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Close Call Reporting with Dr Josh Williams

Does your organization reinforce a culture of reporting or is there some fear (or hassle) associated with close call events? The answer to that question is a great litmus test for your overall safe production culture.

The purpose of reporting close calls (and minor injuries) is to promote a learning culture and avoid serious injuries in the future.

Close call reporting, when done correctly, is a powerful tool to improve safety culture and prevent serious injuries and fatalities. How well does your organization manage close call reporting?

​Take the following quiz and find out.

Please try our free Close Call Reporting Quiz:


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams; their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe, yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru, where we explore topics around operations, leadership and particularly the essential role that operational leaders have in driving The Safety Guru. I’m Eric Michrowski president and CEO of Propulo, our host for this show today. And previously on The Safety Guru. We had Dr. Josh Williams partner, Human Performance and Business Transformation at Propulo, and I’m glad to have him back on our show this time to talk about Close Call reporting. Thank you, George, for coming back on the show.

I appreciate it. Thanks very.

So, Dr. Josh Williams has a Ph.D. in psychology from Virginia Tech. He is a pioneer in the safety culture space with over twenty years of experience with a broad range of clients ranging from aerospace, pharmaceutical, military, oil and gas, utilities and manufacturing. Wow, quite the impressive resume. He’s authored a book. He’s the coeditor’s second one. He has published over 40 different articles and presented over 100 different conferences. And he’s also the national prize winner from the Cambridge Center on Behavioral Safety.

Wow. An impressive background. So, Josh, maybe you can refresh our listeners a little bit about how you came about in the safety space and what brought you here. Thank you right now. Thanks, Eric. So I was in graduate school, as you mentioned, you know, working towards a Ph.D. and I enjoyed it. But it just felt to me like a lot of the stuff that we were learning and talking about was very kind of ivory tower. And that’s OK. But it wasn’t for me. And I was getting a bit frustrated. And one of the professors at Virginia Tech, a guy named Scott Geller, who many, many people may know and really is kind of the in my mind, sort of the father was sort of the fountainhead of the psychology of safety, really, if you boil it down. But anyway, he was a professor there, asked me to, you know, get on board with his team, which I did.

And it was great. You know, we were out in the field, we were mines. We were doing all kinds of crazy stuff. And for a graduate student, it was a really good experience. So, this is back in the late 90s. I’m getting old, but it was a long time ago. But that’s kind of where we where I got started. And I just really liked it. It felt like, you know, you’re fighting the good fight once a quarter finished up.

And I worked with him for a bit. But, you know, you’re fighting the good fight. You’re trying to keep people from getting hurt and just kind of resonated with me. So that’s kind of how I got started.

That’s such an impressive story and really exciting. So today we’re going to talk a little bit more about close call reporting, which is a really key component of any safety strategy. We’ll be right back to talk more about it. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru, this is your host, Eric Michrowski. We know how many businesses have been impacted by the current covid-19 Black Swan event. Propulo has invested all its available capacity to create free resources for leaders on how to navigate this crisis.

Whether you would like to explore some of our retools, subscribe to our free biweekly newsletter or seek free advice. I encourage you to visit covid. Black Swan dot com covid. Black Swan dot com Propulo has committed not to profit from this crisis in any way. It’s our way of giving back to the communities that we serve. Thank you.

Like what we do here, this is your Socials and tell everyone, Josh, you’ve really blown me away. You’ve talked about a close call reporting you created a quiz to help leaders address is so critical component, a free quiz where people can see how they’re doing, compare themselves against others. And if you’re interested in getting there, go to highway to zero, dot com, highway to zero dot com. Great way to get started. So maybe let’s start talking a little bit about close call reporting.

Why is it so important for a leader to make sure that the close call reporting is working? Well, you know, when you see all these different organizations and I’ve seen some really good ones, I’ve seen some really rough ones, one of the big differences, you know, differentiators, I guess, between the two is this concept now called, you know, learning environment or learning organizations. And I think it’s a good trend. You know, human performance, I think, has helped push us in that direction where the idea is simply, you know, things happen.

