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The Lasting Legacy of Poor Safety Leadership & Culture with Louise Adamson

The lasting legacy of poor safety leadership & culture

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“At the end of the day, whatever you’re working on is never as important as your family back at home.” This Thanksgiving season, we are grateful to have Louise Adamson join the podcast as she recalls the events that led to the loss of her brother in a fatal workplace incident in 2005. Louise accentuates the critical need for safety leaders to possess greater care for their team members than the work product and expresses the life-altering ripple effect that serious injuries and fatalities have on loved ones.

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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 is 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 safe legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.  

Hi, and welcome to the safety guru. Today, I am very excited to have with me Louise Adamson. She is a workplace safety speaker and a former lawyer. Louise, welcome to the show.  

Thanks so much for having me on. It is a pleasure.  

Maybe share a little bit about your journey and really the story about your brother that got you really focused on driving change, positive change around the safety space.  

Okay, thanks. Well, my brother Michael, was an electrician, 26 years old. He left a home that he shared with his fiancé on the morning of the 4 August 2005, and he did not make it home to Lisa that night. So, what had happened was he originally had come into a job in Edinburgh. He then got a call midway through the day from a job his employer was working on in a city called Dundee. It was an all-hands-on-deck job to get a sports store and a gym complex completed for a handover to a client by the next again a day or else some penalty clauses were going to kick in. So, for a job worth 720 grand for Michael’s employer there is a fifteen grand late penalty clause if it is not handed over by 10:00 the next again morning. Did you know if is Michael willing to go? Well, this is a man who is saving for a wedding. He has been offered over this over time probably right through the night. So of course, he’s willing to go. So, he heads up to Dundee with two of his colleagues. They’ve done pieces of work in the afternoon, and they’ve had their evening tea break.  

He then heads back to work at 06:30 in the evening and at that point, he was only to continue working for the next 40 minutes. So, what he was doing, was collaborating with his colleague Jim and they were installing a security system. So, they were needing to connect a cable that was already in place within a ceiling void to one lead pulled in and Michael is on a set of steps. He’s got his head and shoulders above a full ceiling, he cuts a cable, and he throws it down to the gym. And that cable had a label on it on insulating tape just wrapped around it. And written on the label it said not in use, I do as then Michael is stripping the insulating material from that cable, he suffers a fatal electric shock. So, he fell off the ladder, he fell at Jim’s feet and efforts were made to survive them. But those efforts were unsuccessful in the end. 

I’m so sorry.  

So, it’s a 26-year-old man with his whole life ahead of him to live and he didn’t make it home that night because it’s often said that Michael died because of contact with electricity. No, my brother didn’t die because of contact with electricity. He died because that series of feelings came together and resulted in his death. So, on that site, there was ineffective management and supervision. There was the paperwork that was not put into practice, you’ve got incorrect equipment being used. So, Michael only had a multimeter available to him when he should have been using a voltage tester. There were time pressures being brought to bear. Clearly, with the penalty clauses about to kick in the next day, you’ve also got shortcuts potentially being taken. So, did my brother use what I’m told is referred to by electricians as the bang test? So, did he just try to cut that cable with his snips, wait on the bang to tell him it was life or not? We don’t know if that’s what he did because only he’d be able to tell us, but that’s one of the possibilities that we left with. So, you’ve got shortcuts in the mix, you’ve got a safety on the job.  

It was just seen as a tick box exercise. You had a risk assessment that wasn’t a living document. It was dated more than a year prior to their contract start date.  

Oh, my goodness. 

Dated prior to the contract has not even been awarded because it was one of these generic ones and no site-specific tailoring has been done to that risk assessment. So even at the point at which they energize the distribution boards, so they’re now live working, that risk assessment isn’t revisited. So, it is described by the Health and Safety Executive inspectors as being completely inadequate, so nothing living about that. And it also contributed to Michael’s death. And then I think the sort of final piece, the final hole in all of this is there was a workforce there that wasn’t confident enough to speak up if something was wrong. They were in that mindset of, we could speak up, but nobody’s going to do anything about it anyway. We’re coming to the end of the job. What’s the point if I do speak up? I’m seen as the troublemaker the person dobbin pals, so let’s just get on with it. So, all of these things come together and result in Michael’s death. There was a trial of his employer more than three years down the line after his death, and the outcome of that was that the HSC said that Michael’s death could have been prevented had his employer ensured that safe working practices were being conducted in accordance with the company’s own written procedures.  

And that is just you don’t know how hard that is for a family to have to hear and then went on to say that managers and supervisors must be taking active steps to ensure that electricians work safely. Well, for us, it’s not just about electricians there you swap out the word electricians, you’re swapping in the word workers, operatives. That applies to anything that’s going on any site. In Michael’s case, there were charges laid against three senior individuals. So, there was a managing director an operations director, and a technical services manager who were all charged with criminal health and safety offenses along with the employer company. But mistakes were made by the prosecutor and in the end, those three individuals got to leave the court, and walk free from the dock before the case got before the jury. So, the lawyer then for the company is kind of doing his grand summing up speech as you expect lawyers to do. But he’s referring to his client as being the invisible man now sitting on the dock. That being the employer company.  

Sure.  

So, it was the invisible man that was found guilty of the failures that led to my brother’s death and it was the invisible man that was fined £300,000. But that for us as a family, it doesn’t approach justice and absolutely nothing in the way of comfort. So that’s why I’m now trying to use Michael’s story and to use it to strike a chord with other people, to stop it from happening to other people. That is what now provides my family with the comfort of knowing that positives come from the awful thing that is Michael’s entirely preventable death.  

Yeah, it seems incredibly preventable, and everybody goes to work and expects to come back, nobody thinks about injuries and what could happen. And in this case, there are so many elements here that just show woeful inadequacy in terms of how the organization was being run. From a safety standpoint, they’re looking at hazards but not really understanding what they were. The risk assessment to me is something that should be absolutely living, but also something that people review as they change throughout the day. As the conditions change, they need to reassess the houses in front of them. It sounded like there was labelling saying that it wasn’t even a live wire. So, by all accounts, he’s trusting somebody else had done their job. So, it’s a layering of multiple errors and multiple inadequacies on top of each other.  

Absolutely going to say in terms of the wire, the plans had changed much earlier in the job, but nobody had up, nobody. So, while the plans changed, the written plans didn’t change. So, nobody documented a change in wiring plans. So that then compounds that failure in relation to the cable. 

I see. The other problem is you’ve got multiple crews coming in without it seemingly an onboarding to the job and so there are changes like that that get layered on. So, one topic I hear a lot is the importance of speaking up. And there are two elements that you touched on because speaking up requires two parts in my opinion. One is the employer creating an environment where I’m comfortable speaking up. Leaders recognize, lean in when somebody speaks up, stop work, and says, this is positive, I want to see more of it. And then the other is the peer-to-peer element because that’s also very important. Leaders have an important role in terms of fostering that as well. So, it’s not an abdication. But there are two elements because there are cases where the organization has done really well in terms of encouraging it, but peers think that I think somebody shared a story where they said, are you a man or a mouse when the person spoke up and stopped work. And so, peer pressure also becomes an element of it that the organization needs to drive forward. Any thoughts in terms of that part? Because speaking up is difficult.  

I’ve done it once I stop work. And when you know the consequences of it being very expensive, you think about it 10,000 times, is it really the right call? But it was recognized after by the executives that they lose the right choice to make. What are some of the things that you’ve seen to really drive that forward? 

I think reflect on him first on the fact that my brother wasn’t a shy, retiring individual. He was a ball she individual who, if something was wrong, he’d have no qualms about speaking up about it. He’d already challenged his employer previously about some work that they’d been doing where asbestos was present. So, he wasn’t off that mindset. So, I don’t understand why he didn’t speak up in this situation. So, I have to kind of second guess it. And I think a large element of it is that whole drive to get the job done, guys, we’re up against it and let’s come together as a team and let’s battle the odds and let’s beat the odds and we’re going to get this done by ten tomorrow morning. Nobody thinks we can do it, but we’re going to get it done. There’s that whole thing going on. I think so. I think the sheriff, the judge in the case, in our sentencing statement, said that there was a male macho, cavalier approach being adopted in that industry at the time. So, in terms of battling that, you do need the MD, the Ops director, whomever it might be, they’re the ones in that situation. 

They were the ones who needed to take the step back and say, we’re not going to put our people in this position where they are being made to make these choices. They were the ones who should have stood back and had a grown-up conversation with the principal contractor, the principal contractor with the client. Because I can see that it would be easy in that situation for the men on the ground to be swept up in that. Let’s achieve the impossible goal. And when you’re working in an organization where safety isn’t any sort of core value, it seems then it’s dangerous being an important point. 

Because of that desire to achieve a goal, often even in organizations that are fairly good at stopping work and creating that relief valve sometimes a desire of achieving a goal can get people to start straying into forgetting about how to achieve it safely. And I think an example recently was the whole inquiry into the Boeing 737 Max, and it was all a goal to let’s get this plane done because otherwise, Airbus had a superior plane. And at the point in time where the decision was made to progress, American Airlines was going to move most of its fleet on the Airbus side, whereas they had an entirely bowling fleet. So that created this goal of let’s make sure we get this plane done. And then lots of things fell apart in between. Not that that’s the only item, but people then forget about it, we have to do it safely, we have to make sure we know how to build a plane, we need to make sure we’re capturing it the right way, we’re getting the right diagrams, et cetera. And that goal can rally against the right purpose, the right choices. It doesn’t mean don’t have a goal.  

I think it’s just a question of how you mitigate that goal. How do you reinforce that the goal is to get this done safely and to pause if we see something right?  

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, reenergize 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.  

Yeah, and I often reiterate that because the Health and Safety Executive Inspector who investigated Michael’s death, I met him just a couple of years ago, and he was saying to me, supervisor level back at that time, and he was quite sure to a degree still today is that their number one priority is getting a job done on time. And I’m always saying that’s not what it should be. It should be to get that job done safely. Safely isn’t that added extra? It’s the on-time part that sure added extra so safely. 

And that requires a lot of messaging that really reinforces that story consistently within the organization. Particularly in the case of the production pressure, you’re mentioning, because here there are penalty clauses. Unfortunately, that production pressure seeps in a lot, even in organizations that have good management systems, just, we got to get this done. Have you seen anything or is there any advice that you share with organizations in terms of how to mitigate that production pressure, so it doesn’t impact the choices that somebody makes? 

I guess that’s really about explaining to people why they’re there. At the end of the day, the sports store my brother was working on, was going to open regardless of how long it took. They’re up against time pressures, so they’re throwing bodies at that job to try to get this all-hands-on-deck job completed. And in the process of that, they threw an actual body at that job, my brothers. And the goal at the end of the day, whatever you’re working on is never as important as your family back at home. And that’s what people need. They shouldn’t need to be reminded of that. But as we’ve already talked about, there is that whole getting swept up in a certain mentality sometimes. So it is that core value, that leadership. Actually, the biggest thing that they care about is the people that are working for them. Not whatever the product or building or whatever it might be at the end of that, it’s the people that they care about the most. 

Yeah. And I think that’s really the message that you share really an organization has to do so much more, has to recognize to create an environment, a culture where people get home every day to their loved ones. And the impact of an event like this, somebody passing away, somebody getting seriously injured, is a life-changing impact for multiple people around that person.  

Yeah, absolutely. And we still hear about new people who’ve been impacted in other ways by what happened to my car. And we’re now 17 years on from his death. But we know about the immediate family, friends, his colleagues who were there at the time. Sorry, we know about the impact it had on them because we see it. We see it day in, day out, we see it. We hold an annual memorial golf tournament for him. So, we hear from his colleagues that kind of the impact that it still has on them and how much they miss him. But then I’ll be speaking at an event, and somebody will come and say to me, oh, I know the first aider who stopped by the C-suite where Michael was working. He just happened to be walking past when this happened, and he helped provide CPR to your brother and he’s still impacted. And until more than a decade after Michael’s death, we knew nothing about this man and about the help that he provided. So, the ripple effect is so wide. I’ve just recently had a colleague of Michaels get in touch and she’s now working in safety as a result of what happened to Michael.  

