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The Power of a Safety Agreement to Boost Safety Culture with Ken Roberts

Dr Nippin Anand_The Power of Organizational Learning

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Don’t miss this engaging and enlightening conversation with Ken Roberts, who brings over forty years of rich experience in mining, heavy industry, and construction. Ken shares invaluable insights on how frontline workers can buy into safety by building trust within teams and understanding the profound consequences of their actions. He emphasizes the importance of creating a safety commitment agreement for frontline workers to truly embrace safety in their daily lives. Ken also introduces the concept of ‘Convenience Kills.’ He discusses its stages and explains how organizations can effectively engage frontline workers in a powerful safety agreement to enhance their safety culture.

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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 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 Ken Roberts. We’re going to have a fun and exciting conversation. I can predict it based on prior conversations that we’ve had. Ken has a program that talks about convenience skills, a book on it as well. We’re going to dive into it. He’s also talked about something really cool that he calls the agreements culture. Ken, welcome to the show. Really excited to have you with me. Let’s get started with your story in mining and how you got started moons ago.

Wow. Such a great story, too, Eric. So please, hang on to your seat. So, my story started many, many years ago. 1981, I was 16 years old, and I went to visit my friend who lived in a place called Southern Cross, which is a mining town. Western Australia is a mining state. We have the biggest mining company in the world, BHP, pretty well owns us. I ventured to Southern Cross. I visited my friend, and we’re a bit sneaky, you see. I’m 16 years old. He’s 17. We drove to the pub, you see. We’re going to go into this hotel. We looked all of 12, and we walked into the front bar, and we’re sitting there having our first ever beer and looking at each other. The next a minute, this big old miner comes over. Cole, his name was. He had a big bushy beard and mud all over his boots. He comes in, he wraps his arms around us. He goes, hey, boys, you’re looking for some work. I was on school I’m in school holidays, and I thought, Yeah, I’m looking for work. Yeah, that’s us. My little high pitch voice. He’s all right, I’ll pick you up in the morning.

Me and Jeremy were standing at the front of his house, and along comes this old Yuit, this old mining Yuit with the numbers on the side and coal in the driving up. He says, Get in, boys. We jumped in and he threw us a can of Coke. He goes, this is Coke. This is the best cure for a hangover. He took a big swig. That was our first ever safety.

Oh, my goodness. So, we drove onto the mine site, and there I am.

 I’m a 16-year-old in sand shoes and a tank top. And when I’m shoveling, you see, just all day, there’s a hole in a conveyor belt. Rather them to stop and fix this thing, they thought they’d hire me for the day. And I just shoveled all day in this sand, this big pile. I look at the end of the day and the miners come up and they said, Wow, good job. You want to come back tomorrow? And I did that for a week, and they said, would you like a full-time job. So, I rang up Mama, says, Mama, I’m not coming back to school. That’s it. And that was my first ever venture. I was earning more money than she was, and she’s a schoolteacher. Went to university, and here I am earning more money than her at 16. And that was There was no such thing as safety back then. It was more about survival. How do you nimbly get around all of the gear without hurting yourself? So that was my introduction.

I think one of the things that struck me is you said, then safety started coming along, but nobody enjoyed safety. Tell me more.

 Well, we used to have a lot of fun, you see. You could get to the gold room by jumping in the front of the loader bucket, or you could jump into the back of the Yuit. I was driving the Yuit at that stage. I was 6 now. I didn’t even have a license for the road. I remember once I was reversing the vehicle and just being a little bit young, I suppose, and I nearly reversed this thing over the side of the pit. I jumped out and I looked down and there it is, hundreds of feet down there. We didn’t have any wind rose. There was no real signage or anything, and they had to get a loader to pull me out. But it was fun. We really enjoyed it. I used to love going to work, 16, 17. Went underground when I was 17. I remember the first day on the site, I was working around the brace up the top and the shift boss, old Doc Snell, you see, he comes up with his glasses and he says, Kenny, we need you to go down the hole tonight. And I’m thinking, you bet.

 Yeah, absolutely. Go into the changer and grab yourself a pair of overalls. So here I am with these big overalls. I don’t know who they were, and floppy rubber boots. I jumped into the skip, and then he looks at me, he goes, Rob, you’re not 18, are you? And I thought, Oh, that’s it. He’s going to pull me out of the hole. But as I stepped out, he pushed me back in and he goes, no, you can go down tonight, but listen, if you hurt yourself, I’ll bloody kill you. That was my second safety message.

Oh, my goodness.

But I loved it. When we went to work, it was fun. It wasn’t very safe, Eric, but it was a lot of fun. And so, over the years, I’ve noticed that as I progressed and I started getting roles as leaders, supervisors moving up in management roles and safety came in, it was so much more control. The idea of fun, I felt, was being replaced by control.

You then had an aha moment later on in life that really took you from living in a min environment, living around safety, to really having a spark and new ideas when it came to safety. Tell me a little bit about that time.

Well, that was too. So, I’m in and out of mining and construction as well. I got an apprenticeship as a carpenter and then went back on mine sites building. And when I was about 38, I was going through my midlife crisis, as we may Maybe most men do. And I joined a group called the Mankind Project. I did this special weekend, which is called the New Warrior Training Adventure. And it was about having a look at myself and how I was showing up and what were the things that I was doing, and the consequences of my actions were creating a dynamic where my relationship was failing. I had children to two different women at that stage in my life, and I wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t have much purpose. And I started to see, and they showed me some principles: accountability, personal responsibility, what are the consequences of your actions? These are things I’ve never heard, especially not in the mining game. But I took it like a fish to water, and I really started to look at how I wasn’t taking ownership for my actions. And so, as I became more proficient in facilitation, and I started to get some qualifications in the field.

I really love the idea that I could actually literally change myself through changing the way I felt, the way I thought, the way I behaved, what were the consequences of my actions in my personal life. And as I started getting roles as a construction manager, and I moved into safety eventually, there was the same philosophies could be applied in the workplace. I had work teams that were not achieving any real passion in their work, basically. They were not finding any meaning in what they were doing. I started to apply these personal development techniques, and I found that I was encouraging them to find a little bit more satisfaction in what they do, that they could go home at the end of the day, that their job meant for something, and that they were able to get a sense that their attitude was able to create a workplace which was a lot of fun because we had all these controls, you see. Go out, do your JSA, take time, take charge, take five, all of the different names that we have for things now. But Where’s the fun? Where’s the enjoyment? And that was the epiphany that it was leaving.

There wasn’t any sense of joy in what we were doing anymore. So, I made it an effort to try and bring that back, and I felt it was starting to be recognized as a person who was able to connect more with the work crew. 

And I think one of the pieces that you shared with me before that I really liked is the element of the power and agreements. And We had some really cool stories around how you got people to follow rules that was not the traditional way. Tell me more about that because there’s some really cool elements in that part, and it’s connected to that aha moment you just walked through.

It was definitely in personal development. In the Mankind Project, we do this thing called accountability. Most men end up in situations in their life, and I was one of them, where I didn’t follow through with my word. I would say that I was going to take the kids out for the weekend, but if a good footie match came on, that went by the wayside. Or I promised the wife that I would be taking her somewhere or doing something with her, or even just simple commitments around home. I was never taught. My father didn’t show me these things, and especially not in the early days in the mining. The idea that you can make an agreement, follow through on that agreement, or own up to something when you didn’t keep it. So, we would sit in meetings, and if I arrived at a meeting five past seven, I would be asked by the facilitator, So Ken, what was the agreement? To Are you here at seven? Did you keep that agreement? No, I didn’t. So, what did you make more important? What did you do instead? Where did you think that not keeping that agreement was going to work out for you?

And then the big question, what’s the impact? What was the impact of you not keeping that agreement? Well, of course, I kept the meeting back. Now I’m standing here looking like a fool. I’m bringing shame upon myself because it’s ultimately, what is the impact on me? And so, these questions, they were really foreign to me. So, I used to start doing pre-start meetings. So, team, what time did we agree to be here? Seven, Ken. Cool. So, did everyone keep that agreement? And then a slowly a hand goes up. And I arrived here. And so, I would run that process. And then I started to apply it to things like, say, working at heights. You got a working at heights team. And you’d be, as a supervisor, about to send them out in the field. And so, it’s like, have you got your PPE? Check. Have you got your risk assessments in place? Great. Do you have your training? Have you got your permits in place? And then I would say to them, good. So, before you go into the out into the field, I want to ask you this question. What will be the consequences if I walk out into the field and you’re not wearing your PPE?

And when I first started this, of course, it’s a smile. Oh, we’ll put them back on. I go, Well, no. What if we applied something that really made you think about what the impact might be if we don’t keep this agreement? And eventually, we’d get to a negotiation. We would negotiate terms where they would say back me, all right, if you come out in the field, Ken, we’re not wearing our PPE, we will have to do retraining. We’ll go back and get our working at heights, because obviously… So, the whole goal is to get them to create what the consequence will be up front if they can’t meet the agreement. Now, I can tell you, Eric, over the years, it’s just amazing how we develop this conscience. You say, oh, this is a real agreement. And There’s consequences in place. Now, I really need to keep this. Now, it’s happening like we just did it the other day in the refinery here at Olympic Dab. For years, people have been taking their phones into the tank house. One time, the supervisor said, well, let’s make an agreement here. What if? Because there’s safety issues. If you drop a phone into one of the tanks, there’s an acid reaction.

And also, so texting your girlfriend while the overhead crane’s rushing around is not really conducive to your own self.

That’s a good idea. 

Good idea. So, we just made a… Just called it out. So, what are we going to do about the phones? And one of the guys standing there said, well, you know what? We’ve been banging on about this for 20 years. If you take your phone into the tank house and somebody sees you, it’s a written warning. Now, I was a little bit thought, wow, that’s pretty harsh. You’re going for the joke here. But everybody agreed. They said, yeah, you’re right. Why do we keep going on about this? So, we got a little note, a texter, got it out onto the whiteboard and we said, so it’s with the team, the negotiator’s no phones in the tank house, consequences, written warning. Now, that was months and months ago. We have not had this issue yet. We’ve seen it yet. But people start to develop the idea that this is an actual, really clear engagement with each other, and it builds trust, Eric. We have now built a level of trustworthiness. I myself am trustworthy. I can keep agreements, and I also trust you because you can keep agreements. Its just personal development introduced into the workplace.

I think the magic of this is you’re co-creating Most organizations, they go straight to the consequence, but it’s not co-created with the employees, and so they don’t feel a commitment to it, and then they fight it, union grievance, et cetera. But here you’re getting them to say, okay, what are we going to do? What’s the consequence? Getting them to create that buy-in, that commitment. And 20 years couldn’t get it right, and now you can get it right. Simple change. 

It is a simple change. Well, we used to make up the consequences, you see. Some leaders, and I included, we didn’t have really clear expectations. They’re ambiguous. They’re gray. Do you have rolled up sleeves? No. Our letter of offer said you’d wear your PPE in a certain way. Rolled up sleeves is not really to do that for reasons where it can get caught in machinery and things like that. But people still did it. When we started making agreements, Okay, PPE. Let’s make an agreement here. And who agrees that we’ll keep our sleeves rolled down and wear our PPE as designed? And when everybody says, Yeah, okay, but this negotiation, some people will say, well, look, I’ve got to go into this part of the area where it’s really hot and I need to somehow get some personal comfort. So as a leader, I might be able to negotiate. All right, well, let’s put a risk assessment in place. What will you do with the sleeves? Well, I can wrap some tape around them. So, we’re actually talking about things now that we never used to talk about. They would be expected or implied around things because we’ve opened up the idea of negotiation.

 The work crew now have a say in the decision making. I think that empowerment has given them some ownership in their work tasks that they never had before.

 It’s backed by research. If you look at the psychology of influence, it highlights the very same concepts you’re talking about in terms of get people to put skin in the game, and they’re more likely to follow through.

 Well, and I think we should be extending this more than safety. What are some other aspects of a culture that are really important? Trust, not being talked down to. We I encourage people to speak up all the time. But sometimes when they do, we’ll say, well, let’s not talk about that now. Some leaders find that they lose control when people speak up. We’re trying to teach the leaders now that if you’re in a pre-start meeting and you’ve particularly asked, all right, team, any agreements to discuss? And someone will pipe up and say, Yeah, I’ve got one to discuss, and they might get a little hot under the collar. Well, they’re invested. They’re engaged. Why would we try to block that down? I encourage him to come out, vent his feelings, a bit of silence, and say, okay, so what’s been the impact for you, man? Tell us. Underneath the emotions in any workplace, there’s always an impact on somebody, and we really go there. But that impact is psychological, could be physical. More often than not, it’s about a person’s belief about themselves. And quite often, safety doesn’t allow that belief to come out.

 Everyone has to act the same way. I remember inductions in the early days. No common sense in the workplace. This idea that you don’t think for yourself, just follow our procedures and you’ll be safe. I’m bringing it back, you see. I want to bring common sense back. There’s going to be a renaissance in common sense.

 The worst I ever heard was, I’m only paying you from the neck down.

 Yes. I used to hate that one. And you think about an induction room, right? You’re sitting there in a classroom. There’s a row of desks. You’re sitting there, you got a pen and paper. And what do you do? You do a test. I can think of better ways to do inductions.

 So, if people commit and they come up with their rules, have there been cases where people break those commitments? And then what happens?

 Well, we’re human beings, aren’t we? Yeah, of course. The process is two-pronged. So, you have to be able to set an agreement. That’s fine. How do you reset one? How do you allow human fallibility? I said it, Eric. You see, human fallibility in the workplaces is a foreign word. You can’t make a mistake. And especially in mining- We all make mistakes.

 When have we not make a mistake?

 How do we create a workplace where mistakes are part of the deal, and we are able to create a space where… Because I’ve been in the I’ve been in pre-start meetings where I’ve been in the work crew and someone’s had an incident and in comes a lead and say, Right, you broke the bloody lost time injury frequency rate. Now we’re bugged. I don’t want to see any incidents today. I got to… And this idea that we don’t. Yeah, it doesn’t. And so, the agreements model allows somebody to stand up and own something, but we take the energy off the person. And the way I’ve been able to do that is with the work teams and the leaders, we create what I call culture goals. What are the things that you’d really like to see in the workplace? Now, I’m a little sneaky. What I do is I meet with the work crews, and I say, What’s so stuffed about this place? What don’t you like? What is it about coming to work that’s restricting you from, I believe, finding some meaning in your work, finding that you are appreciated for and valued for what you do, and that there’s some sense of fulfill at the end of the day.

 When we flip those, then it’s usually about we create a workplace where you can speak up, where there’s 50/50 respect, where our voice is heard, we have a say in the decision making. And these are really common themes across most workplaces where we do this process. Now, if I put that culture goal and I write it up and it’s sitting there in the pre-start room, now what mistakes or even misdemeanors are based against is not about me and my character, but about how are we not fulfilling our culture goals, which we created as a team. Now what we can say is, so did you keep that agreement? Yes, or no? Well, what was the impact on our culture goals? When you take the energy off of the individual and it stop blaming them for their behavior, there’s another one, you see, this idea of behavior in the workplace. Don’t get me started on that one. See, behavior is something that’s instinct. It’s something that’s evolved through generations. But conduct, we have control over. So, I prefer to call it conduct-based safety, to be honest. But when you’ve got the culture goals up there, now we can say, all right, so do you believe in the culture goals?

 Anything we have to tweak? Is there something about it that you haven’t bought into? And most times I say, no, I’m just being human. But here’s the deal. What was the agreement? I didn’t keep it. No. What I made more important was this, and I see the impact it has had on you. I want to get back into, say, integrity or back into agreement with the team. And I’d like to reset that. Would everyone like to support me? Now that’s clunky. They don’t actually talk like that. So, I’m paraphrasing. But the energy is, if we want to be able to, you can see my picture of the hill at the back here. The idea is that we’re all trying to get into a sense of teamwork. And teamwork is allowing people to make mistakes, allowing people to find their trust again by remaking agreements. So, it’s not about punishing anybody. It’s not about picking faults with somebody’s personality or their behavior. What is the agreement to the culture goals? And would you like to maintain that? Yes, we welcome you back into the fray.

 This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at propulo.com.

 I want to pivot to convenience skills. But before we go there, you met somebody who’s been on this podcast before, and not because of this podcast, but you had an amazing encounter and a great aha there as well. Tell me a little bit about that.

 You’ve met him, Theo Venter.

 Yeah, Theo.

 That was an amazing experience for me. I was working with a company that was having some problems with their safety on a BHP site, and I’ve got a lot of experience with BHP, 25 years, in fact, as a consultant through basically every mine site that they operate in Australia, from BMA to Iron Or right across Nickel West and now Olympic Dam. I remember they said, oh, we’re going to bring this speaker in to help you, Ken, with the culture. I’m going, Yeah, that sounds great. I sat at the back of the room, got my laptop on my knee. You see, I’m arrogant. Theo started talking, and then slowly my laptop comes down. He really grabbed me with his story. He was up in a work basket, and he took his gloves off to access a 10-millimeter nut. But at that time, you see, I had investigated hundreds and hundreds of incidents, and I kept seeing this pattern in every single case, bar none. There was this idea that right at the moment of impact, a work crew were trying to get the job done. It’s like our biology. See, it closes everything out. We just focus on, here’s a task.

