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Dysfunctional Practices That Kill Your Safety Culture with Dr. Tim Ludwig

Dr. Tim Ludwig on Dysfunctional practices that kill your Safety Culture



Behavioural safety analysis is essential on the part of managers and workers alike to improve safety practices and conditions in the workplace. Today’s guest, Dr. Tim Ludwig, is a renowned safety consultant with 30 years of experience doing empirical research on employee-driven behavioural safety. Tune in to our discussion on common mistakes made by managers and on the effectiveness of observation, risk identification and open communication to find sustainable solutions and create a safer environment for front-line workers.


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. Today, I’m very excited to have with me Dr. Tim Ludwig. He’s a professor at Appalachian State University, spent over 30 years studying safety, safety, culture and behavioral safety, written five books, the most recent one around dysfunctional practices, which is a phenomenal read. We’re going to talk more about it today on the show and his website, Safety Dash, also a great resource with lots of great themes to cover.

So, Tim, welcome to the show and very happy to have you with me today.

Pleasure to be here with the safety guru safety doc and the safety guru far off here.

Hopefully no sparing, no dangerous activities. But tell me how you got into safety and your passion for the work you’ve done.

Well, you know, I initially, from my psychology background, was interested in quality improvement and performance improvement. I came through my doctoral program at the time when TQM and business process re-engineering were hot. So, I thought of myself as like you know, trying to get to that level of increasing and improving the quality of work in organizations the like. But at Virginia Tech, where I got my doctorate, I had the pleasure of studying under Scott Geller, who was a big safety, absolutely.

Applying behavioral principles to safety, quite well known in that area. And at the time I was doing safety research, but I told Scott at the time, I don’t know about the safety thing really into quality improvement stuff. And safety was just a good laboratory for the kind of principles that I was trying to study. And indeed, after I got done, I kept doing research on safety. But for the next 10 years or so, I was I was working with the U.S. Navy and Department of Energy and other places working on performance improvement, strategic planning, and measurement.

And it was really on those lines. And I remember talking to one of my colleagues at the time going, you know, it’s a big disconnect between all the safety research, but I’m doing all this quality improvement stuff. It doesn’t seem to come together well. It came together. I started getting asked to do speeches in the light because my research. And then I noticed, you know, like I got something to say here. And then it occurred to me I remember being up in Newfoundland, working with a bunch of of oil and gas folks who were out on floating barges, floating refineries out in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.

And finally, it slaps me upside the head as I as I’m talking to these folks going, you know, this is a good mission. You know, keeping people safe is incredible. And since then, I drank the Kool-Aid and never look back.

That’s phenomenal. So, let’s get to your book, and I really want to hear a little bit of the subtitle is Around Your Stupid. So, tell me a little bit. So sorry, what are you stupid? And tell me a little bit about the story behind it and the effect of fishing for fault.

Yeah, absolutely. The book is called Dysfunctional Practices That Kill Your Safety Culture. But I was going to call it You Can’t Fix Stupid, but Ron White, the comedian, kind of took that and didn’t want to get in trouble or anything like that. But it came from a I. I was working with a automobile manufacturing interests who made safety equipment for Baronial Beal’s international company. And they had asked me to go to a plant in neighboring Tennessee about an hour and a half from my house because they had the worst safety record of like all North America.

And in fact, the manager got fired. The younger manager called me up and said, hey, listen, give me the don’t you come on out. I got a problem with my employees. You know, they just don’t understand. I mean, I’ve been working I’ve been here for half a year of spending money. When I got here, you could even see the clock on the wall because of the oil mist in the air. So, I’m spending money on this place, doing training the whole bit and the employees just don’t get it.

I think they’re stupid. And I oh, well, I got to go see this. And I went and we were in a boardroom and you could tell that the culture was terrible. They’re yelling at each other. The employees that were there and the manager at the beginning, the manager basically says the same thing. And because, you know, I’ve been doing all I can, and the employees just don’t seem to get it. And then this one woman who was one of the employees stands up, slams the table, and says, what are you calling a stupid?