So, there are so many ripples, so many negative ripples, but also, I hope, so many positive ripples are now being created out of Michael’s death. And I was speaking at a new-born graduation on Monday and I’m saying that I hope at some point these ripples all come together and then it’s that sort of ground swell of positivity so that we know that other lives have been saved as a result of what happened to him and being able to talk about what happened to him and getting lessons learned from what happened to him. 

Which is so important. Really. For other organizations. Other leaders. Recognize the importance of really leading for safety and for others in terms of the day-to-day choices or making how they show up as a supervisor. How do they show up as a leader? So, Louise, thank you very much for sharing your story. It’s still a very difficult, raw story to share because there will never really be closure. But I think the importance of sharing the story, the message, I think helps make sure somebody else comes home safe to the loved ones. So, I appreciate the work that you’re doing. If somebody wants to have you speak to their organization, how can they get in touch with you? 

So, they find me on LinkedIn, or you’ll get me on the website michaelsstory.Net or email [email protected], that would be fantastic. Thanks, Eric.  

Cheers. Thank you very much, Louise. 

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo consulting.  

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Louise Adamson spent 13 years working as an employment lawyer for a top Scottish firm.  However, a personal tragedy led to her attentions becoming focused on the field of health and safety. Her brother Michael was only 26 years old and engaged to be married when he lost his life in an electrical incident which could and should have been prevented. Lessons must be learned and Louise now tells Michael’s story on-screen and in workplaces across many sectors and on major projects.  She has spoken internationally, travelling to Australia and widely throughout Europe.  And has delivered her brother’s story on-screen to workplaces globally. In the last year alone it has made a positive impact in health and safety leadership, culture and practices from the west coast of the USA, through Central and South America, across Europe and Asia, and on to Australia. She is a NEBOSH Ambassador and has previously been named the UK’s Most Influential Person in Health and Safety by SHP Magazine. Louise is also a trustee of health and safety charity Scottish Hazards, where she is focussed on securing long-term funding for an occupational health and safety advice, training and support service for workers. Her primary aim in all she does is to stop anyone else from losing their life or their loved one in a preventable workplace incident.  

For more information: [email protected]

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Scoring a Touchdown with Safety Culture with Dr. Josh Williams

Scoring a Touchdown with Safety Culture

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“Improving safety culture is vital to long-term performance excellence.” We are very excited to have Dr. Josh Williams join us on the podcast this week to dive into how to bolster safety culture as he shares his insights into the five core competencies of safety leadership. Forward thinking leaders must continually consider ways to enhance safety culture. Explore ways to improve the effectiveness of your safe culture by visiting https://www.ratemysafetyculture.com/ to complete the safety culture self-assessment uniquely created by Dr. Josh.

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 extremely excited to have with me Dr. Josh Williams, who’s probably one of our favorite guests on the podcast. He’s a great resource in terms of safety culture, safety leadership, and observation programs do a lot of work in this space. Josh, welcome to the show once again. 

Thanks, glad to be here. 

So, tell me a little bit again about your background and how you got interested and passionate about safety leadership, safety culture, the behavioral side of safety, and so forth. 

When I was in grad school, I was getting a Ph.D. in industrial organizational psychology, and honestly Eric, I was kind of bummed out. It just felt very theoretical. There’s a lot of statistical stuff. It was good, but it didn’t feel practical. And I had the chance to work with a guy named Scott Galler, whom many of the listeners may know was at the forefront of safety culture and behavior-based safety. He and a guy named Tom Kraus, formerly of BBS, really started behavior-based safety or at least popularized it. And it was great because we were doing real stuff with real people and I just immediately enjoyed it and the mission of two things, one, trying to keep people out of harm’s way, but also getting leaders to listen to folks a little more when making decisions. It just felt right. It felt like we were fighting a good fight and I’ve been doing it, I guess for 25-something years now.

Welcome back to the show. So, let’s start a little bit by talking about safety culture, why it matters, and you’ve authored a great quiz on safety culture. We’re going to talk about some of the themes within it that allow listeners to reflect, to see how they’re doing around safety culture and whether should they go deeper in terms of understanding how to drive improvements. But let’s start first in terms of why safety culture matter. 

Culture is everything. It really is. I’m going to struggle with a sports analogy here. I’m not a huge Alabama fan or a Nick Saban fan necessarily, but you’ve got to respect what he’s established. That Alabama. He comes in and just completely turned around a proud team that had fallen on hard times for many years. They were cycling through different coaches. He came in and it was an immediate turnaround and it stuck. I was watching the game a couple of years ago and I’ll make this as quick as I can, but I was just kind of flipping through channels and I see the score. Alabama beat New Mexico State 62 to ten. 

Wow.

And they’re doing a press conference and Nick Saban is irate and he’s kind of containers anyway, but they’re asking him questions and he’s not happy. Why aren’t you happy, Nick? These are his quotes I went through and kind of went back and forth and wrote down almost verbatim. But these were his comments. We didn’t play up to our high standards for large parts of the game. We didn’t get better this week compared to last week. And when you don’t get better, you start developing bad habits and bad habits lead to problems down the road, especially against better opponents. And then his final comment was you’ve got to play to your own high standard every day. And that stuck with me because you know as well as I do, a lot of times we get called in because you have a rash of injuries and all we’ve got a problem, we’ve got to fix it. And people get so tied into these injury numbers and injury rates. The flip side is sometimes you could be doing really good on the injury numbers, but complacency is setting in. The normalized deviation is setting in. We haven’t seen it yet because nobody’s gotten hurt.

But the point I’m trying to make is playing to your own standard, having a culture of excellence in everything you do, doesn’t mean you’re perfect, and it doesn’t mean things aren’t going to go wrong. But you play to your standards and not some number, whether it went up or down last month, last quarter, this, that, or the other. So, I hope that makes sense to the listeners. It’s just that safety is part of who we are and how we operate, and we want to establish that culture of excellence it takes effort, it takes vision, it takes looking in the mirror. Safety culture assessments are big in large part because it gives people an opportunity to see where I am good. Where am I not so good? What’s the plan to get better? 

I think that’s a really important element and really getting a good view, talking to people about what was happening. What are the themes, how do we address them it, and how do we drive improvements? So, tell me about some of the themes in the quiz that you authored because I think it’s a good tool for listeners to have a quick scan to say how’s my culture? Not doing an assessment, just doing a quick scan self-reflection in terms of where I could get better. 

Yes, a lot of its own leadership, having that ownership mindset at the leadership level, it’s not EHS’s job, it’s everybody’s job but mine as a leader. I’m setting the tone for everybody. Active participation from employees. He talks about employee engagement. That’s the big buzzword. What’s this big mystery? It’s not that much of a mystery. Listen to your people, be responsive, and then advertise improvements based on their feedback. That’s how you get involved. It’s not some secret. It just takes effort and energy. Learning culture with close call reporting, making sure incident analysis is system-focused and not blame-oriented. And then other things like making sure rules make sense, they’re practical, having the right tools and equipment, et cetera. But leadership is really, in my mind, where a lot of it starts. And if I can just let me go through a couple of things really quick here. In terms of leadership competencies, we did a bunch of research looking at what are good predictors of effective leadership. And in terms of safety leadership, five core competencies come through. I’ll go through each R1 quickly. 

Sure. 

The first one is active caring. And of course, my mentor, Scott Gellard, used the term active carrying many years ago in reference to something that happened at ExxonMobil. People in a room, we’re asking questions. Why aren’t we doing X, Y, and Z ah? Nobody cares. Nobody cares. Then he started talking about it, that people care, but they weren’t doing something about it. So active caring is not just being a good guy or a good person. Active caring is going out and doing something. Quick example, I was working at a steel mill, not at an I was consulting for a company that was a steel mill, and they had an awful plan. Manager, old school, crack the whip, scare people off, rule by fear. It was a mess, and they fired them, which was a smart move. They bring in this new guy named Bob. And Bob’s, the first order of business is to set up meetings with everybody in this facility, and everybody is unhappy. 30 minutes. Meetings called 30 minutes with Bob. And not a sexy name for the meeting, but it got everybody in there, and he just asked people, what do you need? What can we do? 

And it was an immediate change in tone and immediate change in culture because this guy comes in and says, I want to hear from you. How can we get better? And so active caring is having the right intentions but doing something about it. Walking to talk, of course, is setting the right example and making sure you’re doing what you say you’re doing. So, for leaders, it’s being out in the field, listening to people, talking to people. Something as simple as wearing your PPE. I’ve seen that too. We’re going to do a couple of stories here. But we were at a facility, and this is 20 years ago. I’m dating myself, but we’re working with this company, and they are struggling. I mean, they can’t even get PPE. People are fighting over hearing protection glasses. So, we’re making some progress. And then they interviewed the CEO who was talking to Morley Safer. It was a big show, like 20 2016 minutes. One of those, anyway, he’s in the middle of operations with four trucks flying around talking about profits and how they were successful financially with no PPE on zero during operations. And we’re like, oh my God, that was it.

All the progress excuses me, with PPE out the window immediately. So, walking the talk is not just having nice corporate messaging. It’s doing what you say you’re going to do. Here’s another example in terms of leadership and listening to your people and how you’re treating them. I’m in a big facility that creates these small little bearings for vehicles. I think I didn’t remember now, but this is again, many years ago, and they had a guy who cuts his head open, and they’re doing an incident investigation, and the plant manager is in there and he asked the guy, why didn’t you have your hard hat on? That’s a requirement. And the guy says to him, I thought I did. I had my baseball cap on it. I followed my heart hat and is telling the story. And the plan manager stops the, quote, investigates, goes on a PA system and says literally to everybody, attention all employees. Baseball caps are no longer allowed in the building. You have ten minutes to return all baseball caps to your vehicles, and effective immediately, they’re no longer allowed in the building.

True. 

Anyway, people are like, what’s going on? They go to their cars and trucks and whatever, throw their caps and come back in. They’re not happy. They’re grumbling about it. And anyway, so the next day they come in, and most people, and of course not wearing their caps, but one little section of this big building, this big factory, they kind of did a mini revolt. They came in, no baseball caps, but they had on cowboy hats. One guy had a football, one guy had an authentic Mexican. Sombrero from Tijuana, the little tassels come down and they’re their jobs doing their work. And it was their way of saying, this isn’t right. And the point manager was smart, and he kind of pumped the brakes on that and they had some discussions and made some changes. But it kind of goes to show you people don’t like being told what to do. And oftentimes you have an injury and all of a sudden, what do you do? Okay, we’re going to retrain the employee. We’re going to throw a new rule out there. Then all of a sudden, you got 61 million rules. So, I think you got to be careful with how we handle that. 

Again, watch the knee-jerk reactions. Listen to your people, and just be smart about implementing new things and building and living. The vision is the next one. So, you’ve got a vision, you share that vision. People feel that vision. It’s legitimate, it’s real, it’s authentic. Recognition is another part of it. Number four is reward and foster growth. When we provide appreciation and sincere recognition, two things happen. One, I’m more likely to do it next time. That’s why we give our kids allowances. It’s like, you did good, here’s a financial reward. Now the reward and recognition don’t have to be money appreciation. I think the default recognition is not a program, although it can be good. Default recognition is just appreciation. People working hard under difficult circumstances, they got a lot going on in their personal lives. There’s a lot of stuff happening when you see people going beyond the call of duty, in particular for safety, mentoring a newer employee, etc. E. A little pad on the background again, goes a long way. People appreciate being appreciated. So, the last one is driving thinking and speaking. People that are on the job, doing the job know what’s going on. 

