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New Year Special Episode – SAFETY’S TOP 21 FOR ‘21



Happy New Year from The Safety Guru! Are you ready to charge up your Safety strategy for 2021? Listen in to a special, must listen episode: our top 21 predictions for safety in 2021 with Eric Michrowski and Dr Josh Williams. We identified our Top 21 predictions on what to look out for in Safety in 2021. Our list is based on emerging themes in all our interactions with senior leaders.


Safety’s Top 21 for 2021 1. Mergers and Acquisitions: As the pace of mergers and acquisitions is likely to pick up in 2021, there will be increased attention on integrating Safety Cultures and conducting Safety Culture due diligence, something that isn’t sufficiently front row center today. Doing this well on the front end will help prevent unforeseen cultural challenges for years following the M&A. 2. SIFs and SIF Potential: When you track macro data you can see the significant progress that has been made in reducing injuries over the past 10 years and unfortunately the insufficient progress around SIFs. More and more organizations are starting to realize that actions to reduce SIFs and Potential SIFs are often different. Based on our leadership interactions, we think that 2021 will see more attention being placed in reducing SIFs and Potential SIFs. 3. BeHop – Combining the Best of Behavioral Safety and Human Performance (HOP): Rather than finding ways of integrating new ideas, organizations too often abandon what was working before. That’s the case with Behavioral Safety and HOP – we’ve seen some great ways to integrate the best of both worlds to increase impact and we are seeing more organizations trying to integrate the best of both worlds. For example, instead of checking hardhats, observations can be focused on checking themes such as “are you OK?”, “what would help you do the job better?” and focusing more on the conversation, not the cards. 4. Virtual & Flex Work: Whether you like it or not, it’s here to stay in some shape. Based on a lot of current research, employers who don’t embrace it could face significant retention risks. This shift brings a lot of positive opportunities when properly embraced. Safety teams need to think about how to better adapt to this new reality – from observations, to conversations and personalization of messages. 5. Mental Health: Particularly with COVID-19, studies have shown a significant increase in the rates of depression and anxiety, particularly for those 30 and younger. People are feeling isolated and alone. So mental health is becoming a more common area of focus for safety teams. Both the mental and physical side of safety are so critical going into 2021. 6. Digitization: You can’t turn a page in the newspaper without reading about new apps, tools, technology, robotics… This brings a lot of new opportunities for safety leaders from data to process improvements that reduce hazards and we think the pace of change will continue to increase significantly in 2021. 7. Re-Engineering: A greater focus on removing the hazard. That’s ultimately the best way to impact SIFs. For example, can we send a robot into a confined space or can the work at heights be performed by a drone? With advances in the IoT (Internet of Things), robotics, we are expecting greater advances. 8. Big Brother: With these technological advances (i.e. cameras on job sites, sensors…), there likely will be an increased perception of Big Brother watching. While some of these advances are very positive, organizational change considerations will need to be front row center otherwise we risk seeing people dialing down on their safety ownership. 9. Ownership and No Blame: One of the most positive attributes of Human Performance (HOP) has been the focus on removing the focus on blaming the employee and focusing more on how the system failed. There is a need to combine that with elements of cognitive psychology to increase safety ownership. 10. Rethinking Safety Training: 2021 will continue to see a large generational shift in most workplaces. With that shift there is a need to rethink safety training and safety leadership training: bringing new technologies and micro learnings and moving away from the old classroom approach. We are talking about generations that grew up with iPads and technology day in and day out – there is a greater expectation on more interactive and real time training. 11. Big Data & Predictive Analytics: With advances in technology, Big Data and Predictive Analytics are increasingly becoming incredibly helpful tools to understand where our hazards are located. This can be used to analyze observations or even in some organizations the hazardous jobs that will take place. But at the end of the data, someone still needs to take action which is where Safety Ownership is so critical. 12. Generational shifts in the workplace: As we mentioned in #10, we can expect a greater generational shift in the workplace. This will bring issues and challenges around knowledge transfer and knowledge management. That will need to be a significant area of focus in 2021. 13. Too Much “Lean and Mean”: With more organizations having to reduce operating costs, we are seeing an increase in themes around “not having enough people or resources”, “burnout”, “scheduling challenges”, resulting in an increase in production pressure. Balancing Safe Production messaging and finding the right balance of “lean and mean” will be essential to safety in 2021. 14. Developing Safety Leaders Beyond the Classroom: While leaders often want to have the right impact on Safety, they don’t always have the insights needed to drive higher impact. 360s have provided too little insights as they don’t tie the impact of leaders to front line workers. We see greater use of better 4D insights increasingly being able to help leaders and leadership teams understand how to improve their leadership skills and impact together with Safety Leadership Coaching. 15. Increasing Safety Leadership Commitment: Too often organizations rely solely on training as the lever to improve Safety Leadership and Commitment. While it’s definitely a great tool to leverage, sometimes what’s needed is simply to bring existing safety leadership knowledge to life every day. We’ve seen great success focusing on building commitments, habits, and even micro habits to make safety real. In lean times, this can be a great lever to drive rapid impact. 16. Safety Supervision: Often Supervisors have the greatest ability to influence the Safety Ownership of frontline team member. Yet it’s often the level of leadership that receives the least investment. In lean times, this can be the best area of investment – to increase safety coaching and influence skills. 17. Safety Implications of Returning to Work: We’ve got a large portion of the workforce that hasn’t gone into an office for over a year. As they return to work, there will be lots of safety hazards that they will need to be re-accustomed to. That will require focus for safety leaders to draw back attention to the hazards that exist. 18. Psychological Safety: To drive Safety impact, team members need to feel Psychologically Safe to speak up and to feel comfortable calling out unsafe work, stopping work or escalating issues. We’re seeing more and more organizations drive the right emphasis and drive meaningful change and set up systems to get input from people that are on the job, doing the job. 19. Learning Environment: We’re hearing more and more about learning environment. That’s a good trend, we’re going to see more of it in 2021. From safety suggestions, to close calls, to learning from incidents. Additionally, the more involvement and participation from team members, the more the learnings will stick. In a NIOSH study, the participants that were involved in designing their own observation card were 7X more likely to use it than those that were given a great card designed by another group. 20. Emphasis on Brain Science: We’re learning more and more about how the brain works. We know about our capacity to process seven units of information at a time. We’re learning about some biases that get us in trouble like the fundamental attribution error (if I make a mistake, I blame the environment; if someone else makes one, I blame them). That’s problematic with injuries because if I get hurt, I’m more likely to look elsewhere for blame and if I am a leader, I’m more likely to blame the employee. Another example is Confirmation Bias, which can get us into trouble because we’re not always open to new ideas and new thinking. Focusing on an understanding of how our brain works allows us to get rid of some of those biases and increase impact. 21. Health & Safety is More Important than Ever – Make it Count: In 2020, Safety Leaders became essential to help keep businesses open. In most organizations, Safety has gained significantly in terms of executive access. It’s a unique opportunity to capitalize and influence the strategy for the years to come – presenting a balanced view of improving Safe Production. Those are our Top 21 trending themes to drive greater impact on Safety in 2021. Happy New Year!

