Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Making Change Stick – Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

Its that time of year when many of us develop New Year’s Resolutions, which, unfortunately, many of us will forget about within one month. However, many of these New Year’s Resolutions are important to our health and wellness (e.g. losing weight, exercising, reducing stress) and others are important to our happiness (e.g. getting finances under control, spending more time with loved ones), which means that these are important Resolutions we’re making.

At SCM we deal with organizational change frequently as we work with organizations to change their safety culture. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. And, in our experience, many of the same principles that apply to organizational change apply to personal change. So, to help make your 2014 a successful year, we present some tips to help in your New Year’s Resolution development process:

Know the “why” – One of the most important aspects of change, and the reason that people don’t follow Resolutions is that they don’t develop a clear understanding of why they want to change. Sure they have an understanding that they need to lose weight or get out of debt, but the urgency, the “so what” just isn’t there. You need to figure out why you want to change. We don’t get healthy just to get healthy. We do it so we can see our grandchildren grow up. We do it so we can go on that backpacking trip we always wanted to go on. Whatever your Resolution is and whatever your reason is, make it clear and make it personal. The more real and urgent you can make it the more likely you’ll be able to resist the temptations that surely await you two, six, and 12 months from now.

Get others involved – Humans are social. Trying to change in secret may work occasionally, but it fails more often than not. People are more likely to change when others around them are involved. Whether its simply by reminding you of your Resolution during those dark moments of temptation, or by giving you ideas on how to better implement the Resolution, people are vital to the process. You likely also underestimate the inspirational benefit to others when you show them you’re willing to change, and the effect on your relationship with them as you show a level of vulnerability. Find people around you who you can trust and talk to them about your Resolution and about how they can help.

Keep it simple – If you’re faced with two choices and one of them is easier than the other you’re almost always more likely to take the easier of the two choices. When you make a change, it is almost always easier to revert to old habits than it is to make new ones. For this reason, you have to make things as easy on yourself as possible. One SCM employee lost 70 pounds a few years ago and did it all by using an iPhone app to make it easy to track calories and set achievable goals for weight loss. Whatever your resolution, find ways to make it easy to do the right thing and harder to do the wrong thing.

Look for short-term wins – Typically Resolutions are big goals that cannot be achieved in a short period of time – lose 20 pounds, getting out of credit card debt, etc. When we first start on the path towards keeping our Resolution its easy because we have plenty of motivation and we underestimate how bleak things will look a month from now. If you’re losing 20 pounds make sure you will not lose it (in a healthy way) in a day, or even in a couple weeks. It takes time. To avoid getting discouraged, make sure you celebrate each time you overcome a major temptation and do the right thing. If you lose a pound or skip that extra serving of dinner when you want it so bad don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back, or better yet, tell the people around you how proud you are and let them share in your short-term win. These wins help to keep the momentum going.

Make it a habit – We’ve all seen people who implement a big change in their life only to revert back to normal within a few months or years. The reason is that as soon as the diet is over or as soon as the financial management plan is over they go back to their old habits. If you don’t make new habits then the old ones will take over again and we’ll be having the same conversation next year. If you really want to change then you need to develop new habits. How do you develop new habits? One step at a time. Every time you’re faced with a decision and you make the right choice you are one step closer to creating a habit. You have to remember that each time you are tempted to not follow your Resolution is an opportunity to break old habits and build new ones that will allow you to make real, lasting change in your life. Each decision is important and meaningful. Every time you give in and don’t follow your Resolution puts you farther away from your goal and every time you don’t give in puts gets you closer.


By the way, if you're looking to implement an organizational change next year, these concepts also can apply to organizational changes as well. 

We hope you all have a safe, health, and successful New Year in 2014!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What is “Safety”? – Part 2 (Holiday Edition)

People aren’t used to giving praise for reliability. Since they see nothing when reliability is accomplished, they assume that it is easier to achieve reliability than in fact is true. As a result, the public ignores those who are most successful at achieving reliability and gives them few incentives to continue in their uneventful ways. – Karl Weick

We love the quote above because it contains so much truth. Substitute the word “safety” for “reliability” and read it again. In one of our previous blogs we spoke about a different definition for safety and the need to stop defining safety based on what doesn’t happen (accidents/incidents). As Karl Weick also said, safety (or “reliability, to use his term) is a “dynamic non-event.” Safety is a whole of things happen to ensure that the bad things don’t happen.

When you start to look at safety that way some interesting implications come to light. For example, first of all, if safety is about what is happening then that should change the focus of the safety profession. We often spend a lot of time being reactive, focusing on that one time when things went wrong. But most of the time things don’t go wrong. Is it possible that if we analyze the 9,999 out of 10,000 times things don’t go wrong (i.e. we have an accident) that we might learn some interesting things about what creates safety on a daily basis?

