Choices, choices

Koch Peter 2  Submitted by Peter Koch


“The history of men is never really written by chance but by choice.”  ~Dwight D. Eisenhower


That second it takes to make a choice, right or wrong, can be the difference between success and a loss.  That choice is yours and your employee’s to make.  Whether you like it or not, as a supervisor, once clocked in, the choices they make are your responsibility. 

In the event of an injury, consider what drove the choice(s) that caused the event.  What changed to cause the injury?  Could it have been production volume, environmental or working conditions, fatigue?  Or, just staff becoming more comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, with their job and working conditions? Though these reasons may be uncovered in the accident analysis, they are all normal evolutions of our work climate, which can be anticipated and controlled.  How can you influence the choices that caused the event?  Here are some questions to assess:  

  • What did you do early on in their employment to affect the choices made by your staff?
  • Have you continued repeating the message(s)? Are they still listening?
  • How ingrained is the safety message/culture you want to have?
  • Have you observed the behavior of the staff in the field compared to the expectations?
  • Have you thoroughly discussed and analyzed the targeted losses from your company with your staff?
  • Have you been able to focus the discussion on the choice that caused the event, or the conditions that drove the choice?

Influencing choices and changing behavior starts with developing policies and procedures that address expected job performance while prohibiting behaviors that are not essential for the job, or are excessively hazardous.  This is a necessary – and critical – part of managing work-related risk.  

Take a minute to review what you do to affect the daily choices of your staff.  Start with the policies and procedures, then move on to how you communicate the expectations of the job.  Can you be more effective at influencing the choices your staff members make once they punch the clock?

Difficult times? Be an Inspirational Leader

Dodge John Posted by John Dodge


It seems that economic uncertainty is everywhere and is not likely to improve overnight. As a result, your employees are worried about many things and their jobs may be at the top of their worry list.  


During one of MEMIC’s recent Integrating Safety into Sound Business Practices workshops for front-line supervisors, the participants were reviewing their observer scores from an assessment tool called the Leadership Practices Inventory. The LPI asks the participant’s co-workers to consider their supervisor’s performance on leadership practices such as encouraging others, modeling the way, and inspiring a vision of the future. When one participant named Sheryl noticed that she scored high on all of the practices with the exception of “inspiring a shared vision of the future”, she commented that as a front-line supervisor she has little knowledge about the future direction of her company.


Others agreed that they were in similar positions. After some discussion about what Sheryl didn’t know about the future of her company, I asked her what she did know, or “What would help an individual at your organization be successful in uncertain times?" Sheryl stated that an employee in her organization would enjoy future success if they had the following characteristics:


  • Flexibililty
  • Adaptability
  • Willingness to go the extra mile

Sheryl agreed to introduce these characteristics to her team and during our next session, she was happy to report that this approach was already working. The individuals concerned about their future roles were beginning to be able to focus their energy on the traits listed above. And, as a bonus, Sheryl found that managing change became a little easier.


Consider your employees. How will you inspire them with a vision of the future? They are ready to listen.

A Clear Observation of Organizational Culture

Clendenning Donna Posted by Donna Clendenning


Recently, I had the opportunity to provide back safety and core awareness training at two locations of the same healthcare organization.


The two locations were operated by two individual administrators and directors of nursing. The administrator of the first location has led her workforce for more than a decade. She is pleasant, open, positive, and an easy-going person.  Sixteen staff attended the training. They participated, and were generally vocal and engaged, and they had a lot of fun with the back safety quiz.  Team competition and a return demonstration of core muscle awareness and strengthening ended in a vivacious finale.  A basket of candies was passed around for the "winners" numerous times and everyone ended up with lots of positive reinforcement. The room was filled with cajoling, laughter, fun, and most importantly, learning. 


The second location had a similar number of staff attendees. This administrator is also a veteran of the organization whose leadership style is more business-like. While providing the same training content and style, the second group was quiet and more difficult to draw out.


What struck me most were the vast differences in communication and attitude between the locations, despite being one organization.  Among other things, in MEMIC's four-part leadership series workshop, we learn of the value of communication as it relates to performance.


Leadership is an activity, not a person.  Leadership comes not from titles, nor even necessarily from expertise, but from the relationships between those who choose to exercise leadership and those who choose to follow. These relationships may result from trust, shared visions or goals, sometimes shared pain, or mutual gifts of significance where leader and followers help each other feel an important part of something larger than them. Leadership draws its power from issues of the heart.


What I witnessed was the personal aspect of being a positive leader. The staff of the first location was clearly ready, willing, and able to do whatever it takes for the good of a common goal. The paycheck, or a reward, or a raise was not what learning was about for this group!


What culture are you growing in your business? Are you a leader of authority or a leader who draws their power from issues of the heart?


Who is the Authorized Employee for Lockout/Tagout?

Henry Reynolds  Posted by Henry Reynolds


Do you know who your authorized employees are?  Do you have employees performing service and maintenance on machinery without adequate authorized training and exposure controls?