Because it’s best for us to go back. And he goes, stupid is stupid does. And then boom, the room breaks up the arguing with each other. And I had to kick the manager out. And about an hour half later, he comes back, and his face was ashen. You could tell he just had a fright. And he said that I didn’t want to go back to my office. I wanted to kind of understand what you guys are talking about.

So, I went out on the work floor. I still do some work. And he said, you know, I shouldn’t be doing any of the skilled stuff, so. Change light bulbs, you know, unit manager can change a light bulb proved to be incorrect because he said he found himself on the top rung of a step ladder with his manager, shoes on, oily and everything, holding on the piping and reaching up to get a light bulb.

And he slipped. He kicked it out and he caught himself on the piping and then he went in. It came into our meeting just right afterwards. So, he had that shaken look. Of course, that one woman stands up stupid and he goes, Yeah, I was stupid. And I thought they’d learned something that day. Of course not. Nobody’s stupid. I tell companies how many employees you got here. Four hundred. Know, that means there’s four hundred different kinds of IQ.

Everybody brings something special to the table and you need to listen to them. And so that gave us the opportunity to kind of do more behavioral analysis. You know, why did you use a stepladder instead of a six-foot ladder? And we found out that the six-foot ladders were all the way at the at the warehouse like a seven-minute walk. And you’re asking employees that are going to change light bulbs to work seven minutes and go get a ladder and walk through this oily place with the ladder and set it back up and go do it.

You know, changing the environment changes behavior. There’s no need to label people. And of course, when you call people stupid, that just starts arguments and completely goes against the chance of learning what the problem is. So, you know, that one really stuck with me. And, you know, I’ve heard over the years, you know, stupid. And what other words would count their stupid or when you do an incident investigation and then you end up coming up with a root cause, that is human error.

Well, that’s just another way of calling someone stupid. Did we get done with this investigation and the person needs to be retrained? What do you think retraining is? They know how to do their job. You’re calling them stupid. There’s just so many ways that inner safety management system. I agree. And in our discussions with other people, we’re calling them stupid. And that just goes against the culture that’s going to kill your culture and make people not talk to you.

I think it’s such an important point. I’ve even seen sometimes incident investigation feels like an interrogation chamber. It’s about trying to find fault, blame somebody. I’ve seen executives just jump and say, who are we going to fire? Is all that my favorite was somebody’s favorite? I’m not sure if it’s a good expression, but it was somebody who was who said, yeah, this person made a stupid mistake and it cost them their arm. Let me go fire them so they learn a lesson, which is you’re right, it’s a horrible, horrible mindset.

But what kind of message are you sending to an entire organization if you do this? So, tell me more about this fishing for fault and how it shows up, because that’s one of the things that really, in my opinion, really must change when it comes to organizations and safety.

Yeah, it’s a bit of an illusion that that managers carry that that they can find what’s going on and then and then blame it on the person. Right. When in fact, they perfectly designed the systems to get the at-risk behaviors or they’re looking for. But they the tools in the manager toolkit to change behavior are why they’re variety, variety coaching, reinforcement modeling and all these other kinds of things. But this discipline thing just seems to be the one in the back pocket.

And we don’t blame the managers either. I’ve talked to many frontline supervisors all the way up to the head of the shop, and I ask them, you know, when you first started becoming a supervisor, when you were on the floor being an hourly employee and then you got that promotion, what kind of manager did you want to end up being? And they usually said, yeah, somebody who’s, like supporting my troops and being there, making sure I’m removing barriers to success and kind of being popular.

And then how are you now? Your kind of grumpy, aren’t you? You’re going around yelling, you know, just being a little bit on edge all the time. So, what happened to you? And the problem is they go fishing for faults right now. At the beginning. At the beginning, when they were the first brand new manager, they said, hey, I’m going to go around, support people. So maybe they’re going out there finding a guy named Josh.

And Josh is doing you know, Josh has his normal day to day activities. But this one day that that you saw him, Eric, he was he was doing he was just upset with the guard. You know, they kept breaking, kept falling off. And he just got sick of it. He went then to fabrication. They created a new guard. He put it on. You saw that happen. You’re going, hey, look at this man.