But that discussion we’ll leave for another day. What the above quote means to us today during this holiday season is that there is a whole lot going on to make our lives better that goes unnoticed. So, this holiday, take a moment to think about those people out there who are going the extra mile to make us safer – the unsung heroes who do their inspections thoroughly every day or who resist the intense pressures to rush to increase productivity in order to ensure that the job is done safely. Think of all the countless lives that have been saved. Think of all the people who get to go to work each day because their businesses weren’t shut down due to accidents, disasters, or regulatory citations. Take a moment to thank them for what they do every day to make safety a “dynamic non-event.”

And if you’re one of those people out there making the world a safer place for us – from all of us at SCM, thank you! You deserve so much more recognition than you get.

Happy holidays to you and your families!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

4 Steps to Effective Contractor Safety Management

Recently the Protecting America’s Workers Act was introduced in the US Congress to implement significant changes to the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act that developed the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Among the most significant changes are changes to what is known as the General Duty Clause, which currently requires that employers provide a safe workplace to their employees. The proposed changes would require employers to not only protect their employees but all other employees in the workplace. This means that OSHA would evaluate not only your internal safety programs, but also how your safety programs protect visitors and contractors. This new requirement would be consistent with many of the recognized safety management system standards, such as ANSI Z10-2012 and OHSAS 18001:2007, which require contractor safety programs.

Making employers at least partly responsible for the safety of visitors and contractors at their site is one of those “easier said than done” things. After all, we don’t have nearly the control over contractors that we have with our own employees. So how can we control their safety programs?

Well, using a 4 Step Model to contractor safety management (seen below), you can comply with any forth-coming regulations and help take your overall safety management system to the next level.

Step 1 – Pre-Job Planning. As Steven Covey said, begin with the end in mind. If you want your project to end safely, create solid safety specifications for any contractor that walks into the door, rather than leaving it to chance. Every job should begin with a thorough risk assessment where the applicable hazards and risks are identified, analyzed, and prioritized. Then specifications to get risks reduced to acceptable levels can be implemented.

By doing this you can influence the design of project to ensure that safety is considered at all phases. You can also implement controls into the design that assist in implementing other safety controls, such as ensuring adequate anchor points exist in those areas where employees may need to use fall protection. More mature organizations can even identify the highest risk jobs and create specifications for ensuring that the crews working those jobs are selected for having low-risk safety behaviors.

In the early phases there may not be enough information to identify all hazards and risks, which is why the risk assessment process should continue throughout the project. But the earlier we can start identifying and reducing risks the easier they are to deal with.

Step 2 – Prequalification. This is arguably the most important part of contractor management. If you may be held responsible for contractor safety performance, wouldn’t it make sense to look at the safety performance of the contractor BEFORE they get in the door? This can be accomplished through looking for a combination of lagging indicators (e.g. incidents rates, EMRs, etc.) and leading indicators (looking at the management systems that are in place, the contractor’s internal training programs, whether or not the contractor uses safety as a criteria for selection and development of employees, etc.). What you look at should be based on the risks of the job, with the higher risk jobs requiring more indicators to show positive safety performance. But if you’re not screening contractors based on safety performance you shouldn’t be surprised when you have to deal with a contractor that doesn’t have a mature safety management system.

Step 3 – Orientation. Once you’ve identified the job specifications and you’ve found your contractor with a mature management system, then next step is to ensure that the contractor is aware of the requirements to do the job safely. There should be separate sessions for both contractor employees and contractor supervisors, since supervisors are vital to the success of the project.

One of the biggest mistakes many organizations make in the orientation process though (outside of not having an orientation) is to turn the orientation into a negative experience. Make the orientation only as long as it needs to be and do not talk down to the contractors. Instead, remember that you brought these contractors onsite at least partially because they have a good safety program. Acknowledging that and getting their input as part of the process can go a long way to building trust and cooperation, which is vital to building a strong safety culture.

Step 4 – Feedback. The first three steps built the foundation for a safe project, now we need to follow through with feedback about the process. Remember, although they are professionals, the contractors are visitors to your site and may not be aware of your specific policies, procedures, hazards, etc. So providing timely feedback, particularly in the early stages of the contractor’s safety performance is crucial.

Feedback should come in two ways – to supervisors and to employees. To supervisors a regular meeting to look at leading and lagging indicators for the project and make appropriate adjustments. After the job, provide feedback to the contractors and to your overall prequalification system for consideration of future jobs. For employees, providing positive reinforcement for those contractor employees who are following your job specifications (Step 1) goes a long way to getting the results you want and creating a culture of trust rather than of punishment and fear.


