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safety participation and worker involvement driving leaps in performance



Ken Woodward was involved in a chemical explosion at work that resulted in the loss of his eyesight, smell, and taste. Rather than talking just as a victim, he embraces what can be learned from the incident that cost him three of his senses. In this episode, Ken stresses the importance of all team members working together equally to target zero damage to people, equipment, products, and finances. There’s not just one driver to workplace incidents; there’s a build-up over time. Tune in to learn how to increase safety participation in the workplace!


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing 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 safety guru, public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hello, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Ken Woodward. Ken is going to speak to us about a topic that’s incredibly near and dear to me around safety participation, worker involvement. So, Ken Woodward is an officer of the order of the British Empire OBE onfell of Ayosh, as well as the Safety Council of Australia. He’s worked for 32 years in workplace safety in 89 countries following a workplace incident that took place. So, Ken, welcome to the show, really excited to have you with me today. 

I’m looking forward to it Eric. 

So maybe let’s start a little bit about your incident. I want to get into a lot of the work you’ve done around worker involvement because that’s phenomenal, it’s exciting. But let’s start a little bit about your story and the incident that took place that really got you involved in safety to this level. 

Okay. It was November 1990, chemical explosion, caustic and Hypo. I had both eyes removed. I have no sense of smell or taste. Unfortunately, the burns recovered, and my life was saved by a work colleague. And at the time I was working for a leading soft drinks company. I also investigated the loss of my eyes, how it happened, why it happened, what we didn’t do, what failed, all the lists of whys, why’s wise, but to the workplace for a very good reason. 

So, one of the things when we first connected that you talked about was that everyone could have prevented this. Tell me a little bit more about kind of the whys you went through and that observation around everyone could have. 

Prevented what happened in that investigation. I realized that it was a process that I never attempted before. So, I found the most experienced person to train me to show me how to do it. Now this guy had 58 years experience, but it was inadequate training. We didn’t validate the training, we didn’t validate the competency of the trainers, the risk assessments, the standard operating procedures. We didn’t do any of that because it’s a very simple task, it takes three minutes, and it happens thousands of times every year. So, we didn’t do that. But there was a previous incident two weeks earlier, same task in the same place. There was exothermic reaction, and he burned his face and he had to go to hospital two weeks prior. 


Yeah, two weeks prior. That was reported immediately and investigated by the front-line manager. His condition was operator error. He must have been. So, we have a breakdown of communication and listening. We didn’t communicate with anybody. Eight weeks before that, there was a heating up of hot pipes. There were lots and lots of circumstances where compliance to systems, procedures and processes would have highlighted it all if we’d have adhered to it, sure. But we didn’t. We’re very busy people, lots of pressure to get the job done. Normal everyday occurrences throughout the world. It is no different. 


Very common.

We manage those that makes a difference. So, there was lots of circumstances. Five different departments, a couple of managers. I just picked five different departments, all of them really? And then there’s a lot of fingers pointing afterwards. There’s a faint mistake because there’s not just one driver to these incidences. There’s a build up, of course. And that build up may take an hour, it may take a year, but the flags are waving. And we had nothing in place. We had no communication of the importance of flagging these up in place. And this is in 1990. If I shared the stats with you, they would frighten you. But nobody knew them. 


Nobody. I only found out afterwards. 

It wasn’t discussed, it wasn’t reviewed?

No, nothing. If we got to hear about anything that happened on our C-Suite, and you would never find out how it happened. 


So, in that sense, and yet when you look at it, our topic is zero. 


No damage to people. Equipment, vehicles, property, product, environmental, finance. Every single employee around the world manages all of those to a lesser or greater degree. So, it’s in our own interest for everybody to work together equally to target that zero. 


But do we know how well that zero is doing? Probably not. And we most certainly don’t make sure it’s happening. 


So, it’s all of those elements I picked up. And I also had to go to a rehabilitation center for a year where I learned the art of communication and listening. More importantly, working together equally as a team and compliance. That’s just for me to be a blind person, to go out into a cited world. There are four major factors. I can never drop the standards as I will get hurt. 


Or it would become very inefficient. So, my life is based on those four standards, and I took those four standards into the workplace. 


Now, the best way I can explain this, in 1990, we had 89 reported lingers to the government who want fatality. Ten years later, I spoke to thousands of people that I work with within the organization six major sites, watch long solutions to put it right, how are we going to achieve it, and what support do you require from your management team to do to reach those objectives? Ten years it took to get to no reportable injuries to the HSE? 

None whatsoever. 

None whatsoever. We had 13 lost time injuries. The most was two days. That’s for thousands of people. 


We produce more, and we made the most profit we’ve ever made. 