I’m really challenged. I need to get this job done. What do I got to do? Get this job done. And so, the idea, am I going to go back to the workshop and get a ladder, or am I going to stand on that drum? Am I going to crimp this hose and just quickly change the tap off at this nozzle over, or am I going to go back to the tap and turn the tap off? And here he was, living proof that this idea I was thinking of, convenience. The idea that convenience is the root cause of all workplace incidents and accidents had been shown here right before my eyes with this guy called Theo. So, I went up to Theo afterwards. I said, Theo, we really need to talk. And he’s thinking like, yeah, I get this all the time. I go, no, no, we really need to talk. And he says, well, he’s looking at his watch. Sorry, but I’ve got to be out of here. I’m going to see to this remote mind site in the middle of nowhere. I need to get going. And I said, oh, yeah, me too.

Where are you going? He says, Rocks be Downs. And I said, I live there. And he looked at me and I said, well, this is serendipity, isn’t it? So, he went on one flight. I was on another. We arrived there two days later at the Rocks by Tavern. I said, Theo, I know why you took your hands out of your gloves. And he goes, Yeah, looking sideways like, where is he taking this? I said it was convenience, wasn’t it? You could have gone back to the yard and got a tool, or you could have turned the power off, you could have I’ll go with the basket and check the risk assessment. But right in that moment, what was the most convenient choice for you? And he said, Yeah, it was. And his eyes lit up. And we were silent for a while. And I said, We’re onto something here. Why don’t we join up and write a book? And so we wrote Convenience Kills together, and the rest is history. It’s starting to really make an impact. It was mainly because of a chapter in a previous effort I had called Convenience Kills. People were talking to me just about that a lot.

They’re saying, Ken, this thing about convenience, you’d so right. I remember my phone going off in my car, and I was just about to reach over to answer it while I’m driving. I thought, Oh, yeah, convenience. Convenience kills. So, we had to take note. And the impact it’s having now, we remind work teams before they go out in the field, hey, be careful. Convenience will lure you today. It’s in your biology. That’s why we have the wheel. That’s why we have refrigerators.

Theo’s story, for those that haven’t listened to that episode, is basically he was doing electric work, and you always do it with big rubber gloves when it’s energized. And literally, there was a bolt that he couldn’t just get quite right and took one of the gloves off just for a second. But that particular part should have been safe. And if I recall, it just slipped a little bit, and then he made energized contact, 22,000 volts going through his body. In the other part that was interesting is, I think it was a week or a couple of weeks prior, he had seen somebody else for the first time break the cardinal rule of doing work without rubber gloves. So, he had also gotten a signal that maybe that cardinal rule is not as cardinal as I think it is.

Well, I’ve done a lot of asking. I would catch people immediately after an incident, and I build trust and rapport with them. And I usually say, look, I’m not here to ask you about this, not about investigation. What I’m really interested in is what was going through your mind immediately prior to the impact. And time after time after time, again, they would say, I just needed to get the job done. So, I’ve discovered that in the heat of the moment, all of a sudden, our brains, our biology, are absolutely determined to get this job done. We call it Swiss cheese model, and we’ve got all sorts of behavioural-based ideas about why a person takes a shortcut. But I found it is because there is no other thought in our mind in that moment. In Theo’s story also, you expand that. He covers so many different layers. Agreements. He had an agreement with his wife that he would look after himself, had an agreement with his father before he came to South Africa, that he would make a fist of it and not stuff this up, as he said. So, the agreements model was reflected a lot in Theo’s story as well.

 And trust. He was there, he was going to… He’s sitting there and he’s got a black mark around his arm. And he asked, what’s that for? And we’re going to have to amputate. And they’ve come at him with five signatures. You see, they’re all signed except the fifth one. It was his signature thereafter. And he’s going, no way. But before he goes under anesthesia, he pleads with the plastic surgeon, please, Dr. Ann Newey, who he now has a great relationship with. He had to trust it as he fell under anesthesia that he would do his best to save his arm. He wakes up in the morning, here, shake on it, Theo. Trust, I think, is the glue that holds any workplace together. I’m worried that safety has become more important than trust. My feeling is if we can build a workplace where we keep our agreements, where we’re able to show trustworthiness, and we have camaraderie at a deeper level, deeper connection, the safety would naturally take care of itself.

You talk about convenience skills. You’ve got a culture hill that comes with it. What’s the impact of introducing this concept that convenience can kill? How does it help a team member?

What I’ve been able to do is I went back to the science. I felt that if you have a look at the basis of agreements, it’s on the consequences. What are the consequences of any action, especially of not being able to keep a commitment? And so, the model that I’ve been following for a long time was called OARBED, O-A-R over a line, B-E-D. And I think Robert Kiyosaki and the well-known proponents of personal development used this, the O stands for ownership, A for accountability, and R for responsibility. And with the line, to stay above the line, you would have heard that concept, means that you don’t go to blame, excuses, and denial, bed. And so, I’ve been using that for a while, but it just wasn’t… There was no traction. I’m trying to introduce it to work crews. And basically, people say, what, you think that I’m not accountable? So, they switch off. I heard somewhere, I think it was on YouTube, a guy was on a video, and he said, Why all bed doesn’t work is because if you’re above the line, you’re good, and if you’re below the line, you’re bad. I thought, that is so true.

Here I am promoting the idea that we don’t accuse a person’s behavior, take the shame off that so that they can take ownership. No one’s going to own anything if they have punishment for doing so. So what I did was it came to me, a guy here on site, Kenny Manumea, was a manager who first employed convenience skills. He was the first one to see it with work with his work groups. And he introduced me to tribal leadership and the idea that there are five cultural stages. And I got that idea and I thought, so it goes from stage one, which is life sucks. Stage Two is this suck, or I suck. And then it goes through stage three, four, five until you get to a life’s great culture. But I turned it around to using Australian cool localism. And that’s stage one at the bottom of the hill is it sucks. It’s a person who says, you know what, just pay me the money. I’m only here because I have a mortgage and I’m not really bought into this. They probably have low self-esteem. The idea of agreements and keeping commitments wouldn’t be high.

And basically, from the Orbed model, blaming other people, having excuses, and denying. The thing about this model, though, is at stage one, if your HR department has done their job, we don’t really bring those people into the organization. But occasionally, even I go there, this place sucks, but we can jump out of it pretty quickly. The next stage on the hill, I call nothing changes. Now, this is a clique of people who quite often will engage in conversations talking about how this place never changes. What are they bringing in that for? Not another one. Gee, we tried that last time, and it didn’t work and not going to work this time. Now, they take up quite a chunk of energy in a workplace. The problem for a leader is the moment you engage at that level; you’ve lost the mantle as a leader. At the top of the hill is a person standing there, hands in the air. I’m great. I made it. I took the ownership. I was accountable. I call it agreements. And I changed responsibility to respect because I felt that respect was probably ownership, accountability, responsibility mean the same thing. 

So, I changed A to agreements and R to respect. The problem with the person standing at the top of the hill is, there’s still a lone wolf. It’s like, I’m here. I made it. I’m good, but you’re not. Because I’ve got things. I want to go places. I’ve got progression. But it’s a necessary stage, you see. But at the top of the hill, at least you can become a leader and you can say, hey, my attitude, my mental approach to being in this workplace was able to create a level of stability and leadership for you to follow. But if you’re a leader and you go back down the hill and engage with people that nothing changes, you might be there, look, I’m going to introduce something, but it’s not going to work this time, and you join into those conversations. You have basically diminished your role as a leader. So, we say this, if you’re a leader, you can’t ask anyone follow you if you’re not at least at the top of the hill. So, I remember when I said this into a supervisor’s workshop I was running, and I remember one guy, Ryan, he’s sitting there, his hands between his knees.

I go, Ryan, what’s the matter? And he says, I just led a priest start meeting from the bottom of the hill. And I went, yes, you’ve got it. And so, they all made an agreement with themselves. Why don’t we just, if we’re not at the top of the hill and we can’t get ourselves up there, let’s ask someone else to run the meeting for us. So, this concept that our own personal attitude and our own demeanor can affect the rest of the work team is so important. It’s about taking ownership of my own attitude, but especially as a leader. And then, of course, the moment I reach down the hill and drag a few nothing changes up, I’ve jettisoned myself into were great. The idea that as a collaborative organization, the teamwork, it always feels more empowering than doing something on our own. We’ve got the model up on all the pre-start meetings now, and it’s really simple. Hey, team, where do you think we are on the hill? And now you have a visual, immediate, real-time, finger on the pulse. Oh, this is where the culture is right now. And a lot of people will say, Gee, we’re right down the bottom there. 

Now they’ve got an opportunity. How do you correct it? It’s simple. The signpost says ownership, agreements, and respect. Obviously, if we were blaming others and we’re not taking ownership for the consequences of our actions, obviously, it’s going to throw us down the bottom of the hill. But now you have a visual representation. I don’t think that’s ever been done before.

What I love is it’s in colloquially speak, it resonates with the frontline team members. It’s not an academic model. It’s really to drive that conversation you’re talking about with the team members in terms of where we are and how do we need to show up differently, reframe the current state to address this.

Yeah, and I’m trying to take the stigma off it. It’s no longer above or below the line. I don’t know if I can say this, but I can say it like this. If you’re on the left-hand side and you’re at the bottom, you’re pushing it uphill. If I’m in a pre-start and I’m saying, who needs support? I don’t know what it’s like where you Eric, but in Australia, that’s a little bit… It’s not real. That’s not how we talk. But if you say, who’s pushing it uphill? Yeah, that would be me. Great. Who needs a hand? Yeah, it’s very Australian. But if we talk in the language that’s not condescending. I think safety can be condescending. I think not because we want it to be, but we have so many rules and we have so many expectations, and they’re necessary, totally necessary. I’ve been in safety for over 20 years. I absolutely buy into it. But how do we do it in a way that is natural and as part of our culture? Brings me to the next point, which is- Go ahead. Who believes in it? Safety. You see, 40 years in the game, one of the things that I just can’t get my head around is, I’ve asked people this all the time, do you enjoy safety?

Do you believe in your safety system? I have never met one person yet in my 40 years of mining and construction and heavy industrial, put up their hand and say, yes, I believe in it, or yes, I enjoy it, probably because of my culture. But why I feel it now, my voice has changed because it really affects me. How is it that we’re not buying into the one thing that’s absolutely there to save our lives, that’s there to keep us out of harm’s way? And so, I’ve dedicated my life. My passion and my purpose are to bring back that joy I had when I was a young man but do it safely. How can I create the empowerment that I had that I was making my own decisions, but now with the insights that I have as an older person, an experienced person, how can I still have that joy with the idea that safety is absolutely necessary to keep me out of harm’s way? I think if we find that answer, we will all be billionaires, but it’s so important that this changes. I can’t wait until I have a team of people who say, we love safety.

We love our safety, man. It’s cool. You should see what we’re doing with our safety. And they might be terming it like psychological safety, which I believe is more important than anything. If I can be psychologically safe, I will be empowered to keep myself physically safe. I think that’s a really important It’s an important point. 

I love the topics you introduced. I think the power of the agreement is something that we often miss. And I think this element of going straight to consequence blame or punishment, as opposed to saying, how do I lay the foundation so that we don’t end up there? I think that’s a very powerful, simple thing that anybody can implement. It doesn’t take a lot, just how you frame things as you start. Then the other one is really in terms of this element of convenience and how do you relate it to Kraft employees in terms of simple constructs, simple ideas in a way that they speak, but also highlighting when you’re stuck Back in that moment, Theo, I remember, I just needed to get the bolt on. But he could have gone down, he could have done in many different ways, but it’s just that moment, tunnel vision of I need to get this done that can get you in arms’ way.

Well, I call it the backstop. If you are in what I call the heat of the moment. Now, things are great when you’re in the pre-start or in the crib room and you’re writing your risk assessment. Yes, if this happens, we will do that. Yes, we have this control in place. But in the heat of the moment, when everything changes, what’s going to kick in? And I believe that that is a deeply invested engagement with your work environment before you go out and do the task. When my mind is totally focused on taking that nut off, when is it that my biology will then ask me the question, is this in line with my principles. So, we rarely have our principles worked out in advance. That’s why I go with the culture goals. We create a workplace that empowers communication, camaraderie, respect, and the idea that we can all speak up in the workplace without recrimination. Now, if that was my mantra, I think I’ve got a better chance of being able to process what I’m about to do that could be dangerous through that prism. See, here’s the thing about Theo, and I think this is really important, and this is why the Culture Hill works.

Theo is up in the basket. Nico has a go. He can’t do it. But see, Theo is the go-to guy. So, you always go, Theo, you have a go, mate. They swap over. Now, Theo is there. Nico is in the basket right behind him talking to the safety observer down the bottom, right? Now, if I’m a lone wolf, and I’m even… This is the dangerous part about being at the top of the hill. I’m good. I’m going to say, I’ve got to get this nut off at all costs. It’s up to me. I’m the go-to guy. I can do this. What if this had happened. What if the prism was, I’m in a team, we’re great together, we collaborate, we can solve these problems as a team. All Theo had to do is elbow Nico in the ribs. Nico, you think I should take my gloves off. You think about that moment right there. So, you’re either going to be the lone wolf or you’re going to be in the wolf pack. Now, that can only be determined by the culture of your workplace. If you create a wolf pack mentality where collaboration is key and where you can work together and solve problems together, and that you are empowered to have a say in the decision-making process.

So, People won’t feel that. They won’t be empowered to speak up, and they won’t be empowered to use collaboration and teamwork unless they feel like they have a sense that they were part of the decision-making process. And That’s where the agreements come in. Team, any agreements to discuss? That sentence there is my purpose. If I can get every single pre-start in the planet, just kick off their pre-start meeting with team, any agreements to discuss? You think about that. Now everyone’s invited to talk about their culture. Yes, I’d like to raise something about respect. Or yes, I’d like to raise something about the housekeeping. Or yes, I’d like to raise something about that I don’t really understand the task I’m about to do. To be empowered to have a say is about what is the basic agreement that you have a voice, you can speak without the fear of recrimination, that your part of a team, and what you say matters to us. If you can build that and get that culture happening, and we’re starting to see the green shoots of that now, where everyone has an equal say just in that moment, that first 20 minutes at the start of the day, now we can start to create a place where safety is elevated because of the collaboration.

No more lone wolves. Sure. Most incidents are caused because of the lone wolf syndrome. I’m on my own. I can do this. I’ve got to get this done, as opposed to, what would the team think if I did this? I don’t know of any other method that can appeal to the subconscious and conscious minds in that way, because it appeals to us that we have a say.

Ken, thank you so much. This has been a really fun conversation. Somebody wants to get in touch with you. You’ve got your website, conveniencekills.net. Any closing thoughts? I love your storytelling today.

The closing thought is If we can create more enjoyment in the workplace, we will get more engagement. If we can create more engagement, we’re going to be able to have people who buy into our systems and buy in. See, the reason why they’re not bought in is because they haven’t been able to raise the parts that they’re not bought into so that they can be resolved.

Excellent. Thank you so much for joining me today, Ken.

You’re welcome, Eric. Thank you, listeners. Looking forward to the next time.

Excellent.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. 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 execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.  

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ABOUT THE GUEST

With over forty years of rich experience in mining, heavy industry, and construction, Ken Roberts is a pioneer in transforming workplace cultures. He is the creator of the ground-breaking ‘Convenience Kills’ program, designed to move cultures from being convenience-driven to being consequence-driven, through his innovative “Agreements Culture” formula, which promotes voluntary accountability and ownership. His extensive global experience in enhancing safety cultures directly tackles key workplace challenges like low morale and conflict, fostering a sense of camaraderie and empowerment within teams. Ken’s dedicated efforts significantly boost safety, productivity, and leadership effectiveness, leading to profound improvements in organisational dynamics and outcomes.

For more information: https://transfoorm.com/

EPISODE NOTES

Transfoorm™ Culture Hill

The Culture Hill illustrates the progressive stages of cultural development within an organisation, with each stage representing a significant shift in attitudes, behaviours, and shared values. It is inspired by the ‘Tribal Leadership’ model from Logan, King and Fischer-Wright. Here’s an explanation of each stage depicted in the image:

Culture Hill by Ken Roberts

LH Signpost – Blame, Excuses, Denial: This phase is located at the base of the hill and characterised by a culture that deflects responsibility. Instead of taking ownership, there’s a tendency to blame others, make excuses for failures, or outright deny responsibility. It’s a reactive stage that hinders growth and learning, where individuals avoid accountability.