He’s taking accountability for his own safety. He’s upgrading the machine. And then he caught you. You call everybody together, the whole team. Hey, I’m bringing you together to tell you what Josh did. This is great. And I support him completely. Everybody should be more like Josh right now. Josh Course is embarrassed about that because this isn’t what he normally does. And so. You go back the next day, I expect you to get all excited to see Josh and his behavior kind of goes back to where it is normally, and he makes mistakes here and he does good things here and they go back the next day and he took off his safety.

Protection is because I protection wipe his brow. He didn’t put it back on. And you see. And we don’t have the glasses on you. Oh, my God. Are you kidding me? Josh, I just praised you. And that happens because you’re not understanding that that there’s a there’s there is a common way that people are behaving. And if you’re not there watching you catch the good things, you’re going to get punished for praising. And it’s because you’re not using reinforcement correctly.

Right. And then you’re out there another day and you go by and Josh is just having a bad day. I don’t know what is why I feel that he is tired. He was up all night and he just he really, really kind of blew it this day. You know, he had the guard all the way off. He was his fingers were at risk. And you go and you see and then you scold them. Right. And that’s natural human reactions.

It’s emotional. You don’t want to see them hurt. So, you scold them. And then after you get done scolding them, you go back the next day. Guess what? You know, you’ve not having that bad day again. He’s having his normal day and you see him with this protection on and all this other stuff. And you go, hey, this scolding thing works. But you know what? If you didn’t do anything that day other than kind of help him out, he would have gone back there normally.

And this this is normal variation shapes managers into fishing for faults. You know, they think they get this illusion that this punishment or scolding works in praise doesn’t when in fact the science tells us the opposite. So, what happens is they’re not actually out there measuring day to day variation in where they could support. They’re out there just waiting until they find that one fault. And then they dove in and they hold it up like a fish and they go, I got it.

And then they go to the other managers and hold it. Hey, look at this fish. And they act like they’re upset. Right. But it’s really a trophy. And it goes, oh, yeah, that’s terrible. And then the reinforced for finding and then, you know, then they have to even bolster it up more like I’m going to fire this person, I’m going to try. And that doesn’t that doesn’t change behavior. And what it does, it makes people sit up straighter and salute and create secret whistles when you’re coming in that it doesn’t help safety performance.

It just makes them scared of you.

Yeah, it’s a little bit like the cop on the side of the road. You slow down when you see the cop car, but it doesn’t necessarily impact your long-term behavior.

You slow down to that stupid stop right there, stupid. They turn on you sit up straighter. Don’t I mean, are you going to get a ticket for bad posture?

So maybe you will. So, this conserved fear very often it’s sometimes called accountability and accountability has a good side, I think in some cases. But there’s also an accountability, which is code for I’m trying to instill fear. Fear. What’s your thoughts around this in safety? And obviously we’ve talked about the firing. If somebody makes a mistake, how do you balance all these things together?

Yeah, well, you know, accountability is a behavioral principle. I mean, it’s a contingency in this situation. If you do this, you’ll end up encountering this other thing. Right. So, accountability typically is what we call negative reinforcement. Right. You’re increasing behavior. You’re trying to get more of this behavior by avoiding something threatening. But you can also have accountability. That’s positive reinforcement. If I do this in this situation, I’m going to get praise from my boss, my fellow worker coming up, give me a thumbs up in the like.

So, you know, accountability is basically another term for a contingency. But you’re right. I mean, you know, oftentimes accountability is, OK, we’re going to list everything that you need to do. And if you don’t do it, you are accountable for it. And that’s assuming that a safety manager or boss knows everything it takes to be safe like they can codify in rules everything it’s going to take to be safe. But you could talk to the workers out there.

You know, the rules are only halfway there. They’re having to they’re having to use their discretion this time. Right. And when you when you are using accountability, so you then you come in and you scold. When that’s not happening, you do it publicly so everybody can see it. What’s what’s happening there? Well, first, people are going to start using no discretion. They’re just going to try to go by the book.

And believe me, going by the book sometimes will get you in trouble. So, 100 percent trouble can hurt. You want somebody to use their own discretion. Let’s see who’s working around them, see what the weather’s like, understand that this equipment is kind of not working like it should. And then and but if they’re afraid of getting in trouble, just following the rules is what’s going to result. So, you can actually get people in worse trouble.