And if we listen to what they’re saying, it doesn’t mean we’re going to do everything they recommend. But people understand what’s going on and we’ve got to drive that ground-level engagement and participation to be successful. Another quick example is Eric. The same steel mill I mentioned earlier had a problem lockout tag out. They called it lockout tag out tryout. And the challenge was people weren’t doing it. And in a steel mill, if you’re not locking something out, you can get hurt or killed in that area. It’s dangerous. So the supervisor is like, okay, well, we’re going to if we don’t, they start threatening people. One of the employees had a suggestion to get a team together and talk about the issue. Just, let’s just take a step back. And when they did, they found where you were locked out was not in the appropriate place. The rules for lockout tag out were convoluted and hard to understand different opinions on how to do it. By simply getting together, they shortened the process of how it was done. They made everything closer to the person to make it easier to save time because they had ridiculous production pressure. 

But the solution was made from an employee’s suggestion to change the system. Don’t just come down with a heavier hammer. So, driving thinking and speaking is a big part of getting that engagement and improving the overall safety culture. 

It makes a lot of sense, and a lot of focus in terms of leadership as a key lever to drive improvements in culture. What are some of the other things? Leadership obviously really is the key lever to drive change around safety culture. But in some cases, culture can be also a legacy. Could be something that comes from the past. 20 years ago, a CEO did X and it’s still in the present memory and it’s still shaping the behaviors, the choices, and the attitudes of people.

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, reenergize 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. 

100%. And the first thing I’ll say is the system. So, if you want to look at it holistically. Big picture. If you’re trying to get more predictable results with your incident rates, it doesn’t fluctuate out of control. If you want to get more control over that and also improve sift prevention, three things to look at are one mindset, and attitudes. Number two, your behavior, what people are looking for. Number three is the system. And for many years, particularly in the house Ion days of BBS, the system was taking a backseat. And if we don’t focus on the system, we have problems. So, systems are things like when things go wrong, our first response should be, where did the system fail? Don’t blame somebody. Where did the system fail? It could be excessive time pressure. It could be we don’t have enough people for this job. It could be we don’t have the right tools and equipment readily available to do it. It could be we got a bunch of boring online training. When I first hired on, I don’t remember any of it, and now I’m throwing the wolves out there. Those system factors are big, and I think organizational leaders are well served to focus on tightening up those systems as a close call, reporting behavior-based safety. 

These are systems and when the systems are running smoothly and we’re getting ongoing communication up and down the organization, everything else works better. And by the way, it’s easier for leaders to hold people accountable. We talk about positive accountability. You don’t want to be heavy-handed, but you also can go too far the other way and let everything slide. And when your standards drop, the injuries pop up too. My point on that is, as a leader, if I know my systems are tight and most people are doing the right thing, when you have outliers that are repeatedly not doing the right thing or doing egregious things, it’s easier to punish, quite frankly, because we understand we’ve got our system. It’s not the system that’s the challenge. We’ve got that figured out. So, I think system factors are a big, big part of it, I would say on the other side too. On the behavior side, we know from National Safety Council 9 that 5% of all injuries do in part to add risk behavior. That doesn’t mean blaming people now, but it just means risky actions. You’re increasing the probability of something going wrong, basically. And if we can minimize risky behavior, that can be done in a lot of ways.

One, engage people more behavior-based safety. I just mentioned we did a study with NIOS many years ago. Picture this, Eric, me and a bunch of other grad students are going into this environment doing training with these guys, looking at us like, who are you, youngsters? We’re going and doing this training with two different groups and they’re not either one is really happy, but we do our training, and then we implement a behavior-based safety process. So, you’ve got if you’re familiar with behavior-based safety, folks, the cards, you’ve got various things like proper tools and equipment, body position, things like that. Anyway, one group was given a card and said, go use it. The other group, we work with them to create their own card, how it was going to be used when it was going to be used, and where it was going to be used. That group that had their own card that they created themselves, we call it the ownership group used their card seven times more.

Seven times more. 

We were shocked. If we had gotten double, we would have fallen out of our seats seven times more. Said very clearly, employee engagement matters. And I think people want to get more involved, and they want to speak up with each other more too. On one of the surveys, they used to use years ago, one of the questions is, should you tell somebody if they’re being risky? 90% of people are saying, yeah, you should tell them. The next question on the survey is, do you, do it? And it was like 660-something percent.

Wow.

So, to me, that’s an eye-opener. I want to get involved, but our culture is macho. You do your thing; I do my thing. Don’t tell me how to do my job, all that nonsense. So, we want to do it, and sometimes we’re reluctant to speak up. So, I think part of that learning culture we talked about too, is making it acceptable and normal to speak up with each other. It doesn’t have to be a supervisor or safety when they see something that doesn’t quite feel right. So, there are just a couple of thoughts there. Make sure we don’t get focused on one thing. Focus on attitudes and behaviors and the system.

I love that safety culture is something that’s widely discussed and accepted. How do you measure it? The right way.

The wrong way is to give somebody 150 items, as a survey, and everybody goes to fill it out. That’s the wrong way. Surveys are good, but they’re a good tool. But they’re only one tool out of many. So of course, when we do our assessments, we focus on talking to people and interviewing people, whether it’s in groups, whether it’s one on one. But we’ve got questions that we’re asking on important things like learning culture and leadership, things like that. But people will tell you, and we use a survey to supplement that. But that gives us an overall picture. When we do it. We’ve got our maturity model, and it goes from disengaged a citizen, and there are various steps in between, but it shows you where you are, where is your starting point, and what’s your baseline. Because if you’re trying to get better, you got to know where you stand. And those assessments do a good job of that, and it also affects what you can do. So if your maturity is low, you don’t want to be trying to shoot the moon, doing all kinds of crazy stuff. You need the basic foundational stuff to try to get better. If you’re further along, you’re more advanced.

You can start doing things like human performance, or we call it Bhop, behavioral safety, and human performance. Those kinds of things are more achievable if you’re further along the road. So those assessments are really good. The other thing I’ll say on that too, and I’ve seen this with other organizations that kind of do what we do is sometimes that’s the end of it. Here’s your 1165-page report. Enjoy it. Also, if you have any questions, we’re here for you. And that’s it. Of course, we do. Planning all that information you get, all that is ammunition for your plan, like, what are we going to do? And that’s where you get groups together. We recommend getting hourly folks involved, field folks involved, and union folks involved. We’ve got a union at some levels, and we plan it out. All right, so this is good. Got to keep doing that. This is not good. Got to get better. What are we going to do? And line it all out. And sometimes, as you know, we’ll do five-year plans with it. It could be simple, it could be complicated, but what are we going to do?

What are the three, or four big things we got to get done? Who is going to do it? When are we going to do it? Where do we need to help? What potential resistance is there? And by lining everything out, very specifically, going back to Nick Savin. He didn’t roll into College Station to play Texas A and M winging it. Let’s see what works here. They’ve got the plan, and they’ve got contingency plans if plan A is not working. So, part of the preparation for getting better is to understand where you’re at and get a smart strategic plan.

Moving forward, a couple of things just come to mind based on what you just shared. So, one for me is it’s not a safety culture assessment if you don’t have a combination of surveys with interviews and focus groups kicking the tires in terms of how the work gets done at a site level, and then finally, also looking at artifact reviews, looking at how is a culture shaped by system items. Any thoughts on that? Because to me, that’s the part is a lot of people do one part of this and think it’s a safety culture assessment, but it’s only by looking at all those three elements can you really assess the culture. In my mind, 100% a part of it.

That too is talking to executives. Sometimes there’s a heavy focus on field employees, which is good. We’ll do system assessments with executives like we’ll do artifact reviews. You say close-call reporting is good. Show us what you’re doing. I don’t mean that to be challenging. But sometimes reality and perceptions aren’t always the same. So, I think speaking more to executives and getting some tangibles in terms of stuff that you’re doing also gives you a more complete picture.

Okay. The other part that drives me bonkers when we’re talking about surveys is an obsession with benchmarking. I want to compare myself with everybody else in my industry, and I get that, for example, in employee engagement surveys. But because of the nature of surveys in safety culture, I’m not saying there’s no value in it, but my challenge is too often I’ve seen a company that has lower maturity from a safety culture standpoint, have higher scores and a really good maybe have lower scores because as you get better, you start becoming more self-critical. And if you know very little about what you could look like or should look like, you might look very positive.

Yeah, I’m with you. I mean, I think benchmarking is a nice thing to have, but people take way too much faith in that. As I said, I’ve seen the same thing. Some awful organization, they get a bunch of vests and they’re like, oh my god, they care about us. You should have had vests 15 years ago, man. It can be misleading. And sometimes the really, really good organizations are more critical because they have the mindset of excellence, and they may raise themselves lower than they really are. So, I get your point there. I think it’s nice to have, but I’m more interested, frankly, in various iterations of the survey. Like five years ago we were here, two years ago we were here. And I think that’s something that’s smart too for companies. It’s not a one-and-done deal. You do an assessment, see how much you’ve progressed, do another one, two, or three years later. It doesn’t have to be as intent. It can be on a smaller scale, but that to me is more interesting. And also, comparisons between groups, whether, for instance, managers are telling us this, employees are telling us something different, and the scores on the survey may be quite different sometimes the higher you go anyway, so that’s one issue. 

And also, different groups. Maintenance is saying this, operations are saying that. And so the scores are interesting when they’re different, but also the comments from the interviews in the focus groups. So again, I think the best benchmarking is within your own organization, and also from the time one to time two to time three.

And I think the points you bring up there I think are important because it’s looking at even between-group differences. You have an overall culture, but you could have a microculture within a particular environment. We had somebody on the podcast that had a serious injury, and he came from an organization that had, by all accounts, a fairly, fairly mature safety culture. But in his specific area, there were a lot of challenges from a leadership standpoint, and people showed up in a very, very different, noncongruent way from the rest of the organization. So, understanding those differences, as you said, I think is incredibly important. The other element is longitudinally understanding how we’re shifting. I love pulse surveys as an indicator of how we’re making progress, even with higher frequency. So, as you’re driving improvements to check or is it landing with employees, are we actually seeing the impact? If I’m doing leadership training, am I feeling my leader showing up in a different way?

100% and that’s hard. I can add more really quick here too, in terms of how our leaders show up. Executive coaching, I think, is a big one. And just from experience, when we’re able to get into higher levels of the organization and talk to people, at the executive level, it’s different and it doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but that sets the tone. And again, I think sometimes with assessments, in particular, we miss the mark as we only talk to the EHS director, which is a very important position, but there are a lot of things that are also happening at the C-suite level that we need to address. So, I think executive coaching, when it’s paired with assessment-type work, is really good because you’ve got a strategic plan, and you need help from the top to get there. I don’t care who you are. So that’s something I think to consider as well.

And it also relates back to your story when you’re talking about Bob, who came into me, is when a new leader comes in and needs to show change, it’s very important to have a good strategy around what signals are you going to share. Because we talked about how culture can be based on something that happened 20 years ago in the organization that’s still in the present memory. So how does a leader come in and send some very intentional signals to show things have changed? I am going to show up differently or we’re going to show up differently.

100%.

So, great place to start. I love your quiz. Ratemysafetyculture.com so that’s a website. No gimmicks, no catches, completely anonymous. It just allows you to ask a couple of questions, 15 questions in total. To give you a bit of a sense in terms of where you’re at, should you consider some improvements, what are some of the areas of focus? So ratemycafetyculture.com it’s definitely not a safety culture assessment, it’s just a personal self-reflection to see how my organization is doing. So, I encourage people to go and visit their website, try it out, and get a few simple insights. And Josh, I’m sure they can always reach out to you if they want to have more conversations about, what does it mean, how do I make improvements, and how do I know where I’m at?