Safety’s 21 for 2021 Key Topics

1. Mergers and Acquisitions.

2. SIFs and SIF Potential.

3. BeHop.

4. Virtual & Flex Work.

5. Mental Health.

6. Digitization.

7. Re-engineering.

8. Big Brother.

9. Ownership and No Blame.

10. Rethinking Safety Training.

11. Big Data & Predictive Analytics.

12. Generational shifts in the workplace.

13. Too Much “Lean and Mean”.

14. Developing Safety Leaders Beyond the Classroom.

15. Increasing Safety Leadership Commitment.

16. Safety Supervision.

17. Safety Implications of Returning to Work.

18. Psychological Safety.

19. Learning Environment.

20. Emphasis on Brain Science.

21. Health & Safety is More Important than Ever – Make it Count.

For more information on this topic, please read the related blog Safety’s 21 for 2021 at Propulo Consulting.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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

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

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

Pushing through the Plateau – Behavior Based Safety and Beyond with Dr. Josh Williams



Behavior Based Safety has brought incredible successes to many organizations but often performance pushes to new heights and plateaus. In a lively conversation with Dr. Josh Williams, we explore strategies to push past the plateau. From re-energizing Behavior Based Safety programs to integrating ideas from Cognitive Psychology and Human Performance tools to bring a holistic approach to safety improvement. This is a must listen to episode if you want to explore options for what’s next in your safety strategy!