  • “It sucks”: These individuals embody the LH signpost showing little to no enthusiasm for investing the effort needed to overcome the cultural obstacles before them. They resonate with the inefficiency of their current circumstances. A notable absence of dedication to transformation is present, with the dominant mood being one of discontent and a resigned belief that the existing conditions are permanent. Either HR didn’t do their job or that signpost needs to turn into an exit door.
  • “Nothing changes”: Further up the hill there’s dissatisfaction that company inaction is responsible for their inaction. “Nothing changes” is marked by frustration, as there’s awareness of the need for change, but either the pathway to change is too hard, been tried before but failed, not expressed in terms of the work crew’s values, or there’s an absence of momentum or support to make it happen. Arms folded they form cliques to reinforce their paradigm and make them right.
  • “I’m good”: Reaching the peak of the hill signifies a moment of self-realisation and positive affirmation. When asked how they are, the response is always “I’m good.” It’s here that individuals start to recognise their own ability to effect change, marking a turning point in personal accountability and a shift towards a more proactive and positive attitude. If there’s any downfall it’s the difficulty to shed personal achievement and accolades aside for the benefit of a collaborative effort. 
  • We’re great”: Coasting downhill now, the other side of the hill represents collective achievements. “We’re great” signals a culture of collaboration, mutual support, and collective accomplishment because it feels better to share the experience with others. It represents a proactive, positive culture, where the focus is on shared success and ongoing improvement. The moment someone turns to help others up the hill from the “I’m good” stage, their effort is met with a sense of purpose and meaning.

RH Signpost – Ownership, Agreements, Respect: At the other side of the hill, these elements reflect a mature culture where individuals and teams have taken the journey through the various stages and emerged with a strong sense of ownership over their roles and actions. There’s a commitment to living up to the agreements made, and a deep respect for one another that permeates the culture, contributing to an environment where individuals are valued and accountability is a shared responsibility.

The terms “Convenience” and “Consequence” at the top and bottom of the image respectively, illustrate the choice between the easy path of short-term convenience, which leads back to the base of the hill, and the path of understanding and embracing the consequences of one’s actions, which leads to the summit and beyond into a culture of collective excellence.

In essence, The Culture Hill is a metaphorical journey from a negative, reactive state to a positive, proactive culture that thrives on ownership, accountability, and respect.

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The Power of Organizational Learning with Dr. Nippin Anand

Dr Nippin Anand_The Power of Organizational Learning

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE: 

ABOUT THE EPISODE

Are we truly learning from accidents? In this compelling episode, Dr. Nippin shares a different perspective on the Costa Concordia disaster, enriched with his deep insights and research, alongside an exclusive interview with Captain Schettino. He delves into a profound understanding of risk and safety, emphasizing the impacts of culture and shared responsibility. Tune in to uncover valuable lessons about the power of organizational learning and how it can help us make meaningful changes.

READ THIS EPISODE

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 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. Nippin Anand. He’s caught my attention because he’s got a deep background in organizational learning. He’s a host of a podcast, Embracing Differences. He has a new book that just came out around, Are We Learning from Accidents? Phenomenal background, phenomenal stories. Looking forward to our conversation. Nippin, why don’t we start maybe with how you got into this space? Because you have a phenomenal story there. 

You mean the title of the book? Yes, it’s very tied up with my life stories. Not just one story, it’s tied up with many stories. I write that in my book as the opening, Eric. Starting off with the idea that failure was never an option for me. I come from a middle-class family in India, a very religious family. I was going to board my first ship as a cadet. This is going back to 1995. The night before I was leaving home, my mom came to me and said that I’m aware that life at sea is very hard and you’re going away for 18 months. Do us one favor, at least. Don’t come back home before you finish your contract and 18 months. That actually put an immense burden on my shoulders. It was a feeling that failure was not an option. I worked for almost about 11 years. I worked a job which I never found appealing from the very first day. And this is very common in many cultures that you end up doing something because of the societal expectations, because of the family expectations. Until I had a near accident, and this was a near collision.

It wasn’t a collision; it was a near collision at sea. We were just approaching a boat first thing in the morning in Japan, and my ship just about touched another ship, also approaching port. It was a very tense situation. And I thought on that night after I finished my watch that because the accident didn’t really happen, there’s no real fuss about it. But the next morning when I woke up, Eric, the whole ship was seeing me very differently. So, from an expert doing a job for almost about 10, 11 years, dedicatedly fulfilling all my responsibilities as a professional, I came to be seen as the idiot of the town. From the next morning, every Everyone, including the seaman who was on look out with me on the night, started to doubt my competence. And at that point, I decided that it was time to… Well, I didn’t at that time, but it took me almost about a year after losing all my confidence to come to the conclusion that this was probably not the job for me. And interestingly, I stayed in that negative spiral for almost about maybe good 8 to 10 years until I came to the UK.

I did a PhD. And after doing the PhD in Anthropology, I discovered the power of narrative and how the same accident could be narrated in so many different ways. And if we truly want to learn, then I think we should be open to all the narratives. Now, Eric, there are very different narratives that we tell in different cultures. I study mythology, I study religion, I study Anthropology. One of the things that you cannot escape is the power of myth, which is belief. Not myth in the way that the Western world understands it. Myth as in what is it that we believe in? What stories do we believe in? If you look at the Christian world, which is where I live right now, I live in Aberdeen. In the Christian world, there are God created the world in seven days or six days. On the seventh day, he put the human beings there. It was a very stable world. The moment you put human beings there and you put your children there and you told them not to do something and they still did it, that’s when human beings became corrupted and could not be trusted.

So, the whole purpose of life is to follow the word of God, which is to follow the process. We call it in safety management system. That’s one way of looking at the world. So, the narrative of an accident investigation is something went wrong because you did not follow the process. That’s the Christian myth. Then there is the Greek myth. The Greek myth is not about compliance. The Greek myth is the opposite. The Greek myth is about defiance. So, there is the oppressor who is all out there to oppress the world, to become a hero, maybe, to attain heights, to attain success in life. You oppressed people. In the Greek myth, your job is to go against the odds. There is chaos out there and you need to create order out of it. So that’s how you become recognized as a hero. So that’s the myth of the heroes and the anti-heroes. People who go to the outside the fringes or the boundaries of the society and do something exceptional, whether it’s good or bad. That’s where you have people like Captain Sully and Captain Francisco Estacio. One becomes the hero because he saves the world.

Another one becomes the anti-hero or the villain, and he actually causes havoc to the world. And that’s the Greek myth at play. That’s how you tell the narrative of an accident or a near miss or whatever you want to call it. And that’s the Greek myth had played. Then you have the Indian myth had played, which is not about compliance or defiance. It’s about self-realization that the world is not stable, and the world is not chaotic. The world is what it is. The important thing is that what do you realize or what do you learn about the world as you go through this journey, what we call life? Sure. In this journey, it’s not It’s not important to understand whether people who were present in an accident, whether they complied with the rules or they went against the rules to save the world. The important thing to understand is when you investigate an accident as an investigator, what do you learn from it? That’s the world of self-realization. I think one of the things I realized is that there is no objective reality out there. It’s how the investigators present the story. It’s how they collect the data, what questions they ask, how they go about processing and analyzing the data, and how they go about presenting the information.

Until the investigator becomes cognizant or aware of their own biases, nothing changes. This applies not just to investigators, it applies to everyone, a leader who goes to the site to engage with people, somebody as an inspector who goes to audit the site or the workplace. The important thing is that we don’t realize we have our own biases. Biases are not a bad thing. Biases is what makes us humans. The important thing is, do we realize that we have certain assumptions, certain narratives, certain experiences, certain qualifications, certain family background, certain aspirations, certain motivations that push us to look at things in a certain way. And a lot of learning opportunities are lost because we are so busy creating objective narratives and making that separation between the narrator and the narrative which does not exist. So, until we become aware that we are biased, and we need to appreciate other narratives, other stories from other people, other point of views, it’s very, very hard to learn anything from accidents and non-events, both. So that was my biggest realization.

Phenomenal. A really interesting story. I’d love to pivot to when you’re talking about incidents, investigations, you had a very unique chance to speak to the captain of the Costa Concordia. I’d love to hear some of the themes, the story, the conversations you had with him along the path we just explored.

Yes. The interesting thing is that because I had a background in safe airing, and I had, at that time, already started blogging, writing blogs. When this accident happened, well, I met him five years after the accident. When that accident happened, my rapport, my blogs, the way I used to write, was very helpful to establish that initial connection with him. I just had to approach him through another person, say that I would like to interview you, and this is my background. And very quickly, he responded with a yes, that yes, it would be nice to meet up. I document that in my book, how we went about it. It was quite easy. I think he also was very appreciative that in those five years, between the time the accident happened, that was in 2012, and the time when I met him, that was in 2017, nobody from the industry had come to speak with him. Nobody. Really? I was the first person who approached him from the industry, apart from lawyers and solicitors, to who genuinely wanted to understand his point of view. So, he was very appreciative of that. From my point of view, the story resonated because what I saw in the press was an extreme form of how I was treated Eric after my own accident at sea.

And there you have an initial resonance already between him and me. Building that rapport and approaching him and making a contact with him was easy. The next thing was, I flew to Sorento, his hometown in Italy, where he was under house arrest, and I spent four days with him. We had a great conversation. We were trying to understand his perspective, not just his perspective, but who he is, his relationship with his community, with his people, with his family, trying to understand him, why he chose a career such as seafaring, and then trying to get to understand how he moved through his career. And then the accident itself. So, a genuine interest in understanding the person even before you dip into the accident case. There’s a reason why I’m saying all this, Eric, because today, a lot of times, we go into accident investigations and audits and inspections, and there is little interest in understanding people. Because there is little interest in understanding people, there is little reciprocation from the other side. If you consider that the origin of all decision making is the unconscious mind, which is the unaware mind, which is the non-rational mind, People will tell you nothing from the non-rational unconscious mind until they see a genuine connection with you, you are making a genuine connection with them.

So, without relationship, there is no learning at all. Absolutely none. And so, getting to know somebody not just as a victim of an accident, but also as a father, as a brother, as a community member, as a husband, as a sibling, is so important before we get to understand why they did what they did on the day of the accident. Because then they can tell you things that you were probably not even expecting. And that’s the beauty of learning, that learning is a discovery. Learning is a discovery, and discoveries can only happen when we find something that we were totally unaware of. And that can only come when we make a genuine connection with people and listen to the unconscious mind of these persons. Yeah, it’s very important. Something we consistently miss in our accident models, whether old ones or contemporary ones, doesn’t matter.

Because you jump straight to the decisions, the occurrences, and you’re trying to track back to a very linear cause an effect. But what did you gain from that? Because four days is a lot of time. You’re really trying to understand the person, you’re trying to understand what was going through his mind, indirectly his mental model, which touches the biases. How does that lead to something different in terms of what transpired?

The biggest learning from this accident was that people involved in accidents, both as part of the experience of the accident, but also as part of being investigated, are traumatized. This is a very traumatic experience, both Not just experience an accident, but also going to an investigation. The first thing I would say is that if you do not know, if you’ve not been trained in trauma, if you have not been trained in how to handle a distressed person, never go into an investigation. Because that’s precisely what happened to me, and it took me nine years to come out of that cycle. It’s the first question, usually, that you ask from the person, sets the tone for the rest of the investigation. If you don’t take the time to connect with the person, you don’t take the time to understand the person, if you don’t see learning and healing should come together, then all you do is come back with data, come back with some extracted information, which is nothing but a story, a very carefully crafted story of a rational mind, a very logical story that people want to tell you because they know that’s what you want to hear.

And so, there is no learning. And a lot of times, we are missing that very crucial point that go with an open mind, connect with the person, listen to them, try to understand their stories. Try to understand what is it that shocks you the most when they’re telling the story. And there you have a very rich story from the person. And do not interrupt at all as the person is speaking, because this is something… When they are giving you something from the unconscious mind, just sit there and absorb as much as you can. There is no need to interrupt. There is no need to feel apprehensive about the silences. There’s no need to feel uncomfortable about things that go against your values, against your culture. Just sit there, be in the moment, and listen as much as you can with open questions. Things like, what would you like to share? Where would you like to begin? What? Walk me through the steps. What have you learned? These are very, very open questions, avoiding any probing, any prompting, even the person goes silent. That’s a very important thing. But Eric, Underneath all this is a methodology which is very important to understand that human beings are fallible.

People will make mistakes.

Of course.

You must embrace the fallible When you’ve seen another person, an imperfect person, just like you, you make the connection there and then. But if you’re so busy trying to fix this person, trying to find a solution, and I think quite often those reactions stop you from listening anything. You say something that you didn’t like, and you make a face, you make a gesture, and it just disconnects you from that person completely. It’s very important to go with a philosophy, with a methodology that accepts another person’s imperfection and fallibility. From there onwards, the flow begins, and you start to listen to the full story. So, your question was that what did I learn from this story? Many things, but I deliberately chose to focus on four important things. The first one was this question that, why did he choose to navigate so close to the land?

Sure.

That was the first thing that… As I spoke to him, Eric, what intrigued me was that here we are sitting so far away, so distanced from the reality, and this person does not see that as a risk at all. For him, this is a normal practice. This is what a cruise line captain does each day, every day. He balances the competing goals between customer satisfaction, which is go close to the land, and safety of navigation, which is to keep a distance. It is important that we pay attention to these things when somebody says that it’s quite a normal practice to do such a thing. Now, the important thing is that words like normal practices have become very fashionable these days. Everyone wants to study normal practices, normal work whatsoever. What we often forget is that your normal is not my normal. You are sitting in the ivory tower. For you, what is normal is completely different from what I see as normal. It’s very important that when we are speaking to people, when we are engaging with them, we try to understand what’s their normal. So on occasions, people might say things like, Oh, it’s okay.

It’s how we do it here. Oh, it’s quite normal. It’s usual. What they are telling you is that’s their culture. In that moment, we become very excited that how can this person go so close to the land when he should be 20 miles away from the land or whatever is documented in the safety management system. What the industry struggles with is the idea of subjectivity and risk tolerance, which is very individual, very subjective to each person, each culture, for that matter. If I show you a video of how people drive cars in India, in the West, and people get shocked. But equally, people get shocked in the West, in India, when they see how cars are driven in the Western world. The point being that every culture has its own normal. Absolutely. If you don’t understand the power of a worldview, a culture, then you are so far away from what is normal and what is normal work. It’s fundamental to understand. Today, when we talk about the idea of work, we don’t understand that aspect of what is normal. Normality often comes from the idea that this is my belief, this is my myth, this is my paradigm.

When I say it’s okay means that it’s consistent with my worldview. It’s consistent with my culture. It does not surprise me because this is something that has become embodied, it’s become part of my body. So, this is important. And that’s something that I highlight in the book. It’s a major part of the book, which is to understand culture through the lenses of what we consider as normal. And every culture has its own normal. We then go into the idea of why people don’t speak up. That’s another topic, and I spent a lot of time. I devoted a lot of time, actually, to it. Eric, we talked about the idea of myth, the Greek myth and the Christian myth, and the Indian myth. What happens is that people don’t realize that this whole idea of why people don’t speak up is very much the Greek myth at play. What do I mean by that? You have this #MeToo campaign in your country every now and then. We have the people in position of power, and they do things, they do injustice to people, and somebody must rise up to the occasion and stop the oppressor from doing wrong things and speak up.

What most organizations today try to do is create what we call psychological safety so that we can empower the oppressed to speak against power, which becomes abusive over a period. This is the Greek method playing, the oppressor and the oppressed. So, you have to defy the oppressor. This goes back to the narrative of defiance. This is not compliance, this is defiance. And what’s interesting in this narrative is that we pay too much focus to the individual. So, if we can empower people, if we can give them psychological safety, then they should somehow speak up. What became very apparent, what became very clear in the Costa Concordia study, and I’ve studied many, many accidents after that in aviation, in health care, in other areas, what is happening is that there is a very… Take the example of aviation. If you take the Ethiopian Airlines air crash, which happened a few years ago, and then followed by the… Sorry, I can’t remember the second one.

Lion air was first, yes.

Lion air was first, yeah.

In both instances, in the Ethiopian Airlines, for example, you have a pilot with more than 10,000 hours of experience sitting next to a co-pilot who had 200 hours of flying experience. Now, you cannot challenge this because from a certification point of view, both are certified. They are both-Correct. The co-pilot is certified for what it does, and the pilot is also certified, of course. The trouble is that we are not talking about hierarchy here, which has always existed in aviation and the maritime and many other industries. What we are talking about is hierarchy blown out of proportion completely. You have an expert who is far too powerful in this game against the novice who has just entered the profession. This is a systemic problem in the industry, and it cannot be solved through the lenses of psychological safety. You cannot send somebody on three days, five days course, attend a course in psychological safety or crew resource management, whichever way you like, and empowered them to speak up because they just… And we go back to the idea of normal, because these two people belong to two different subcultures or cultures, and they see things very differently.