So, tell me a little bit about that approach to worker involvement, because I think that’s a key component in terms of how you get the workforce involved in safety. Tell me a little bit more about tactically, how you went about it. 

Okay. We pulled together the executive board, the vice presidents, and we fed to them the facts. 


We showed them where we think we could get to. So how you can measure us. If you want to make it a KPI, that’s fine. Don’t have a problem with it. But do we have the right management system in place? Did our international safety rating system work? So, we pointed out that you may have thought we were doing a brilliant job, but we put all the facts on the table, and then we showed them how we can start to improve it. And we did say it would take a long time, and we need the full support of the vice president of manufacturing and distribution. 


And we want that support to be personal and on site. We created a workshop with the vice presidents. We wanted them to come up with how they’re going to do it, how they’re going to support us at no cost. We will also have no cost to reach those improvements. We don’t need money off you, because the people that can do it are the workforce. They know what’s wrong. They know the solution to put it right. They know how to do it. But we need your support to achieve it. And it’s got to be personal. So, I don’t want you to pick up a KPI, go out and check it or do an audit, go out and check it. I don’t want any of that. Just want you to go along and say, how’s it going? How’s this work? How’s that working? Keep it calm and quiet. We also put an observation process in place so that we could observe compliance. Now, that’s quite difficult to put into any company because a lot of our employees thought it’s Big Brother. 


Absolutely. We’re being watched. We’re going to get in trouble. So, we had to make sure that we gave an overview to every single employee in this country on why we’re doing it and what to expect. And if you don’t get any of that, here’s the number, phone me, and I will work with you to put that right. 


So, we gave them the support. 


And then after a period of time that started to die away. In fact, it didn’t die away. It started to develop because we then put it into Lucky way of explaining it. If you were to go to anybody on a shop floor and say, your son and daughter is going to do your job tomorrow, what would you warn them about? Open up the gold dust. Let’s hear it now. How would you prevent that? We’re now starting to move to the next level of continuous improvement. 


So, then it became everybody’s job to do that, including the vice presidents. They could do it any way they wanted to. We looked at our audit system and we looked at we asked people, you have audits for housekeeping? They said yes. Who does them? The management. How often? Well, they didn’t know the answer to that half the time. Do you ever get feedback from that? Never. Okay, if you have a VIP visit, do the standards of Housekeeping go up? Well, we’re going to know the answer because of course they do. We cleaned everything. So, we just proved to our senior team that, okay, that’s just one audit, one KPI, whatever you want to call it, that we know the answers because it keeps highlighting them. Every week we do them, which takes 157 managers that do it an hour or two to do it. We’re wasting time. We know the answers already. How do we develop that? And we develop self management teams. So, the areas that they work in, they managed. They also then continuously improved on that, where they would manage compliance. It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter if we had the Queen to visit, she had to wear the hair net, the hard hat, if she had to, the gloves and the safety boots. 

So, it really was they were testing us to make sure we meant it and we were managing them to make sure we mean it. So, work together equally as a team. We’re fully unionized, right? So, I asked every member, every convener, every union member, tell me what’s wrong, and then I asked all of them, how many of you ever go across and do anything about it? Right. Not one. So, in all fairness, we’re almost as bad as each other. So, we said, let’s just work together on this. We then asked them later on to set the standards for noncompliance so we could all manage it together, so we could communicate and inform people we have agencies, we have tenants, so that we could actually say, look, you have to wear those, or if not, we won’t produce. We’ll stop work, right? You’re not going to mess it up for us. So, they immediately followed it and they managed each other. So, it became self managed in teams. They then took over the reporting of incidents, hazards, minor injuries. They then set a target to measure 87%, close to closure at source. We didn’t do it.

The workforce did it, right? So, everything became I mean, I can say it now simple, but it took seven years, I’m sure, of running against a brick wall. We had to keep breaking down, going over it, round it and under it to show. We really do mean it, but we could never have done it without the full support of the senior team, of course. And it was tough for them, I’m sure. 

So, you talk about these self managed teams, which is a great concept. I’m assuming that during that ten-year period, there were some leadership changes that took place. How did the approach work through these leadership changes? Sometimes new leaders come in with new perspective, new ideas. How do you manage through that? 

We had a new CEO come over, but during those ten years, there’s a guy called Bob Cameron. He was Vice President of Manufacturing distribution. He was there the whole time. In fact, we both left in 2010, years after we started. We both left together. 


See, I left Coke in 2001. Of the reasons we left was we were making much better profits and everybody was going home alive and with their bids. 


And I was getting invites from major companies in the UK. I went over to America in 97 to lay out the pathway that we’ve taken, because they’re really interested in how we do it. 


And what I got at the time was where our culture is different. It is not different. We all go to work to earn money, to support our families and our hobbies.