Real leaders leave a legacy, they capture the hearts and minds of their teams, their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe, yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now. Hi, welcome to The Safety Guru. I’m your host Eric Michrowski and today I’m very excited to have back with me Dr. Josh Williams. Dr. Josh Williams is a partner with Propulo Consulting who brings an incredible history of success assessing and transforming safety cultures through a multitude of different industries and approaches. His experience extends across behavioral safety, cognitive psychology, as well as human performance tools. He’s worked in this space for well over 20 years. We’ve had phenomenal success across industries. He’s authored a book and is also a Cambridge Center award winner for behavioral research. Josh, welcome back to the show. I appreciate it. Glad to be here. Excellent. So today I want to talk about a really important topic. I’ve been getting a lot of questions on. This is really rude behavior-based safety. And what how do you make this more successful? So maybe if you can give a brief overview in terms of some of the background behind behavior, safety, and its early successes that you’ve seen. It’s been around a long time; I was in graduate school in the mid 90s and it was already at point of trajectory in terms of being throughout the US and beyond Canada and beyond. Lots of companies doing behavioral safety at that point. It started originally with a guy named Scott Geller and Tom Kraus. They were kind of on the forefront in the early 80s, really. So, it’s been around a long time. And the idea behind it was fairly simple. And that is most injuries have a behavioral component. And that’s what these guys were doing. What they kind of started was, OK, well, if that’s the case, then why don’t we list all the important behaviors on the checklist and see how we’re doing and go around and observe and we’re doing things more safely, more often. It’s less likely somebody is going to get hurt. So that was the logic behind it. And then there was just a mountain of research, you know, for all these interventions and all these. I’ve got a bookshelf here, Erica degrees and all these all these books and wonderful information. But when you want to get down to science and looking at behavior change, the field of behavioral science is chock full of studies, empirical studies, meta-analysis showing the benefits of behavioral type intervention. So that’s one of the reasons it’s been around 30, 40 years. Is this because there’s science behind it? So, when done correctly, it’s a powerful tool to improve culture and prevent those serious injuries or fatalities. Absolutely. And I think the topic that I most often hear, and I think it has to do with because it’s been around for a very long time, obviously, if you if you haven’t already implemented behavior based safety, in most cases, this is probably something that you really should be looking at. But a lot of organizations have implemented some great behavior-based safety is a pushed and had amazing outcomes and improvements. But often what I hear about is they push, and they plateau. So, what I want to talk to you about today is a little bit about what’s missing. So obviously great successes. Organizations have improved if they push forward. But how do we go past that plateau? What are some of the things that organizations should be looking at? Yeah, before we get to that, it’s important to note a lot of behavioral safety implementations weren’t implemented well. There was a cottage industry of behavioral safety experts who are finding checklists on the Internet and all of a sudden, they became a consultant. And you know, the reality of all this and it’s true, it diluted the success and the strength of it because a bunch of folks came on board that didn’t quite have the deeper knowledge of behavioral change. And there’s a persistent component associated with it. So, there’s a reason why sometimes it didn’t go as well as it should. And there’s a reason why sometimes people go through criticisms of behavioral therapy because it was often implemented poorly. So that’s just kind of a reality. There are two things I want to point out really quickly. First is system factors need to be addressed. And that’s what the human performance folks are, you know, seizing the opportunity and doing a good job and a lot of ways of quibbling. And people fix the system. That’s and that’s I think that’s an important contribution. Behavioral safety really was a safety culture training. You know, I mentioned to folks that kind of cut my teeth on behavioral safety what we were doing all those years ago. We were talking about Bandura. We were talking about locus of control, discretionary effort. It was safety, culture training with a behavioral intervention kicker. So that’s the way any type of training program should be. It should be more holistic, which we’ll talk about in a second. But in terms of hitting plateau’s, it’s hard to do any kind of intervention. And you know this as well as anybody. When you’re trying to change organizations, it takes time, it takes work, it takes effort and it’s hard. And behavioral safety is no different. The challenges in a nutshell, is these cards would turn into kind of tick the box activities where particularly when quotas were put in. So, we’ve got a quota due to a month. Lo and behold, you get a flood of checklists coming in the last day of the month. And I would see some of them. They would be like a checklist. It would be a photocopied check on how they did well. And I’m like, man, if you’re going to into it, you know, I mean, I remember we had to get serious talking about people that had had paid their kids to fill in lots of forms so that at the end of the month they could mail them in as they will win them, I guess. But exactly. Training your kids at a young age to photocopy. Yeah, I had a guy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, one time tell me. And he kept repeating it. It’s about people, not paper. It’s about people in that paper. And he said that just enough time for that kind of stuck with me. It’s not about the paper and matter of fact, it’s not about the observations as much as it is about the conversation. So, one of the challenges of the behavioral therapy is everyone gets locked in on these cards. It’s about people talking to each other. And the hope is when it’s done correctly, if you’re doing those observations the right way, you can have people talking to each other or card. I’d rather have a good discussion without a piece of paper than fill something out, drop it off and never talk about it. So, part of the plateau is it became bureaucratic. Fill out the cards, get the cards. And people are tracking a number of cards down. They’re not looking, in some cases looking at the results. They’re not looking at percentages. They’re not looking at comments that they’re not looking at suggested action items. They’re just clicking the box. So that was a long answer. Sorry, there for a short question, but I think one of the primary challenges with the plateau becomes programmatic instead of doing it for the right reasons. And in those instances, it may be a question of reenergizing what you’ve got to get by and more involved. Because I agree so much with what you’re saying. It’s not about the piece of paper. It’s about the quality of the conversation. I would look at piece of paper as a conversation starter, but not the actual act or accomplishment that’s necessary. What’s in it for me is that the big question and there is value in charting percent safe score. So you get five or six things that, by the way, the people that are designing the card and that’s one of the problems with these off the shelf things or these online training things. It’s like there’s no employee engagement. We did research years ago sponsored by Naish, looking at a manufacturing facility, has the group got interactive training and they design their own cards and how to use it. The other half got rote training. And here’s the card and I got to do it. The people that were actively involved in creating their own cards and tools for use them seven times more than the people that did the seminar. See that it’s huge, huge, huge, huge involvement. And they had investment in it. But they’re. But there’s a lot to do there. I mean, you want to see percentage wise, what are we looking at? And it shouldn’t be a hard hat. Just checking the box. We should be looking at things like, you know, like a tiger taking off in a confined space entry. These are there some serious things there we need to be paying attention to and if we can get good data out of it. But the bottom line for employees is what’s in it for me? Good conversations, changes being made, system improvements being made versus these other efforts of trying to get involvement by quotas or incentives and. All these artificial levers, it’s like trying to manage the economy with these false artificial things that are short term if you need to have the fundamentals there. And the fundamental for an economy is the one thing the fundamentals here is simply what’s in it for me, from the employee perspective, I see value. And when that’s done, you fight less on these plateaus. There are other things you can do rotating steering teams, changing of the cards at a human performance, elements to the cards, too. But those are ways to kind of keep things fresh and make it sort of a living, breathing, ongoing thing. I love it. You touch a little bit on the human performance tools there and looking at systems completely agree. I think that sometimes organizations get focused on it’s just about the behavior and they forget about the system and how it creates any further thoughts. You want to touch on the human performance side in the integration of those themes? I think that’s a really good question. Years ago, when behavioral safety took off, there were cognitive psychologists that were out there, Michael Chertoff, one that comes to mind. And there was a lot of good information there in terms of attitudes matter. What I’m thinking matters when I’m feeling matters and the behavioral folk’s kind of thumb their nose at it a bit, particularly because, you know, they’re looking at science and numbers and data, not feelings. But that’s a mistake. And because as you and I have talked about many times, attitudes, influence, behavior and vice versa, and behaviors influence results and dismissing cognitive and the psychology of it. It’s funny, it’s coming back now in terms of neuroscience. So, we’ve kind of come back around. We named it just like the human performance. Folks are kind of renaming some of the stuff that was done by Becker and other years ago. It’s nothing new, but it’s been repackaged and marketed, and the neuroscience is a bit different than what was done before that. But there are similarities. My point to that is there’s dogmatic approach of one versus the other is just harmful. It’s a business driven. Its ego driven. It’s territorial, and it’s not helpful. We need a holistic approach. Responsible consultants are tying in all elements to try to help their clients, to try to fit their needs and meet their needs, help them out. And then this cognitive if it’s behavioral, if it’s human performance, it’s all helpful. So that’s the long answer. The short answer is there are things you can do if you’ve got an existing behavioral safety process and there’s benefits of doing that to make the card a little bit better. One of my frustrations is it becomes a check the box. There should be questions on there, like what do you need? What scares you about the job? What tools would be helpful? Are the procedure changes? How can we improve this job? What scares you? What these questions are open, and the questions and they get people talking. And if we respond to them and 17 people said there’s a scaffolding issue over here, we got to deal with it and we respond to it, all of a sudden, these cards are helping me because now I got this issue and it’s been it’s been addressed. So, it’s more open. It’s more interactive. It feels less like a it feels more conversational. So, these peer checks, which are kind of the human performance way of getting at these observations, I think the peer checks integrated with behavioral safety cards is a good solution. It’s great, great, great comments, great, great insights and on the cognitive side and any other thoughts you want to add in terms of the elements, you brought in a lot of different themes there in terms of the value. I completely agree. I think behavioral components, you obviously need to shift behaviors to get the right results. But my attitude around safety, my sense of control, the risk, my sense of ownership over what I’m doing, all critical, important elements that need to be factored in beyond those conversations. But also, they will help those conversations because the more I see what’s in it for me, the more I’m going to have put in effort and value in the conversations I’m having with appear on how to improve safety. I like to flip it around and ask you that question of think you’d have more fun answering it to me, the personal matters. You know, we’ve seen it with leaders that are switched on and those that aren’t. And if you feel it, it’s obvious. It’s obviously different to people when you’re talking about it, if you feel it versus, you’re saying it because you’re supposed to say it so that however we get to that point, that personal line, and I like how you kind of will press leaders, especially executives, what is your personal line within a few wires? Why does this matter? And challenge people to really think about that? You know, we talk about, you know, the personal fight for us, the big five, whatever, in terms of why we’re staying safe. It changes the narrative from war compliance to I’m doing this for something. I’m doing it for my family. I’m doing because I want to retire and break 80 playing golf before I die. And whatever it is, that personal feeling and the reason and the mission one is to be clear, it needs to be shared with people because as you said, that’s kind of the impetus for a lot of behavioral change efforts, is you got to feel it first. And keeping in mind behavior shift attitudes to be able to get better, my attitudes get better. So, it’s sort of the era goes both ways between attitudes and behaviors, but they’re both important. So, Josh, I couldn’t agree more. I think your point on the on the why is it important? As important one, I meet this reflection a couple of years back and I started realizing that all the leaders I was talking to that were driving substantial changes in terms of safety performance. And there was one common trait. They all had a very strong desire for why safety matter and they showed up a different way. And when you’re talking about from a cognitive psychology standpoint, a lot of people are talking about the attitude, belief, mindset of a team member in terms of how I look at risk. I would look at safety in general. I look at my personal ownership, but I start realizing that there was this other element, which was how the leader was showing up. And as you as he said, as you start pushing people to think as to why you care about safety and articulate that it creates a very strong conviction. And I’ve seen it in some organizations where you work with one leader who starts really thinking about what’s my whilst on that origin story around safety. And then I start convening with leaders and suddenly the leaders start paying attention and they’re like, OK, I need to do this. I need to actually drive observations. I need to show active care when I’m in the field. And something as simple as really thinking about somebody’s origin story, their way around safety became so critical to drive lot of the changes. So, we touch on different topics. Josh, we’ve talked a little bit about cognitive psychology. We talked a little bit about human performance tools. We’ve talked a little bit about how to bolster the behavior-based safety program that you’ve got. Maybe if it wasn’t done well because you got out of a Cracker Jack Box at some point in time, what are some of the things that that you can do to bring it to life in an organization, to drive improvements to the next level, to push through the plateau? From a big picture perspective, I was with a client years ago and they said, what’s the key to improving safety culture? And I said, get input from people that are on the job doing the job and respond to it. And she’s like, OK, what else? There’s nothing else. It’s not true. There’s more. But I wanted to reinforce the point. You’re not listening to your folks. There are all these fancy initiatives that are going out with all these beautiful conversations and posters and you’re not talking to people. So, bring in bringing it to life. That employee engagement piece is critical. You know, we mentioned I like the internal locus of control from getting broader in the 60s, and it’s as important now as it was 60 years ago. My personal ownership and engagement are key. And we talk about Ben bendir and self-efficacy. And I got to believe I can do it. There’s a lot of these factors that have not gone out of style. It still matters. So, we’ve got to get input from people, get their engagement, whether it’s with observations, whether it’s with close calls and a learning environment context. There’s a lot of system ways where we need to get that engagement. But as an employee, I’m not stupid. And if you if you’re trying and we’re trying to get efforts and you’re asking me questions, it could be procedures. It could be anything. It feels different to me, even though it’s not perfect. You’re engaging me. You’re listening to me. You’re hearing me. And I appreciate the effort. And when companies do that, it’s a night and day difference versus those that are rolling things out top down here it is not. Go do it. Failing people, it frustrates them. And it leads to things that look good on paper, but they don’t look good. And in reality. And at the end of the day, we’ve talked about this before, when I simplify safety, I always talk about you need to have great methods, procedures, policies. So, the quality of what you’ve got has to be top notch. Then you’ve got to have acceptance, people following the rules when nobody’s watching, doing the right thing, wanting to do it, wanting to follow policies and procedures. Because if you got great policies and procedures that nobody’s following it. They look great on paper. But that’s the extent of where you’re getting results. And then you need to focus attention on the job at hand, knowing of your limitations and things of that nature. So those are really the three components. And what you’re touching on is I’ve never seen people want to do something. If they had no say in this right. It’s what’s in it for me. You listen to a peer of mine; it doesn’t mean you need to drive a democracy or get a consensus across the organization. But seeking that input, such a simple thing is so key. If you want people doing things and you get better decisions and you agree. I’ve seen so many goofy blanket calls. I’ve seen people walking around with their safety glasses on, but no lenses on them saying hi to me like it’s just the most normal thing in the world because they were upset, they had to wear safety glasses in areas where they were needed. And I’ve got more extreme examples. I mean, I’ve got a bunch of goofy stories, I’ll tell you another time. But these blanket policies come down to wire people following them because they don’t make sense, because you never talk to the person that’s doing the work in the first place. So, you know, it’s just it’s just simple. I don’t know if you get better decisions when you talk to people, you get more acceptance from people because they have a say. So, like you said, and I’m getting a little bit wound up just because it upsets me sometimes because so many of these training sessions with employers for decades hearing about all these issues, and it’s just not reaching folks sometimes. And it’s just it’s unfortunate because you have conscientious leaders trying to do the right thing. And that simple stuff like you said, that maybe it’s not so simple, but the important step of getting input from folks and responding to it brings life to everything we’re doing. So, from a larger perspective, when we’re trying to reenergize behavior or see any part of that as refresher training, it’s really safety culture training, but focusing on behaviors, but also the cognitive side, like you said, also the human performance side, integrate some of the human performance elements into behavioral safety processes. We do commitment workshop with leaders after training, so it doesn’t feel like and we keep it fresh, keep it live where they talk about specific things they’re going to do, moving forward to put their good intentions into place. There’s a lot of things that need to be going on. It all starts with that belief and feeling it. But there’s a lot of things we can do from a system perspective, from a behavioral perspective to increase that discretion, discretionary effort and ultimately better safety, culture, and reduction of serious injuries. And they tell is because those shifts happen, we think everything’s fine. All of a sudden there’s an explosion kills eight people. We find out when we start doing an investigation after the fact. All these little things were out there, and people knew about it, didn’t say anything. And that’s a problem. That’s a huge problem. Is what you don’t know. Is it more dangerous in many cases than anything else? Because you’re not dealing with it. You’re not learning. You’re not getting better. And every big incident that I’ve ever heard of always started with because there was information that existed that was known but didn’t get to the point where somebody could act on it and make sure it wouldn’t get into something serious. Like any other thoughts you’d bring in. You’ve brought in a lot of really valuable ideas. We’ve kind of gone over in different directions, but great, great input in terms of how to reenergize your safety programs. I love what you’re talking about in terms of holistic approach. My biggest pet peeve in management has been anybody who is dogmatic about this one size fits all approach to everything because there is never such a thing. There’s no silver bullet and management. If there was, whoever invented it would be down in in a bunker somewhere, enjoying life on a beach next to a bumper bunk and a huge mansion. There is no such thing as a silver bullet. It’s a question of kind of combining learnings from different pieces. Any other closing thoughts? No, I’ll just echo what you just said. It’s either ego or it’s for its business interest. When there’s a usually when there’s that strong of a dogma. I’ll just I’ll say this in closing, and this may sound a bit sale you don’t mean to do, but it’s gone with what you know, what I know is assessed on the phone and find out what you got to keep doing it. What is not so good at, try to get better, get a strategic plan together. And that stuff that we help with, like who’s going to do what when? Let’s lay it out. I mean, just like you on a football game, many of us lamenting college football may or may not continue this year with a good word. As Nick Saban to an Alabama, he’s getting a specific game plan based on strengths and weaknesses and research. And there’s a whole bunch of effort that goes into planning. Organizations should be doing the same thing. So, assess plan. And when you do training and other interventions, as you mentioned, make a more holistic, people need to feel it and then work on sustain it. And that’s from leaders’ behaviors that could be peer check. There’s a lot of ways to sustain that, but that’s your that’s your path forward, I think, beyond that plateau you had mentioned earlier. Excellent. Well, thank you so much for coming back on the show, Josh, and sharing quite a few great insights in terms of the next frontier of improvements and giving great ideas to people to start charting their next step in the journey and look forward to having you another time on the show. I’m sure we’ll have other topics to explore. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams, you, your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.