Right. Then think about in terms of the culture. If getting in trouble for not following the rules makes you fearful that the manager is going to come over and scold you like you were scolding Josh, right? So, what’s going to happen to our bodies? Pablo told us this way back. Our bodies when we get skull with something negative happens to especially because it surprises us. We get a few responses and it’s our own animal side. We got to have our fear response and we don’t really get a fear response to the thing.

It’s going to hurt us like the equipment that could help or hurt our body. We also get fear response to the manager when they come in the room. Right. So, imagine how on edge you are when you’re afraid of something, you have anxiety. Then your manager comes on the room creating that in you. You’re certainly not safer there. And then think about when a manager like a good safety program would say, hey, you know, when something goes bad and there’s like a near miss or a close call, we want you to report it.

Yeah, you got that fear response. Any time your manager comes walking in and I’m going to sit here and go to the manager, go, hey, I want to tell you about where I kind of screwed up here and I almost got hurt. And because you’re going to have that fear response, I’m going to avoid that. So, fear stops the conversation. Plain and simple right now. And we can’t be so boastful to think that managers and safety professionals even dedicate their career to this can come up with every single thing it’s going to take to keep somebody safe.

We need to learn from our frontline workers. And if we’re shutting them down, then we’re not going to be able to learn. We’re going to hurt our ability to help them. And I think injuries are going to be more prolific. That’s the case in less mature safety cultures.

Yeah, I think I agree. I would say the this is a balance that’s needed because if things are too loose and there’s no process, there’s no methods, there’s no what a good kid looks like that can be dangerous. But if at the other end of the spectrum, it’s too controlled an environment, there’s too much punishment, too much fear. I mean, I’ve seen in some organizations where leaders give out tickets or fines or however, they call that for infractions and they have a target, a quota of how many infractions you need to find.

And so then eventually at the end of the month, you’re going to find infractions just because you’re not meeting their quota. And then the person ridicules the program, and the person then becomes afraid of it. And I’ve seen it myself. In the airline industry, people openly talk about failure as mistakes, near misses. It was just accepted what wasn’t accepted as hiding it. And then you go into other industries. And I remember as an example, there was one when mine site where the trucks were rolling down open pit mine, that trucks were regularly rolling down.

And for several years this happened. Incredibly, incredibly dangerous event. But nobody was talking to why it was happening, because people were blinking, their eyes falling asleep, which meant that this cause couldn’t be addressed because it was always hidden. It was always a story for why it happened as opposed to the open truth. Again, because of a of a fear which may not necessarily be real, but there’s still a fear that’s present, which is what becomes to reality.

And it lasts a long time. And it’s one of those that old age, you know, for every thousand, every thousand acts of kindness, it only takes one acts of act of meanness to destroy it. All cultures hard to build. And it doesn’t take much. It doesn’t take much. I mean, the memory is long. So, you can tell when we’re talking behavioral safety. Right. We’re off to take it’s the behavior of the employees that we’re looking at.

Well, I think this discussion kind of proves that the behavior of the managers is a big part of that. And we’re where we learn about total safety, culture or other kind of ideas, a safety culture. That’s where we say, hey, it’s the everybody in the in the plant that that’s involved with it. And not only front-line workers and their front-line supervision and other management, other functions in the at the site where the planners, the engineers, H.R. procurements, you know, they’re all behaving, too, for sure.

Ways that impact the front-line worker financing budgets.

Exactly. They have huge impact.

Exactly. And so, you know, we’re sitting here putting it all on the front-line worker when in fact, when these other functions or making decisions without the frontline workers insights, without understanding the honest events that are happening, the frontline workers, when they’re making these decisions and they’re kind of pushing the problem to the front-line worker, they’re making budgetary decisions, cutting costs. Right. And they’re saying we can pull this off. Well, who’s going to have to pull this off?

It’s a frontline worker, right? When the maintenance planners are sitting in too many. Too many folks to the unit and the and the permitting the folks that are supposed to be doing permits, so of having a reasonable two or three to do a day, they’re doing 12 and of course, they’re doing couches permits, not actually doing the walkabouts. And then that that problem gets pushed to the front-line worker. And it’s something that happened by other people who aren’t even aware, probably make a decision a long time before someone when we’re talking about a culture, a culture needs to involve everybody and oftentimes are behavioral programs.