For a captain who’s navigating the ship so close to the land each day, every day, it’s his everyday work, right? That’s what he does every day. He doesn’t see it as a risk. For the novice, because he sees the captain doing it every day, he does not dare to challenge it because he knows if things go wrong, he cannot handle it. What will he say and what will he do? So, what we are dealing with here is not a problem of speaking up or speaking out or listening in. What we are talking about There’s two different subcultures that see the world differently. And until we create that awareness, the problem is not with people not speaking up. The problem is that people don’t know when to speak and what to speak and how to speak. There’s nothing we can do about this. So that was a There was another theme that came up in the book, which is why don’t people speak up? And I explained that through the book. Sure. We then look at the idea of the emergency plans and processes and why they don’t work in practice when an accident happens. So, in this instance, one of the big things that came out was that sense-making in an accident, which is trying to move forward with limited information, sometimes conflicting information, time pressure, language difficulties, the reality of life, are so distanced from documented plans and processes.

And to be able to live through that trauma of an accident. And the interesting bit is not just the comparison between the documented plan and procedures and how emergency is handled in practice. The painful bit is that information and that behavior being taken to the court of law and compared against what is documented in the process, and then establishing a case for culpability and crime based on those processes is absolutely fascinating. To understand that, one has to come to terms with the idea that there’s a huge difference between how people make sense of the crisis, what it means to be a human being in a crisis, let’s put it this way, what it means to be a human being in a crisis and how you are judged or misjudged based on your behavior as part of the court proceedings that part of the investigation is something to think about, Eric. Yes.

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That was the third aspect of it. The final aspect of which really worries me, Eric, is this idea that We have this slogan that you can either blame or you can learn. One of the things that comes out from this accident, and again, many other investigations that I’ve done, is that there is escape from blame. This is more than, well, this is more than 3,000 years old ritual that started in Israel, which we call scapegoating. And unless you acknowledge that in an accident, in order to give meaning to human sufferings, somebody will be blamed. You have to accept that. And once you accept that, you know that there are better ways to put your resources, better areas to allocate your resources, and not spend too much time on accidents of this nature because they will never create the desired results that you want. So, you’d be better off putting your resources into other meaningful areas because you cannot avoid blame, you cannot avoid scapegoating. It’s inevitable in an accident. So, I use the example of the Costa Concordia, but you could easily use any example. And I think this idea that blame fixes nothing needs to be challenged because if we did not blame the captain on the night, the whole cruise industry would have come to a complete halt.

Somebody had to be blamed. When the ship capsizes, somebody has to be blamed. That person may or may not have anything to do with the accident, but that’s how the idea or the ritual of scapegoating works. So, these were the four main areas that I concentrated upon. I’m very happy to take your questions, but just to end, in the end, I actually provide a method on how we should learn from accidents and how can we learn from accidents. And the basic idea is that stop looking for improvements in processes. Of course, those things are important, then they are a by-product of many other things. But do not, as a default, start to look for processes, systems, fail-safe systems, technologies to make the world a safer place. Of course, do not turn to people who have been involved in an accident. Rather, turn it around to your own self to say, okay, what sense do I make of this accident, of this misfortune, or whatever has happened? Until we take that question to our own selves, there’s nothing that will change. The trouble today in most organizations is that we talk about organizational learning as if somebody else has to learn.

That question has to flipped around to our own selves to say, okay, I’ve been on this site, I’ve investigated this accident, I’ve been on this audit, I’ve done this inspection. What has changed in my world after this? And until we address this question, which is back to the myth that I talk about self-realization in the start. So, it’s not about compliance, it’s not about defiance, it’s about my own world. What has changed in my own world after being through this experience? And that’s what the book talks about. So, I talk about my own self, basically, this journey of discovery, learning, and how it has changed me as a person. To me, that’s the most important bit, and we don’t talk about it often. Interesting.

I think one of my main takeaways is the conversations you had with the captain in terms of getting to know the person, not just trying to connect dots to get to a pretty report on the back end. I think that is a very key component, particularly with the comment around most of our decisions are subconscious If it’s subconscious, you need to understand the person to get there. I think that makes sense. What I do disagree is around the blame fix is nothing. What I mean by this is if I think, particularly in the aviation space, a lot of the removing of blame is so that I hear about the near misses, the things that almost happened that I wouldn’t have known without that information. If we think about the near misses, there were very few self-reported near misses prior to removing the blame in aviation. I think that’s an interesting and very important point is to hear about the things that didn’t actually cause an incident, but we could address. If I think in aviation, we fell asleep, we both fell asleep, things of that nature, which I’ve shared before, I wouldn’t self-report that if the blame would turn at me.

There’s generally no consequence if I’m on autopilot that I fell asleep, assuming I’m still on course and it’s not a long-extended period of time. But it then allows me to understand what we are doing in the system that allows fatigue to build up or creep up.

The trouble with taking blame as the focus is that invariably, whether you call it a system or an individual, there is something to fix. So, it may not be the frontline person, as you said, but now it’s not the person who fell asleep. It could be a monitoring technology that failed to give us the desired data. Or maybe this problem could be fixed using a technology or a system or a process or a protocol.

Or training or other pieces. 

Or training, yes. I have no problems with that. Well, I have a couple of things to think about. I’ll leave you with a couple of things to think about. One is that what we are doing is we’re externalizing learning. Instead of taking the person who fell asleep as a victim, there is somewhere else in the system that needs to be fixed. We are still externalizing the learning. It’s a process or a system or a technology or a barrier that failed that needs to be fixed. Now, the trouble is that you can fix that, you can fix that, or you can put another barrier to it, and you never know what new problems you might have created as a result of that.

Yeah, fair.

As a result of When you’re fixing one problem, you might have created another one. And who knows when it might show up. Potentially, yeah. The other thing is that because you have now allocated the problem to somewhere else in the system, you think that that’s the end of it. That’s what we call event learning. So, we learn because we have sorted out the event. And I think that’s dangerous because you still have, I haven’t asked the question, how has it changed my view about the accident, about the person? If your view does not change, if your attitude towards failures does not change or the fallible person doesn’t change, nothing really moves. I’m not against the idea of fixing things, but quite often what happens in blaming or fixing things is that we end up externalizing the problem and we never actually take the I am to reflect upon how this has changed us as a person. And learning, in true sense, relates to change. Change, not in the outside world, change in the inside world. And unless that connection is clear between learning and change, nothing changes. So, I’ll give you an idea. Sure.

Spinoza, if you look at the back cover of my book, there are four monkeys here. There are four monkeys here. And these four monkeys are basically the result of… When I finished the Costa Concordia accident, I conducted several workshops around the world. I went around the world. At one point, I even did some work with Todd Conklin, and we did some workshops together. Some of the themes that started to emerge from those discussions was that people would either respond by making a joke of the captain during the workshops, or they would have They would finger-point at him that he did something which he shouldn’t have done, or they would sympathize with him, apologize for his situation, or they would try to suggest some fixing that maybe he should have done this, maybe the company should have done that, and this shouldn’t have happened. So, this is interesting because as I was doing my research, the Dutch philosopher, Bark Spinoza’s book, one of his quotes stuck me, which is not to laugh, not to lament, not to curse, but to understand. And to me, until you move away from the idea of spending too much time thinking about whether we should blame this person or not, whether we should fix this person or not, laugh at this person or not, and take it back on yourself to say, what have I actually learned from this?

Nothing changes.

But you can combine the two. Yeah, but you could combine the two in the scenario of the pilots that fall asleep. There can be an internal learning because it could be some elements of, I made some choices, didn’t get a good night’s sleep, things of that nature that I chose from a career standpoint, which is an internalized where I’m not blaming, but there’s a self-realization of what was my part, my contribution. Then there’s also the element from a system standpoint to say, how often is this happening? What measures do we need to have to counteract? I’m hearing about new messages that otherwise we would never hear about. I can be addressing it at the individual level, at the cultural level, and the system level, which I think then addresses the learning piece. 

Absolutely, yes. You said something powerful here that if that realization comes from the person himself as part of interviewing or as part of reflection after the interview, that’s immense learning. That’s liberation. That’s healing, actually. If when this person comes to tell me that, we had a wonderful interview together and you asked some good questions, and as you were asking those questions, this is what I came to realize, that’s liberating. You have moved one person. Of course, you have learned something, and that person has learned something. But again, going back to the idea that if you’re not asking open-ended questions, if all you have on mind is to fix this person and determine how many processes he breached or how we can fix the problem through the social context or the technological context, whatever, then there is very little learning, very little, if any use.

And I think where I would agree is if you’re transferring the blame from the individual to the system, which means I’m transferring it to somebody else, I’m still blaming. Absolutely. And I think that’s the one challenge I have with the element of… I fully agree, don’t blame the individual. But there’s an element of learning. But shifting the blame to say, okay, now it’s all the senior executives that made the wrong decision, is still blaming. It’s just a different person because it’s just system indirectly means other people. I think there needs to be a balance between because it needs to be system learning because nothing happens because of one person. Also, at an individual level in terms of that realization and how do I change.

What I’m suggesting is, and I’m not suggesting these things are not important, What I’m suggesting is, as a default, the first question to ask is, from an investigator’s point of view, what have I learned after conducting this investigation? I think if we don’t begin there, nothing changes. Because at the end of the day, the report is someone’s view. With your bias, yes. It has to be. There is nothing objective in a report. You can have all the micro details, not enormous amount of data supported by timelines and facts and evidence, don’t take anything away. And still, it is somebody’s view, somebody’s worldview. So that is something important. So, unless that person shifts his worldview or her worldview, nothing really changes. If they still see in that accident… And this is interesting, Eric, because when organizations are stuck by failures one after another, I think it’s time to slow and ask, are we stuck with our questions? It’s so important.

That’s a good point. I think that’s a key element because, like you said, our decision Decisions are mostly subconscious-driven decisions. So, unless I understand the context, I’m trying to find clues. And as an investigator, I have a bias in what I’m doing, and the organization has a bias in what they’re doing. And to pull back from it, I think, it is really key.

Yes, very important. And the other important thing in this journey is that you cannot escape your belief system. You just cannot. This morning, I was interviewing… No, a couple of days ago, I was interviewing somebody involved in an accident. And he’s a Muslim guy, and he was a frontline worker. I don’t like the word. And he was involved in an accident, and he kept saying the same thing. I said, what have you learned from this towards the end, from this experience? And he said, Well, it’s God’s will. What can I do? I can’t do anything about it. And here you are, pushing him to follow permit to work system, a job hazard analysis, toolbox talk. He will do all of that. But does he really believe in that? And I think This is something we consistently ignore. To some cultures, an accident is a quest, or the solution to an accident is to find a root cause and put a collective action. In certain cultures, it’s the God’s will. It’s happened because of the God’s will. When you employ a multinational crew, you have people from around the world. It is very, very important for investigators to become comfortable with the idea that different cultures see misfortune or accidents differently.

Differently. Very differently. Yeah.

And it’s important to appreciate that. 

I think that’s an interesting point as well. Nippin, fantastic conversation. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, pick up your book, how can they do that?

Eric, my book is available on Amazon, I believe, in Barns & Nobles. It’s called, Are We Learning from Accidents: A Quandary, a Question, and a Way Forward, because there is a method in the end to show how to investigate accidents. Apart from that, I would say I’m active on LinkedIn. I have my own website, which is nippinanand.com. I have my company, Any website called novellus.solutions.

Excellent. Well, really enjoyed having you on the show today, and look forward to maybe continuing the conversation another time 

Sure. It’s a pleasure for me as well. Thank you for reaching out and making the connection.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. 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 execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.  

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Dr. Nippin Anand is a former master mariner with a master’s degree in economics, a PhD in Social Sciences and Anthropology and a desire for life-long learning in the wider disciplines of humanities, social psychology and philosophy. After a near collision at sea, he took up a passion for investigating accidents and helping leaders understand the importance of perspective in human failures. As a former subject matter expert at DNV, Nippin also developed an interest in making compliance meaningful for achieving business goals. He is the host of the podcast Embracing Differences, blogs regularly and is recognised both in the research community and across safety critical industries for his ability to make research accessible to businesses and people at work.

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Bringing Human Factors to Life with Marty Ohme

Bringing Human Factors to Life with Marty Ohme

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There’s a safety decision behind every chain of events. We invite you to join us for a captivating episode of The Safety Guru featuring Marty Ohme, a former helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy and current System Safety Engineer. Don’t miss this opportunity to gain from Marty’s extensive expertise and insights on system factors, organizational learning and safety culture, and effective risk management to mitigate future risks. Learn from the best practices of the U.S. Navy, as Marty brings human factors to life with real-world examples that can make a difference in your organization.

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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 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, Marty Ohme. He’s a retired naval aviator, also a system safety engineer. He’s got some great stories he’s going to share with us today around human factors, organizational learning. Let’s get into it. Marty, welcome to the show.

Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to spend some time with you and share some interesting stuff with your audience.

Yeah. Let’s start maybe with your background and your story in the Navy.

Sure. I graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering. I’ve been fascinated with flight and things that fly since a very young age, so that lined up nicely for that. I went on to fly the H-46 Delta and the MH60 Sierra to give your audience an idea of what that looks like. The H-46 was flown for many, many years by the Marine Corps and the Navy. It looks like a small Chinook, the tandem motor helicopter. Then the MH-60 Sierra is basically a Black Hawk painted gray. There are some other differences But both aircraft were used for missions primarily for logistics and search and rescue. Then we did a little bit of special operations support. There’s a lot more of that going on now since I retired than I personally did. Then I also had time as a flight instructor at our helicopter flight school down in Florida. After my time as an instructor, I went on to be an Airbus on one of our smaller amphibians’ ships. Most people think of the Airbus on the big aircraft carrier. This is a couple of steps down from that, but it’s a specialty for helicopter pilots as part of our career. Later on, I went to Embry-Rural Aeronautical University, and they like to call it the Harvard of the Skies to get a master’s in aviation safety and aviation management. That was a prelude for me to go to what is now the Naval Safety Command, where I wrapped up my Navy career. I served as an operational risk management program manager and supported a program called the Culture Workshop, where we went to two individual commands and talk to them about risk management and the culture that they had there in their commands. Since retirement from the Navy, I work as a system safety engineer at APT We do system, software, and explosive safety. If you want to figure out and understand what that means, the easiest way to look at it is we’re at the very top of the hierarchy of controls at the design level. We sit with the engineers, and we work with them to design the things out or minimize the risk and the hazards within a design. You can do that with hardware, you can do that with software. And then explosives is a side to that. I don’t personally work in the explosives division, but we have a lot of work that goes on there for those things.

That’s Marty in a nutshell.

Well, glad to have you on the show. Tell me a little bit about organizational culture. We’re going to get into Swiss cheese and some of the learning components, but culture is a key component of learning.

Absolutely. So military services, whatever country, whatever environment, they’re all high-risk environments.

Absolutely. Specific to the Navy, my background, if somebody’s hurt far out at sea, it could be days to reach high-level care. It’s obviously improved over time with the capabilities of helicopters and other aircraft, but you may be stuck on that ship for an awfully long time before you can get to a high level of care. That in and of itself breeds a culture of safety. You don’t want people getting hurt out at sea because of the consequences of that. When I say culture of safety, in this case, a lot of people hear culture, and they think about language like English or Spanish or French or whatever the case may be. What food people eat, what clothes they wear, those kinds of things. Here, what we mean is how things get done around here. There’s processes and procedures, how people approach things, and the general idea. In fact, the US Navy is in the middle of launching a campaign called What Right Looks Like in order to try to focus people in on making sure they’re doing the right kinds of things. Something that’s been around the Navy for a long time and is specific to safety is using the word mishap instead of accident.

Sure. Because in just general conversation, most people will think, well, accidents happen? Really, we want a culture where we think of things as mishaps and that mishaps are preventable. We really want to focus people on thinking how to avoid the mishap to begin with and reduce that risk that’s produced by all the hazards in that high-risk environment.

In an environment like the Navy, it’s incredibly important to get us tight. You talked about what right looks like. But you’ve got a lot of very young people joining a very young age who can make very critical decisions at the other end of the world without necessarily having the ability to ring the President for advice and guidance at every call that happens. But tough decisions can happen at any given point in time. Tell me a little bit about how that gets instilled.

Sure. Organizations have to learn, and they have to learn from mistakes. These high-risk environments, you have to… When something goes wrong, because it will, you need to ask yourself what went wrong and why. In these kinds of environments, and you think about it, then that’s what leads to a mishap investigation. Then in order to do that learning, you have to really learn. You’ve got to apply the lessons that came out of those investigations. Then that means you have to have good records of those mishaps. I mentioned the naval safety command. That’s part of the responsibility of naval safety command is to keep those records and make them useful to the fleet.

Sure. We’ve just touched a little bit on building a culture of learning, how the Navy does it. Let’s talk a little bit about Swiss cheese. We’ve touched on Swiss cheese a few times on the podcast, so most listeners are probably familiar with it, but I think it’s worthwhile to have a good refresh on it.