We learn from mistakes. We’re not beating people up. We’re trying to move in the right direction in the best way to get that information from the people that are on the job doing the job and they know what’s going on. And if we have an environment where people are free to speak up, that may be reinforced for speaking up, it just creates a more positive environment and it’s just a lot more open environment. So, if somebody gets hurt or killed on the job, if someone else had a similar experience, they got lucky and dodged a bullet.

Well, if they don’t say something, somebody else may not be so lucky. So, from a big picture perspective, we’re creating a learning organization. In the spirit of that is we’re speaking up more. We’re keeping each other safe.

That’s phenomenal. So, I was talking a couple of weeks ago to this leader and he told me, hey, I’m not well shop. And if somebody gets injured, I just fire the person. So why should I care about close call reporting? If that’s my philosophy, if that’s your philosophy, you shouldn’t. That’s your philosophy. You should be doing something else. That’s the scary old school command and control. And look, 20 something years ago that that was I was seeing that a whole lot more, I’ll say, especially over the last maybe 10, 12 years, cultures are getting better.

And I don’t know if it’s I’m not sure why exactly. Hopefully, some of our efforts are helping us move in the right direction. But that command and control, fear based is old school outdated. If you’re doing that, you’re a dinosaur. I’m sorry. You know, it’s just the reality of it and it’s just really unhealthy for everybody. So leading organizations are positive. They’re looking at trying to get information. That doesn’t mean that there’s never, you know, negative consequences potentially for something going wrong.

You know, don’t get me wrong. It just shouldn’t. That’s the last resort. That shouldn’t be our first response.

I completely agree. I think that’s one of the pieces I’ve heard too often where even I was talking to one executive and somebody had just got injured. And then they said I probably went to the hospital to fire the person, to teach him a lesson. And I said, I think they got enough of a lesson by getting injured and getting into the hospital. Right. So completely agree that this concept of organizational learning has been around for a very long time. 

I often talk about in terms of you want people to see problems, the opportunities within the business. You want to then teach them how to solve them so that we constantly trying to find ways to make things better inside the organization at all levels within the organization. And then, you want to share and embed those learnings across the organization. That’s really, to me, this concept of organizational learnings in this close call reporting is such a critical component of that.

So, I haven’t started one of my businesses. What would be the first thing that I should do if I want to have a good close call reporting system, eliminate fear.

There should be no fear associated with reporting close calls, which I don’t know, Eric. And I think you brought this to my attention once upon a time. But I think in 2011 there was an air traffic controller in Switzerland who was a close call to airplanes, were too close to each other, I guess, on the runway. And they this person took it upon himself to report it. And rather than, you know, being thanked or whatever else, he was faced criminal proceedings, I guess, and was fined 19000 francs.

I don’t know what that is in U.S. or Canadian dollars, but it was a criminal offense. And it’s like if you’re doing that to folks for reporting, what do you think is going to happen? It’s going to drive everything underground and people start hiding things. So, step one, above all else with close call reporting is drive out the fear.

I think such an important point. I grew up, as many of you know, in the airline industry. And that’s where I really got my understanding of safety and safety culture and the importance of it. And one of the things I just really admired was how it was so embedded that you would just share if you made a mistake and something was wrong, you would talk about it and you’d have a negative ramification. You try to hide it. But even if both pilots fell asleep, it was I’m encouraging you to report it because otherwise that’s one day become a big issue.

So, I love what you’re talking about, Rime. Big fear, any ideas if fear is being part of the organization, the leader I was just talking to you about that basically fire somebody if they make a mistake, if they listen to your podcast and say, oh, my goodness, Josh, you are absolutely right. I need to do things differently. How do I start the process of removing fear from the equation?