We all do it worldwide. We can make excuses that makes it different, or we can make assumptions that our people are different. No, they’re not. 


Once we raise the understanding of why we’re doing it and the simplicity of it, it’s so much easier. 


But it is important. And I’m glad you’ve mentioned that now, because within this week, I found out now there’s new people there, and it is incredibly different to what it used to be. It is very easy to spoil it because people have their own ideas. 

Exactly. And they’ve seen something that worked elsewhere, and they think it’s going to work, and sometimes it doesn’t make it better. You talked about the ten-year journey, the first ten years. 


What about the next ten years? So, you left in 2000. What happened in the next ten years? Because it’s still endured. 

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Yes. I went back about 20 days for quite a number of years. 


It just improved. And then we got major companies in the UK going to see our companies over here. How are you doing it? We used to issue them with little booklets that said, as we take you around our sites, we want you to look for things that are wrong. Please write them down and give them to the director of the site. Right. But we want you to manage it straight away if it’s dangerous. Right.

Even a visitor, somebody who doesn’t know. 

The plan this is near the sites at all. 

Love it. 

So that’s what they did. And that has been kept up now for decades and it’s done by the workforce. We have contractors coming in and we would manage filler operators and line operators to manage the permit trees because it’s happening in their area. So, if they haven’t got their correct PPE on, they would give it to them. The supervisor will put it into the system and Coca Cola would charge the company for the personal protective equipment that they didn’t bring with them. But that was all done before they arrived. They knew that would happen. 


That’s part of the agreement. So, they managed them. And if they wanted to do anything or go anywhere, that was the agent for that contractor for that amount of time that they were there. So, everything went through the operator.

I love the fact that this endured well over ten years after you’d left. You’re still coming in and out, but the ability for this to be sustained on an ongoing basis is the hardest part. 

Yes. How do you get better and start managing our road footage? You start making sure that they don’t use their mobile phones. They put them into boxes underneath the car seats and that’s the only way you can start your engine, so the phone is locked away. 


You make appointed times that you go to stop, take the phone out and make the calls. Does anything come up? Do I need to go anywhere? These are all designed by the workforce. 


Simplicity and efficiency. And I don’t know the answers, but I know we can go to find them. 


We got those answers. We cascaded into the workforce for their agreement. So, when we rolled it out, no pushback. 

No surprise there. I’ve had guests share. Dr Josh Williams came and shared a little bit about how an observation program designed by the workforce had seven times more participation than one that was designed by a consultant coming in to say, this is the best way to do it. And some additional examples where workers were involved and consulted in how to run a tailboard. Significant more involvement in participation because it’s theirs. So, time and time again, the numbers, the stats show that self employed participation and safety is so critical but often miss. What you’re talking about is really total worker involvement in participation in safety, which is phenomenal. 

I was asked by a world leading company once it’s out in the Far East. He didn’t believe the safety stats on some of the platforms under, so he asked me if I go out. I had to get paid in the dunking of the helicopter and all that to get my ticket to go out and I went straight to the rig and started to lost the workforce. And that CEO in that country was absolutely right. His instinct was something’s not right. Sure, the facts, they genuinely were not right. But why? I’ve just mentioned that it’s not because of that. We can manage safety as long as we raise that awareness and understanding of why we’re doing it. We want you to return tomorrow with your bits, we want you to retire with those bits and enjoy your pension. And more importantly, you will be secure in the future of a new people joining you, because that’s where the experience is. Yeah, but what have I learnt on that rig? A guy came up to me and he said, this isn’t safety, but do you mind listening to me? I said, no, not at all. He said, I checked the valves, I’m the supervisor and I have a team of four, and I check all the valves and the ones rusting up. 

I have to with a wire brush, brush off the rest of the valves. Now, there’s thousands of these valves on a rig, so it’s a constant process. It’s like painted a bridge, it never stops. And then painted a different color so that the painters could come round and paint it. So, I said, yeah, okay. He said, well, why can’t I paint it? And I said, It’s a very good question. Why can’t you paint it? He said, well, the painters are contractors, they won’t let us touch the paint. So immediately I thought, all right, can we get a training program so we can train some of these people up? Now, I know this means the painters aren’t going to be too happy about it, but we have a far more efficient way of doing it, because the longest was three years before it was painted. 


So, it’s inefficient, of course. So, they did it and they saved £2 billion that year and reduced risk, in all likelihood, that came from I know it’s nothing at all to do with safety. Yes, it is. It gives us a chance, it gives us money to improve things, so we move on. We don’t want all of it. We want what’s right. 


And we need to tackle that workforce and get them to understand we’re going to listen to you. 