100% and I’ll give you more sports analogies.

So, Josh, thank you so much for joining us. Once again, I really appreciate you sharing yours. Wisdom around safety leadership, safety culture, and again, recommend anybody to go to the website ratemycafetyculture.com. No gimmicks. Just a good self-reflection quiz to say how am I doing? You’ll find links as well to all sorts of other quizzes that Josh has authored that help you look at different facets of safety culture, safety leadership, learning organizations, and so forth to see how you’re doing. So once again, thank you so much, Josh, for joining me today.

My pleasure. Thank you.

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. Josh Williams is a partner at Propulo Consulting. For more than 20 years, Josh has partnered with clients around the world 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 150 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.

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Employee Input & Involvement: The Secret Sauce to Drive Safety Culture with Ron Gantt

The Safety Guru_Ep 64_Ron Gantt_Employee Input & Involvement The Secret Sauce to Drive Safety Culture

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“How can people own a safety program if we don’t let them own it and create it?” In this episode, we have an engaging conversation with Ron Gantt about the secret sauce of involving employees in safety discussions at an organizational level. Safety leaders must be intentional about seeking employee input but also identifying processes that encourage or inadvertently discourage necessary safety collaboration across the organization. Tune in to learn how to involve employees on a daily basis not just a project basis. Everyone’s voice matters when it comes to safety.

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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 safe legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have a very special guest, Ron Gantt. He’s the head of HSE for a company called Yonder. He’s got an incredible background in safety. We’ll get into that very soon. We met a couple of years back, lots of conversations. He’s got incredible ideas on the employee input part, which is such a critical part of HSE in general. So, Ron, welcome to the show. Maybe tell me a little bit about how you got interested in safety and how your journey started. 

Thanks, Eric. I appreciate that. I’m excited to be here. So, I find I have a similar story to a lot of HSE people and that I had no desire to be in HSE and I sell into it. My dad actually started a safety company when he retired from the fire service, and I always swore I’d never join it. But then I found myself in need of a job and so I asked my dad for a temporary job inspecting fire extinguishers. He was kind enough to give it to me and I don’t know, here I am in the profession over 20 years later. But kind of in that time when I got started, I started to realize, hey, this is interesting. And I did sort of the normal stuff safety people do. I got my initial degree in safety and then my CSP, which for people here in the United States, most people know what that means. But then I then made the mistake of getting a degree in psychology as well and that sort of opened up my eyes in a number of other areas because one of the things I realized is that we have a lot that we do in safety that’s very technically focused on terms of hazards and engineering issues. 

But there’s a whole slew of things that are about people and literally everything we do touches people to some degree. And I just felt like I was never equipped for that. That kind of led me on a path of both kinds of self-directed learning and also getting in my graduate degree and trying to finish my Ph.D. currently right now in cognitive science and cognitive systems engineering. So, the way I think about it now is safety is a supporting function. And I think we’re going to talk a lot about this. But that’s the thing that’s really interesting to me. How do I support people? How do I create the conditions for humans thriving at work? And so that’s the question that keeps me going and keeps me moving forward if that makes sense. 

It does, and I think you’re right, because we tend to look at safety very technically, and at the end of the day, it’s people that interact with systems, with procedures. And as humans, we’re fallible, we make mistakes. It’s just who hasn’t made a mistake and who planned for the mistake? Few people decide in the morning, these are the five things I’m going to do today that are going to be wrong. Tell me a little bit about some of the areas, particularly around employee involvement, and listening to employees, because to me, that’s a secret sauce. That’s a differentiator that so many people kind of does, but maybe at a 5% potential in terms of what you could do. 

Yeah, absolutely. One of the other things that I realized about my job is how often I was put in a position to tell people how to do jobs I’ve never done before. And that just seems wrong. And so, the natural kind of logical conclusion of that is, okay, well, I have to involve them in this process. Then I may have a piece of the puzzle in terms of knowing a regulation or some technical knowledge about a hazard, or a risk, but I don’t know about their specific task. I don’t know about the conflicts. And so, to me, when you realize that, you start to realize that a skill that we have to build is the ability to engage with people who do work, ask them questions about what it is that they’re doing and bring them to the table to help us do our jobs more effectively. Does that make sense? 

It absolutely does. How have you seen that work? Really well in organizations, really tapping into people on a regular basis? Because often I see people do it on a project basis, oh, we need to consult an employee. But what you’re talking about is much more getting back to really the grassroots and involving them day in, day out. 

Yeah, I’m glad you said that, because on that project basis, a lot of times people get the idea of employee engagement, employee involvement, employee participation, whatever kind of banner we put it under. And it’s like, okay, I have this procedure I just wrote. Let me give it to the employees and see what they think about it. And that’s the extent of it. So, we developed the problem. We even developed most of the solution, and we’re just getting their thumbs up on it at the end, which is good. I mean, we should do that. But what I’m talking about is actually having the employees help us identify the problems, to begin with. Like, do we even know what the challenges and difficulties and risks and hazards and things are? And so, in doing that, I think one of the first steps that I try to get in my organization and the organizations I worked with when I was a consultant is rethinking something as simple as the open-door policy. Right? Because of the open-door policy, though, my door is always open. You can tell me if there’s a problem. Well, that’s great. We should have that. 

But when I take over the world, I’m going to change it. So, the open-door policy is I’m opening my door to walk outside of my office to go talk to people. And I think we have to be much more intentional about that and see that as a critical piece of our work and obviously our other leaders in the organization who are in other functions. Because if our work is something that touches the work that other people do, it’s sort of like customer research, if you will, you need to understand, are we meeting that customer need? Do we even understand their needs? So, getting out, talking to people, it’s sort of that kind of management by walking around, gamba, walk, all those kinds of events. So, it’s that similar stuff. Something as simple as that is a great place. I’ve seen a lot of organizations start. 

And I’ve even seen organizations where they take it to the level where the supervisors engage every team member almost every day to get them in a conversation around how you could do the job that you’re doing in a way that’s safer. Maybe that brings higher quality and also higher productivity. But more an exploration of almost coaching but not coaching in the traditional way. Where I’m coaching you to do it my way. Coaching you to think about a different way to do this even safer. Or hazards that you hadn’t explored. 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, and one of the fundamental challenges we have and the work we do is that because we’re dealing with people, one of the advantages of people is also something that disadvantages us. One of the advantages of people is that people are so good at dealing with imperfections that they hide the imperfections, they deal with their expertise, and they do it without even thinking about it. We just do it all the time. We’re all used to having our bosses tell us, hey, I need you to get this project done in two months. And we’re like, that’s a six-month project. And yet we still somehow pull it out in the end, and we just do that. It’s just regular, right? And so, to your point, regularly engaging with people and asking them questions about what is it about this task that’s difficult, what is it about, what are the challenges, what’s the dumbest thing we’re asking you to do? What’s the thing that’s adding the least value? What’s something that you wish management knew about your job that you don’t think they appreciate? Questions about struggle, about difficulty start to uncover these things that people are having to adapt to. 

And when you find those things, it’s sort of like seeing you’re starting to see the proverbial dirt pathway in the park that cuts the corner around the paved pathway because where you find difficulty, that’s where you find risk. Right. Where work is difficult, that’s where you’re going to find mistakes. That’s also where you’re going to find shortcuts. And so, we can start to even stuff that people didn’t necessarily appreciate as risky. You start to see, oh, wow, if I improve people’s ability to get work done, that’s going to make it safer. 

I think the other part is as you’re asking questions, I love the questions you’ve shared, you’re getting people to think about risk hazards, the work that they’re doing, and being more aware because it can become rather dull if you’re doing the same thing over and over. And then here you’re getting people to start thinking about, is there a better way to do this? What are some of the things that go wrong? What’s some of the stuff that I’m patching on a regular basis that I shouldn’t have to patch because something in the process isn’t working? 

Yeah, one of the kinds of good questions, and I don’t think you should ask it all the time, but occasionally asking people, what are we putting up with here? What’s the thing that we just got used to? Stepping over? This really bad thing every day, a really dangerous thing or a process that’s just not adding value or whatever it is. Right. Asking that it helps people rethink, hey, wait a minute. That is something that we probably should probably pay more attention to and that helps them become more aware that this is not just normal everyday stuff. This is actually a risk that I’m actively managing. I need to be more mindful of it, but it also helps you recognize, wow, there’s something I didn’t even realize was there. Maybe I can help support them. The phrase that comes to my head is sort of creating. I think it was Stanley McChrystal, general Stanley McChrystal talked about creating a shared consciousness of how the work is being done, good, bad, and ugly. Do you know what I mean? So yeah, I like that.

It reminds me of probably the favourite quote somebody shared with me. And it was somebody who had worked in the Big Three automotive on the manufacturing side. And he shared it with this gentleman who was on his last day before he retired. He was kind of talking to all the leadership and he said, thank you for everything you did. Appreciate you paid me, but you could have had my brain for free. 

Yeah, absolutely. I love that. What pops in my head is something a good friend of mine, a guy named Daniel Hummerdal, said, our employees have far more capacity than what is written on their job description. The story he told me, and then he subsequently put in a blog post to illustrate that as he was working at a mine site in Australia at the time, and they were dealing with a number of issues. And he was engaging, like in what we’re talking about, engaging workers, asking them, hey, what are those challenges? And not just engaging them and identifying the problems, but also in the solutions. And he found this one frontline worker who happened to have a graduate degree in illumination somehow, which allowed them to deal with a lighting issue that they had been struggling to deal with for a long time. Who would have thought? I think it’s just a great example of, as you said, you pay for the entire worker. The head is not the unintended consequence of hiring a unit. 

Correct. 

There’s a lot of capacity that’s there that we could really leverage, especially in dealing with those complex problems that a lot of really forward-thinking organizations are dealing with these things. 

And I think that’s a really good point. The other part says many organizations complain that they’re resource constraints. They don’t have enough people to fix things or address things. But if you start disseminating this, you create an army of problem solvers people that can go in and fix things, that can improve things, and sometimes do it in a much easier, lighter way. 

Absolutely. Yeah. It almost becomes sort of a virtuous cycle. Right. You start engaging with the workers, showing them that they’re part of the organization, they’re part of the solution, really, to these problems, which kind of builds their confidence, which not only gets them involved but can increase their own capacity and sense of self-efficacy, makes people more effective in their roles. Right. And then that starts to get things better and people start to feel better about it. And then it becomes a better place to work. And then it’s all puppy dogs and ice cream from there. It’s a good thing.

How do you start making that shift in an organization? Because I like when you said to keep the door open, but to get out of your office. I remember once I had an operational role and I just refused to sit in the office because I figured that’s not where the work is being done. So, it just isolates me from what’s happening in the operation. So how do you start driving that shift? Because you can do it, person, by the person. But where I’ve seen this really take hold is when the organization starts recognizing that there is a lot more value in the people that are working there. 

Yeah, absolutely. It does work best when it’s an organization-wide sort of understanding. And then they work at it as an organization. Because if you’re just the loan manager and like, hey, this sounds good, I want to go try this. Yeah, you can go do that, but that’s a little bit more challenging. So, at an organizational level, I think there are two things. Number one, you do want to encourage this building of conversation, this building of getting out and talking to people. But part of that encouragement is also thinking about the processes in the organization that either encouraged or inadvertently discourage that. To your point, how many times do we have operational roles or functional roles that really need to collaborate but are separated by time and space that discourages conversation? I’m reminded of a safety professional for a public works agency that I was speaking with one time, and she said the best thing that ever happened to build her safety culture is when she moved her office from downtown to be at the yard where the workers are and changed her work hours, her and her team’s work hours, to be the exact same. 