Safety consultants often see employees performing servicing and maintenance activities on machinery and equipment without proper lockout compliance because the employer does not see some workers as authorized employees under OSHA's standard for controlling hazardous energy.   Examples are equipment operators, employees helping maintenance personnel, cleaners, lubricators, employees working with contractors, or supervisors evaluating work being performed on machinery. 

Here's OSHA's definition of Authorized Employee: A person who locks out or tags out a machine or equipment to perform servicing or maintenance on that machine or equipment. An affected employee becomes an authorized employee when that employee's duties include performing servicing or maintenance covered under 1910.147.

OSHA's 1910.147 lockout standard requires lockout compliance under the following conditions:  "1910.147 (a)(2)(ii) An employee is required to remove or bypass a guard or other safety device; or an employee is required to place any part of his or her body into an area on a machine or piece of equipment where work is actually performed upon the material being processed (point of operation) or where an associated danger zone exists during a machine operating cycle."

When evaluating your employees to determine who the authorized employees are, you must consider the terms “servicing and maintenance".

Lockout activities are mandatory during "servicing and/or maintenance". These include activities such as constructing, installing, setting up, adjusting, inspecting, modifying, and maintaining and/or servicing machines or equipment. These activities also include lubrication, cleaning or removal of a jam in a machine or equipment, and making adjustments or tool changes, where the employee may be exposed to the unexpected energization or startup of the equipment or a release of hazardous energy.

 Are your workers performing tasks that require lockout? Are they putting their bodies in harm's way if an unexpected energization of the machine occurs? Are they removing guards? If so, then we must reconsider who the authorized employees are. Failure to do so could lead to serious injury and even death.

MEMIC policyholders who need further assistance with your Lockout/Tagout program should feel free to contact your Safety Management Specialist at MEMIC or contact MEMIC Loss Control Department to ask for assistance.

Chalkboard with lockout

What is Safety Culture? Part 3

Last time, we talked about what a safety culture is. I mentioned that  a successful company will integrate safety with business goals, creating a balance between all aspects of the organization, which allows the company as a whole to mature in the same cultural direction. But how do you create that safety culture?

The culture component offers the greatest opportunity to reduce injuries and helps all of the other pieces to come together. Such a process requires a strategic plan as well as a means of measuring the spectrum of high achievements to lackluster performance. All too often the following phrases are used to justify the concept of improving safety efforts. We hear leaders say, "The safety of our people is paramount," or "A safe workplace is a productive workplace."

Although statements like these may be true, they do not produce tangible points of reference, such as a benchmark. They are easily treated as slogans, only to be forgotten.

As with any good business initiative, to know where you're going, you need to know where you are. Start by benchmarking the organizational values, measuring your culture to find out where you stand and whether perceptions are shared across departments, shifts or at all levels. A good survey of an organization should find out where it stands on its commitment, balance between safety and productivity, integrity, responsibility, and visibility of safety, among others. These results give you a starting point toward a safer culture.

From here, it's a matter of choosing and delivering on the culture you want to create. You'll need buy-in from all levels but this often starts with senior management. Once in place, you're ready to create programs and take steps toward a healthier, safer and more productive workplace culture.


What is Safety Culture? - Part 2

Last time, we talked about the ways in which having a safer culture can help reduce injuries. But what is a safety culture?

The culture of a workplace (or of any place) is its unspoken characteristics. Anthropologists might define culture as "the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another." Workplaces are the same.  Beliefs, values and ultimately behaviors are all part of culture. In a workplace, culture includes how an organization goes about its work. How information passes from one level to the next, how the organization handles stress such as busy times, or slowdowns. How does it reward employees? All of these and more make up a workplace culture.

Successful companies with strong cultures integrate safety with business goals.  This balance makes certain that it permeates all parts of the organization, then safety, productivity, and quality should congruently mature in the same cultural direction. 

A culture of safety means that each worker understands that the organization's attitude and outlook inherently value safety.  A culture is the shared sense of responsibility by each member of a team toward the whole.  It requires an engaged management that will not shy away from benchmarking its values, measuring itself against those values, then setting strategic action steps to attain continuous improvement. 

In our next entry, we’ll discuss how one creates a safety culture.

What is Safety Culture?

After we recently wrote about safety culture and consciousness, it occurred to me that not everyone really knows what we mean when we say “culture based safety.” With all the talk of buy-in, it is difficult to ask employees for it if you do not understand exactly what safety culture is. Over the next three entries, we’ll discuss what culture is and how we can influence it to improve safety.

Why all the talk about “culture”?

For decades, workplace safety professionals have advised employers to "engineer out" risks to employees.

Have a machine with exposed moving parts? Put a guard on it. Does a job task require awkward lifting and twisting? Change the working environment to eliminate the lift and twist. Is the job physically difficult? Find an automated solution.