Talk to your leaders to make sure all leaders are on board. Sometimes, let’s say I see the light as a CEO, for instance, and I realize we’re doing things wrong. We’re going to get a changed first message because you may have been doing it that way 10 years. It’s hard to change culture. It’s hard to change mindsets. So, the first order of business is getting your executive folks to understand and cascading that down. That is how we’re going to be doing things to make sure that leaders are reinforcing that they should be thanking people for bringing something up if there’s a close call and someone if there’s an injury even, I mean, the first response, the default response is thanks for bringing things up.

We need to bring it to everybody’s attention. Information sharing is critical. If you want to prevent bad things from happening, share with others, not just in that particular area with other organizations. If you’ve got a sister facility in other areas, share with them to that’s king. We’ve got to make sure we get that information out to folks.

That’s really good. How about competitors? Should you be sharing close calls with your competition? Right. Because at the end of the day, safety is not a competitive differentiator. How do you broach that topic? The airlines are really good at doing that, I have to say, is they realize that safety is so paramount that I’m going to share it. Even if you’re my competitor on a daily basis.

Yeah. Fight them in a different space. You know, give us more leg room. You know, you don’t we don’t need to be fighting about that. We should be sharing information freely across the board. Look, this is a bigger issue. This is people’s lives at stake. If you talk to people that have had serious injuries or they’ve been apart, I’ve seen other people getting killed. And again, I’ve talked to people that make those phone calls to people’s families.

It’s devastating for everybody. Not so little. Let’s just put that aside and fight, you know, fight the good fight in terms of, you know, protecting themselves.

So how would I do this? I just ring up my competitor and say, hey, can we start sharing some ideas on how to improve safety or go to an organization? We’re a little bit of all of the above.

Yeah, I think all the above more information is good.

And that’s fantastic. OK, so now I want to double click on another topic. You talk a lot about how you do something with what you learn and the importance of creating credibility in the close call reporting process I talked about before in terms of see, solve share. And it’s really the that the sharing part, but also the solving part. Any words of wisdom around that?

Yeah, that’s a big one. And I appreciate you asking the question because, you know, part of the challenge is we people will set up a close call reporting system and no one reports anything in there that look at me and then they start going. The incentives, like we had talked about in our last podcast. Look, incentives are not the answer there necessarily. It may be something to do if I bring something up. Let me add and this is a question, I guess, rhetorical for the listeners, but if I’m out there on the job, I got an issue.

It’s important to me. I bring it up and I never hear back. What’s my impression of what’s going on? You know, people don’t care. It’s a problem. So, making sure we get back to people as critical and sometimes it maybe we can’t fix this exactly the way you want right away. We’re doing ABC in the meantime to try to address it, but we need to be highly responsive. And that’s one of the biggest weaknesses with close call reporting, is we’re not getting information back to people.

We’re expecting them to fill out these cards or tell somebody and they never hear back. They’re going to quit doing it. So that information back to folks is really important. I think that’s phenomenal. So, if you haven’t already done so, go to highway to zero, dot com, highway to zero dot com. Take this free self-assessment quiz. It’s going to look at best practices, ideas, provoke thinking and most importantly, provoke you to start thinking about what actions you can take. 

I’ll be right back with some additional questions to close off with Dr. Josh Williams. Thank you. We’re back with Dr. Josh Williams. And once again, highway to zero dot com. That free self-assessment to see how are you doing, how you stack up against others in this space. We’ve done really well around Close Call reporting. So, a couple of closing questions. One of the things that I’ve often talked about is that there’s a degree of maturity that starts progressing in terms of close call reporting.

You start out and maybe you start to report things that that team did and that team maybe is a subcontractor, another competitor that’s on-site as a contractor on your site or another team. Then you start progressing to saying, I’m willing to accept things that my team, my teammates, my colleagues, my crew has done that need to be changed and that the higher level of maturity, as I said, recognizing, you know what, I’m not perfect.

And I’ve also made some mistakes. And the value of learning from my mistakes, from the errors I’ve made is really worthy of it. So, I look at those steps really in terms of understanding where am I from a maturity enclosed Carpet, any thoughts for me?