And even our safety programs are focused on that front line worker when in fact, the sustainable solutions are going to occur in all these other functions that are setting the occasion for the problem to the front line work. And guess what? Front line workers are heroes. You know, they’re pulling it off with all those things that they don’t do. They’re pulling it off, but sometimes pulling it off by taking shortcuts and in some cases are being praised for it.

So, this topic is an incredibly important one, because I completely, completely echo this. I’ve seen in more mature organizations they really embrace that everybody, the finance person, the HR person, every support function needs to understand safety and the role not only for their specific role, but also in terms of how they influence others around safety. But in a lot of organizations, that gets shunned upon, they say, well, what does it have anything to do with the lawyer?

What does it have anything to do with the finance person? How have you helped bring those other support groups really to that understanding of really a chain of causality between your actions and and an end outcome of the front line?

I mean, I just had that conversation yesterday with a with a large manufacturing site on the west coast of the United States, where they were just looking for let’s put together a card and observe employees. And that’s what we need. And I said, no, that’s not that’s first of all, that that that may be a component of a program that works, but just doing that is going to you’re going to end up failing or having to pay for observation and then trying to give them the fuller picture of what we just talked about.

Everybody involved, everybody understanding of behaviors. And this guy said, oh, I don’t think I have that much control over it. And right there, you know, they’re not ready. They’re not ready. So, there’s your question. Like, how do you do that? Let’s consider what the front line worker does. They get observe, they get feedback on their behaviors. Right, either from each other, from their front line manager or maybe a safety person.

You’re getting feedback all the time on how to improve their behaviors. And we sometimes collect data on that and the multitude of ways, behavioral observations on it right near misreports and stuff like that. And we use that data to target behaviors that that we can that we can improve. And then that reduces injuries. Well, the same principle occurs back in maintenance planning. Same thing occurs back in engineering, in H.R. and finance. The problem is we don’t blame them.

We don’t blame anybody. They’re just not getting the visibility of the impact of their decisions. So, when we have an incident, investigations that blame the worker by saying it’s human error, instead of kind of asking, well, why was this valve engineered this way to begin with? Right. Then we just stop right there, and we blame the worker. And then you call them stupid, and they sign a piece of paper that they’re stupid and they get coached and.

Right, right. But what we haven’t done is taken that information and filter it back to a good feedback system as kind of an observation of the engineers. Right. Engineers should, you know, once a month in their safety meeting, instead of talking about papercuts and how to sit up straight in their chair, they should be reviewing the incidents that occurred at your plant and other plants and saying, OK, what is the engineering issue here and how do we change our processes to listen to the frontline worker and integrate their feedback into our designs and then be able to assure that our designs aren’t causing risk.

Now, like you said, mature programs, mature engineering programs. I know of many in construction and in the mining industry that that do this their engineering systems are set up for this. But what I rarely see is that safety process of incentivization near miss one piece, one a job and all that other stuff actually getting into the way the engineers do their work, the continuous improvement cycles for the engineers, for procurement, for maintenance planning and all that other stuff.

So, you’re right, the mature programs are there. When you want to build a program, we call this the Behavioral Systems of Behavioral Systems Analysis, where you start with some of the incidents on the front line, or better yet, let’s start with a near miss. Reports are behavioral observations, so nobody must get hurt for us to learn from this. And there’s an analysis technique from the science, and we’ve been doing it over the last five years out in industry, getting kind of perfecting it where you take that incident and.

And then you kind of go upstream and find out where variances and get to a point where we kind of have the, say, root cause, but a source, kind of the original source, I just did a series of talks based on experience. I had a refinery where they had a forklift out in the units with the mast of the forklift about to hit an overhead pipe. And if that were to hit, that would have been a major injury or release process.

Safety shut down the plant. I lose money. Right. So, an observer, one of their behavioral safety officers are out there and saw this. Right. And when I was visiting, we did an analysis of behavioral systems analysis on this, and it went back to permit, if they would have done the permit correctly, operated on the perimeter like they were doing a walkabout and said, here’s the path you take and here’s why. You know, you got these overhead pipes.