The thing she said, I think was so meaningful. She said it’s because when you’re walking from the parking lot with all the workers and you start talking about, hey, how are your kids? How was your weekend? That just starts to build trust, which, A, is a good thing on its own, but also then makes it easier for people to talk to each other. It kind of greases the wheels of that conversation. And that’s partly a process thing, that’s partly a structural thing so that at an organizational level, we can start to look at that. Who needs to be collaborating and how are we encouraging that or discouraging that? Another example. Sometimes we have schemes related to accountability or discipline or even incentive structures that encourage people to just go off on their own or encourage people to come together and talk. So, I think looking at this systemically is going to be a critical piece. Are we embedding conversation and dialogue into our management system, or is it all just paperwork? Do you know what I mean? 

I think good points. One thing I’ve seen as well is, work is trying to, and I hate the word measure because it can have unintended consequences, but basically starting to see how many people have been involved this year in improving safety, right? So, starting to get an actual count of the number of workers that were directly involved in driving improvements and using it as a metric. Not to find the ROI. Not to find what they did in terms of Dart rate or any kind of rate. But just saying how many people have actually been involved in the projects and put a target that sometimes that’s big. That’s like. I want 20%. 40% of the workforce is involved in all the changes we’re doing. Because then it starts forcing leaders to start thinking about it. Okay. I can’t do it myself. I need somebody else to be part of this, and I need to empower them towards it. It can have unintended consequences like any metric, but it shifts the message around. Don’t solve it yourself. Involve employees in it. 

Yeah, and I think that what you just said, can happen. So anytime you do a metric like that, you want to be monitoring for that. So, one of the things I recommend balance that is whenever you put in a quantitative metric like that, think of a qualitative measure to see if it is actually getting what we want. Are people actually speaking up in these situations or are they just, hey, we invited you to the meeting, therefore you’ve been engaged kind of thing? Are we actually getting people to feel like, no, that’s the thing that I did, I did that? If we can start to measure it quantitatively, but also be gathering those stories 100%, this is moving the needle. I think that’s going to be really compelling for people. 

The other thing I’ve seen is on the quality side, there’s been a lot more work done in many organizations around worker involvement, and worker participation, and I think it’s also saying in some cases, saying what’s worked for quality could work for safety too, because they do a lot of kaizens or however they call it in terms of bringing employees to solve problems. But the problem you’re solving could be an ergo issue, it could be a safety issue. It could be just saying when you’re trying to solve this quality issue, safety is also a metric that patters as an example and just that they’ve created a lot of practices, processes, methods that get that worker involvement in a regular kind of method, at least in the higher performing organizations in that way. 

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, reenergize 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. 

Yeah, absolutely. Because honestly, at the end of the day, it sounds really obvious when you say it, but like, if you have a problem, you bring together the people who know the most about that problem, about the context of it. And if we’re trying to solve a problem around the work process, sorry, who’s going to know more than the people who actually do that work? Yeah, there’s going to be other people who have other perspectives that are important as well, if it’s engineering or whoever. But yeah, the workers have a seat at that table, right? They should. And so especially from a safety perspective, because again, when we see this as a technical sort of problem-solving, then involving the workers doesn’t matter. I have the technical knowledge; it lives in my head. They don’t have it. But when we see this as that technical problem, then has to exist amongst other problems that these workers have to meld together into this thing that we call work, which has goal conflicts and scarce resources that they’re managing, and relationships, all of these things on a daily basis they’re managing, then I’m not going to know how that’s going to work. 

They’re going to know how that’s going to work. Right. It doesn’t mean that I’m irrelevant. That just means that my voice is not any more privileged than their voice. We all have an equal kind of perspective that we can bring that’s valuable and useful. Yeah, I think learning from the Kaisen kind of quality approach, it’s extremely valuable for safety professionals. One organization that I saw that did it, I think really well, and they pointed to this as one of their big sorts of changes. It was a chemical plant, and they already had kind of an environment where people started talking to each other, but then they said, you know what? We have these safety problems, engineering problems, and quality problems, and it’d be good if we got people’s perspectives on it. So how about we just create a regular meeting so that anybody can show up? Anybody can just show up. We’re going to invite everybody, and if you got something you want to talk about, we’re going to talk about it. And they called it the Smart Team, which is one of those acronyms that people wanted to call Smart. So, let’s find an acronym that fits with smart, like Sharing Minds, Attitudes, Resources and Technology, or something like that.

I can’t remember the exact, but that was it. It was just an open conversation. Sometimes it got a little bit rowdy because everybody was talking. You had the mechanics there, you had the operations there, you had management there, you had engineering there. But everybody’s voice was equal there. So, people would come and just say, hey, engineers would say, hey, I’m thinking of replacing this valve. What do you all think? All right. My mechanics would say, hey, this PPE that we’re using, I don’t think it’s great. Is there another option? What do you think? And we would just group. Problem solved. 

Sure. 

I think I applaud management the most because that’s hard for them to do, to let go of the rains in those situations. 

Absolutely right. 

And I think that’s why a lot of organizations don’t do things like this because you’re sort of giving up control over the outcome, but the end result is often way better when you do so because you’re getting more perspective, it’s better. 

And even if it’s not always better, I think one of the learnings I have, which is actually an interesting one, is at the end of the day, you talked about it’s a human, it’s humans. We’re making decisions and we don’t like to be told what to do. If we’re part of the solutioning, we’re more likely to accept it. Right. As long as we were heard, we’re part of it. So, it’s an acceptance piece. And one of the things I learned this came from the quality and from change. At General Electric way, way back, they had this perfect engineering equation, q times A equals E. I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it’s the quality of the change you’re driving. Times the acceptance equals the effectiveness of it. Right. So, what they’re saying is if I have a ten in quality of the change but a one in acceptance, then the effectiveness is ten. Even if I had a five in terms of the quality, but acceptance was five right away, my effectiveness is 25. So, it’s really recognizing that part of it is getting quality. Part of it is a solution that people are willing to do and that they felt they were part of. 

None of us are ever as happy when a rule is imposed on us, and we have no say. 

Oh, absolutely. I think that’s a really valuable insight, too. The analogy ops in my head from psychology is the Ikea effect. What you build is something you treasure a bit more than if I just bought furniture from somewhere else. I think whether the furniture is better or not almost doesn’t matter. I perceive it as better, and so I’m going to treasure it more. And I think a lot of safety people in particular, but you see this in other fields as well that gets so frustrated. That man, I mean, a friend, a colleague of mine had at the beginning of his book that he wrote where he said that safety people should be on everybody’s Christmas card list, but we’re not. Why is that? Because we’re trying to help everybody, but they’re not adopting what we say. And I think sometimes it’s because we’re trying to force feed them and not bringing them along and allowing them to build something that they can see themselves in. Yeah, I think it’s a shift, it’s a change, but it’s so important, especially when we want people to have another term that we are kind of talking about here is ownership. 

How can people own safety programs if we don’t let them own them? Don’t let them create it. 

I had Dr. Josh Williams on the show many months ago, and he shared some work he had done when he was in grad school, and it had to do with the implementation of an observation program many years ago, and one was done by the consultant, so it was technically the strongest observation program, and then the other one was done by the workers. They created it with some guidance, but it was theirs. The participation in the one that was created by the workers was seven x higher than the one that was probably technically stronger created by the consultant. Right. Because it was theirs. They were comfortable doing peer observations. They understood the concept, they designed it, and they understood everything that was about it. 

Yeah, I love that. Yeah. It reminds me of the concept when I do like leadership training or talk about leadership, and we try to say, okay, what is a leader, ultimately the best definition of leadership I can think of as a leader is someone who has followers and is working with those followers towards a shared goal. But if you don’t have followers, it doesn’t matter. Right. You can have a really maybe we would say a bad leader, but if they have a bunch of followers, that’s probably better than a leader without any, you know, in the same way, a solution that’s amazing. The best technology on Earth. I mean, ask Google about their glasses that no one uses. It’s not going to really be effective. 

Correct. 

So, I think yeah, having people buy into and I think that equation you said is really profound in that regard. Having people buy into it means having people create it with you.

Yeah. And more likely to follow it. Right. Because that’s the thing is you could have the perfect process, but then if people are only following when somebody’s watching, then you’ve not solved the problem. 

Absolutely. Yeah. And they follow it, I think, because A, it’s theirs. And so, there’s a pride of ownership. Right. But also, be the process of them creating it, going back to that entangled sort of goal conflicts and things, they are incorporating that subject matter expertise into the development of it. And I’ve found whenever I’ve kind of engaged in these processes, where you’re building these, whether it’s program, process, procedure, whatever with the worker, having them build it with you, it’s not uncommon. It’s actually more uncommon than not that it doesn’t happen. That I’m surprised like I never knew that, like that it was that dangerous or it was that difficult or that you had to do this other thing at the same time. And I would have never thought of that. And so, by definition, then my procedure, if I had done it, would have been flawed. It’s very humbling when you engage in it, but it’s fun at the same time. 

So, I think what you brought up is some super important points. Really. In terms of employee involvement. Walking out of the door. Being where the work is done. Whether it’s call management by walking around the gamba walks on the quality side. Asking people some really powerful questions about risk hazards. Is there a safer way to do it? Anything that’s not the usual way. The way it’s intended. That they’re having to patch around for some reason. Trying to get more work. Involvement in projects. Improvements. But making this really a way of life. And I think that’s where the secret sauce is. It’s not a project, it’s just how I show up every day is recognizing that there’s a lot of power, and a lot of knowledge in my team and I want to tap into it, use them, and leverage them to increase buy-in and to get better solutions. 

Yeah. And I guess kind of the last thing I would say, which was something, I actually was in a workshop yesterday and a union rep was in the class. It was leadership. Workshop. There’s a union rep. We’re talking about observation, leadership observation. And he said something, if your goal is to check a box, then it’s not worth your time because the workers will know. But if your goal is to make that person’s life better, they’re going to realize it quickly, and then they’re going to start engaging back with you. Because I think a lot of people don’t do this because they’re worried about the workers, don’t want me to go talk to them, and stuff like that. Well, if your goal is just to go check a box, and yeah, don’t bother. But if your goal is, I’m here to help them and help myself along the way, I think people will respond to that. 

Respond. And I think the other part is it’s a conversation that matters from the point of your observation. It’s not the observation of the tick in the box. It’s what conversation are we having? And am I recognizing you if you do something I’ve worked with some organizations just saying find one thing every week you’re going to recognize, and then once you got that, go every day because there are surely some things that are worth recognizing? But they were doing their job. Not necessarily. Because if there are things that are happening, you need to recognize the good. 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, if we’re honest, I would say, one, there’s far better happening than that, 100%. And I would take it even a step further and say, I’m not sure we even understand what the good is all the time, because the good we see is often when things go according to our plan. But if we admit that our plans are always flawed, they’re never perfect, sometimes negligible, sometimes wildly so, then, man, that means there’s something there that’s taking success from the jaws of failure. And I think we need to go out and figure that out and acknowledge that as well. 

Yeah. The favourite recognition I heard yesterday, I think it was, was an employee who saw a problem, saw there was something that wasn’t for the spec, and then brought it back and then inspected every piece of equipment on the rack to see if it was on the others. Found that, sure enough, that defect on that one thing, which was a safety hazard, also impacted all the others and then dealt with it. Right. And this is worthy of recognition ten times over because you’re going beyond I’m seeing a safety hazard on this piece of equipment, and you’re trying to fix the root cause of it. 

Yeah, absolutely. And I guess my challenge to any leader is for every one of those that we see, I bet there’s ten more that we’re just not seeing, not missing. Right. And so that creates the challenge of, okay, this is why I got to get out there more. I got to get out there and see this and learn from it. Because if in your observations, the only thing you’re getting is things are going according to plan, or people are deviating from my plan, that’s okay, but it’s not sufficient. Right. If you’ve never learned anything, or surprised by anything, then you’re probably not getting out enough. You’re not asking the right questions, you’re not engaging. 