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The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Dr. Josh Williams is a Partner with Propulo Consulting, a global management consulting firm delivering significant and sustainable improvements in organizational performance. For over 20 years Josh has partnered with clients around the world to drive increased discretionary effort and improved strategic execution. He’s the author of Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention and received the Cambridge Center National First Prize for his research on behavioral safety feedback.



Improving our Safety Communications with Dr. Archana Tedone



An excellent interview with Dr. Archana Tedone exploring the latest insights in Safety Communications to help organizations improve a critical dimension to improve outcomes. In addition to sharing ideas around how leaders can improve their safety communications, she shares some evidence-based ideas around upward and lateral safety communications – how workers share ideas and how they collaborate with each other.


 Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their 0teams; 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 the Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. I’m Eric Michrowski. Today I’m really excited to have with me Archana Tendone on who’s here to talk to us a little bit about safety and also the elements of communication. So, first of all, thank you so much for joining us. I’d love to hear a little bit about your story and how you got into this field of studying worker health and safety.

Sure. Hi, Eric. Thank you so much for having me here. I got into this field of studying worker health and safety through some of the research projects that I started doing as a young graduate student. So early on as a young graduate student, I was involved in a variety of different research projects. And one of the projects that I was working on involves me conducting focus groups with health care professionals, nurses in this instance on occupational health and wellbeing. And one of the topics that we talked about in these focus groups was employee safety. And I noticed that during these focus groups, I kept bringing up the topic of worker safety and somehow the conversation always shifted back to patient safety. And I would have to find yeah. And I would have to remind these nurses over and over again that I was there to better understand how to keep them safe. And we’re talking about your safety, which in turn keeps the patient safe at the end.

In the long run. Right. And, you know, I just found nurses in particular in this focus group just to be such a selfless group of individuals who really prioritized their patient safety over their own. And it made me think we as human beings should really be programmed to prioritize our own safety and well-being. Right. Isn’t that one of our core functioning? So, when I realized that nurses are prioritizing the safety of patients or construction workers or prioritizing getting the job done faster or emergency responders or compromising their own safety to save the lives of others, I really wanted to understand why and how we can better protect these individuals working in these really high-risk industries who are literally putting their lives at risk for the benefit of others.

So, looking back, I sort of think I committed myself to this very important area of research around that point, and my work really focuses on better understanding the barriers to safe workplace practices.

That’s fascinating. And I think in today’s context, the whole topic of workplace safety for nurses and doctors, health care workers becoming even more of an elevated topic. And I’m curious, even if this was the same several years ago, I completely agree. I think safety has become even more important. You know, if that’s even possible, safety has always been a priority or should always be a priority. And I think in some of these high-risk industries, the message that keeping yourself safe will in turn help you reach those goals that you have, could be patient safety, could be getting the job done faster.

Right. Could be saving the lives of others. But I think, you know, there is some disconnect there, understanding that it is important to keep yourself safe to very well said. Definitely. And something I’ve even seen with other employees that where their role somehow impacts the safety of others, in some cases even utility workers, where they’re sometimes thinking more about the safety of others versus as well thinking that if I stay safe, I can keep others safe as well.