You shouldn’t be able to get out of that. And if they would have done that, of course, the integrity of that, absolutely. They’re not going to take that risk. So, then you ask, why is the variance in the permitting? Well, that’s when we found out that there was some 12 permits a day going out. That’s totally out of control. There’s no way it takes like 20 minutes to do these walkabouts. Multiply 20 minutes, times 12.

It’s their whole day. And they got another job to do, too. And then we worked that back to go. Look who’s sending these people for permits or for the most part, it’s the maintenance planners who are sending work crews out to do to send tools and equipment out for the maintenance crews to go and fix stuff. And, you know, and that systems usually under control as well. If it’s just the maintenance, maintenance, you know, doing preventive maintenance and reliability checks and stuff like that.

But then when you start analyzing that, you start seeing that everybody else in the company are calling to go do our thing, do this thing, do this thing and the operating system and the engineers and procurement. And, you know, by the time they get done, they’re trying to please everybody and everything’s a priority and then it’s gets pushed and that that causes the permitting problem. So that’s where you have this this out-of-control system within a function that’s kind of pushing the problem to the front-line worker and the front-line workers are pulling this off.

But every now and then it’s going to slip through the cracks. And I think that analysis, as we get better at it and we teach it and we get more practice at it, and frankly, these other functions start understanding that they are a part of the safety culture and they actively are working toward the safety of the front-line employee as hard as the front-line leaders in the safety folks. You know, it’s like kind of riffing here a little bit long.

But the safety manager, if we just say safety is that person’s job, then safety is nobody else’s job. I just I like to say safety is not your job. It’s just something you do because it’s the right thing to do. And safety has to be everybody’s job. And it’s a big education learning curve for folks that are in the air-conditioned office doing professional work. And they need to be made aware of that front line. So I’m really encouraged by the Gemba of the degree manufacturing, where in lean manufacturing, if you got like a quality problem, you know, the vice president of Toyota in Japan will go to the front line, watch manufacturing, much of manufacturing process, go talk to the workers before they make major changes.

And it’s the same thing in South Africa before the pandemic. You know, I was dragging engineers and procurement officers and executives up to the out to the mines, the mine construction sites in, you know, in the rural areas of Africa. And they were begrudgingly going out there, kind of cutting under their breath saying, what’s this guy from the United States? And then they go out there and they see it and man their light bulbs start flashing.

And it’s as if I was if I came in and did magic. But no, you got to get out and see it. And that’s I think if you want a quick answer to your question, which I didn’t give you, but if you want a quick answer, how do you get these other functions involved in promoting safety of the front-line employee? You just send them out and you spend time with those front-line employees walking through their work.

I would say with the caveat, because they’ve done well and I’ve seen it done not as well. The gemba where you’re talking about his accent, because it’s about going, listening, hearing and understanding. I’ve seen it where you’ve got the CFO in a in a perfectly pressed suit coming in and telling somebody what to do as they go and say, well, you should do this. Right. And I think that does more harm than good. Yeah.

But, you know, here is my rule. When I when I took these executives out to the mining sites, if you are going to go and give somebody feedback on what they should do, then that worker gets to tell you what you should do. And believe me, the workers have something to say to these executives.

Exactly. So where do you have to say the themes, you talk about are incorrectly? I completely agree with all the themes you’ve brought up and I’ve seen this in real life many times a. Some people look at behavioral observation, you talked about it before as a means in a lot of organizations to create that or foster the blame or reinforce that it’s the person at the front line making the mistake. I think that’s excessive. But I’d love to hear your perspective around that.

And how do you shift the mindset around it? Because I think poorly implemented, that’s what happens.

Yeah, I’ve seen it. Believe me, any of us in the behavioral safety field have seen programs. We’ve been asked to go fix programs. And but it blows my mind after, what, some 30, 40 years of the showing effectiveness of behavioral safety programs, that there are still people saying it’s blaming the worker. And if you go if you go into our science, I mean, deep into our science and all the way back to B.F. Skinner, you read some of his writings on the stuff he did with pigeons and rats, right?