Yeah, absolutely. There was one CEO who said, I never found the stats to see if it’s true, but he says, I want to see four times the recognition to everything that I’m finding an opportunity for improvement because we want to celebrate the goodness that’s happening every day. And so, if you’re looking for goodness, then you can celebrate it. But if most people, they’re not looking for it, they’re looking for what’s wrong that’s not on the tick box versus what’s good about today, fundamentally. 

And I think that actually gets back to a key challenge we have in safety quality. Probably also, but maybe to a lesser degree, is that it’s far easier for us to think about examples of unsafe things than it is to think about examples of safe things. Right. What was the last unsafe thing you saw? We can probably think of that pretty easily, but with the last safe thing you saw, that’s a bit harder because what does that even mean? Is it just the absence of unsafe things? Is it the presence of something else? I would say it’s more the latter than the former, but I think part of our getting out there and engaging with people is learning about what it is to be safe. And, yeah, we’re also going to help the workers learn about that, too. But if we’re not learning on that process as well right? That’s where the recognition starts to come in because you start to realize, wow, there’s a lot more going on than I expected. These people are doing way better. 

Job than I expected, or they’re dealing with a lot of things that are not as expected, that is not for the plan, and they’re fixing it. So, the scooters on that front because they’re fixing it safely, but still learn from what’s happening. 

Absolutely. Yeah. Totally agree. And need a lot more of that. 

Definitely. So, Ron, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom on this very important topic. And I really encourage people, even if it’s a baby step, to start thinking about how I engage my workers more, how do I get them to participate, and how I get them part of a safety program. Even designing key elements of your strategy just really rethink the power equation in terms of who has the most knowledge and information that can improve our safety performance. So, thank you so much for sharing that, Ron. 

My pleasure. Thanks for having me. It’s a fun conversation. 

Definitely.  

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the path. 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

Ron Gantt has over 20 years of experience in health and safety management, human factors, and system safety working with industries such as high technology, construction, utilities, and chemical manufacturing. He has undergraduate degrees in psychology and occupational safety as well as a graduate degree in safety engineering. Ron is also currently finishing his PhD in cognitive systems engineering at the Ohio State University. He has numerous certifications related to safety management, including being a Board Certified Safety Professional. Ron is currently the Head of HSE – Americas for Yondr Group.

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Suicide Prevention: A Call to Action for Safety Leaders with Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas

Suicide prevention a call to action for safety leaders

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In observance of World Suicide Prevention Day and National Suicide Prevention Week in the United States, we are privileged to have Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas join the podcast. In this episode, Dr. Sally shares how the loss of her brother to suicide in 2004 left her with a calling to help prevent this from happening to others by engaging the workplace in crucial conversations about suicide prevention. Tune in to learn the depths of correlation between mental health and workplace safety and how organizations and leaders can help prevent and mitigate death by suicide.

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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 really excited to have with me Dr. Sally Spencer Thomas who is a psychologist and impact entrepreneur. We’re going to have to talk about what that really means. And entails a passion for suicide prevention. She’s also the President of the United Suicide Survivors International. We have a really important topic to discuss today and it’s really as we’re talking about Suicide Prevention Week and International Suicide Prevention Day is really the connection between safety and mental health well-being and suicide. So, incredibly important topic, and very happy to have you with me, Sally.

Grateful to be here, Eric. I’m so glad to be making the connections here. 

Excellent. So, before we jump into your story and some of the themes around it, tell me a little bit about what it is to be an impact entrepreneur.

So, an impact entrepreneur brings kind of the heart of a non-profit, a mission-oriented perspective, but kind of the business mind and the efficiencies of a business model. So social entrepreneurship is another term for it but it’s basically a business that measures its profit by impact.

Excellent. Well, excellent. Thank you for the work that you’re doing in this space. So maybe let’s start with a bit of your story, your background, and how you got passionate about this critically important topic. 

Yeah, so I’m a psychologist by training and I’ve been in the field of mental health for upwards of 16 years if you count my undergraduate years when I lost my brother to suicide. This happened in 2004. My brother was a business leader himself, an executive in the insurance industry. He had launched a company in his mid-20s by his early thirty s that had gone national. And so, in all the ways that we tend to measure success in our country, my brother had those opportunities and so he was beloved. But what people didn’t know is that he fought depression and a mental health condition that ultimately proved to be fatal. And so many people have these before and after moments in their life and his death was most definitely mine. Within a couple of months. I definitely felt a calling to try to figure out some bold, gap-filling things that could prevent what happened to Carson from happening to other people. And that led us on a path to trying to engage the workplace. It was eye-opening to me. After all, this year in mental health that no one shared. The majority of people who die by suicide are working-aged men.

Most of them have one attempt, and most of them have never stepped foot in any type of mental health resource. So, we’re not going to catch them through education, we’re not going to catch them through the health care system. They’re working, or they were just working. It’s the workplace that’s the most cross-cutting system. And so eventually, that is what leads me to you. 

Wow. First, really sorry to hear about your loss, but I think it’s really impactful, you said in terms of the role that workplaces have around us, and it’s a common theme, and people don’t necessarily talk about it. We’re talking about it more these days, but there needs to be a lot more openness around talking about these teams. As you said, he was a successful executive. Most people would think he’s in a good spot and may not ask questions.

Yeah. And when we first started to try to engage workplaces in 2007, like, hey, how about some suicide prevention in the workplace? They were like, no, that’s a medical issue. People need to take that stuff up with their doctors. And I was like, but they’re not, and they’re here, they’re working, so how about you do something? But there was just so much fear and resistance in the early days. A much different story today.

Let’s touch a little bit on the link to safety, because in many cases as you said, a lot of workplaces are starting to talk about the topic, but not necessarily linking it to safety. So, can you bring some of the connections between these two areas? 

Sure. So, we didn’t have great data. So, I’m in the US. And everybody here kind of benchmarks their mortality and morbidity data off the bureau of labour statistics, and that’s where everyone was focused. And relatively speaking, suicide deaths as measured there were relatively low. They were only looking at that, however, where suicide deaths on a job site well, most suicide deaths don’t happen on a job site. That happens somewhere else. But they were missing the fact that thousands of people were dying by suicide in various male-dominated industries construction, extraction, transportation, including aviation, all kinds of industries. And once those data became public in the United States in 2016, that’s when everything changed. Because when we were looking just at what we’re focusing on is the fatal four slips and falls and electrocution and copying, we’re talking about hundreds of deaths, and every single one of those deaths matter, or maybe upwards of 1000 deaths. When we come to suicide just in the construction industry, we’re talking about 5432 deaths somewhere in that range every year. So, no one knew that. So that was the AHA moment. And then when you kind of dig deeper, there are many connections that people were not drawing the dots through between psychological safety, mental health promotion, suicide prevention, and job C-suite safety or workplace safety.

So, one is a distraction. Everybody knows that when workers are distracted, they make errors and they put themselves in hazardous situations. But no one has been talking about the fact that when you are in the throes of a pretty intense mental health condition or a mental health moment or suicide intensity, as we like to call it, your brain is off doing other stuff. And I’ll speak from personal experience. I went through my own experience with major depression in the spring of 2012. For whatever reason, that perfect storm of stressors hit me, and I had this meta-awareness that my mental health was going down the toilet. And it was one of those things like every single one of my usual coping strategies where it was meditation, trying to eat right, trying to sleep, nothing was touching it. I couldn’t sleep. Food tasted like paste, so I stopped eating. And I remember very distinctly, I like others, I could zip myself up for little periods of time to go do the thing. And for me, doing the thing is getting on a stage and talking to a whole bunch of people. And so, I knew I was really unwell, but I also had to make a living. 

So, I went to this conference, and it was actually a sorority convention in Atlanta, and I had to drive from the venue, from my hotel to the venue. And I remember driving on the highway and having a very clear thought I should not be driving. My mind was racing a million miles an hour. I had an overwhelming sense of panic that I was going to get in a car crash or get lost like there was no way I should have been driving. And that’s true for hundreds of thousands of people every day that are in safety-critical workplaces and their brain is working on something else that is not focused on the job at hand. So that’s one. Number two is fatigue. Again, everybody is connecting the dots between fatigue and job site safety, but they’re almost always only concerned with hours worked. And yes, we have lots of clear data that over certain thresholds, probably about 60 hours a week, we start to get too tired, and we make mistakes that lead to safety problems. But that’s not the only thing that causes fatigue. Most mental health conditions have some kind of sleep dysregulation as part of the criteria.

And it is either I can’t fall asleep, I can’t stay asleep, I try to sleep, and I have tons of nightmares. I’m trying to sleep with a substance use disorder. So, I’m not getting quality restorative sleep, or I sleep and sleep and sleep and sleep and I never feel rested. I always say that sleep, sleep disruption is the canary in the coal mine for some kind of mental health condition. It’s the thing that comes first. And yeah, we all have rough nights of sleep and we’ve got a lot on our minds, but if it’s night after night after night, you’re going to feel tired. And so that’s another piece. The other piece is that some mental health conditions, you can see this on brain scans, cause the brain to not properly function. And in the cases like depression, our synapses are just not firing in the way that they do when we’re well, you can see the brain is really shut down. And the experience I remember this too, the experience is kind of like you’re in this dark tunnel or this dark fog, everything is negative. You’re seeing the world through rust-coloured glasses. 

It’s very hard to generate solutions to problems or to see things from a different perspective. So, again, in safety-critical workplaces, you need that kind of decisiveness problem-solving piece that’s happening so that we can shift gears quickly and come up with an alternative plan that’s hard to do with an impaired brain. And then lastly, ongoing high levels of distress, whether that’s internally caused by a predisposed mental health condition or externally caused from trauma or overwhelmed or whatever, eventually something has got to give, and things will start to fall apart in your body. So, our immune system gets compromised. So, we’re much more likely to get things like, I don’t know, viruses much more susceptible to heart disease and even some cancers and so on and so forth. Pain issues get exacerbated. And so again, we start to see this cycle happening, our mental unwellness contributing to our physical unwellness, contributing to work sites, stresses and pressures, and then here we go round and round. So, there’s many ways that these things are connected.

Yeah, and I think you touched on we talk all the time about distraction, fatigue, all these pieces that you can’t have focused on the task at hand. If you’re thinking about other things, you’re tired. So very strong connection. So, what are some of the tactics that businesses can take to make a meaningful difference?

Well, the good news is the silver lining of the pandemic woke a lot of people up, a lot of workplace leaders, whether that’s employers, professional associations, labor unions, whatever because there was hardly a person on the planet that was impacted in one way or another. We all had this shared experience of like, oh my gosh, and workplaces got really concerned about mental health disruption of their workforce. And then add to that, we’ve got a new generation coming in, the gen Xers who are fluent in mental health awareness from birth. They have those psychosocial education things in preschool. They get it and it’s a huge priority for them. So, when it comes to recruitment, retention, and engagement of young talent, workplaces have got to get this right or we’re going to continue to see that great resignation and the turn that is so disruptive for so many employers. So that’s where suddenly, in the last couple of years, people have learned in ways that they haven’t learned in before. And because we also had data in many of the safety-critical industries that suicide was an issue, we have workplaces leaning in, not just on well-being.

A lot of people like to do the light stuff, well-being, stress management, conflict management, okay, all that stuff matters. And also, we’ve got to talk about the hard stuff. We’ve got to talk about addiction. We’ve got to talk about overdose. We’ve got to talk about suicidal despair, suicide, death, and mental health emergencies. We’ve got to prep workplaces for the whole continuum of experiences, not just the lighter stuff that’s easier to talk about. 

Sure. 