Certainly, each of these steps require careful consideration on how they can best be implemented in your organization. One of the best ways to learn about innovative solutions is through networking with other professionals about what works and what doesn’t. Share your comments and questions about contractor management in the comments section below to continue the discussion!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Safety Indicators – Measuring Something That Didn’t Happen


What makes a company a “safe company”? I suspect that most people have a number of thoughts on this topic. However, if we’re honest with ourselves, there’s one metric for safety that everyone uses, even if only on an instinctual level – a safe company is a company that doesn’t have incidents (or at least any serious incidents) and an unsafe company does have incidents. Its okay to admit it, it’s a natural instinct and you can’t really help it. Our brains tend to look for easy associations. It’s sort of like saying that good basketball players will score more points. That’s pretty easy math (my favorite kind of math, by the way) - safe companies don’t have (serious) incidents. 

The problem with this instinct is that its not always true. Consider the recent events in West, Texas, when a plant caught fire and exploded, killing 14 and devastating the nearby community. Its unlikely that the company that owned the plant is going to win any safety awards this year. However, although we all agree with that somewhat sarcastic assessment, consider this question – was the company that owned the plant a safe company to work for the day before the incident? I think most people would agree that the answer is no. What if we asked the workers or the management of the plant on the day before the incident if they felt that the plant was safe – what do you think they’d say? Bear in mind that they had never experienced a serious incident like this before and the human mind predicts the future using the past, often leading us to overestimate how safe we are. I submit that if you were able to poll the workers the day before the incident, the majority of the workers would say that they felt safe at work.

Now, this isn’t because these workers are stupid. Rather, its because they are human. Like we discussed before, their minds, our minds, everyone’s minds are predicting the future using the past. The problem is that the past is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Certainly, the past is instructive, but as Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman notes in his fantastic book Thinking, Fast and Slow:

Success = Talent + Luck

In everything we do the outcomes are determined by what we do (i.e. our “talent”) as well as seemingly random events (i.e. “luck”). So if you look at the outcome of any event you can attribute it to either the skill of the person or to just plain old dumb luck (or both).

To illustrate why this is crucial to safety management, consider a driver who fails to wear a seatbelt, has bad breaks, bald tires, and drives with one eye closed while texting. If this driver were to reach their destination without having an accident would we safe that this person drove safely? Of course not! This is why, as Todd Conklin says, safety is not defined by the absence of incidents or events. Rather safety is about the presence of controls. It’s not what happens to define a safe company, but what they do to manage safety within the organization.

In the safety management world this concept is becoming more and more prevalent – if you want indicators of safety performance you need to look at inputs, or what are more commonly referred to as leading indicators, rather than outputs, or lagging indicators. Typical lagging indicators that organizations use to measure safety performance are:
  • Recordable injury rates
  • Severity rates
  • Experience modification rate 

To illustrate how these indicators work together we can adjust Kahneman’s equation to say that:

Lagging Indicators = Leading Indicators + Luck.

Lagging indicators are useful in helping organizations measure some aspects of safety performance, but they are not completely valid measurements because they are subject to variability (AKA “luck”). You can go a long time without having a serious incident. This means that your lagging indicators can suggest that you are doing all the right things, but disaster can be right around the corner. A classic example is the BP Texas City Refinery explosion in 2005 that killed 15 workers. The refinery’s lagging indicators were exemplary but created a false sense of security in some of the management, hiding the signs of impending danger.

Leading indicators, on the other hand, when well designed, measure the “talent” side of the equation and independent from the variability, or luck, side of the equation. There’s a three step process to designing good leading indicators:
  1. Identify what you want to do
  2. Figure out what it takes to do that
  3. Find a way to measure those things

So, lets use our driving example.
  1. The goal when driving is to not get seriously injured in an accident.
  2. The next step is to figure out what it will take to not get seriously injured in an accident. This includes ensuring the vehicle is well maintained, wearing one’s seatbelt, following the rules of the road, avoiding distractions, etc.
  3. Finally we need to figure out how to measure those things. To measure vehicle maintenance we could look at maintenance records, develop a preventative maintenance schedule and measure how often we follow that schedule. To measure the ability of the driver to follow the rules of the road and to practice safe behaviors we could use safety behavior assessments to evaluate the Safety DNA of the driver. Then, with each driver we can develop a personal safety action plan based on their Safety DNA with specific behavior measurements that can become leading indicators. You could also just implement a policy that only employees with a specific Safety DNA are allowed to operate vehicles and measure compliance with that policy.