I mean, let’s go back that far and see what his philosophy was. He said, you can’t blame the pigeon right at the pigeon. Doesn’t do what you hypothesized. You don’t blame the pigeon. You know, it was your fault. Let up the experiment this way. And the pigeon is just being a pigeon. So, you know, no blame is in the foundations of our science. And somebody who says behavioral safety because and I get it, you were observing somebody and we’re documenting their behavior.

And so therefore you think that we are blaming the person. No, it’s not about the person. I mean, stop being so conceited. All right. Let’s say let’s say it is about the person and in psychology, my colleagues who study like personality and cognitive psychology and social psychology. When they do their studies, and they get a they get the finding the effect size of that finding accounts for about five to 10 percent of the variance. In other words, it accounts for about five to 10 percent of the reason why the person did what they did.

Right. When we do our studies, behavioral studies in safety and other places, we’re accounting for 60, 70, 80 percent. And when we do our intervention and they make a change in behavior, we’re coming for like 60, 70, 80 percent. So let me ask you something. Do we want to blame the person? Right. Which again, they’re not to blame. Deming taught us that. Every great group tells us that. But if we blame if we if we try to change the person right.

To training and exhortations, you’re only counting for six to 10 percent of the variance, 20 percent of the best. I would personally rather go out and deal with the 60 to 80 percent of the variance that I can do something about. Right. And when you look at so then when you look at behavior, as Skinner taught us and others have taught us, you know, we say only about 20 percent of the reason why somebody did what they did is has anything to do with the person, their motivation, their aptitude, their intelligence, and stuff like that.

80 percent is due to the environment, the processes, and the systems that we as managers created. That should be that should be pretty that should be exciting for managers. Now we have something we can change. You can’t change a person. You’re not their parents. Right. But you can change the environment. So, when you talk about behavioral safety observation system. What we’re talking about is getting the opportunity to understand where the variance is we’re at-risk behavior is so we can go and analyze it.

We have behavioral processes to analyze it. The ABC analysis, behavioral systems analysis, other kind of analysis. And once we analyze it, we understand how we put that worker in the position to take that risk. We don’t have the observations. You really don’t know where to target our work. And I’ve had many discussions with folks that at first it was a big rift between behavioral safety and HP. And it’s they’re exactly the same thing. They help each other with HP.

You get all these systems improvements and changes and all that kind of stuff. But how do you know which one to use? Well, you have to go out in the gemba. You have to go out and observe and know which one it is. The second reason why it’s so that’s a big reason why behavior observations aren’t about the person, but they give you another reason that the science suggests why observations are beneficial. We found out that the person doing the observation is three times more likely to change their behavior than the person getting observe and getting feedback.

Really. Now, why do you think that is? Well, you know, you’re doing your job day to day. You’re in the flow. You’ve got your habits, that kind of stuff. Step back as a worker and watch that task. Now, impartially, you are going to notice things that you’re not noticing while you’re in the flow. You’re talking to a fellow worker and you’re starting to identify at risk behavior that you may not have understood, or your identifying behavior and you start understanding why you’re taking that shortcut and get you inside.

So, you know the observations instead of blaming the person, it gives those frontline workers an opportunity to learn from their peers and to learn from just observing behavior in the environment that it’s in. It’s the best training program out there for my money.

Mm hmm. Yeah. And I think the way you explain it is different. I think it’s not always explained that way. And I’ve too often seen somebody where it’s like a checklist or they don’t like to do it. So, they’re just going to get positive feedback as opposed to the way you’re presenting it. Really, from the Gemba view, you sound like damning in so many ways in terms of the approach is just for safety. You’re looking at things you’re trying to learn.

You’ve got to have a growth mindset around it. But that means it’s got to be engineered the right way that the system, the behavioral observation, absolutely the messaging and all that kind of stuff adds too many, too many programs. This became about the observation, getting that count and kind of got to do that at the beginning. But after, like six months, you’ve got a new program that should be no big deal. What you’re looking for in a successful behavior observation program is the ability for that program to identify risks that are happening out there.

Exactly. Too often everybody’s like, say, we’re great. Like, no, that’s not a good program. Good programs, one that we can identify, risks are. And then a good program, you know, shows that you know, the analysis we do in the interventions we put in place, changes that risk profile from, you know, from somewhere we’re concerned about to successfully over time. You know, we’re doing it correctly over time.