Absolutely. As I mentioned about having good records, if the records aren’t organized well or structured in a way to make them effective, then it’s going to be very difficult to apply those lessons. As an example, if there’s a vehicular mishap, commonly referred to as a car accident, but we’re going to use the mishap virology here. If you have three police officers write a report on a single vehicle mishap, they’re all going to come out different, probably. One of them might say the road was wet, one of them might say there was a loss of traction, the third one might say that the driver was going too fast. It’s a lot more difficult to analyze the aggregated mishap data if every investigator uses different terms and different approach. This is where Swiss cheese comes into play, and it’s the follow-on. The follow-on works. Dr. James Risen provided a construct that you can use to organize mishap reporting with the Swiss cheese model. In his model, the slices of cheese represent barriers to mishaps. He also identified that there are holes in the cheese that represent the holes in your barriers. Then he labeled them as latent or active failures.

Latent failures are existing, maybe persistent conditions in the environment, and active failures are usually something that’s done by a person, typically at the end. His model has four layers of cheese, three with latent failures, and one with active failures. So, no barriers, perfect. If we look at our vehicle mishap in that way, if you start at the bottom, let’s say it’s a delivery driver. They’ve committed an unsafe act by speeding.

Sure.

Why did they do that? Well, in our scenario, he needs a delivery performance bonus to pay hospital bills It’s because he has a newborn baby. He’s got this existing precondition to an unsafe act. Sure. Well, prior to him going out for the day, his supervisor looks at his delivery plan, but he didn’t really do a good job reviewing it and see that it was unrealistic. Sure. The thing is that the supervisor sees unrealistic delivery plans every day. It’s ingrained in him that this is normal. All these people are trying to execute unreasonable plans because the company pay is generally low and they give bonuses for meeting the targets for a number of deliveries per day. The company, as an organization, has set a condition to encourage people to have unrealistic plans, which the supervisor sees every day and just passes it off as everybody does it. Then we roll down and we have this precondition of, I need a bonus because I have bills to pay. This is the way that the Swiss cheese model is constructed. A little bit later on, Dr. Chapelle and Wegman developed the human factors analysis and classification system or HFACs.

They did that by taking reasons for slice of cheese, and they named the holes in the cheese, the holes in the barriers, after they studied mishap reports from naval aviation.

Tell me about some of those labels that they identified.

Some specific ones that they came up with are things like there was a lack of discipline, so it was an extreme violation due to lack of discipline. Sure. That would be at the act level. A precondition might be that someone was distracted, for example. Sure. A supervisory hole would be that there was not adequate training provided to the individual who was involved in the mishap. Then overall organizational culture, it might just be that there’s an attitude there that allows for unsafe tasks to be done. That sets everything up and through all the barriers to put our individuals, sets them up for failure and the mishap. We You see that in our delivery driver rec example where there’s all decisions, everything at every level, there’s a human decision made. There’s a policy decision. There’s a decision made to accept all these unreasonable plans. There was a decision that, okay, I must have this bonus. Now, that one, you saw if you could argue that one back and forth, but there was also a decision made to violate the speed limit, and that’s your active one down at the bottom. Yeah.

These helped essentially a taxonomy so that there is more standardization, if I’m hearing you correctly, in terms of incident investigations and classifications of learnings.

That’s correct. The decisions in this stack and the Swiss cheese come together. As you’re alluding to, there’s a taxonomy. So, Chapelle and Wegman, after, I think it was 80 mishaps in naval aviation that they were able to assign standardized labels. Those are the labels that became the names for the holes in the cheese. Once they put it in that taxonomy, they found 80% of the mishaps involved a human factor of some sort. I personally argue that there’s a human factor at every level, even if you go back and look something like United Flight 232 that crashed in Sioux City, Iowa, it all rolled back even to where there was a flaw in the raw metal that was used to machine the turban blade that ultimately failed. Sure. Did they make a decision not to do certain inspection on that block of metal before, and then it just keeps going down the way. There’s a decision in every chain of events.

Also, no redundancy in terms of the hydraulics, from what I remember in that incident.

Right. A design decision.

A design decision, exactly. That’s a great one. I like to use that as an example for many things, but we won’t pull that thread too hard today. But all these human factors, all these decisions, this is why in the US, the Department of Defense, uses HVACs as a construct for mishap and reporting so that aids in organizing the mishap reporting and the data so we can learn from our mistakes. It makes actionable data. There are other systems that also have taxonomies. Maritime Cyprus collects data. I ran across it when I was preparing for something else. Their number one, near miss, shows situational awareness as a factor in those things.

Situational awareness is a tough one to change and to drive.

It is. It’s a lot of training and a lot of tools and those kinds of things. I bought a new vehicle recently, and it likes to tell me to put the brakes on because thinks I’m going to hit something because it thinks it’s more aware than I am. It did it to me this morning, as a matter of fact. But it can be an interesting challenge.

Yes. Okay. Let’s go through some examples. I know when we talked about You had a couple of really interesting ones, Avianca, Aero Peru. Maybe let’s go through some of those examples of human factors at play and how they translate into an incidence from an aviation standpoint.

Sure. Avianca Flight 52 was in January of 1990. The aircraft was flying up to JFK out of Medellín, Colombia. The air crew received their information from dispatch about weather and other conditions as they were getting ready to go out on their flight. The problem was dispatch gave them weather information that was 9 to 10 hours old. Also, they did not have the information that showed there was a widespread storm that was causing bad conditions through a lot of the up and down, a lot of the East Coast. The other part was dispatch there had a standard alternate they built for JFK, which was Boston, Logan. Boston, Logan had just as bad a condition as JFK. They weren’t going to be able to use that in ultra, but they didn’t check. Then the air crew didn’t check either. They didn’t confirm how old the forecast was. They didn’t do any of those things. They launched on their flight with the fuel that was calculated to be necessary for that flight. For those who are not in the aviation world, when you’re calculating your fuel for a flight, you got to be able to get to your destination, what you think you need for your destination, what you’re going to need to get from there to your alternate in case you can’t get to your destination.

Then there’s a buffer that’s put-on top of that. Depending on what rule you’re using, it could be time, it could be percentage. It just depends on what rules you’re operating under and what aircraft you’re in. They have X amount of fuel. They launch out on their flight where they had 158 people on board. They get up there, and because of the weather, things are backed up JFK all the way up the East Coast as well. They can put in a hole near Virginia for quite some time. Then they get put in a hole when they get closer to JFK. They tried to get in a JFK, and they had a missed approach. They couldn’t see the runway when they did the approach and they had to go around. To go back into holding. The captain, understandably, is starting to become concerned about their fuel state. Sure. He’s asking the co-pilot if he has communicated to air traffic control what their fuel situation is. The co-pilot says, yes, I have. Well, the nuance here is that the international language of aviation is English, and the captain didn’t speak English. Co-captain did, and that met the requirement of one of them to be able to speak English to communicate with the air traffic control, but the captain didn’t know exactly what the co-pilot was telling air traffic control.

Well, that becomes a problem when the co-pilot was not using standard language. He was saying things like, hey, we’re getting low on fuel. That’s not the standard language that needs to be used. Correct. You have two phrases. You have minimum fuel, which indicates to air traffic control that you can accept no unnecessary delays. He never said minimum fuel. When they got even lower on fuel, he never used the word emergency. So, air traffic control did not know how dire the situation was. They It did offer them an opportunity to go to their alternate at some point, but by then they were so low on fuel, they couldn’t even make it to their alternate, even though Boston, the weather was too low there anyway for them to get in. Ultimately, they had another missed approach. They were coming around to try one more time, and they actually ran out of fuel. They ran the fuel tanks nearly dry on approach, and they crashed the aircraft in Cove Neck, New York.

Wow.

Here we have an aircraft, and you would think that there would be… There’s almost no reason for an aircraft to run out of fuel in flight, especially an eyeliner. But with these conditions that were set, they did. Just as an aside, there were 85 survivors out of the 158, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that there was no fire.

Because there’s no fuel to burn.

Because there’s no fuel to burn. I understand this It had a positive impact on what materials were used in aircraft later on, specifically cushions and stuff like that that don’t produce the toxic fumes when they burn because they could show that people could survive the impact. It was the fire and the fumes that were killed. That’s just an aside. That’s the overview. If we back up a little bit and talk about what human factors rolled into play here. Dispatch had this culture. It was an organizational culture. It wasn’t like it. Sure. They used as a general policy to use Boston, Logan as the alternate for JFK. That was just the standard. They didn’t even check. They may or may not have been trained properly on how to check the weather and make sure that it was adequate for either for an aircraft to get into its primary destination or to its alternate, because the forecast clearly showed that the conditions were too poor for the aircraft to shoot those approaches. That’s an organizational level failure, and you can look at that as being that’s one slice of cheese. If we start going a little bit further down without trying to look at every aspect of it, if we look at what the pilots did, they didn’t check the weather.

They just depended on dispatch and assumed it was correct. Then once they started getting into this situation that they were in, there was communication in the cockpit. That was good, except it was inadequate. More importantly, the pilot couldn’t speak, was the only one in the cockpit that could speak English, so the captain didn’t have full situational awareness, which we mentioned a moment ago. Then he failed to use the proper terminology. That was a specific failure on his part. I don’t know. We can’t say if that was because he didn’t want to admit they were… If he didn’t want to declare an emergency because he was embarrassed, which is possible. He didn’t want to have to answer the captain, perhaps. If you had declared an emergency and ATC comes back and ask them later, why did you declare an emergency? Why didn’t you just tell us this stuff earlier? We don’t have those answers. Unfortunately, those two gentlemen didn’t survive the crash. But these are all things that can roll into a roll into that. When you break it down into HVACs, these preconditions, maybe he was embarrassed, maybe he felt that there was a power dynamic in the cockpit that he couldn’t admit making a mistake to the captain.

Then he had the active failure not using the correct language with ATC, the standard air traffic control language.

It feels as some CRM elements, some psychological safety, probably at play because you would expect the co-pilot to at least ask, do you want me to declare an emergency or something along those lines. For seek clarity if you’re unsure.

Absolutely. That’s a really interesting one to me. I use it as an example with some regularity when I’m talking about these kinds of things.

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How about Aero Peru? Because I think the Avianca one is a phenomenal, really interesting one. Actually, one I haven’t touched on much before. So, it’s a great example of multiple levels of failure. How about Aero Peru?

Aero Peru is another one that’s really interesting. It had a unique problem. So, the short version, just to give an overview of the flight like we did with Avianca, Aero Peru was flying from Miami, and they were ultimately headed to Chile, but they had a stopover. They had stopovers in Ecuador and Peru. During one of those stopovers, they landed during the day, and then the plane was scheduled to take off at night. During that interim time, the ground crew washed the aircraft and polished it. Then the aircraft launched. They got up a couple of hundred feet off the runway Anyway, and the air crew noticed that there was a problem with air speed and altimeter. It wasn’t reading correctly. Well, they were already in the air. You can’t really get back on the ground at that point. You’re already in the air. They flew out and they’re out over the Pacific, and they get up into the cloud. Now they’re flying on instruments, so you don’t have any outside reference out there. Just even if it was clear, flying over the water at night is a very dark place. They got out there, they’re flying on instruments.

Their attitude indication is correct, but they know their altimeter is not reading right, the airspeed is not reading right. There’s another instrument in the cockpit called vertical speed indicator. It also operates off air pressure, just like your altimeter and your airspeed indicator.

Sure.

They’re very confused. To their credit, they are aviating. In the aviation world, we say, Aviate, navigate, communicate. Because if you stop aviating, stop flying the aircraft, you’re going to crash. To their credit, they aviated, They navigated, they stayed out over the water to make sure that they wouldn’t hit anything because they just didn’t know how high they were. Then they started talking to air traffic control. They’re very confused by all this that’s going on. There is on YouTube at least one video where you can listen to the cockpit recording, and then they’ll show you what else is going on in the cockpit. We don’t have the video, but they represent it electronically so you can see it. It’s interesting to listen to the actual audio because then hear the confusion and the attempts to make decisions and determine what’s going on. Ultimately, they get out over the water. They know these things are not right. They are asking air traffic control, hey, can you tell us our altitude? Because our instruments are not right. The problem with that is that the altimeter tells a box in the aircraft called the transponder. I sometimes call it the Marco Polo box when I explain it to people because the radar from the air traffic control sends out a ping like a Marco, and then the box comes back with a Polo.

But the Polo is a number that’s been assigned, so they know who the aircraft is on radar and the altitude. Well, the altimeter feeds the altitude to the transponder, so air traffic control can only tell the aircraft what the air altimeter already says. But that didn’t occur to anybody, and they’re under high stress, and this is a unique one. So, it’s just as an aside, my only real criticism of the air crew is you have a general idea of what power settings you need and what attitude you need for things, so they didn’t really seem to stick to that. But we all have to remember that when we’re looking at these, we’re Monday morning, quarterbacking them. I don’t ding them too hard. At any rate, long story short, they’re trying to figure out how to get turned around and go back. They’re trying to figure out what’s going on. Ultimately, they start getting overspeed indications warnings from the aircraft that’s telling them they’re going too fast, and they’re getting stall warnings from the aircraft.

At the same time?

At the same time. They don’t know if they’re going too fast or too slow. Overspeed is based on air pressure, which obviously all their air pressure instruments are not working properly. But stall warning is a totally separate instrument. It looks like a weathervane. If you walk onto aircraft at the airport today across the ramp, you may see the little weather looking thing up near the nose. That’s what is there for us for stall warning. They actually were stalling because they were trying to figure out how to get down and slow down since they were getting altitude and speed indications that were higher and faster than they wanted. Their radar altimeter, which again does not work, which also does not work on air pressure. It actually sends a radar signal down, was telling them they were low. They were getting, I’m high, I’m low, I’m slow, I’m fast. All this information coming at them.

That would be horribly confusing at the same time.

Horribly confusing, and there’s alarms going on off in the cockpit that are going to overwhelm your senses. There was a lot going on in the cockpit. Ultimately, they flew the aircraft into the water and there were no survivors. What happened here? When they were washing the aircraft, in order to keep water and polish out of the ports called the static ports that measure the air pressure at the altitude where the aircraft is at that time, had been covered with duct tape. Then the maintenance person failed to take the duct tape off. They forgot. Then when the supervisor came through, they didn’t see the duct tape either because that part of the aircraft, it looks like bare metal, so it’s silver. So, the gray or silver duct tape against the server, they didn’t see it. The pilots did not see it when they primly to the aircraft. So, when the aircraft When it took off, those ports were sealed, and the aircraft was not able to get correct air pressure sensing. Now we have to ask, how in the world did this Sure. Right. If you want to put it in a stag, start looking at slices of cheese, we have to ask these questions.

Why was he using duct tape? Was it because they didn’t have the proper Plug, which would have had a remove before flight banner on it? Was it they didn’t have it, or was it just too much trouble to go get it because they have to check it out and check it back in? Was this normal? Did they do this all the time? Did the supervisor know that and either not care or, hey, this is how we get it done around here. That’s a cultural piece. Sure.

At least use duct tape that’s flashing red or something.

Something. When you start looking at it in those terms, you have the, Is there a culture? Was there a lack of resources? Was there not adequate training? They didn’t know they shouldn’t use duct tape. It just seemed like the thing to Then the supervisor, did he know they were using duct tape? If he did, and it was for one of these other reasons, like resources or whatever the case may be, why didn’t he look carefully to make sure the duct tape wasn’t there because he knew they were using it? Did the air crew know that that’s how they were covering the static ports? Then when you get into the stuff with the air crew, they tried to do the right things. As we talked about, it was a very confusing set of circumstances. Like I said, standard attitudes and power settings would have been helpful. This is how these things stack up and how those holes line in the cheese to give you that straight path for a mishap to occur. It’s just a pretty interesting example of it.  

And multiple points of failure that had to align.

Absolutely.

Because assuming the duct tape was not used just that one time, this probably many times where it was used before and didn’t cause an issue because they removed it prior.

Correct. Correct.

Fastening example. So, the last one I think you’re going to touch on is around non-aviation going into maritime, the Costa Concordia.

Correct. This was from 2012. A lot of people probably remember the images of Costa Concordia is rolled over. It’s rolled over on its side. It’s heavily listing. It’s run aground off an island in Italy. This one is truly human from beginning to end. No equipment failed. There was nothing wrong with the ship, anything along those lines. That’s part of the reason that it’s such a good example here. The captain or the ship’s master, depending on how you want to use it in your terminology that you’re going to use, decided he was going to… They got underway with passengers on board. He decided he wanted to do what was called a cruise by where he would sail close by an island, specifically a town on the island, so that he could show off for his friends and wave at them when he went by.

Always a great idea.