So, I want to get into some of your research. You’ve done a lot of research on safety communication. Can you tell me a little bit more about what safety communication is and why it is so important?

Yes, definitely. So, when people hear the term safety communication, they typically think of the more traditional downward safety communication. Right. Which is the top-down messaging from management to employees. While the research is showing us that focusing only on downward safety communication and ignoring other types of communication could be a huge mistake and can really negatively impact workplace safety, some other types of safety communication that are important to pay attention to our upward and also lateral safety communication.


Yeah. So upward safety communication captures the degree to which your employees are speaking up about safety issues, speaking up about their safety related concerns, speaking up about their opinions relating to safety in the workplace or your safety program, and also reporting things like accidents, injuries, near misses, things along those lines. So, it is important for managers and supervisors to get this information and leaders to get this information, because if you don’t have this healthy upward safety communication happening in your organization, then you’re missing out on so many opportunities to detect, correct and prevent safety issues.

Yeah, and lateral safety communication, on the other hand, captures the degree to which workers are talking to each other about safety, and honestly, this is the trickiest out of the three to improve because you as a leader can definitely work on how you’re communicating. And, you know, maybe you can implement different policies and initiatives to encourage upward communication or at least to ensure that the channel of communication is open and clear. But how do you make employees talk to each other about safety?

Right. That’s exactly ballgame game. Yeah. So, when an organization has a strong positive safety, climate and safety is prioritized and it’s really at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it’s openly discussed, then lateral safety communication becomes organic, can happen naturally. But getting to that point isn’t going to happen overnight. And trying to encourage lateral communication will likely be met with some resistance. But it doesn’t mean it’s not working, right. Yeah, I have a lot of fun examples that I’d like to share.

So, I recently conducted some interviews with some individuals who worked in an organization that just revamped their safety, vision and values. And as part of that, they wanted to increase awareness of the vision and values. So, employees were asked to start meetings and briefings with a discussion of how they’re going to embody these values in their daily work. And so, the employees, of course, when you’re asked to do something on top of what you’re already required to do, you’re going to be a little annoyed at having to take this additional step.

Right. So, they would, to some degree, start making fun of these new slogans. And, you know, so things like to be responsible or help each other work safely. And they would joke about these things. And throughout the day, they would jokingly associate these statements with events that were happening. So, you know, if they saw another employee needing help, they would say, I’m here to help you work safely as a joke. Or if they saw someone not wearing the proper PPE, they would say be responsible and so on.

And, you know, before they knew it, they realized that they were actually living the values, even though it started out as something that they were just making fun of. It quickly became integrated into their daily work lives. Interesting. Yes. I would say a tip here is that, yes, your employees may resist this, some of these safety initiatives that you take to improve lateral safety communication, but don’t let that be discouraging because it could actually be making a difference before you even realize it is so interesting. 

And it actually reminds me of some work I was doing with one organization long ago where they’ve done a lot of improvements around that downward safety communication upward was still the main area of focus. There was not enough involvement where there were employees were so excited about it. But Lateral with was probably the most challenging one because people weren’t connecting with each other was a lot of tourism that was also even getting in the way of doing that effectively.

Yep, I completely agree. And with lateral safety communication, I think another way to really help promote lateral safety communication is to identify employees within your organization that can really serve as those role models that are going to be helping you promote this type of communication and discussion. So, it’s one thing for management to ask employees to talk about safety. Right. But it’s absolutely another thing to see your peers talking about safety, bringing it up during discussions, prioritizing safety in their work and research shows that seeing peers engaging in safe behaviors encourages employees to engage in these same behaviors and to establish the norms in an organization.

And this is much more effective than just having management provide direction or tell employees what to do. And this is definitely not to say that management shouldn’t be involved. Your management should also serve as role models. They should walk the walk because if you as a leader aren’t displaying the values, you’re expecting your employees to embody, then they won’t see a need to display these values either.

Very well, because ultimately you want to get it to the group. The norm here is following the rules going above and beyond from a safety standpoint, even going above what the rules and expectations are, which can really only happen once you start having seeing how people are showing up as well. Not any other tips that you’d have for leaders to communicate effectively.

Yeah. So, when it comes to effective communication downward from leaders, I think it’s really important to have the three C’s. I would say so. Communication should be. One consistent, so especially if communication is indirect, so if it’s going through supervisors to your employees or something like that, you don’t want to end up with a game of telephone where the message gets distorted before it gets to your front-line workers. So, you really want to make sure that your supervisors and managers have a clear understanding of what you are trying to convey so they can effectively communicate that information to their teams.

And if you don’t strive to ensure for this consistency, then the worst possible scenario is employees are going to be receiving these conflicting messages from different sources, their supervisors, their peers. And this will cause them not to take the message seriously. And it also puts an overall doubt on the importance and priority of safety in the workplace if they’re receiving these conflicting messages.

The second yeah. The second thing I would say is you want your communication to be clear and concise. That’s a bonus. So, you don’t really want to you don’t want to leave much room for interpretation. You want to be very clear. Researchers found that messages that are clear, easy to understand and to the point are most effective. So, this point isn’t only about safety related messages, but this could be taken for any sort of messaging that you want to convey to your employees.

And then the third C, I would say you want your communication to be caring when you communicate, understand that these workers are literally risking their lives on the job. Right. And they’re approaching conversations with their employees from a caring perspective has been found to be more impactful than coming from a scolding or reprimanding perspective. And it’s really important for employees to feel that you as a leader, genuinely, genuinely care about their safety and well-being and really helping them understand why safety policies and procedures are in place can really influence what they end up taking away from your conversations or approach your conversation from a place of care.

I love it. So consistent, clear and concise and then caring. I think those are so important that the caring one, it reminds me most really good leaders that I’ve heard of from a safety culture standpoint are always coming from a position, and they usually always have a very strong, like conviction of why safety is so relevant or important to them. I love your comment about why I had somebody who was sharing their story in terms of my leadership story on whatever episodes he was really talking about, how you really connect to why something is important, not just telling people to do something that’s so important.

So, in terms of upward communication, what can you tell me about upward? And is it really important for employees to communicate to leaders about safety?

Yes. So, as I mentioned earlier, when leaders and upper management are not hearing about what’s happening on the floor, they’re really missing out on so many opportunities to prevent and correct safety issues. So, yes, it’s very important to have an open two-way channel of safety communication, not just one way. That’s not enough anymore. And so, an important tip to maintain upward communication, I would say, is to make sure that management is acknowledging receipt of this communication and providing feedback about what’s being done or what’s going to be done with the information received. 

So, if managers aren’t giving employees any feedback on their speaking up, then they’re going to feel like they just wasted their breath, right. They won’t continue to speak up about safety issues or concerns. You have to reward the behavior you want to see. Right. For example, if an employee raises a safety concern to you as a manager, let’s say, acknowledge that you’ve heard their concern, maybe you can check in with a check in with them in a few months, let them know what steps you’ve taken to resolve their issue.

And even if it’s something that you can’t really take action on at the moment, let them know that you’ve heard them. And although you can’t address it right now, it’s something you’ll consider in the future or it can’t be addressed for X, Y and Z reasons and tell them those reasons. So, providing this type of feedback makes upward communication more worthwhile for the employee. Put yourself in their perspective. Why would you, after working a very long, hard, busy day, go out of your way to speak up about an issue if you feel like no one is going to do anything about it or you know you’re not going to get any feedback on it.