All of these valid and logical methods for reducing injuries have been underway for decades. And, yet, people get injured at work every day. Sure, there are fewer injuries and many of them are less severe but we still haven't come close to solving root causes of workplace injuries.

It was none other than Albert Einstein who said: “The problems we face today cannot be solved by the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

And, of course, that famous definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result) seems to be a mantra of many a workplace. The truth is, engineering as it's been known to safety professionals over the years has its limits. Today, study after study is finding that the way to a safer workplace is by integrating business and safety goals toward a congruent culture of safe productive work. Not only does this culture help reduce injuries today-- it creates sustainable change for the future.

The term "culture" often gets thrown around these days but what does it really mean? Better yet, can a culture really be created? In our next blog we’ll answer the question, “What is a safety culture?”

Chalkboard safety culture

Time to Set a SMART Goal

As we approach the end of yet another year, it's time to get prepared for the next one.  One thing most safety-conscious companies do is set employee health and safety goals.  By doing so, companies are forced to review their current situation and increase awareness. Just doing this can greatly improve the possibility of reducing the frequency and severity of injuries. 

How you set your goals can vary by the number of people involved in the process.  While it can be cumbersome to include everyone, the truth is you have a better chance of succeeding if everyone is pulling on the rope.  The more owners, managers and especially front-line supervisors participating in any goal-setting process, the better the buy-in and the better chance you’ll succeed as an organization.  Let's face it, if owners, managers and front-line supervisors aren’t buying in, you are not going to meet the goal.

Some companies are small enough so that the decision-makers can knock out a set of goals in about an hour.  Larger businesses may need to get more creative and/or invest more time.  In either case, there are some basic things you should consider about setting a goal. We call them SMART goals.  Here is what comprises such a goal:

    Agreed Upon

This approach is not new. MEMIC has been using SMART Goals for many years in our Leadership Training classes.  By touching on all five of these items you will be improving on the accuracy and overall ability to hit your target.  Incidentally, this same process can be used in the areas of productivity and quality as well. And with 2009 fast approaching, now is the time to set your goals.

Make sure you communicate the goals to everyone in the organization- not just at the beginning of the year, but repeatedly throughout the year.

Safety Programs with Obvious Blind Spots

The following scenario always makes me scratch my head and wonder: "Why can't they see it?"  I walk onto a job site and do my “self-preservation survey,” which means identifying hazards. The vast majority of the time it's safe to proceed. But if I see in plain view employees exposed to eye injures and I ask the company representative if the company has a written safety plan, more often than not they’ll answer “Yes.”

Again, more often than not, when I ask if they have a policy regarding eye protection, they’ll answer, “Well, yeah, in certain situations.” This is what some safety professionals call the “the dance.”

Thousands of workers suffer eye injuries every year while working. In the 2006, over 36,000 employees required time away from work due to an eye injury. In most of these incidences, simple safety glasses would have been the right measure to prevent the pain and costs at this fundamental level of employee safety.

Getting back to the title of this blog—you should be asking yourself if your safety efforts have obvious blind spots. In other words, if you are not protecting your employees with basic personal protective equipment, can you expect them to do the right thing when more advanced protection is needed? Will they give thought to fall protection or a lockout tag out or a repetitive motion situation? It’s quite often up to the individual. And quite often the company’s safety culture can make the difference. Which company would you perceive as having a stronger safety culture—one that does the basics or one that takes the "Well, yeah, in certain situations" position?

Getting your employees to work safely is no more difficult than getting them to turn out quality work in a productive fashion:

  • Set the expectation, 
  • hold them accountable, 
  • remove the barriers and 
  • communicate frequently. 

The trick is putting their safety at the same level as productivity and quality.

“When should I train them?”

That's a question that's been asked many times on job sites and in training sessions. Owners, managers and supervisors that genuinely are involved with their employees’ health and safety are sensitive to this training need. They've come to realize that a little bit of time upfront can save a lot of time—and possibly some pain and costs—down the road. But unfortunately, some organizations don’t make the initial training investment because "we don't have time" or "they're adults, they should know." Not only is this against federal law, it's the root cause of many injuries and fatalities.

If you’re reading this and wondering if you meet the minimum training requirements, start by asking yourself these questions: If you had a worker who consistently did poor quality work, would you talk to them? If so-and-so was late for work three days out of five, as a rule, would it be something you'd discuss? If the answers were yes, you along with most supervisors probably wouldn't hesitate to find out what's wrong or how you could help make an improvement. It's your job, it's what's expected. But I’ve seen supervisors put workers in trenches "to get the job done" without one iota of information on what to watch out for. In other words, quality and productivity are usually addressed without reservation, but the safety stuff often gets pushed to the back seat.

This failure goes back to safety culture, which has been mentioned many times before in this blog. A culture of safety means management is engaged in continually improving its safety operation. Some outfits get it and some don't. Now’s the time to start right by reviewing what OSHA expects of your industry.