Yeah. Most dangerous words in aviation, watch this. He decided he was going to do this, and he had done it before at the same place. But there were some differences. One, the previous time it had been planned. He briefed his deck, his bridge crew, what is going to happen. They checked all the weather conditions, et cetera, et cetera. It was during the day when he did it the first time. This was at night, and he just decided on a whim as they were on their way out that he was going to do this. As they’re sailing in there, they actually hit an outcropping as they were approaching the town It ripped a big old gash down the side of the ship. I think it was about 150 or 170 feet long, if I recall correctly, or about 50 meters. That caused flooding in the ship and a power loss. Then they ended up, as you saw in the photos, and 32 people lost their lives. That’s a real brief overview. But what I want to do here is talk a little bit more about what led into We’ve talked very generally about slices of cheese in holes.

Sure. For this one, I’m going to go into a little bit more detail and use some actual HVACs codes or names for the holes and names for the slices of cheese. When you look at the at the Cruise Company itself, the attitude there seemed to be this captain was getting the job done. When that happens in an organization, somebody gets the job done is obviously has a little bit higher… They’re regarded in a better way than people that don’t necessarily get the job done. The problem comes when that individual is doing in an unsafe manner. Maybe they’re hiding some stuff about how they’re doing it. They’re doing things that are unsafe, but they’re getting away with it. You have to watch out for those things in an organization, excuse me, and for what people may be doing how they may be getting things done. At that level, he was accomplishing things. So organizationally, you have that. Then you can call it organizational or supervision in that next slice of cheese, depending on how you want to look at it. They probably didn’t provide adequate training. In the aviation world, we use simulators a lot. They’re using simulators a lot more in the maritime world now as well, and they can put an entire Bridge crew on a simulator together and practice scenarios and practice their coordination.

Well, they hadn’t had that with this crew. They failed to provide that training. This captain had an incident pulling into another port where he was accused of coming in too fast, which if you do any boating at all, you might see or might be going by a lake or whatever, you might see buys that say no wake zone. Well, the belief is that he pulled into this port too fast, created a wake, and that damaged either or equipment or ships. There weren’t any real serious consequences for him on that. So, they may have failed to identify or correct risky or unsafe practices. Sure. Then that’s, again, if they didn’t identify it, then they didn’t retrain him. Now they failed to provide the adequate training for him, failed to provide adequate training for the Bridge crew as a whole. Now we’ve hit organizational with the culture, we’ve hit supervision with the training on safe practices. Now we go into the preconditions for the next level. Complacency. He decided on a whim, essentially, that he was going to do this sail by. So didn’t check the conditions, those kinds of things. He didn’t consider the fact that it was… 

We’ll get back to that one in just a second. Let’s see. Partly because, or partly maybe because the crew didn’t have the training in one of these Bridge simulators, there was a lack of assertiveness from the crew members to him. That may have been because he was known to be very intimidating. He would yell at people when he didn’t like the information or when they told them things that weren’t correct. Rank position intimidation is one of our holes. Lack of assertion is a hole. Complacency, he didn’t think this was a big deal. And distraction, and this one’s very interesting to me personally. One, he’s on the Bridge Wing, which if you look at a ship, you usually have the enclosed Bridge. Then outside from that, you’ve got a weather area, weather deck, where you can see further out, those kinds of things. He’s standing on the Bridge Wing on the weather deck, talking to one of his friends ashore on his phone. Hey, look at us. Look at we’re coming by. Just get ready. Here we come. Then part of the distraction was there were ships guests on the Bridge Wing with him, which was a violation of policy to have guests on the Bridge Wing when they were in close proximity to shore.

And he had his girlfriend. Excuse me. His mistress. He was married and he was having an affair and had his mistress on the ship with him in violation of policy. So, he had all this distraction going on in addition to he just thought of this as no big deal. So now we’ve covered three slices of cheese, and let’s get to the last one, the ax. So, we have an extreme violation, lack of discipline, where we talked about all these preconditions, and those are examples of lack of discipline as well, where he failed to focus on what he was doing, allowed these distractions on the bridge, et cetera. And inadequate real-time risk assessment, day versus night. I checked the weather, I didn’t check the weather, et cetera. In this case, this is one where we’ve taken the codes, the names of those holes in the cheese and apply them to this specific case. There’s a whole lot of stuff with this one. There’s a reason that mishap reports are hundreds of pages long. But this one comes down to these examples of codes where he violated all these things. That was just before they actually had a problem.

It got worse after that, if you all are familiar with that case. Yeah.

Well, phenomenal story, but very applicable to other industries because there’s a lot of other industries where somebody is known for getting it done and might be doing some risky things in getting it done, just hasn’t been an event or a mishap, and people are not paying attention to those things. How did you actually get the job done? Or in the case of the driver, you’re talking about, the delivery driver, maybe he historically got it done, cutting corners, and they just decide not to look at some of those cutting corners.

Right.

Right. Festinating. So really good illustration, I think, in terms of culture, learning, and then Swiss cheese in terms of how different layers come together. Swiss cheese is not cheddar cheese. It has holes in it. It’s just a matter of those holes can line up at any given point in time. They’re existing.

Right. That’s where the latent versus active conditions may be. In the case of DOD and H-Facts, you have the organizational supervision and preconditions. Those are all your latent layers, and then your active layers, that last thing. In this case, where the extreme violations occurred in the inadequate real-time risk assessment.

I think the part I also like about Swiss Trees is it forces people to look at beyond the aviator, beyond the ship’s captain, beyond the team member in an organization that makes a mistake to the latent conditions that are linked to decisions that the organization has made over the time. These people in finance, people in HR, people in a corporate office are making decisions, not necessarily connecting to how it impacts somebody in the field. We don’t know about Aero Peru, but maybe it’s even somebody where in procurement, they forgot to buy the proper tools to do it and use what you have to because you go on to get the job done. A lot of conditions that impact other people in the organization. I think that’s also another reflection in Swiss cheese for me.

Absolutely.

Great. Any closing thoughts that you’d like to add?

Sure. Just a couple of things. Aviators are, on the whole, willing to admit their mistakes. It’s because we know that it’s a very unforgiving environment. The ocean and aviation are very unforgiving environments. As an attitude, as a culture, we want to share with others so they either don’t make the same mistake we did, or they understand how we got out of a situation. If you look at Aero Peru, I mean, seriously, has anybody else had that problem ever where there’s duct tape, I run the static ports? I don’t know, but by talking about-Never heard of them. Yeah. By sharing this story, we have the ability to help others avoid that situation in the future. That’s really the way that we do it. The second thing that’s big in aviation is we’ve always had… The way that we really made big improvements in safety in our MSAP record is by planning and talking about these things. Somewhere later, somebody came along and named this the P-bed process, planning, briefing, executing, and debrief. But we’ve been doing it for decades. You actually have a flight You may not execute to that plan specifically, but at least you have a plan to deviate from, I like to say.

Sure. Then you brief it so that everybody understands what’s going on. Then obviously you go and execute it, and you may have to make changes to it along the way. That’s fine. When you come back, let’s debrief it. Hey, we had this mission. Did we accomplish it? Did we have any problems? What did we do well? What did we not do well? So that we can improve later. That really helps in a lot of ways, in a lot of industries or situations, if you just talk about what you’re going to do to plan it out and make sure everybody understands. When you plan it, if you have the right people involved, they can come up with solutions to problems that you see in planning. They may identify a problem that you see that you can avoid in the planning stage instead of running across it in the execution stage. So that planning, briefing, executing, debriefing is a real useful thing to have out Something that can be transposed in any other industry as well in terms of really thinking through the planning.

I think your point around the voluntary reporting is huge because having been in aviation, you hear about things that people would rather not talk about. I fell asleep, things of that nature. But if you don’t know about it, you can’t do anything about it because unless the plane crashed, you would have no knowledge that both pilots fell asleep unless they went off course dramatically. Chances are nothing’s going to happen because they’re going to be on autopilot and it’s pre-programmed and all good. But if you know something’s happening, you can start understanding what are the conditions that could be driving to it.

Right. Absolutely.

Excellent. Well, Marty, thank you so much for joining me today and for sharing your story. Pretty rich, interesting, and thought-provoking story with really good examples. Thank you.

Happy to be here.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. 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 execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.  

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Marty Ohme is an employee-owner at A-P-T Research, where he works as a System Safety Engineer. This follows a U.S. Navy career as a helicopter pilot, Air Boss aboard USS TRENTON, and program manager at what is now Naval Safety Command, among other assignments. He uses his uncommon perspective as both engineer and operator to support the development of aerospace systems and mentor young engineers. Marty holds a Bachelor of Science from the United States Naval Academy and a Master of Aeronautical Science from Emory-Riddle Aeronautical University. He may be reached through LinkedIn.

For more information: https://www.apt-research.com/

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Coming Home Safely: Advocating Safety First, Last, and Always with Dr. Lana Cormie

Coming Home Safely: Advocating Safety First, Last, and Always

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“Safety is the most important part of your job.” Tune in as Dr. Lana Cormie shares her heartfelt and moving story of navigating life after losing her husband in a workplace incident in 2018. She passionately advocates for improving safety and enhancing an intentional culture of safety in the workplace through ongoing training on the job and prioritizing the reporting of hazards, concerns, and near misses. Lana reminds us of the importance of keeping safety at the forefront and empowering team members to become safety advocates in the workplace, ensuring everyone goes home safely at the end of every workday.

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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 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 Lana Cormie, who’s joining us from Australia and who’s a safety speaker. Lana, welcome to the show. Very excited to have you with me today.

Thanks for having me along.

Absolutely. Tell me a little bit about your story.

I guess if we start from before, I feel like my life is split into two halves these days, the before and after. So, prior to 2018, I would say that I had a pretty great life with my family. I was married to Charlie, my husband, and we had two young children who at that time were one and three. And we were living on 40 acres in country Victoria, the south of Australia. And we, I guess, had bought our forever home. And it was very run down. We were working to improve it, both the house and the acreage. And I guess we had moments where we thought to ourselves, we’re pretty lucky, how great is this? We’ve got two healthy children. We’ve got this amazing place which we’d love to spend our life living in. And we were really looking forward to our future. Of course, we didn’t know that things were going to change. We had, at that time, I should say I was working as a veterinarian, working in animal welfare. Absolutely loved my job and my career. And my husband Charlie, he’d had a background working as a stockman on, I think you call them ranches in the northern part of America.

And the He was very talented stockman and horseman, but he’d later gone on to become a qualified carpenter and in fact, a registered builder. But at this time of our lives, he was working in civil construction, mainly because it gave us a regular income. So, it felt like, I guess, a safe option financially while our children were so little, and I was working part time looking after our baby. But of course, we didn’t realize it wasn’t a safe at all. And on the 21st of March 2018, Charlie went to work, and he never came home.

I’m sorry to hear that.

So, on that day, I was at work. The children were at daycare, and we had a lot of work on. So, we were busy doing surgery on animals. And I became aware through the press that there had been an incident and that the highway near to where I worked had been closed. So, we had a short conversation, which went something along the lines of, oh, I hope no one’s been badly hurt, must be a bad car accident. And then we carried on with our work. So, then A few hours later, I went off to lunch because I’d forgotten my lunch that day, and then came back in the driveway at work. And I looked up and there was this helicopter hovering in the sky. And I guess that helicopter signifies the end of life as I knew it. And it was not long after that we discovered through social media that there had been an incident on a work site nearby, that one man was dead and another was injured and fighting for his life, and they were still trying to rescue him. Now Charlie, we found out not long later was the man who had died.

So, my nurse and I drove around to the roadblock to speak to the police officers because I hadn’t been able to get hold of Charlie on the phone. Sure. And I couldn’t get any information through the company that he worked for. So, we went around to where they had blocked the highway, and the police officer informed me that it was my husband who had been killed. The other fellow, his family had also not been notified and had done a similar thing at the at the same time. His name was Jack. He was buried up to his neck with just his head and one arm free. And unfortunately, he never got the opportunity to speak to his family because He was flown to Melbourne, went through multiple surgeries and died in hospital the following day.

It’s horrible.

Yeah, it was horrible. Yeah, look, it has been terrible. I suppose I It’s probably obvious to say perhaps that the worst part was having to tell our children and having to drive to daycare and pick them up and be in what felt, I guess, a little bit like I was in a movie or some nightmarish out-of-body experience where there was some other lady whose husband had died and she was now having to go and pick up her children who now had a dead father. It was really a situation where I was in so much shock that I picked up these children with my mom who had come to help me and took them home and really didn’t know what to do next. So, it wasn’t until later that evening that the police turned up at our house, which was presumably our notification, which you can imagine was far too late. And we, I guess started to, I don’t know if it really sunk in by that point, really, what had happened. And it wasn’t until early the next morning when my children woke up that I had to tell them that their dad had died and that he was never coming home. And that was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do.

No doubt. Tell me a little bit more about what transpired in the work site because you thought it was a safer environment. What was happening in that work site?

I’m a little bit limited with how much detail I can provide here because whilst there has already been a court case and a prosecution, the case is still sitting with the coroner. However, what I can say is it was a deep trenching job, so they were digging trenches to lay sewer to round about the four meters in-depth. And of course, that work requires a lot of safety practices to be followed. There’s a lot of rules and regulations which need to be adhered to. For sure. And on this day, two men died. So, I think that probably tells you about where that was at.

So, the precautions that you normally would need to have because there’s a high risk in an environment like this, that the sides collapse seemingly weren’t present. When you speak about the incident, because you regularly speak about safety and talk about the importance of safety. What are some of the themes that emerge from your experience?

I think a big one is really about near misses. It took a long time for us to understand much detail about really what had happened to Charlie and Jack. In fact, only recently, the coroner found out some information which to her indicated that they were not in the trench at the time of the collapse. So, you can understand how distressing it all these years was not to really understand what had Sure. But certainly, it became clear a lot earlier on that there were some near misses that, I guess, were an opportunity, an opportunity that in this case didn’t result in safety systems being improved. So that’s something that I often talk about when I speak about this to companies, which is really that a near miss is a gift. And if you see that miss and you take the opportunity to improve your safety systems, you have a look at your systems of work, see what’s working, what isn’t, and rectify that. It’s not overstating it to say that that could be the difference between life and death in your workplace.

A hundred %. It’s a huge lever to tap into that so many organizations miss. Issues don’t get reported, they don’t get addressed. And organizations don’t drive the right follow through, which is a huge component. So really a gift when you’ve got those learnings.

Yeah, that’s right. I guess if you’re at the point of having a near miss, you’re a huge component. So, it’s really a gift when you’ve got those learnings. Yeah, that’s right. I guess if you’re at the point of having a near miss, you’re really close to having a catastrophic event. And I think reporting is just so key and not just of near misses, but obviously of hazards and concerns in the workplace every day, all day. It needs to be kept front of mind. And I guess that’s another reason why I’ve taken the opportunity to speak about my experience to workers, to employers, to managers, all of them, because keeping this front of mind is absolutely the key, because we get so tied up with all the pressures on us. We’ve got KPIs to follow. We’ve got production targets to meet. We have financial issues. There might be things happening at home. There’s so much going on in our mind, that often safety falls down the level of priorities, I suppose. And it can’t be that way. It must be number one every day. And it must be the first thing that we do before we think about anything else to do with our work.

So, I always say that safety is the most important part of your job. And that is to make sure you get home at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter how great you are at your job, how much money you’re making, how great your team is, any of Those factors if you’re not alive and if you’re not home at the end of the day. So, it has to be number one. But it’s easy for it to sometimes not be at the forefront of our minds.

It’s a huge It’s a huge challenge for it to keep always being at the forefront every given moment. It’s very easy to get sidetracked by something else or think, this might not happen to me. This whole element of keeping front row center. I remember I worked with somebody who says, if you put a card in front of your head and that’s remembering about safety, it’s so easy for it to slip to the back of your mind as you’re doing the work because you’re in a zone, you’re delivering. How do you bring that card to the front of your mind to always remember that this is the most critical thing right now for every decision I’m making?

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Yeah, it’s absolutely a challenge that us as individuals, but also as organizations need to tackle. Part of that, I guess, is on management to be absolutely vigilant, zero tolerance for unsafe practices, really encouraging people to report and to be thinking about things all the time. It’s also about training. I mean, we don’t know what we don’t know. So not just the initial training, but ongoing training. I didn’t know much about safety, even though I was working in my own workplace. I wasn’t really up to speed with the Occupational Health and Safety I didn’t really understand what that should look like in practice in the workplace. And I think that’s a common experience. I certainly believe that if Charlie and Jack would have had more knowledge or even if I’d had more knowledge, I would have also picked up that something wasn’t right. But certainly, if the workers don’t have the knowledge, they can’t protect themselves. They also aren’t well placed to keep bringing concerns to the employer, which, of course, is so key because managers can’t be everywhere. They do rely on their teams to say, I’ve got a concern, or I’ve seen something. Having our workers really well trained to recognize hazards That’s all part of the picture.

But the other thing I think that’s really this is part of the reason why I speak and go and discuss these issues and do presentations is that I think sometimes rules and processes and numbers, they don’t stick that well in our mind. And so, it can be really hard work to keep maintaining that. And it is hard work. It’s a central but what I’ve discovered is that stories, we’re good at remembering stories.