So, providing that sort of feedback encourages them to continue on with that positive behavior that you’re trying to see.

But the very important point, it reminds me of one of my favorite stories I’ve ever heard, it was a somebody who is at a retirement party retiring from one of the big three automotive manufacturers. And his comment at the end was, you’ve paid me really well throughout my entire career. Thank you. But you could have had my brain for free. And I think that’s such a strong comment. But really talks to this piece about all he was looking for is somebody to listen to tap in to be open to his ideas.

And they could have had so many more solutions that ideas come forward. So, in your research, you’ve studied a construct which is really interesting and I’d love to hear more about it. And it’s around what you call safety silence motives. Can you tell me a little bit more about what it is and why we should care about it?

Yes, I’d love to. So, safety, silence motives help us understand the barriers to upward safety communication. So, safety silence occurs when employees choose not to speak up about safety issues in the workplace and safety. Silenus’ motives are the reasons behind the silent behavior. So basically, measuring this construct will help us answer the question. What are barriers preventing my employees from speaking up about safety issues? And so, we’ve identified four main types of safety silence motives, so we found that employees may not speak up about safety issues if they feel that relationships in the workplace could be damaged or it could lead to a negative image of them called relationship.

They safety silence or employees may stay silent because their organization’s climate isn’t supportive of upward communication called climate-based safety silence. Silence could be due to appraising a situation is not threatening or not worth speaking up about. So, this is called issue-based safety silence. You hear things like, oh, that safety issue wasn’t life threatening or no one ended up getting hurt. Right. And then finally, job-based safety silence occurs when employees are facing job related constraints to speaking up.

So, things like heavy time pressures or workload, and you might not find that all of these safety sounds motives are occurring in your workplace. So really measuring these motives will help you take the most targeted action to encourage healthy upward safety communication.

Hmm, interesting. So, what should I do if my employees do not feel comfortable speaking up about safety issues?

Right. So, as I mentioned, different actions can be taken based on what barriers you’ve identified in your organization. So, for example, if you find that relationship-based safety silence is very high, then your organization may benefit from having an anonymous reporting system, for example. So, names don’t have to be associated with certain suggestions or reports. And this could also always be a first step until you’re able to build a culture of trust in which employees do feel more comfortable associating their names with different reports and things along those lines.

If you find that climate, they safety silence is an issue, then you really want to think about why your organization’s climate is not supporting this type of upward communication. So, you could find that employees feel that there really is no Clear Channel of upward communication or they feel that management isn’t really responsive to upward communication. So, these are things that can be addressed through different manager or supervisor trainings.

Interesting. Yeah, it’s it is for somebody because I grew up in the airline industry and that’s where it got my first taste of safety. And I think that that that theme of speaking about air safety is so well ingrained in that industry and has been for because of so much focus on creating psychological safety, but also a mechanism, an environment where people recognize the value of speaking up. So, I sometimes take it for granted. This is such an important theme.

Right. You know, it’s very interesting that you say that because each organization, each even department and each team has its own strength in their safety climate. Right. But you kind of forget about it. At the industry level, some industries really work to prioritize safety more so than others. So, you know, you’re definitely right. There are some industries that have that tend to place a bit more priority on production, are getting the job done or other things.

And it could be a little harder to shift the safety climate in an organization working in an industry with such constraints. But not impossible. Definitely not impossible.

Absolutely. So, can you maybe share some of your takeaways when it comes to talking about safety?

Sure. So, I would say one takeaway is that communication should not be just a one-way channel. So, it’s not enough to have effective top-down safety communication. It’s important. But not enough upward safety communication is also a necessary component of a safe work environment, and lateral safety communication is really important as well for creating that healthy, positive safety climate that we’re striving for. Another take away is that change takes time. There are, of course, changes that really need to happen immediately, right?

If major safety is your concern, it needs to be dealt with. But what if you’re trying to change how people are thinking about safety or how people are viewing safety or how much they’re valuing safety in their daily work, then be patient. This is not going to happen overnight. This process might take time, but the research shows that having this strong, positive safety climate has so many benefits and not only in the realm of safety associated with things like lower accident rates or better safety performance, but also outside the safety realm, like customer satisfaction, employee commitment, better performance, things like that.

And it’s important to understand that, you know, investing in improving your safety climate does save your organization time and monetary costs in the long run. Right. They seem like just one small cog in the machine of your organization, but without it, that machine will come to a halt. So, it’s really in our best interest to try to ingrain safety into the fabric of your company so the machine will run smoothly. And keep in mind that these changes might be happening before you even know it.

And then I would say my last takeaway is that safety is a collaboration. Your workers are the experts in their craft. So, seek their expertise and try to better understand what they do, try to understand their concerns, seek their opinions, make them feel valued, and make them feel like a collaborator in your company’s safety program rather than just a participant. Because in the end, we’re all working towards the same goal here. Right? We all want to make it home in one piece.

We all want to be safe, happy and healthy. And we want to see our workers and coworkers safe, happy and healthy. So, getting on the same page about that point with your employees will do wonders to the quality of your communication between you and your workers.

I think that’s very well said. And such important reminders. And definitely when I’ve worked with more mature organizations from a safety climate standpoint to themes that always emerge as a very strong collaboration involvement, safety is everybody’s responsibility. Everybody sees it. Everybody wants to contribute in that way, which is phenomenal. But the other thing they talked about really in terms of those places tend to be great workplaces. There’s not a place I’ve been to that had a phenomenal safety culture that didn’t have low absenteeism, that didn’t have a good operational performance, that didn’t have good production performance.

It didn’t have all these other things working because people saw it as an intricate part of running a great business.

Exactly. So well said I. I completely agree with that statement. And that’s what I’ve seen from a research perspective. And also, you know, when I’ve interacted with different organizations and clients and things like that. So, yeah, I completely agree.

Well, thank you so much for having us for taking the time to come on The Safety Guru to share some really important themes. Really appreciate all the work that you’re doing, sharing those ideas, researching those ideas in your work, teaching. And as a professor at the University of Baltimore, thank you so much for taking the time and would love to have you back on the show when you’ve got some additional pointers, ideas or research that you’d like to share and broadly communicate to that important audience.

So, thank you so much for coming on.

Thank you, Eric. Any time.

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

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Archana Tedone, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Industrial and Organizational (IO) Psychology at the University of Baltimore. Archana is a workplace health and safety researcher, and a large portion of her work focuses on identifying the organizational barriers to a safe work environment. She has published numerous studies in the area of workplace safety in journals such as Accident Analysis and Prevention, and the Journal of Advanced Nursing, and has even authored an encyclopedia entry of the topic of Workplace Safety. Archana also has several years of experience working as a organizational consultant, with expertise in the areas of training and development, survey design, employee wellbeing, and workplace safety. 



Safety Communications with Dr. Josh Williams



Effective safety communication is the cornerstone of a healthy safe production culture.

This is particularly important with one-on-one conversations with employees.

Employees who feel listened to and appreciated are more likely to go beyond the call of duty for safety and other organizational efforts.

Effective communicators demonstrate genuine caring, promote psychological safety, actively listen, and provide recognition regularly.

How strong are your safety communication skills?