And that’s the goal. We’re not celebrating enough in our behavioral safety programs. And because we were just under present all the time, because we’re redundant and people start asking, why am I doing these observations? It’s a of paperchase, but it’s what if somebody’s got data? I work with a not for profit called the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Science and the Cambridge Center. You go to the website Behavior Dog, find the safety tap. And we go in there and we get data, and we tell stories.

And one of our we accredit the best behavioral safety programs in the world and one of the accredited sites, we get data in the behavioral change. And there’s this one story where they were kind of one hundred percent safe all the time right there. There’s a kind of a dud program. And then they found themselves during one particular spring summer with all these thunderstorms and lightning storms that come through their painters. They’re on scaffolding in a refinery. And the employees are kind of complaining, you know, we’re up at the scrap metal scaffolding during bad weather.

They still in a very, very sharp facility, say, let’s put it on the card. So, they put working in in bad weather on the card. And then they started going, yeah, yeah, I’m working. Too bad weather. Yeah, yeah. So that’s where everything was one hundred percent safe before. Now, suddenly, bam, we’re talking about whether it’s a big, big problem. Right. So, they took the data, took it to the safety manager, they took it to the owner of the company, and they said, look, we’re looking at the data shows where we’re getting bad weather in the safety person.

The owner of the company said you shouldn’t do that. And they said, we know. So, they put it right there on a napkin. According to the legend, they came up with a policy and they put it in writing and bam! And then it solved the problem, right, so bad weather with up to a hundred percent, but the most fascinating thing is what happened afterwards. Suddenly they’re having at risk behavior in what respirator use in other areas.

These were a problem before because these respirators are hot, right. And they pull them to the side. Other painting, they weren’t they weren’t putting that on the floor. But now that they saw that they identified risk, it could solve one of their problems all of a sudden. Hey, yeah, the risk is respirators are a problem. And then they get the respirator to get new respirators and they fit in. They’re more comfortable.

Then suddenly something else pops up. And so right now, stagnant behavioral observation programs are because we’re not having enough reinforcement. It’s because we’re not finding enough risk and we’re not solving problems based on those observations. So, you know, turning in a card means nothing versus learning in a card shows where we’re having problems. And it’s going to make my life better because I’m not going to take a risk in the future. All right. Big difference.

Yeah, because people see the value in the process. Mm hmm. Absolutely. Absolutely phenomenal. So, I really appreciate you sharing your stories. Your book got to be picked up. Dysfunctional practices available on Amazon, any bookstore. And I encourage you as well to visit your website, safety dash doc dot com. So, thank you so much for joining me. Today was phenomenal conversation. You’ve brought so many rich and important topics to the table.

Hey, I really appreciate it. You know, we all have the same mission out there. We got to share this. We got to share this knowledge. You’ve got to share practices and make sure that we can all do what we can to reduce human suffering in all its forms. And, you know, if I could just say one more thing during this pandemic, during this pandemic, programs that really understand how to use behavioral science to reduce injuries, we’re using it to reduce covid infections in their plants.

And we’ve seen behavioral operations in mental health in other areas. So, let’s you know, and I only know this because people are openly sharing it with me. So, folks, we have the same mission, you know, get out there and share your best practices freely. It should be done. And I appreciate what you do with the safety guru podcast. And sharing that message is a big part of what I do. So, thank you for having me on here as well.

Excellent. Well, thank you so much. Take care and be safe.

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Dr. Tim Ludwig is an expert in behavioural approaches to safety, with 30 years of experience in the field doing empirical research and safety consulting. He did his Ph.D. at Virginia Tech researching the efficacy of employee-driven behavioural safety programs and now does post-doctoral work in industrial engineering and the application of W. Edwards Deming. He is a teacher, sharing his knowledge in behavioural safety not only with Master’s students at Appalachian State University, but also through over 100 keynote speeches delivered around the world. Dr. Ludwig is also founder and director of the Appalachian Safety Summit.

For more information:

Dysfunctional Practices: That Kill Your Safety Culture (and What to Do About Them)