So, what I love about a lot of the safety-critical industries is that they tend to be very problem-solving and pragmatic people. And so, for the most part, people leaned in quickly and said, okay, we got a problem. How do we solve the problem? Give us some tools. We’ll try stuff out. And they did. So, there’s a bunch of us that have also around the same time we published it on October 19, 2019. So right before the pandemic in the United States, the national guidelines for workplace suicide prevention. Canada has something similar with its psychological safety standards for the workplace. Australia has a couple of things around a position statement for workplace suicide prevention. We were late to the party, but we got it done in 2019. And all these documents, standards, guidelines, whatever you want to call them, give workplaces a roadmap to tackle the hard stuff. And in the United States, we frame it as upstream, midstream, and downstream. So, there are a lot of things workplaces can do in the upstream part of the equation, which is promoting what we call protective factors and decreasing psychosocial hazards. Protective factors are things like belonging.

That’s why the die was concerned to play it’s about psychological safety, where people feel okay about bringing their whole selves to work. And how do we create a trustworthy work environment, a culture of care? How do we position our leadership to authentically communicate that this is a health and safety priority for their workplace? How do we have lived experience stories come through and lived experience realized as a form of expertise that can help code design all these programs? So, all of those things that are in the upstream and then with psychosocial hazards, it’s a really important paradigm shift for a lot of workplaces that it’s not good enough just to get a whole bunch of quote-unquote troubled people to counsellors. That’s usually where everybody goes, let’s get these troubled people to the counsellors for a whole bunch of reasons that are fraught we’ll get into that I’m sure that is helpful, for sure if it’s accessible, culturally responsive, all of those things. And also, there’s a whole bunch of stuff workplaces are doing every single day that is driving overwhelming despair, and mental unwellness every single day. So, they also need to take responsibility for mitigating or eliminating psychosocial hazards. 

And one of the AHA moments that we had when we were looking at this again, the United States has an inverted pyramid of the hierarchy of controls when it comes to job site safety. Sure, every single work trail I go to, every single training room on safety-critical workplaces, I see this thing hanging up. It’s like the Bible. Very important. And so, we all know that we’re going to be far more successful if we eliminate or mitigate job site safety hazards in the environment. Then only the thing we do is promote our individual responsibility for wearing our PPE like a hard hat, professional vest, whatever it is. We’re going to be far more successful if we figure out what the hazards are. Same thing here, but nobody is paying attention to this yet, at least not. 

In the United States.

The UK is doing some really cool stuff. They’re actually starting to legislate this, which is very interesting. We’re not there nowhere near there yet. But when we look at the psychosocial hazards like problems in job design, so low autonomy, low job variety, poor effort rewarded balance, those kinds of things, when we look at toxic relationships within a job C suite or within a workplace, especially a supervisor, if that’s a very toxic relationship, the chances are good the worker is going to have high levels of distress. Another piece very common is work and life getting disrupted. So, life spilling into work, work spilling into life, and having no way to navigate that in a healthy way. Another really important piece that doesn’t get talked about enough but is very clearly connected to suicidal despair is if workers feel like they’re a cog in the wheel, they really don’t have a purpose, they don’t connect to the mission, and they really feel like their contribution doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of life and really actually helping someone else have success or profit or whatever. So that disconnect. Like the thing I do 60 hours a week just doesn’t matter, leads to that sense of purposeless.

And then lastly, there are also a lot of hazards that the workplace does just by the nature of the work. So, in our first responder communities, they’re exposed to a lot of traumas. The same with a lot of our healthcare communities. There’s just a lot of sleep disruption by the nature of the job shift, work or long hours or early hours or not enough time off, all of those kinds of things can also contribute. And then the last thing I’ll say is that workplace culture also contributes to mental unwellness. If your main source of relieving stress culturally contributes to really poor coping strategies like high levels of substance abuse. I mean, I work a lot with first responder communities, and I know they get off a long shift. It doesn’t matter if it’s 08:00 in the morning they’re hitting the bars and that just sets up people for addictive patterns that lead to a whole bunch of dominoes falling over. So, lots of things and so that’s the upstream in the midstream. We’re trying to catch things early, trying to help with what we call early detection. This works for all healthcare issues. We want to catch those cancer lumps and bumps when they’re small.

We want to make sure we’ve got the blood pressure under control when the problems are coming on early. All of those things. Same thing here. We want people to be able to identify emerging issues in their mental health and not wait until things are catastrophic to reach out for help. So, the best way that we can do that is really helps the workforce own this part of their health like they own other parts of their health like we own our fitness and our nutrition. We know largely it’s up to us and the choices that we make every day. It’s not entirely but we have a lot of agencies over the decisions that we make in that space. Same thing here. Our wellbeing is largely a part of our decisions and our own self-awareness and so how can we provide a self-care orientation that matters for our overall happiness and well-being in life. And one of the things that we can empower workplaces to do in this area is advocate for anonymous confidential and voluntary self-screening. There are programs out there where workers can just host a screening day for depression and really emphasize this is anonymous and confidential.

It’s not coming back to the employer. This is just a check-up from the neck up. We’re going to do this like we do your fitness tests or other kinds of things. The other piece that I know we’re going to get into in a little bit is peer support. We have found in safety-critical environments there’s often great reluctance for a whole bucket of reasons for workers to reach out to formal mental health supports. There are layers and layers and layers of reasons why there’s a lot of reluctance we’ll get into that. And so, peer support, formally trained peer support programs, not necessarily peer support groups per se but a formal peer support program where people are recruited and trained, and they self-identify. They’ve got outward-facing cues that you’re a safe person to talk to. Most of them have significant lived experience so they can come and meet people where they are, offer empathy because of their own shared meaningful experiences, and so on. That seems to be the major missing link in many workplaces they just land so hard on. We’ve got an EAP, why is our utilization rate 2%? Because people don’t trust it, but they trust appear super.

Peer support is another piece.

There’s also an accessibility and relatability piece because I saw that in the aviation space where there was peer support and it was almost the onboarding to EAP, so they could triage. People felt comfortable they related to the person. It was hugely powerful. Versus EAP, I’ve seldom seen people other than a manager saying, oh, don’t forget to call EAP. 

Which by the way, most managers have never called. So why would I trust you? This is the same thing when you yourself have never used it. Exactly right, yeah. Let’s dive into peer support a little bit more because, for many workplaces, this is a daunting step because they have HR folks, they have employment lawyers who are like, oh no, the liability. And they get up all in a frenzy about fears of being sued. And what we’re learning again from our European colleagues is actually the opposite is true. If you don’t start doing some best practices around providing mental health support for your workforce in areas, we know that work, you’re going to be seen as negligence. You’re going to be seen as not doing what you need to do to protect your workforce. So, this is one of those areas. And we have some proven examples. Like you said, in aviation, I’m familiar with Project Wingman out of American Airlines. They became a really great gold standard for the world. And all of a sudden now most major airlines have a very viable peer support program for the pilots and then many other roles within aviation. 

And when we think about it, yeah, nobody wants a suicidal pilot, nobody wants. 

No, not a good idea. 

And at the same time, or a drunk one, right? And we were preventing our pilots from raising their hands and saying, I need help. Well, that’s a conundrum. So, peer support became, again, that safe pathway for people to get support. We’ve got a lot of really great examples from our first responder communities, especially law enforcement, fire service, and big municipal departments. They’ve had things operating for decades. So, we’ve got models that we can then translate and Trans Culture to other types of industries. And my joy at the moment I spend probably 80% of my time or more in the construction space is to watch the construction industry start to embrace this. The unions have stepped forward most boldly first, and they’re having some really good experiences. They were already set up for that in many ways because of the culture of I’ve got your back. But now we’ve got professional associations coming in and many large companies starting to look at this with seriousness. So, it’s great. And not only is peer support good for the person who’s in distress, but it’s also good for the peer supporter. We have this again, this huge body of data that shows helping others helps us. 

So, it helps that peer support person stay in recovery, and be accountable for their own wellness. It’s a great gap-filling thing that I see is absolutely the future. Oh, and to all the employers out there, cost savings, let me just say that it’s not been replicated in any peer-reviewed journal. But when I ask aviation, when I ask my fire service folks, how much of the distress and despair do you feel is resolved at the peer level? The consistent number I get from these different industries is about 80%. 75% to 80% they say are resolved at the peer level, which means people are not having to take formal medical leave or accommodations. They’re not having to go into any costly treatment for themselves or the company. They’re resolving things at the peer level so people can stay at work and do what they need to do to support their work and their families. Cost savings is another awesome reason to do peer support.

Very compelling argument on this one. And this is something I think a lot of organizations need to really seriously look at, because I’ve seen some cases where, as you mentioned, often union gets involved partners on that front. But how powerful it is, and how many more people can use it, I think it’s a huge game changer in space.

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Yeah, and the last thing I’ll mention in the Midstream space, again, midstream is about identifying problems as they’re emerging. That way things are catastrophic is training. So again, in a lot of safety-critical industries, training is the first go-to. We got a problem, let’s have training. And so, this is again a very quick cultural fit. We can just bake into stuff that’s already happening. I’ve seen some very innovative people, again for the US. Bake it into their Ocean 30 requirements as an elective that some quasi-required, and there are lots of ways we can do it. So, there is what we call gatekeeper training out there. It’s kind of an unfortunate name, but it’s stuck over the decade. Basically, gatekeeper means it’s like CPR. We’re training everyday people to know enough to recognize when somebody might be in a situation that’s driving despair at pretty high levels, and to have the confidence and confidence to go in just like a CPR person, to do what’s needed to sustain that person until we can link them to the next level of care. And so, this is Saturation training. Just like CPR. We want to train as many people as possible in the hopes that when something’s going down, somebody’s going to have the confidence to step in and know what the next level of care needs to be. 

Maybe it’s to the formal peer support person, maybe it’s to the EAP, maybe it’s to a very well-vetted substance use recovery centre in the community. Whatever they’re going to be helpful in kind of connecting those dots, and if not, they’re going to know who knows? And that’s what it does. And so, some of these that are well known are QPR stands for Question, Persuade. Referendum One is safe to talk coming out of Canada, but globally implemented. And then I’m involved with one that’s specifically addressing the workplace. It was called working minds. We’re going through a branding change this year to Vital Cog, and we can put this in the show notes.

Sure. 

If that’s of interest.

Sure.

Where, again, we’re just in an hour or two, we are training everyday people to be able to intervene with best practice skills and conversations and referral and support. Will everybody does it? No. Does that mean it’s a failure? No. We train millions and millions of people in CPR every year. Most, like myself, never used it, and probably never will, but I’m glad I have it. I’m certainly glad I have it. And then lastly, downstream. And again, that training thing gets some of the HR folks and the employee employers like, oh no, are we now responsible for the things I’m like? Are you responsible for CPR if it didn’t work out, if they broke a rib, are you responsible? No, because we all believe in the Good Samaritan. Who is the layperson coming in to help with that Good Samaritan perspective? Here’s the kicker in the law piece, they don’t have the duty. It’s not like this is their job like it would be if you were a licensed psychologist. No, they’re Good Samaritans doing what they’ve been told is helpful at the moment. So that’s how we get through that quandary. And then finally downstream.

So downstream is getting prepared for the worst-case scenario. You are prepared for worst-case scenario around cyber-attacks. You are prepared for worst-case scenario around some kind of job site disaster. You need to also be prepared for the worst-case scenario of a mental health emergency because it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. Most people will have one in five having them now, so you’re going to need to get prepared. And so, what does that look like? Well, number one, it looks like, go in and check out the mental health resources you have because chances are you have no idea what they do. Most companies went to the lowest bidder for their EAP, and guess what? You get what you pay for. So, if you go in, I say kick the tires, go and do some secret shopper work, make some calls, maybe have a session or two yourself, see what it’s all about. You’re going to realize either that it’s amazing and people are really responsive and understand your industry, or you’re going to realize there are a lot of problems. And then you think through, what if you’re a person on their worst day trying to navigate the system and not having people call you back and not feeling like people?