Find out with our free Safety Communication Quiz:


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

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru, where we explore topics around operations, leadership and particularly the role that leaders play in driving safety in their business. My name is Eric Michrowski, president and CEO of Propulo. Today on our show, I’m delighted to have once again Dr. Josh Williams. He’s a partner Human Performance and Business Transformation at Propulo, an absolute guru in the safety space. Thank you for being on the show. Josh, thanks. I appreciate it. Dr. Josh has a Ph.D. in psychology from Virginia Tech. He is one of the pioneers in safety culture with over 20 years of experience in the space, with a broad range of clients in industries ranging from aerospace firm military oil and gas, utilities and manufacturing, a really diverse group of organizations. He’s authored a book. He’s coedited a second one. He’s published over 40 different articles and various publications. He’s also a prize winner and national prize winner for the Cambridge Center on Behavioral Safety. And he has presented over a hundred times to some really delighted audiences that were happy to hear his story. So really excited to have you here. We’ve talked on prior shows about how you got into the safety culture space. Is there an element of why you really got into this space that you’d like to share with our listeners?

I kind of touched on it in some earlier ones in grad school, kind of moving from maybe traditional ivory tower to a professor, Scott Geller, who many of you may know really as kind of the fountainhead for the psychology of safety, sort of working with him. And there was a passion there that was contagious. And part of it is just the feeling of fighting the good fight. You know, you’re trying to do the right thing to make organizations better, more pleasant and keep people from getting hurt.

So that’s kind of where the HWI in it is there for me.

I couldn’t agree more. I mean, it’s really empowering to know that you spend most of your day, most of your life making it safer for others, thinking about how other people can come home to their loved ones every day. So, I completely agree with what you’re sharing there today. We’re talking about a really important topic. I know both of us are passionate about is around safety communication. And it’s a topic that a lot of organizations struggle with.

You’ve recently authored a quiz, which is a novel way to start thinking about how am I doing? How do I compare against some of the leaders in this space and what actions do I need to take to make a difference? So, again, on safety communication, if you want to take that frequency, no gimmicks, no nothing that will come out of it other than great insights and ideas go to zero harm leadership, dotcom, zero harm leadership, dotcom.

We’ll be right back with a couple more questions to understand some of the wisdom that Josh can share around safety communication. Thank you. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru, this is your host, Eric Michrowski. We know how many businesses have been impacted by the current covid-19 Black Swan event. Propulo has invested all its available capacity to create free resources for leaders on how to navigate this crisis. Whether you would like to explore some of our free tools, subscribe to our free biweekly newsletter or seek free advice.

I encourage you to visit covid. Black Swan dot com covid black swan dot com Propulo has committed not to profit from this crisis in any way. It’s our way of giving back to the communities that we serve. Thank you.

Like what we do here, this is your Socials and tell everyone, a lot of leaders come to me and they ask me, what do I do to really get more meaningful, more impactful communication? They worried that they keep putting different messages and nobody’s listening to the message being sent. Josh, any thoughts on the topic of safety communications to start?

Yeah, and we can look at it from an employer to employee. We can look at it from a leader with employees. I think from the leadership side is getting out of this mindset. And I think a lot of a lot of leaders do. But the mindset is it’s not compliance. I mean, we have to have compliance, obviously. But when I if I’m a leader out there on the floor, I should be asking people, how are they doing?

What do they need anything scaring them about the job? It should be, you know, asking questions, trying to get their input and having it more conversational thing. You can still get your point across if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed to address it. But I think from a leadership perspective, one, get out there more in two. When you’re out there, the more conversational asking questions, I think the better off we’re going to be.

I love when you’re talking about get out there, spend more time in front of a team members, more time in the field. One of our other colleagues, Bri, had done some research a long time ago where she really looked at the impact that spending time on the floor had. And how is one of the biggest predictors? Can you tell me a little bit more of that time in field time on the floor? Why is it so important?

I think it sets the tone for everything. I mean, first of all, you know, I think we all have experience where sometimes the decision makers may be perceived as being out of touch with people that are out there on the job doing the job. I’m not trying to cast aspersions at any group, but that us versus them thing is a real issue. It’s a real problem. It’s a morale issue. And if someone’s making decisions that have never been out here and they don’t always make sense, there’s been some goofy policies, frankly, I’ve seen over the years where it just doesn’t make sense and people understand it.

So, I’ll save some stories for another podcast on that. But bottom line is, the more we’re out with folks, everyone has a better understanding of what both sides are doing. It breaks down barriers. And I think people appreciate the fact that their leaders are out there talking to them, working with them and showing respect.

Is there a percentage of time that a leader should be spending in front of their team members? Is there an order of magnitude or is it just make a commitment to do better tomorrow?

That’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a stock answer in terms of percentage. You could say 10x or whatever you’re doing, do it, do a more. But I think that the real challenge is part of it is people want to they just want to have time. And so, I know one of the things that we do, we have a kind of a tool that we use to set aside time for folks to get out there. It’s a scheduling issue in many ways.

So, we work with leaders to kind of figure out what can we do with all these various meetings? Can we combine these can we get rid of that one and carve out space so we at least we have a dedicated time to get out there and see folks that is so important. Too often what I hear is a message where I reduce the ranks of my frontline leaders, yet I’m expecting them to do so much more. And at the end of the day, what gets done is usually just the remaining task and they spend most of it in front of the computer instead of going in front.

So, I absolutely agree with what you’re saying. Start by asking what could be removed, what are some of the low hanging fruits non-value-added tasks that just should be taken out and do that, like as your first major initiative? Any tips for a leader who’s maybe new, who goes on the floor, who’s not sure how to how to start conversations?

Yeah, ask questions. And that’s for everybody. But especially if I’m a new leader. People but people are smart. And if I am not exactly sure, you know, what’s going on there. That’s all right. Strong leaders show vulnerability. It’s smart. It’s a strength. It’s not a weakness. And asking questions, being authentic. If you genuinely care and you have the right intentions, people have good sensors for that. They entered.

They feel it. They understand it. So, I think it’s good for everybody, but particularly new leaders. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a sign of strength to be doing those things.

That’s such an important comment. And I think this is something we should expand on in a future podcast. I know for me as a leader really early on in my career, I think probably six, seven years into it, I was given a task which was to go into business I knew absolutely nothing about, turned that business around, change everything from an operational standpoint. And that’s really where I understood humility from a whole different level because I can solve a single thing.

I didn’t understand what was going on in front of me, and I was forced to listen to Top End to go on the floor, ask my team members to figure out how to solve things, and I had no choice but to listen to what they had to say. Organizations that do this well, are there any tips on are things that you see that are markedly different in those organizations that are really good at this?

I was night and day and trust me, you walk in in the first five minutes, ten minutes, you get a feel for culture. I mean, immediately. You do a site tour, you can tell, and it is it’s a huge difference and that doesn’t mean the you know, the really good organizations. It’s not fairy dust and unicorns and rainbows and people high 5min and hugging. But it’s a noticeable difference when you don’t have that.

When you have people that are disengaged, when you don’t have interactions between folks, you get like I said earlier, you get some really dumb rules and decisions that are being made and you’ve got resentment on both sides. And there is no discussion, we all know from any kind of relationship when the communication goes away, people stop talking, problems come up. So that that communication to me is not just a safety issue. It’s a barometer.

It’s a litmus test, really, for your culture and how well you’re running things. So, if you’ve got those problems or you don’t have people talking to each other, you need to address it right away.