Yeah, that’s a nice way to look at it. And I think, you know, testimonials are powerful. We all know the if you’re watching debates and you have politicians telling a story, well, I was in Iowa and someone came, you know, there’s a reason stories have impact. And when someone has the courage to stand up in front of other folks and say, look, I had a close call, this could have really got me in trouble.

It didn’t, but it could have. Sharing that information is big. And if we can get people to do that, naturally, I think you’re right. That’s a sign of high maturity with your close call reporting.

That’s phenomenal. Thank you. Thank you so much. So very quickly. Some people call it near-miss reporting. Close call reporting. Is it the same thing?

I think so. I mean, it’s not a near miss that being almost hit me in the head. That was not; it was a near hit or maybe a close call. I just, I think a close call. I think people are moving more and more toward because it is a close call. You almost got hit by a car as a close call. So, I think it may be a semantics issue, but I think it’s a better way to go, I think it is what people are using more and more.

So really thinking about the things that if something had happened differently, could have resulted in an injury is really what we’re trying to summarize and capture any closing thoughts for us as we talk about this?

Yeah, I like what you said about the maturity level and our discussion kind of on learning organizations is just, again, kind of repeating that having an open environment where people want to speak up as important as a couple of quick hitter points to consider. First, it should be made easy. Sometimes not everyone’s comfortable with computers. Not everyone’s comfortable with doing things on apps. Speaking for myself. So, keep it simple, you know, I mean and paper reporting, some people prefer that make it easy for people to report things that shouldn’t be a hassle.

I think that would be step one. Step two would be prioritizing, tracking these close calls that are coming in. And one thing I think better organizations are starting to do is not just do a laundry list of different close calls, but they’re prioritizing particularly for specific potential. I mean, if they can get you killed, we need to address it. Now that comes to the front of the line. So doing a better job with a prioritization and tracking.

I think the third thing we talked about a little bit, but is just address things quickly and be honest. If you can’t fix something right away, we’re going to do this in the meantime. But be honest with people. But getting back to people is just really important to the person that was involved and with other people as well. And then the final one would be advertising improvements. Look, it doesn’t cost any extra money. You’ve already made the fix.

Tell people, I’d say, but it is marketing. You are advertising, you are displaying and demonstrating your commitment to safety. And one of the best ways of doing that is addressing people’s issues as they come up. So, advertise, advertise, advertise in meetings, emails, one on one conversations. Make sure that people understand you are working hard to address those close calls.

I love it. Advertise, advertise, advertise. And I would all ad, communicate, communicate, communicate, make sure people see the value in what you’re doing, what’s in it for them. It’s been such a pleasure to have you on our show once again and again for the listeners. If you’re interested, go to highway to zero dot com, completely free quiz. No gimmicks, no nothing. Nobody’s going to call you. Nobody’s going to start harassing you afterwards.

Just a good way to start thinking about how you can move forward. And Dr. Josh Williams is such a generous person with his time, his ideas, so committed to driving safety forward that I’m sure if you wanted to hear more about what you could do in your space, he’d be willing to help you out. So, thank you so much and thank you for listening to The Safety Guru.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team’s Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops Eric Michrowski.

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For more than 20 years,  Josh has partnered with clients around the world to deliver customized, sustainable solutions to improve safety culture and prevent SIFs. Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Virginia Tech and is a behavioral safety, human performance, and safety culture improvement expert.

Josh is the author of Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention and co-editor of Keys to Behavior Based Safety. He has published more than 50 book chapters, government reports, white papers, blogs and articles in leading journals. Josh has also delivered hundreds of presentations at leading national conferences and is a highly regarded public speaker. He received the Cambridge Center National First Prize for his research on behavioral safety feedback.

A sample of Josh’s recent projects include delivering a series of motivational presentations, conducting comprehensive strategic planning sessions, and managing safety culture assessments and improvement activities.

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