We can’t do everything called wando. It will take time, but we’d like you to prioritize. And we found lots of skilled people that we didn’t know about. They were in a previous life, they were a painter, let’s just say. And we started to look at this and we said, would you like to do it? I put yellow lines around that palletizer, so no forklift truck goes in it without your permission. And it just jumped for it. 


So simple stuff, the big stuff. We put in an RFA to the States to get a mezzanine floor across the whole production floor with five production lines on it. I can’t tell you the speed that they travel at, and they have drop down points for the workers. That eliminated for the truck impacts, but that cost 170,000 pounds.


But it eliminated all impacts because that 170,000 was just one incident that happened. 


And that’s what it cost the company without the loss of production in the investigation. So those simple things we managed to get done. But they designed it. The people on that site designed their mesome floor. 


And if we had a breakdown in machinery, the site director used to stand on that missing floor with his arms behind his back, telling everybody to get it fixed quick because the workforce told me, so I had to phone him up, say, please don’t do that. They will do it as quick as they possibly can, but I understand why you’re doing it. So, we work together, we spoke to each other, and that is the most powerful thing I have found around the world, no matter what country, what conditions, different priorities, but the same issues. 


How wonderful is that? It’s just managing people, listening to them. 

So where to from here? So, you’ve driven significant improvements sustained for the following ten years. What’s the next level? 

It’s a campaign that’s now probably eight months into it we go 1% more. We’ve got the figures from the UN and from OSHA and HSC and all around the world that have been recorded in fatalities in the workplace, and statisticians have worked out what I’m going to show you now. It’s quite perfect. If all of us worldwide did one thing personally in the next twelve months to improve safety in the areas that we work in, 27,000 people would go home alive. 


I find that quite profound because that’s probably a million odd people attached to all that that are not going to be affected. 


We have to go to the workforce now and what I’m going and working with at the moment is the leadership team and the CEOs and the MDS and everybody across the board to let the workforce come up with a remit re improving safety for the next two years. 


For a member of the workforce to present it to the board for their agreement, that will show which systems it will fit into. And don’t worry, if the reporting goes up, all we’re doing then is getting honesty. 

Right? Absolutely. 

And how are you going to support them in achieving it? So, we get dual agreement and then that is communicated to everybody in their wage limits so that they know exactly how well we’re doing. 


Or if you like, online, so that they get it personally. 


Within that, we’ll be praised for success. No blame for failure. 


Because if we have to blame somebody for the health and safety issue, we have all failed. 


So, Ken, thank you very much for sharing your story. I think incredibly powerful in terms of the work of participation, in terms of self managed teams, incredibly important topics. I love the changes were sustained for significant period of time because sometimes I’ve seen it work for short periods of time with a leadership team that buys in for a period of time until the next one comes in. I think it’s a very powerful story. If you’d like more details, you can go to Ken’s website. K-E-N-W-O-O-D-W-A-R-D.CO.UK Thanks. 

You very much for asking me. It’s been the first time for me and a real pleasure. 

Thank you, Ken. Have a wonderful day. 


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 teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powerful or by Propulo Consulting.

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Ken Woodward was working for Coca-Cola Schweppes Beverages (CCSB) in November 1990 as a production operative when involved in a chemical explosion, which resulted in the loss of his sight.  With enormous support from CCSB and following months of rehabilitation and re-training with the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) Ken eventually returned to work.

In 1996 Ken was invited to appear in a Health & Safety Film – ‘Fighting Against Chance’.  As a result the video ‘1 in 1.6 Million’ was also produced and this proved to be a valuable tool in Behavioural Safety training.  The Film was included as part of a training package for CCSB and this, together with Ken’s presence at all training workshops, enabled CCSB to dramatically improve their safety performance over the following few years.

In 1997 requests were received from other companies for Ken to make personal appearances and on each occasion the video ‘1 in 1.6 Million’ was shown.  Since then Ken has evolved into a motivational speaker on Behavioural Safety.

Now an independent consultant, since September 2000 Ken’s ‘Passion for Safety’ has taken him all over the UK as well as internationally.  He has been involved in the production of further health & safety videos   including the bestseller ‘Think What If, Not If Only, [2006] ‘Hindsight’ [updating TWINIO] and most recently [2007] Lessons From a Blind School.

In February 2004 Ken’s work was recognized by The Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH) in the

UK when he was made an Honorary Fellow of IOSH.

In June 2006 Ken was awarded an OBE for services to Health & Safety in the Queens Birthday Honours.

In 2008 Ken received the ‘Health & Safety Champion of the Year’ at the Health and Safety Awards for his work with Mace at Heathrow Terminal 5.

London 2012.  Very proud that Ken played a small part in the first fatality free construction of an Olympic Park.

Dec 2015 Ken awarded Honorary Membership NSCA Foundation [Australia].

Contact email: [email protected]




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