Yes.

And not only does hearing a personal story of tragedy in the workplace help to wake us up a bit, that this could happen to me, this could happen in my workplace, this happens to normal people like Lana, like Charlie, like their family. There’s that. It’s the fact that we can identify that it’s not some random person on the news. It’s a real person. But it’s also, and this is what I hope happens, is that if we have a story that links the rules with our emotions and our sense of self, then we’re more likely to carry that story with us in our memory. And not only is that a sense that I have, it’s also something that’s been proven, that stories are something we remember. Absolutely. So, I hope that in the work that I do now, I can be part of that picture, a small part of improving the safety in the workplaces which I speak to.

Sure. I know when we first connected, one of the themes you talked about was how recognizing hazards is not really part of how our brain functions. So, tell me more about that.

I’ve spent six years now and I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about these things and certainly speaking to some really interesting people, some of those working in universities and doing studies on such matters. And I always wondered, how could they not see it? How could they not see that they were in danger? But of course, they didn’t. And they didn’t do anything that they felt was dangerous or, in fact, that most of us would think was unsafe. Unfortunately, the systems weren’t in place to prevent something from happening. But what I’m trying to say is that we’ve evolved into this modern world where we now build skyscrapers. We go to work, we dig trenches, we do all sorts of activities. But really, our brains are still cave people. And I’ve had some interesting discussions with some researchers on this that we’re not well-designed to recognize hazards. We’re not well designed to understand danger, particularly if we’re exposed to it on a regular basis. So, if we see something and we think it’s dangerous, Initially, then over time we become desensitized. And as a cave person, we would understand that, okay, initially I was a bit worried about that barrier on that bush.

Now we’ve tried it. It hasn’t made anyone sick. Now it’s a good source of nutrition. We’re not concerned about that anymore. And we had to have that understanding that an exposure that didn’t result in in anything of concern was then something safe to interact with. And of course, as humans living in our life, we can’t run around thinking that we’re in danger all the time or we just wouldn’t function at all. We’d be hyper stressed. We would be. But if we’re in the workplace, of course, this works against us a bit because there are hazards. Sometimes we work in very high-risk environments, and we need to have our mind turned on to recognize those hazards all the time because they could be life threatening. That doesn’t matter whether we see them every day and nothing’s happened yet. It still could progress to an injury or a fatality. And that’s not what we want. So, it’s not really our fault as humans that we’re not great at this. That’s why we need training. That’s why we need to have ongoing processes in place that keep it front of mind, that ensure we’re reporting and that we’re rectifying things as we go along.

I think that’s a really important piece because our brain will naturally start accepting that certain risks are okay. It’s how do we bring a front row center always reflecting the same as people who are working in high-risk professions will often have the retention on the highest risk task. If you’re working next to an electrical conduit and it’s energized, you may be very cautious of the work you’re doing there. But then suddenly driving doesn’t seem dangerous. Or other functions that you may be doing that are not as high risk may also not appear as dangerous, but there’s still danger associated with it. There’s a lot of little tricks where we can get into a lull sense of security around the hazards in front of us. That’s really even the peer reinforcement. But something like trenches, you mentioned, before I got into the safety space, it’s not something I kept thinking about, oh, this is a big risk. Because when you grow up, it’s not something you’re thinking of, front row center. That’s the education when you come on a job site. When you talked about near misses, to me, a big component is also how do you reframe that this is a positive?

Because you talked about the gift, but if you don’t feel psychologically safe to bring it up if people minimize it. I had somebody was sharing a podcast that he had highlighted a risk, and he had been told, are you a man or are you a mouse? That’s going to precondition you to never highlight risks or never highlight near misses.

Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. It’s not something that comes naturally to us, is it? To feel, to put up our hand and raise an issue all the time, particularly if that’s going to slow the job down or certainly if it’s going to have some negative response. And I think that is Absolutely key. And that’s where the culture of a company and their response to reporting is absolutely integral, particularly to get that culture started. You need to be actually pushing people all the time. Report, report, report. And certainly not even having the remotest level of negativity when that happens and in fact, actively encouraging it.

Encouraging the new misreporting, but also encouraging somebody stopping work if they see something unsafe, because that decision to say, I’m going to stop work is also a very tough one. People will often say, you’re allowed to stop work. But having stopped work early on in my career, knowing the financial consequence of stopping work, which was not a small number, it was a five with lots of zeros after, You start really rethinking, especially when the next day you discover that what you thought was the right reason to stop work actually wasn’t a dangerous case. It becomes very… You really think two times, three times, 10 times before pull the plug. And that needs to be reframed.

Yeah, I completely agree. I honestly, I don’t think that a lot of work, and this comes back to training, a lot of workers actually realize that they can stop work for a safety issue and that that’s protected in the law, that right to do so. But also, as you were saying that something else came to mind, which is that I had a conversation not long ago with actually an OHS manager. And after listening to my talk and hearing my story, he came up to me and he said that he had had times quite recently where he was exactly as you say, really unsure about stopping a job because of a safety concern that he had. And he was the manager. But of course, he’s got pressures above and below. And he was really unsure about that. And one of the outcomes of listening to my story for him was that he felt that made him feel more confident in making that decision. That in his mind it made him feel the pressure to do the right, the safe thing is greater than the pressure, the external pressures of the job, the work, the money.

What might my manager say? What if it doesn’t end up being unsafe in the end? All those things, I guess, reduced in his mind because the story was something that he felt lifted up his safety concern and made him feel justified in doing his job and doing it well.

I think, hopefully, stories like this reinforce it but it’s also the response of leaders. I know when I made that decision, then the next day, it was discovered with new facts that it was the wrong call to make. But based on everything I knew when I made the decision, it felt like the only right thing to Like you said, you’re lucky if it’s a legislator requirement. In some cases, it’s not. It’s a company requirement. But what really made the difference is the COO flew down the next day, even if I’d made the wrong decision to say I had made the right decision and to give me a pat on the back. That reinforces as a signal saying that’s more valuable to me versus making the right call. It was the right choice to make sure people were safe.

Yeah, absolutely. That’s the response that you’d like to see from your upper management.

A culture we’d love to roll out through all workplaces, I think. But it’s also a reflection what do you do as a senior leader when something like this happens? I’ve seen in some organizations, in this case, he literally flew down and not reinforce it. But I’ve seen in other organizations where they celebrate publicly those instances and really reinforce that this is a desired value. Because it’s one thing to say it’s legally allowed, it’s a different thing to actually feel you can actually pull the plug.

Yeah. I I think that comes back to our psychology discussion that as humans, with our brains that we have, we need to be constantly encouraged in a certain direction. And it doesn’t take much to end up sitting not saying anything. It can be scary, even in a good company, to have to stand up and say, I don’t feel safe, or I don’t think this is a safe practice or indeed to stop work. It’s quite a scary prospect for most people. But I think it comes back right to the beginning. Before you get anywhere near an incident or a near miss or a serious concern, that day to day conversation around hazards, about risks, about the right way to do things and educating your workforce. It’s a big task, but like I say, It’s the main one, because if we can’t do that bit right, there’s no point doing the rest.

Correct. So, Lana, thank you very much for sharing your story with audiences across Australia and around the world. If somebody wants to get in touch with you to have you share your story with them, again, like you said, the power of storytelling is huge. In this element of we remember those stories and they’re memorable, and they can be the little catalyst to elevate a decision to where we want it to be, how can somebody get in touch with you?

Yeah, sure. So, as you said, I do face to face talks in the Southern part of Australia, but also do online talks both nationally and internationally. So, if anyone was interested in having this as part of their work to improve safety in their workplace, I can be contacted through CNBSafe and their website, cnbsafe.com.au.

Excellent. Well, thank you very much, Lana, for joining me today and for sharing a story with our audience.

Thank you so much for having me.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. 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 execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.  

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Dr. Lana Cormie and her two children are navigating life without a husband and father as a result of a workplace incident. Lana was at work when her staff saw the rescue helicopter hovering over a nearby construction site. She didn’t think much about it until she called her husband Charlie on her lunch break and he didn’t answer. The helicopter was there for her husband and a workmate who were fatally injured in a workplace incident.

She had been a happy mum, wife and vet who, like most people, was blissfully unaware of what happens when a loved one doesn’t come home. Her life changed dramatically from that day forward.

Lana has become a passionate advocate for safer workplaces, campaigning for better policies and improved legislation for workplace safety. Lana now shares her life experiences in an effort to help improve safety and educate employees and employers on the importance of a safe workplace.

Lana believes by sharing her lived experience she can influence safety cultures and that the most important part of work is to go home at the end of the day.

For more information: https://cnbsafe.com.au/lana-cormie/

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Championing Safety in Everyday Decisions with Brandon Schroeder

Championing Safety in Everyday Decisions

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One moment can change your life. Join us as Brandon Schroeder, a motivational safety speaker for over a decade, shares his candid and inspirational story of overcoming physical and mental barriers that resulted from a serious workplace injury in 2011. Brandon’s uplifting message encourages everyone to avoid shortcuts on the job and to work together as a team to champion safety in everyday decisions. Tune in now to hear Brandon’s powerful journey!

READ THIS EPISODE

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 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 you with me, Brandon Schroeder. He’s a safety motivational speaker with a very powerful story. Brandon, welcome to the show.

Hey, thanks for having me. I always get excited when I get to talk about this and get my story out there because I think it can help the masses. And I appreciate this opportunity to speak with you.

Excellent. Well, let’s start with your story because I think it’s a very powerful story from moments growing up on a farm, understanding risks to get into the trades, and then we’ll get into the turnaround you did in safety, but let’s get to that later.

Yeah, absolutely. When I was a little kid, I grew up on a farm surrounded by agriculture. My dad had corn, soybeans, and cattle. So, I was around a lot of large machinery from a very young age. I was driving tractors and skid loaders, helping my dad and my grandfather on the farm. One thing that I always noticed is my dad. He liked to take shortcuts. He liked to get things done as quickly as possible. And my grandpa would always be like, let’s slow down a minute. And it always seemed like my grandpa’s projects always got done quicker, even though they didn’t. I had a little bit of both sides of that in me. And I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t always perfect. No one is. But I had a lot of influence. My dad was a very hardworking person, and growing up, I always wanted to be like him. But I saw from a very young age that the neighbor kid caught his arm in a PTO shaft, and I saw the damage that it did to his body.

Yikes.

So, I knew that if I didn’t take safety seriously and think about what I was doing out there daily, there would be consequences. So, I was very careful growing up on the farm. After high school, my dad said to me, what do you think you want to do? All my friends are going to college. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wasn’t going to go sit in a classroom for another four years. So, I started looking at all the different trades out there, and I came across the electricians and thinking, you know, I can work inside, I can work outside. There’s good pay, there’s good benefits. I really didn’t know what I was signing up for, but I went down to our local apprenticeship and training office, and I applied in Des Moines, Rock Island, and Cedar Rapids. Those were the three big areas around me that had apprenticeships.

Sure.

And the first thing I went to be Des Moines. That was the biggest metropolitan area in Iowa anyway. And I could tell very quickly that I was out of my league. I was an 18-year-old kid who had only worked on the farm and at a grocery store. And I was going in there competing with people that had quite a bit of electrical experience and life experience that I just didn’t have. And that really hurt my confidence going to that first interview. Well, I knew I didn’t get in when I left, but I knew what to expect for the second interview. So, the second one was in Cedar Rapids, and I nailed that one because it was exactly the same as the first one, I knew. I kind of practiced my answers, and I got better at interviewing. I got into the electrical apprenticeship right out of high school. And when I got that letter, I thought, I’ve made it. All I have to do is get through the next four years of five years of training, and I’m going to have a great life. Right? And I show up at the office that first day, and, I mean, I was the first person in the parking lot.

And I’m all excited to go to work. And I get in there, and the first thing they have me do is fill out my pre-employment paperwork. And then they hand me a pair of safety glasses, some gloves, a hard hat, a lockout tag out thing. Sure. And we go through a book about two inches thick, and over policies, rules, safety procedures. This is a long time ago. This is back in 97. And once we went through that, it took about 15 minutes. They gave me an address, and all I had was the PPE that they had handed me. And they gave me an address. And I go out to the job site, and I don’t really know what to expect, but I notice right away when I get out there, one of the first things that I noticed was people did not have these heavy-duty work boots on that I had. And my dad worked in construction. He farmed when we went out on the farm, we always had heavy duty work boots on. And my grandpa, every time, he always went out into the tractor, he always had a pair of gloves with him.

And I have these gloves, these safety glasses, and this hard hat on. And I remember I go to the first break, and nobody has this stuff on. And I asked one of the guys, I said, don’t we have to wear a hard hat and safety glasses? And he said a lot of people don’t.

Really?

Yeah. This was a long time ago. People thought safety glasses fog up, they’re uncomfortable, and a lot of people didn’t wear them. A lot of the journeymen that I worked with, they were very resistant. I’ll wear those if I’m drilling or if I think I’m going to get something in my eye, I’ll put the safety glasses on, but I’m not wearing them all the time. And they’d give us these lanyards, so at least you could take the safety glasses on or take them off, but you’d have them hanging around your neck. But I noticed a lot of people standing on top of ladders. If the ladder wasn’t quite tall enough, they’d go to the very top. I’d noticed people getting into energized equipment, and as an apprentice, I couldn’t do any of that. I couldn’t get into energized equipment. Sure. Fifth year apprentice. Well, after I went through my five years of apprenticeship, I was all gung ho. I wanted to run jobs. I wanted to show the company what I had. And they started giving me more and more responsibility. Pretty soon, I’m doing service truck by myself and then running small jobs, and they gave me a large commercial site to run.

And I remember I was pretty nervous, but I was excited about the task, and safety was not a priority to me. I used to go to safety meetings and think, I hope they have good coffee and donuts, because that’s about all I’m going to get out of this. I didn’t really think safety applied to me. I thought it applied to the new guy. Anytime we had a safety meeting, it was always some toolbox talk or some box that we needed to check. It was never anything meaningful that was really going to impact safety. That was going to make me think that pertains to me or that could happen to me. For instance, I remember in the summertime one time we had a safety talk about cold weather and frostbite.

I’m thinking, good timing.

Yeah, it’s 90 degrees out here, and we’re going to talk about frostbite today, or we’d have another one about traffic signals. Well, we’re nowhere near traffic signals. And I would get frustrated with these toolbox talks because people would just open up these toolbox talk books and they’d read whatever the next week was. It wasn’t like we were going to. That’s relevant. We’re not going to try to move the bar. I think one of the best tools that any company can do is to report near misses and use those for safety meetings. To me, that’s a built-in safety meeting. Every week. You can talk about near misses, or I can go on a site, and within 15 minutes, I can find something to talk about, Hazard, something that’s relevant. But we didn’t really do that. So, I got into just thinking safety was a box check or something we had to do to make the office happy, or you better have your paperwork filled out. It wasn’t really anything that I thought was going to happen to me, or it didn’t really pertain to me because I was a professional. I knew what I was doing.

At the time of my accident, I had 15 years of experience, and I hadn’t had too many close calls. I thought I was good at my job. 03:00 I’m done at 3:30, and I get a call from the general contractor, and he says, I need this cord relocated. And I go out, and I look, and this cord runs through some aluminum framework in the front of the building. So, the only way, or the easiest way for me to relocate this cord was to unhook the cord from the panel, pull it through the aluminum framework, back out through the doorway, and hook it back up. And some people, when they see my presentation and I talk about that part, say, why didn’t you unhook it from the other end? That would have been so much safer. Well, if I would unhook the cord from the other end, hook to a transformer running through the building, steel through all this framework, 200, 300ft of cord that I got to pull back through the building and unhook it, and it would have taken ten times as long. So, I have this cord that’s running through this aluminum framework, hooked up to this electrical panel, and it’s less than 50ft from the building.

It’s a clear, wide-open shot. All they want me to do is unhook this cord, pull it through the aluminum framework, and hook it back up. They want me to do this at 03:00 because it’s going to kill all the power to the building. I go out there, and I look, and most electrical panels have a main breaker. This panel didn’t have that. This panel was fed directly from the utility side of this transformer. So, the only way that I can shut this power off is to call the power company and have them send it.

Right, which is not at 03:00 p.m. Not.

At 03:00 when you’re done at 330. I know that I likely won’t even get anyone on the phone who knows where this piece of equipment is, let alone get a line throughout here to help me. So, I think I will have to do this energized. And from the time I got in in 1997 until around 2008, I did this type of work all of the time with no PPE art. It wasn’t until around 2008 that I started hearing about electrical safety in the workplace. NFPA. Yes, we went over electrical safety and apprenticeship, but I thought that the electrician’s main hazard was electrocution. And I had seen equipment blow up, sure, but really didn’t equate. I knew what an arc flash was, but I didn’t know anybody that it happened to. I hadn’t heard a lot about it. I didn’t really know what I was putting myself at risk that day. And this is back in 2011, but they gave us these arc flash suits. And I realize that not everyone on this that’s going to listen to this knows what an arc flash suit is. But an arc flash consists of a belle calva, which is just a cotton ski mask.

