety success on most everyone’s mind is simply a reduction in the failure rate. We have been so busy avoiding failure that we need to remind ourselves what success looks like. The word “success” tends to surface every time the accident rates go down, but does the lack of accidents really equate to safety success?
The answer is a definite maybe. Reductions in accidents can be the result of successful safety efforts. Reductions also can occur as part of the normal variation in accident rates, luck and a dozen or more other reasons, all of which are temporary.  If your injury numbers have dropped, can you identify what specifically you have done to reduce that number?
So what does safety success look like? How can we recognize it among the temporary variations? I would like to suggest that all truly successful safety efforts have all or most of the following qualities in common. Do you want your safety efforts to be more successful?  Adopt the following qualities and make them evident.
Integrated
Successful safety efforts are not something else we do, or one more “thing” to do; Safety has to be integrated into the way we do everything. The more separate safety efforts are from day-to-day functions, the less successful they are. Safety programs and processes that do not mesh into the fabric of day-to-day activities are seldom successful and are not sustainable.
Ultimately, safety is not affected by quality and staffing levels. Safety is a quality and staffing issue. When you integrate safety into everything else, you can truly make it a sustainable value. It will not weaken when injury numbers drop or when budget dollars are scarce.
Practical
Safety success can be advanced by theories, but ultimately is not a theory but a practice. Safety success is impossible if it does not fit the cultural, procedural and conditional realities of the workplace. A safety director who called to talk about a broken process he had tried said, “Geez, it sounded great! Too bad the workers hated it and the supervisors were afraid of it and the managers couldn’t make it work.”
We perform MANY different functions throughout our organizations and in the many departments, each with their own set of unique environments. If what you are trying to advance is met with wide spread objection, it may be for good reason.  Maybe it’s time to look at the problem from another vantage point and how it fits within your specific operations and work environment.
Humanistic
Ultimately, the reason for imp[roving safety is as important as how you work on it. If your goals are all financial and benchmarking in their orientation, you may not win the hearts of the people who can make safety efforts successful. They will be careful because it is their welfare on the line, but they will not help you reach that level of excellence unless you answer the old “What’s in it for me?” question.

“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.
In every meeting and interaction you have, there should be a short piece about safety. Instead of presenting the usual PowerPoint or speech about the statistics of accident data, occasionally we need to show up and tell our people how much we care about them and want to keep them safe.
If your remarks always say you care and then show the figures, workers will take that to mean that you care… about the figures.

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.
 How would you answer this question?
 If you don't believe that zero injuries in your organization is possible, what will you never achieve?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Public Entities and Employee Safety

It really doesn't matter if you work for a State agency, a school district, a county or city agency, we all have one thing in common........... Employees.

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.