The key with leading indicators is to figure out what you want, what it takes to get there, and then ask yourself – if we were doing those things what specific things would we see? In this way leading indicators are specific to the goals and objectives that you want to achieve. They can be used on a micro-level, at the individual worker or job level, or they can used on the macro-level, with indicators for overall organizational safety performance. Examples of some commonly used micro/job-level leading indicators include:
  • Compliance with specific job procedures or a job hazard analysis
  • Employee competence in regards to workplace hazards and procedures, as measured by random sampling
  • Employee use of PPE required for the job
  • Employees following their personal safety development plans

Examples of some commonly used macro/organizational-level leading indicators include:
  • Percent of employees receiving required training
  • Safety audit frequency, results, and time before corrective action is taken
  • Implementation of a safety management system
  • Safety perception surveys
  • Safety behavior assessments performed
  • Use of the higher order controls on the hierarchy of control versus lower order controls

These lists are merely a small sample to get you thinking. Leading indicators though are vital at measuring safety performance for one primary reason – it takes the emphasis off what doesn’t happen and puts it on what does happen to make you and your organization safe. Karl Weick says that safety is a “dynamic non-event.” Most people focus on the “non-event.” But what are you doing to make your organization safe?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Accident and Incident Investigation – Part 3 (A Case Study)

A few weeks ago we went through some of the high level aspects of investigating an accident or incident (Part 1 and Part 2). Recent events in New York, where a passenger train derailed give us an opportunity to apply some of this knowledge, especially in light of the information that has come to light and the subsequent reaction (Click here for a review of the story).

If you take a minute to read the linked story above you’ll see that the train engineer was apparently nodding off right before going around a corner at over 80 miles per hour when he was only supposed to be going 30 miles per hour. As a union representative said, “most people are leaning towards human error.”

This is likely where most people stop their investigations. It was the engineer’s fault, they claim. Name, blame, shame, and re-train.

However, as good investigators we know that human error is not the place to stop an investigation – it’s where we start. As Sidney Dekker says “human error is a symptom of problems deeper in the system.” So let’s apply this knowledge and see what we come up with.

If you read the story, the engineer of the train reported that he had a full night of sleep the night before and was reported to not have any traces of drugs or alcohol in his system after the accident. The engineer had a good disciplinary record as well. So why did he start falling asleep?

His lawyer reported that he got a case of “highway hypnosis”. Basically, when you’re travelling for a long time, not doing anything, your mind starts to get bored. You lose focus and your mind starts to wander. This is something most motorists have experienced when driving for long periods of time, when their minds start to wander and then “wake up” 15 minutes later not remembering driving for the last 15 minutes. Basically your mind was on autopilot, which works great most of the time. But occasionally autopilot doesn’t work and the human needs to step in and correct the situation, hopefully before it’s too late.

So lets think about this for a second – a train engineer’s job is to pay attention to the tracks in front of him or her for long periods of time, without much mental stimulation. Are we surprised that occasionally these engineers “zone out”? No! It is human nature to get bored and zone out in those circumstances. What is surprising to us is that we don’t have more cases of accidents like this!

It’s still too early to know if this is exactly what happened in this case, but lets assume that the train engineer was right and he was in a highway hypnosis state. So a train engineer zones out in a situation where it is highly predictable that he would zone out and somehow that is his fault? That seems terribly unfair.

To illustrate our point, consider these questions:

Does the train industry not know that humans have a tendency to get bored? And if they do know, what have they done to keep those persons in safety critical jobs, such as train engineers, mentally stimulated to keep them focused when performing those jobs?

Why isn’t there some sort of alarm or warning system (more than just signage) to alert train engineers when there are significant curves or speed reductions upcoming, so that if those engineers do nod off for a bit people don’t have to die for a simple mistake?

Is there automation available that automatically slows down the train when heading into safety critical areas (if we can have automation that can fly planes, we should be able to have something that can slow down a train)? And if this technology exists, why hasn’t it been implemented to take the pressure off of the train engineers?

If we punish the train engineer for doing what he did, are we punishing someone for simply being human (i.e. imperfect)?


As we’ve discussed, ask not who’s to blame, ask what’s to blame. In this case, the train engineer clearly made a mistake. If we stop there though and replace the engineer with another person we should not be surprised if that person, at some point, makes the same or a similar mistake. If instead we take the focus off of blaming someone and start really looking deeper into the system to identify those weak points that are leading to these accidents we may actually be able to prevent future accidents. Remember, accident investigations are about improving the system to make it safer, not about finding blame.