We have an arc-rated face shield hooked to a hard hat. We wore 1000 volts rated gloves with leather protectors over them, arc rated coveralls, hearing protection, safety glasses, heavy duty leather shoes. All this is in a kit in the back of my van. So, I’m thinking I need to go get my arc flash suit. I open up the back door of the van and the suits not there. So needless to say, I’ve done these tasks many times. I thought I could do it one more time. Long story short, within a few minutes I’m flying to the University of Iowa burn unit by helicopter, hanging on for my life, not knowing if I’m going to die. I had a brand new baby. I just don’t know what’s going to happen to me. I’m very scared. My hand is half blown off and I get into the University of Iowa, and they wheel me in through this doorway and I’ll never forget my wife coming in there. And just when my eyes locked on her eyes, I knew this was serious. She didn’t say anything. She just ran down the hallway crying. It bothers me today.

I had to live there, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t console my wife. I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t be the strong person I always tried to be for my family. I was in the hospital for about three weeks, and then I went to a rehab unit where I was doing physical rehabilitation, working on my hand, but I couldn’t make a fist. I had to have multiple surgeries on my hand. I had to have skin grafts taken off of my legs and put on my hand. My face was blown off and not gone to the point where I needed it. It wasn’t going to the point where I needed plastic surgery. But when I looked in the mirror, no way did I think this was going to heal. I got very depressed. I wanted to commit suicide. I did not want my wife to be married to this monster. I didn’t want this monster to be the dad to my daughter. I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I thought the world would be much better without me. I didn’t want everyone to feel sorry for me. And I just wanted to get out of there and get this over with.

I wanted to leave every day. I just said, can I go home? And all that talk did was lead to more medication. I got through that very difficult time in my life just because of my wife’s strength. And not everyone has a family and a wife like I do. I won the wife lottery. There’s no way I could have gotten through this without her. When I got home, then the problems got bad for me again because I got addicted to morphine, trying to get off of that stuff. I have a whole new appreciation for people that are addicted to any type of drugs. I had some personal experiences that my biological dad, he was a drug addict. I’ve only met him like five times in my life. And when I found out or I thought that I was addicted to the morphine, once I recognized it, I just quit cold turkey. Because I remember when I was twelve years old, seeing him stand out by the side of the road like a bum. And I thought, this isn’t going to be thanks. I’m not getting addicted to anything, right? There’s another thing that helped me get through this, and that’s something that not everyone has.

But I didn’t care what happened to me physically or mentally. I was done taking the medication, and I stopped. Then I get through all this, and I have to go back to work. And I’m thinking I’m going to get fired for sure. When you have an accident like this, there are a lot of consequences for the company you work for. We have a serious OSHA violation on our record. Companies do yearly safety audits. Our experience modification rate was above one on our trip. And you have to fill out all these applications for all these customers and all these bidding processes. And it really wasn’t the cost of the accident that really affected the company. It was the customer’s perception. Once you fill this out for bid forms, and I say this during the presentation, companies like working with other safe companies. They don’t want to take a risk. They’re not going to roll the dice. If the company you work for doesn’t have a good safety record, many companies will find someone else who does. And I had to go to a lot of meetings, a lot of explaining, a lot of remediation on how we were going to fix this, right?

Ultimately, the company decided, and I think it was more of a charity case because I couldn’t work with my hands, but they decided to make me the safety director. And I’m thinking, how are my coworkers going to look at me, look at the decision that I made? I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to push safety. After what I did, this didn’t make sense to me, but I had no other way to pay my bills. I didn’t have any other options. And they’re asking me to do it, and my paycheck is going to keep coming. So, I decided to do the best I could.

It’s probably a good call because you have a way of advocating that nobody else can, right? Because you’ve personally experienced it. It’s real to you.

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And I think that the company’s attitude is: who better to talk about safety than the guy who had to take the hard road and learn the hard way? But I can tell you half of the, you know, I didn’t work for a large company. A lot of the companies that I speak for are Fortune 500 companies. I worked for a company that had maybe, on average, 80 employees. At our peak, we might get to 110. And half of the people in the company looked at me like, I can’t believe this guy has a job. And the other half of the company looked at me like he was pretty good at his job. If this happened to me, this could happen to him, or if this happened to him, this could happen to me. So, I really couldn’t control the people who thought I should be fired or didn’t think that I should be in that position. I can’t control what they think of me. But I had a job, and I was very focused on that job. How I was going to make up for my accident was to deliver the company a big fat zero incidents for a calendar year.

And to say I was obsessed with this goal. And I’m a very goal-oriented person. If I don’t have a vision, if I don’t have a roadmap, I already know I’m not going to be successful. And one of the best quotes I’ve ever seen is an idiot with a plan can beat a genius without a plan. And I put together a plan, and I got to pick the members of my safety committee. I went out, and I picked six people who were highly influential in the company that I knew people would listen to. And we started having safety meetings. And we said, look, we didn’t have a good year last year. The year I got hurt, we had twelve OSHA recordables. That’s worse than bad for a company with 100 employees at their peak.

Yeah, it’s bad.

That’s bad. We have to improve. So, the first thing we did was put hard hats, safety glasses, and gloves in place. We’re not asking people to wear them anymore. That’s a condition of employment. If you want to work at our company, you will wear these things. And if you don’t want to work at our company, you can work for our competitor. That’s fine, but we are going to change the way that we do things now. And I had the buy-in from the company’s president, and the safety committee helped me. And one of the first things I did was I didn’t know anything about safety. So, I started going to as many safety conferences as I could, and I would identify companies that were much larger than the one that I worked for, who had very good safety records, and I would talk with them, take notes. What are your policies? What are your procedures? How do you guys walk through the job sites on your safety audits? What works, and what doesn’t? I got invaluable information from each one of the safety conferences that I went through. I was networking like crazy, and I was very much out of my element as an electrician who works alone.

Going to these safety conferences, meeting these experts, and talking to them was out of my comfort zone, but it was something that I had to learn to do if I was going to be good at my job.

Right.

So, I went and met with them. One thing that stuck with me was that you have to create a lookout for one another’s safety culture, and if you can’t do that, everything else doesn’t matter. And I believe that. And I tell people that if we made every employee in an organization a safety manager or a safety advocate, we’d have no accidents. But the reality is we have to go out there, and we have to be productive. But safety has to be a tool. And something that we use daily can’t just be something that we use when the safety manager comes around or there’s a walk-through. It has to be a tool that you use on a daily basis. And if the people most influential at the company aren’t willing to use those tools, you won’t be able to spread that.

Sure.

So, one of the first things that we did was I started doing walkthroughs, safety audits, and I would go out, and I would tell people, you’re going to get one warning to wear your safety glasses, gloves, and hard hat. And after that, I just give your name company, and whatever happens, happens. It’s out of my hands. But you’re going to get one warning, and that’s it. This is a condition of employment. The rest of the items we can work on that could be a training issue. That could be. You didn’t know, but everybody here knows going forward, we’re wearing our PPE. I went and did a safety audit, and I had a guy who wouldn’t wear safety glasses, and he’s like, I don’t need them. I’m like, well, this is one warning. And he kind of blew me off, like, okay. And I found a few other safety things that I talked to him about, and he was kind of on my radar. When you do a safety audit and someone gives you attitude and you find things they’re not receptive to what you say, you kind of want to go visit that person again, you should.

It’s not somebody you’re going to say, okay, they’re all right. They know what they’re doing. We don’t have any problems over there. You know that. That’s something that’s going to take more of your attention. So, he got more of my attention. In the next safety audit, we found another problem. In the next safety audit, we found another problem. And these weren’t things that he didn’t know better. I would say only 25% of my audience do electrical work, but my experience as a safety manager was in electrical.

Sure.

I went into this project, and he’s got all the covers off the panel, live exposed parts, and a metal fish tape in the panel, pulling wire. I mean, he knew better than what he was doing. And this was the third time. And I just told him, I said, I don’t know what will happen here, but you need some more training. We’ve talked about this. We’ve talked about this, and I don’t think that you are an asset to our organization with your current mindset, and I’m not able to change your mindset. So, I think you need to go talk to management to see what we’re going to do moving forward. I was pushing for an OSHA 30 course, additional training, something because this guy had a lot of experience. I didn’t want to lose him in the organization because safety is something that you always have to improve and evolve on. Nobody knows it all day one. And we had a culture of not-so-good safety culture. So, I wasn’t expecting to turn this company around in a year. I knew it would take time, and our employees are our greatest asset.

So, I didn’t want this guy gone, but I went, and I told the owner what happened, and he said, you know what? I’m tired of this. Your accident should have been a big awakening, people that they need to change, and every once in a while, we need to have a sacrificial lamb. And I said, what do you mean? And he said, unless you tell me something I don’t already know right now, we’re going to fire him. And I got very emotional because I blew my face off. I blew myself up. I was in the hospital for a month. I broke every safety rule in the book and cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance premiums. And I’m still coming in, and I’m getting a paycheck. And you’re going to fire this guy? I did what I could, and they fired him. And it affected me. Like, I didn’t sleep for three days. I called the guy. I tried to meet with him for lunch when he was gone. The last thing a fired employee will do is meet with the guy he thinks got him fired.

Right.

And I don’t know. It still affects me that he lost his job, and I couldn’t continue to coach him and try to make him better because that was what I was there to do. But I can tell you, after that happened, it sent a message to the rest of the company that these guys aren’t messing around. Safety is going to be practiced in our company. We made mistakes last year, but going forward, things are changing, and you’re either going to get on board with these changes or you’re not. And if you’re not going to get on board, we don’t have a place for you here. Right.

It sends a message.

It did. And I would rather have that message sent through me. I don’t know why it wasn’t, but his firing me will probably affect me for the rest of my life because I should have been the person who lost their job, but I wasn’t. After the first year, we went from twelve OSHA portables down to three down to one, and eventually, we could get that zero.

That’s tremendous.

It was. But I can tell you that I thought about this from the time I got up until I went to bed every day. And when I looked at the work orders, I looked at the jobs. I came from the field, so I knew what stage these projects were in. I knew what they were doing. I knew the employees, because I only worked with a company that had 100 employees. I knew their safety habits. I knew who would take the time to do things correctly and safely, and I knew who would take shortcuts. And I tried to get myself through those shortcuts before they even happened. Don’t even put the. And that’s something that I think that I preached a lot at all of our owners’ meetings: let’s take these safety decisions out of the field employees’ hands. Let’s plan safety into the job before expecting the field employees to perform work safely. Let’s plan and engineer safety in before they even have a chance to touch it. For instance, when we’re looking at bids, and we’re looking at jobs, we know we’re going to need a shutdown.

Let’s plan that shutdown for them. If we know we have an overhead hazard. Let’s plan two weeks ahead of time that we’re going to rope this area off, and no one’s going to be able to go through here because we know we have this work to do. And that’s where I think shortcuts happen. Somebody thinks I have to get this done to meet this deadline. I have a short time to do it, and safety kind of goes by the wayside. But with proper planning and the employees with the four, every construction project that I’ve been on has a two-week look ahead. Four weeks look ahead. We’re always planning. We’re always trying to hit goals and schedules. Let’s plug safety in there, too.

Right.

And I think it can be done when people work together as a team. One of the big things that I’m seeing now is people are, if you’re not safe, let’s say you set your hard hat down for a second, they’re going to walk you off-site, no warnings. Or you make a mistake on a ladder, no warnings. We’re going to walk you off-site. And that’s not something that I can advocate for. I think everybody makes mistakes. The thing that I advocate for is if I see somebody standing on top of a ladder, yes, I’ll admit that’s a poor decision if they’re on the very top of the ladder. I have a bigger problem with the people who are standing on the ground and aren’t saying, let me get you a taller ladder.

The brother’s keeper you were talking about, right? Is somebody else watching you do it?  

Yeah. Let me find a better way to do this. And to me, that’s how you solve your problems. You don’t know what’s going through that person’s mind now. You don’t know what they’re dealing with. Maybe their mind isn’t where it should be that day, but when you walk right on by somebody doing something unsafe, that’s worse than committing the act itself. And there’s no better part or feeling than knowing that your part of a team and someone’s looking out for you. And when someone comes up to you and they say, hey, stop what you’re doing, that’s not safe. I’m going to help you find a better way to do that. That instantly sends a message that this person is looking out for me. I’m part of their team, and they’re going to help me improve. But one thing that I see a lot on LinkedIn that I don’t agree with is somebody will take a picture of somebody who’s doing something foolish and they’ll post it on LinkedIn. That sends a message that safety is just looking for idiots, and we’re all idiots sometimes, but correct. When people walk, you want to limit that.

As you get older, I think you learn from your mistakes and realize you’re not bulletproof. Bad things do happen. But I think being on a team where people look out for one another is the key to safety. And that’s what I try to convey in my presentation: you have to look out for one another. And being part of a team, you have one weak link. The chain breaks if there is a failure. Let’s not point the finger. Let’s figure out where the team went wrong.

I heard a few things from you. One of them was around the safety committees you started it with in terms of getting grassroots engagement and involvement. You also looked at some hard and fast rules that were communicated and were clear. I think planning is a really important one, which is just, let’s plan this through. Like, if I think about what you talked about, your accident, it seemed like it was a last-minute thing. Let’s try to squeeze it in the last 30 minutes of the day. And so right there, there isn’t that advanced plan. Say, okay, what’s the best way to do this? If you call the utility and it was planned work, they’d probably be able to cut it out, but not if you’re calling a three, expecting it to happen at 305.

Exactly.

Then, the last one was really this looking out for each other, the brother’s keeper concept, and really getting people instilled, which I think is a very powerful element, as long as you’ve got multiple people working together.

Right.

If you’re a lone worker, your kind of stuck looking out for yourself unless you get a second that’s there, that’s looking out for you.

I agree with that, but it does take discipline when you’re working by yourself. You know how many people know that, to me, nuclear power plants are the safest place in the world. And I know people in my neighborhood that work at a nuclear power plant, and I watch them put up Christmas lights, and I’m like, I know you wouldn’t do that at work. And there’s more than one time when I went and got my extension ladder out of my garage and said, here you go. I think, you know, there’s a safer way to do, you know, most of the time, people appreciate that, and that’s what I try to do: just go out there and do my part and look out for one.

So, Brandon, thank you for sharing your story. I think it’s a very powerful story. References back to safety on the farm and how that was there, but also how you got into trade and the environment was different. And then, it was a very powerful story regarding the incident, but mostly in terms of what you did to pivot safety within the organization. And was it three years that you drove this?

Yeah, I did the job for three years. I wanted to make some more changes in the company. And when I try to do something, I want to be the best. I’m not saying I can be the best, but my vision is always to improve and always take steps forward. And the company did not. They were good with where it was at. They didn’t want to make a lot of changes. They didn’t want to keep evolving. And that’s a big mistake that I think some companies make. They say, well, we didn’t have any accidents last year.

We’re good.

We’re good. And that’s to me like a CEO saying, looking at their numbers and saying, our sales goals were great last year. Let’s try to do the exact same number that we did last year. This next year.

It doesn’t normally happen that way.

No. You always want to do better in business. You always want to try to increase efficiencies and drive revenues up. That’s the whole reason a business exists. And safety is the same thing. You have to try to improve and do better each and every year. You can always do better, no matter how good you are at it.

Agree. So, Brandon, you share your story with multiple different audiences. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

My website is believeinsafety.com. That’s the best way to get in touch with me. You can read a little bit about my story. I do have some YouTube videos out there that I’ve shot where my wife talks about, and they show some of my family. And that video has been very popular. It is in my presentation as well. But believeinsafety.com is the best place to reach me if you want to contact me about future speaking engagements.

Sounds good. Thank you, Brandon. I appreciate you taking the time to share your story with many audiences across the country. I think, hopefully, it helps change people’s mindset about how to show up for safety.

All right, well, thank you for having me. This was a big honor. I know this is a popular podcast, and I very much appreciate being part of it.

Thank you, Brandon.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. 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 execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.  

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ABOUT THE GUEST

In 2012, Brandon Schroeder‘s path as a speaker unfolded following a workplace incident in 2011. Having served as a journeyman electrician since 2002, he had envisioned a future in the electrical trade. Brandon was known for his proficiency, diligent follow-through, and on-me task compleon. However, the pivotal moment of his accident led him to see an alternave journey awaing him.

In 2012, he was approached to address a company about the circumstances of his accident. Despite initial reservaons, Brandon agreed. Inially, he thought this would be a one-me endeavor, but he soon discovered that requests for his story would persist. More than a decade later, he connues to share his narrave, influencing safety perspecves. Brandon has delivered presentaons for numerous companies, ranging from global giants to local co-ops. His objecve remains singular—to reach that one individual who needs to hear his story.

For more information: https://believeinsafety.com/

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