I think that’s a great point. What are the themes I want to double click on? You were talking a little bit in terms of what I call safety participation. So, in terms of how do I engage people to make better decisions, there’s some great work that was done by students, INSEAD professors, and they call it really open leadership or fair process, which was really this concept of I have a problem as a leader. I’m used to solving that problem.

But instead of trying to solve it, I’m going to go and involve my team members to come up with solutions. And it doesn’t mean I’m creating democracy. It doesn’t mean that I’m allowing everybody to do whatever they want. But just asking for input. In the end of the day, as a leader, I’m going to make the choice, but I’m going to explain that choice. And they’ve done some huge correlations between that approach and leadership and success in general in terms of that business, that it maybe took more time in the answer to get to a solution, but the end outcome was so much better.

Any thoughts around that concept of involving team members in driving safety?

Ford So quick example. I was working for a steel mill in the northern part of the U.S. years ago, and they had a problem with logout. Tagert And as you all know, if you’re not locking out equipment, particularly in a steel mill, you can get hurt or killed in a hurry. And so, the plant manager was like, look, if we see somebody that’s not locked out, they call it a lockout, tag out, try out there.

Anyway, if we don’t see locked out, you’re gone. And his thinking was, look, we take this seriously and if you’re not following along, you’re out of here. And the safety manager or the safety director was smart. He’s like, let’s hold on, let’s go talk to people. And they actually went out. They got engineers; they’ve got some supervisors. They got some employees out there actually operating the equipment, started talking to him.

The problem was it was so complicated, locking out the equipment. And by the way, they had almost the worst production pressure I can remember. I mean, it was brutal. So, you couple that with really complicated procedures that take forever to do. It’s not surprising sometimes people took shortcuts. So bottom line is employees with the help of some other folks came up with a way to energize the equipment. And half the time, half the steps, they wrote it down.

Really simple. I could understand it, you know, hit the button after you hit the button, do this. The problem went away immediately. It was not an enforcement issue. It was a communication issue. And by talking to people, people are, again, are smart and they are going to come up with good solutions if you let them.

That’s great. So, this time I’m going to say don’t hit the button. Keep listening on. We’re going to talk more about safety communication in just a second. But in the interim, if you have a couple of minutes, go to zero harm leadership, dotcom zero harm leadership dot com to do joshes safety communication, self-assessment to see how you stack up and what actions you can take to make a meaningful difference. We’ll be right back. Here we go again with some more great insights and conversations with Dr Josh Williams here on The Safety Guru talking about safety communication.

So, I want to dial in to another topic, which is peer-to-peer communications. So, to employees, how they communicate with each other. Tell me more of your thoughts on this.

You know, it’s a funny thing. When I first started doing this years ago, when I was younger and skinnier, I was doing a training in Allentown, Pennsylvania. And I am nervous. I’ve got all my notes. I’ve got them in order. I’ve prepared, I’ve practiced, but I am nervous. And about 30 minutes in, I’m saying something. I don’t know what I was talking about, but this guy stood up in this auditorium and said, I have underwear older than you.

Who are you to tell me whatever? And I was like, I was not prepared for that. My comment was, that’s a whole other problem. You got to deal with that first. But it’s a real serious mindset. Don’t tell me what to do. There was a famous country song years ago, if you mind your own business, you won’t be mine and mine. And I think sometimes we take that too far. We take it as disrespect.

Someone says something to me, you’re disrespecting me. I’ve been here thirty years. You’ve been here three. Who are you to tell me how to do my job? I’m maintenance your operations you don’t want. Do we have these barriers where we just bristle at the thought of someone trying to help us? So, I think it’s really important to start trying to break that down when you start thinking about people getting seriously hurt or injured on the job. Some you know, some of the listeners, Charlie Morecroft, you know, good guy and a lot of people know was burnt almost on his entire body, almost died and talks about that story.

Brad Gardner, another individual, lost an arm in a potato factory, felt the heat. He was pulled into an auger. He didn’t block it out first. All of a sudden, he’s being pulled in that machine. I hate to be gruesome, but he had a decision to yank himself out, left his arm in the equipment. And sadly, I’ve got a ton of those stories just from doing this for a while. If someone had spoken up, if someone had said, hey, man, I don’t feel right.

If you don’t lock us out, you can get hurt. Or I was doing the same thing, tore my shoulder. I don’t see it happen to you. If we’re communicating these things, we’re keeping people from getting hurt. We’ve got to start changing that mindset of this isn’t disrespect. This is simply just caring. I don’t I don’t see it happen to you and we need to work on that.

That reminds me of a story. When I was early on my first leadership role, I remember that I provided some coaching to somebody from a cell on a safety standpoint. And she turned around and she started screaming at me and putting her finger in my face very close to my nose and saying, I could be your grandma. So, it was it’s not always easy when you have to deal with that. So, any closing thoughts around safety communication as we close off our show for today?

Yeah, I mean, and it’s one of those things, too. I think, frankly, training and we incorporate in some of the stuff that we do. But you have to practice it. It’s a skill we don’t all grow up being communications experts. You know, I got into this job because I’m really good at whatever I do. And so, I think we have to work on it. And so, a couple of quick hitter tips. First is asking questions.

You know, the first thing, if you come up and I’m working on something, I maybe I’m working on turbine engine. I’ve been doing this for hours. I don’t have the equipment I need. I’m in a confined, you know, kind of a difficult space. And you come up, start telling me what I need to be doing right or wrong. It’s going to be a problem. You come up and ask me, how are you doing?

Anything I can do to help? What do you need? Asking questions kind of breaks down people’s barriers because now we’re having a conversation. So, I think step one would be asking questions. Of course, showing respect at all times is an obvious one and praising the good stuff to you. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t need a group hug for where am I hearing protection. But if, you know, if I’m going out of my way helping out a newer employee, I’m cleaning up a spill after my shift.

You know, a little tip of the cap now and again. It’s not a bad thing either. I think the last one, too. I mean, this may not be a great one to end on, but we’ve got to watch our language, you know, must never, always sometimes. You know, you mentioned that a Ph.D. in psychology, my wife won’t mind me saying this, I hope, but it did not prepare me for the first couple months of marriage.

And part of the funny part of it was we would get an argument and I didn’t understand why. And sometimes I would say words that elicited it like must never, always. And I finally learned, okay, don’t be a dummy. You know, quit doing that and also say, yes, I know you’re right. But just think about that. In fact, this will be a homework assignment for the listeners. This will be a test in social psychology.

Either use must never or always. As soon as you go home tonight, as soon as you see the person that you live with, if you live with somebody, tell them they never do something just for fun. Hi, honey. You never do this or, you know, you always complain about that and then see what happens. And if they start yelling at you, you could say, well, listen to that dang podcast. And the guy said to try it and he was right.

We just got to be careful and mindful sometimes because I think unintentionally, we by accident may send the wrong message, because, again, keep in mind, we’re all a little defensive. Sometimes when it is about our job, we take pride in what we do and it gets really easy for people to get defensive. So, I think the last point, and I don’t want to be soapbox here. I think the last point, though, we need to consider is talking to people are caring.

You’re looking out for people. It’s not about telling them what to do. And I think change in that mindset goes a long way to preventing those serious injuries and fatalities.

Thank you so much for those closing thoughts. Again, if you have a couple of minutes, go to zero harm leadership, dotcom, do Joshes quick, which will give you some meaningful insights in terms of what you need to do next. And this was, again, Dr. Josh William on The Safety Guru. Thank you so much. And we’ll talk again soon. Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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