Understand the culture of the work that you do, I’m going to say you’re probably going to need to often in many cases find a better EAP. That’s been my experience with pretty much every employer I’ve worked with. And then also you probably need more than just an in-person traditional kind of mental health service provider model. A lot of safety-critical industries work around the clock. They don’t have time or accessibility to drive somewhere and have an in-person thing. So, there’s been a lot of innovation in the mental health space during Covet. It forced us to get through some pretty previously challenging barriers. So again, you need to vet it though because oh my goodness, the marketplace just proliferated with all kinds of apps and telemetry health and digital health and most of them are credible. So, find the good ones and find the ones that will fit your industry. So that’s number one. Number two, you need a crisis response plan. It’s not good enough just to have the resources there. You need to equip your managers, supervisors, the people who are in those decision-making spaces, and even your communications folks. What are we going to do? 

What are we going to do if we have an overdose? What are we going to do if we have a suicide on a job site where it’s public-facing, we’ve had witnesses, the media is coming down, we’ve got all kinds of people traumatized, we’ve got many, many people significantly bereaved by the situation. We need a plan in place and you put that plan in place before the thing happens because if you’re trying to put that do the thing on the fly, the chances are good you’re going to make a whole host of pretty bad mistakes that are not only going to not support the people left behind but can also increase the risk for future suicide death. So, you want to have a plan in place. We have a guide. It’s called Manager’s Guide to Suicide. Postvention is what we call that at work and just other things that people are going to need to be equipped. We are putting out, as I mentioned to you earlier, a white paper and again we’ll put that in the show notes also for HR and employment law because they have so many fears about how to manage this if they get stuck.

And we want to help address some of those fears to help them move forward to do the right thing for people who are experiencing their darkest day. And so, in that white paper, we talk about the kinds of accommodations that can be helpful for people experiencing mental health emergencies not only in themselves but also in their families. And so that we can come up with a really good collaborative plan that upholds the dignity of people who are suffering. That’s a very important point that we don’t respond out of fear, but we respond out of compassion to help people through because we’re all going to take our turns and we would like to be treated in that same way with dignity, partnership, respect, all of that. And then finally, again, if there should be some kind of death of a co-worker or a client or a vendor, something that’s going to impact the workplace in a significant way, we need to create safe spaces for people to grieve, to come together. Not everybody is going to need it in long teams, but we need to be on point with the communication, with the support that we’re providing. 

And what we know about suicide is in particular, it’s complicated, especially if you’ve lost a first-degree loved one, a child, say, or a partner or a parent or a best friend. It’s not the thing you’re going to get over in the three days we often give people to grieve. It’s going to take years. And in many cases, if you’re a parent that’s lost a child, it can take decades before any kind of new normal comes around. You’re just suffering very deeply for a long time. So how can workers work with people who are in that space to make sure they don’t lose an otherwise incredible worker?

Sure.

But support them. Because I’ll tell you what, I had a workplace that did that for me. When my brother died, I was working at a Jesuit university, a Catholic school. And I’m not Catholic, but I’ll tell you what, the Jesuits, understand grief and they came alongside me at the moment. Here I am, almost 18 years out from the loss. Every year they still send me a note thinking of your precious brother Carson. Today I get chills just thinking about it magnified the number of employees, the number of years they are handwriting those for thousands and thousands and thousands of people every year. That matters, right? And when I was going through it, in the acute sense, they gave me time off. They gave me flex time. They allowed me to go to the support groups and the grief counsellors. They gave me a lot of grace and a lot of space. And because of that, I was a super loyal, gracious, and grateful employee for a long time. So, it makes a big difference.

Yeah, you shared a lot of incredible resources. And I think the two things that really struck me is in terms of the training that can become available because people need to recognize whether it’s peer, even leaders in the safety language. You talk a lot of actively caring. That’s a component of actively caring for your team members. The other theme that came up is really the evolution of EAP towards peer support. And I think these are two areas as well that you’ve helped, and you can help organizations in terms of taking that step forward. Is that correct?

That is, I’m excited to say that I also think what’s on the next phase of the frontier here of how we’re going to move this forward. We’re piloting a certification program right now. It’s not ready for prime time, but it will be in 2023 when we are working with the state of New York. So, they have underwritten this to walk a cohort of organizations, all of them in safety-critical organizations, through those nine best practices that I just shared with you and provide them technical assistance and coaching. It’s a deep dive. It’s not a flyby two-hour workshop, it’s six-month. We would prefer that it was a twelve-month, but it’s a six-month implementation of regular training modules. And then they got deliverables and got third-party verification, just like a lead certification. There’s a high level of accountability that they’re demonstrating. They’re doing best practice, they have to pass quizzes, all these kinds of things. So far, so good. So hopefully that’ll be ready for primetime in 2023 and then we can really move it forward. I already have some owners for construction that are saying, can you speed that up a little bit? 

Because we need some kind of benchmark to know like, are you really doing the thing? Are you just checking boxes here? So that’s also pretty exciting.

And given the safety implications, do you normally see safety organizations reaching out, or is it that safety organizations partnering with HR and NHR reaching out? What do you normally see? Because what I’ve normally seen is it becomes the HR dialogue as opposed to the safety dollars, whereas I think it needs to also be owned in the safety arena.

So, in the early days, again, 20 07 20 11 my inclination was to go to HR. It made sense, right? They’re the ones who are people. They are the ones who are in charge of the benefits. And I got because I’m talking suicide, which is scary to them, but they were like, oh no, I got frustrated and I’m like, why are you not running with this? When the safety data or when the deaf data came out, the safety people came right up to the front. And like I said, the problem-solving people, understand the connections, they have, the mechanism around that training piece. I would say in my world, the safety people have made far more advancements than the HR folks. The HR folks have been more of a roadblock historically. And that’s not universal, but historically more of a put the brakes on this, let’s back it up and play it down. Where the safety people are like, nobody dies. That’s our goal. Nobody dies and nobody suffers, whether it’s from a mental health injury or a physical injury, because they’re connected, they get it. So, we’re really driving what we hope is more of a partnership between the two because obviously, we’ve got to get the HR and employment law people on board championing this, not just putting the brakes on it. 

Yeah, they need to do the due diligence with the laws. Absolutely. And we want them to feel confident, which is why we published the white paper. But don’t put the brakes on it just because you’re afraid. If it’s just you, because we’re dealing with life and death, I get it. But we don’t respond well when we’re so afraid. We go into self-protection mode and then we can’t see the options. There are many, so I love the partnership when things come together. So, for example, we have a team do that implementation and the Hope certification. And I say absolutely, we need someone from HR, we need someone from safety. We absolutely need people with lived experience. I need someone with decision-making power, someone up at the top who knows what’s going on here, and someone from communications that’s a really strong team to help do this implementation really well.

Perfect. Well, thank you very much, Sally, for sharing all of this. I know you also have a white paper that’s coming out on near misses and instead of reporting and the link to mental well-being, do you want to give it maybe a quick highlight on some of the links there?

Yeah, well, I’ll just give the punchline, which is psychological safety. Psychological safety. So, if it means that I have psychological safety telling you I’ve made a mistake, then I feel like you’re going to have my back and not punish me for that information. And that’s how we learn about near misses or even incidents. If I have psychological safety to say I don’t feel right, there’s something wrong, and I trust that you’re going to support me and have my back, I’m much more likely to disclose that when the problems are small. If I feel like you’re going to fire me or punish me or discriminate against me, I’m going to white-knuckle it. And that can end up being a fatal overdose in the porta potty, which happens all too often. And then the last piece that ties in with electrical safety is if I feel that I don’t belong here because I’m different in some way, which of course has been such a hot topic, then I won’t ever come up with my whole self. I won’t tell you what it’s really like for life for me, or the experiences of being bullied or discriminated against, or how that impacts me and my well-being.

I won’t share that with you. And again, that leads people to overwhelming levels of despair. So, this whole idea of psychological safety is way more than I don’t feel safe in admitting a mistake or maybe suggesting an innovative way to solve a problem. It really goes to the heart of people’s well-being. And so, I’m a big fan of the movement. I just think we need to expand the definition a little more and that’s how things are tied very closely to the near miss and job site safety literature. So, I’ll send that to you I’ll put those in the show notes.

Perfect. Well, thank you very much, Sally, for sharing all these great insights. If somebody wants to reach out to you, what’s the easiest way to reach out? 

Probably the Web stop shop pieces are websites, so sally Spencer Thomas.com. My name is sally Spencer Thomas.

Excellent. Thank you so much, Sally. 

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 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

Sally Spencer-Thomas, Psy.D.

Keynote Speaker & Impact Entrepreneur

Co-Founder & President, United Suicide Survivors International

Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas is a clinical psychologist and award-winning mental health advocate with her own personal experience of losing her beloved brother to suicide. Her mission of giving voice to people who’ve lived through suicide thoughts, attempts, and loss and to help those in despair rekindle a passion for living.

In addition to helping leaders and communities implement innovative approaches to suicide prevention, Sally is the lead author on the National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention, President of United Suicide Survivors International, and co-founder of “Man Therapy” (www.ManTherapy.org). She also co-edits the Guts, Grit & the Grind book series that provides men and the people who love them with tools to help them better understand and cope with life’s challenges.

Sally has a TEDx talk and gave an invited address at the White House in 2016. Her impressive list of partners includes the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the FBI, Chubb Insurance, and Southwest Airlines. She has also spoken and consulted internationally including Australia, Ireland, Singapore, Taiwan, Denmark and Belgium.

For more information: 

National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention where they can “take the pledge”: https://workplacesuicideprevention.com/

A White Paper for HR Professionals and Employment Lawyers – Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention in the Workplace Policy and Response Recommendations to Help Employers Positively Impact Workers and the Work Environment: https://workplacesuicideprevention.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/20220630-FINAL-FINAL-HR-EmploymentLaw-WhitePaper.pdf

A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace: 10 Action Steps for Dealing with the Aftermath of Suicide  https://workplacesuicideprevention.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/managers-guidebook-to-suicide-postvention-web.pdf 

Workplace Suicide Response; from Workplace Strategies for Mental Health of Canada

How to Move from Awareness to Action in Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Promotion: Guidebook on Training Programs: 23 Characteristics that Make Trainings Great

VitalCog: Suicide Prevention in the Workplace https://www.coloradodepressioncenter.org/vitalcog/ 

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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 wellbeing of their people first. Great companies, ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost. For the C suite, it’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

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

I’m looking forward to it Eric. 

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

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

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

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

Wow. 

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

Yeah. 

Very common.

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

Nobody? 

Nobody. I only found out afterwards. 

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

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

Wow. 

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

Sure. 

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

Right. 

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

Sure. 

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

Right. 

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

Okay. 

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

None whatsoever. 

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

Right. 

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

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

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

Okay. 

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

Okay. 

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

Sure. 

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

Sure. 

So, we gave them the support. 

Okay. 

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

Sure. 

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

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

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

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

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

Okay. 

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

Right. 

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

Sure.

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

Right. 

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

Right. 

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

Right. 

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

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

Yes. 

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

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

Sure. 

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

Even a visitor, somebody who doesn’t know. 

The plan this is near the sites at all. 

Love it. 

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

Sure. 

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

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

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

Sure. 

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

Sure. 

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

Right. 

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

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

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

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

Wow. 

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

Yes. 

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

Yes. 

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

Right. 

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

Right. 

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

Sure. 

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

Sure. 

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

Sure. 

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

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

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

Wow. 

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

Right. 

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

Right. 

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

Right? Absolutely. 

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

Right. 

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

Sure. 

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

Right. 

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

Agreed. 

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

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

Thank you, Ken. Have a wonderful day. 

Cheers. 

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-Suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powerful or by Propulo Consulting.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

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

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

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

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

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

UK when he was made an Honorary Fellow of IOSH.

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

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

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

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

Contact email: [email protected]

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