Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mind the gap: Overcoming the biggest hurdle in safety

One of the biggest mysteries is why well-trained people fail to follow their company’s safe work practices. Consider the following statement: “The gap between knowing and not doing is much bigger than the gap between knowing and not knowing.”

The gap between knowing and not knowing is easily overcome through training. The tough gap to overcome however is when people know something yet they fail to apply it.

It’s not hard to find examples of the “knowing-doing” gap in our workplace. Consider how many times you find people welding without suitable eye protection or failing to tie off whilst working at height. Unfortunately, the gap becomes all too real when investigating a workplace injury, where the injured failed to follow basic safe work practices that could have easily prevented the incident.

If you’ve ever been to London and used the underground rail system, you’ve no doubt heard the recorded voice loudly announcing “mind the gap” to remind embarking and disembarking passengers about the space between the platform and the train. It’s as if we need to have that same voice to remind us to mind the gap between worker’s knowledge and their actual performance.

It’s essential that leaders recognize, and then do something about, the gap. Give some thought to your own workplace, and answer the following questions:

1. What evidence is there to indicate an existing knowledge/application gap?

2. How are supervisors trained and supported to deal with situations where workers fail to apply safe work practices correctly? Bear in mind that most supervisors have risen from the ranks of the workers.

3. When last have you as an organization reviewed your safe work practices and training for relevance and interest? Outdated, impractical and dull training can lead to apathy, which in turn reduces efficiency and adds to the gap.

As you consider your own workplace and find that you have room for improvement, these four guidelines provide some steps you can take:

1. Involve a cross section of employees in a review of all current safety procedures and standards. Get their input with regard to the application of these rules.

2. Print a hard copy of your entire health and safety system. Take a highlighter and mark every instance where you find the words “shall” and “will”. These words are often misinterpreted and very loosely used in documents. The word shall means “without deviation” whereas the word will generally indicates a guideline. Ask yourself: Is it reasonably possible for workers to follow those rules that contain the word shall?

3. Does your safety manual include all the rules associated with your industry and are all employees trained in the application of these rules? Ensure that the gap between knowing and not knowing is addressed, as this gap would automatically give rise to failed application.

4. Avoid the typical desktop specialist review by creating participative review forums. Participation leads to ownership which in turn leads to acceptance and reinforced application.

Do whatever it takes to ensure that everyone knows the rules and how to apply them to their work, so you can have a workplace where everyone is mindful of the gap. This is the only way to ensure your workers can go home safely to their families.

It’s all about application - It’s that simple. One of the most important attributes of a good leader, whether a CEO or a supervisor, is to facilitate the application of appropriate knowledge.

What can you do to help others apply what they know?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The most underrated key to workplace safety

In some workplaces, good housekeeping tends to fall at the end of the priority list for both management and employees. But that’s a problem because there is a direct correlation between a clean, neat, well-organized workplace and a safe healthy one.

Good, safe housekeeping doesn’t just happen. Nor is it something you can focus on once a month and forget about. It’s a daily mission that must be tackled with energy, focus, and purpose. You have to plan for it, involve employees in it, and sustain it. But if you do, the rewards are substantial—fewer accidents, greater productivity, and a more pleasant, healthy working environment for all.

Essentials of an effective housekeeping program:

· Regular dirt and dust removal.

· Adequate employee facilities, such as wash rooms and locker rooms.

· Proper maintenance of walking and working surfaces.

· Maintenance of lighting fixtures.

· Attention to aisles and stairways to make sure they are kept clear.

· Spill control.

· Proper storage of tools and equipment.

· Effective waste disposal.

· Organizing and cleaning storage areas.

The maintenance of buildings and equipment may well be the most important element of good housekeeping. "Maintenance involves keeping buildings, equipment and machinery in safe, efficient working order and in good repair." This includes maintaining sanitary facilities, regularly painting and cleaning walls, and fixing broken windows, damaged doors, defective plumbing, and damaged floor surfaces.

One of the toughest jobs you face in implementing an effective workplace housekeeping program is selling employees on its benefits. But the benefits are many, so try sharing these with your workers:

· Fewer accidents and injuries.

· Fewer fire hazards.

· Fewer slip, trip, and fall hazards.

· Reduced exposure to hazardous substances.

· Improved efficiency and productivity.

· More efficient equipment cleanup and maintenance.

· Better control of tools and materials, including inventory and supplies.

· Reduced handling to ease the flow of materials.

· Better hygienic conditions leading to improved health.

· More effective use of space.

To achieve these benefits regularly, we suggest integrating housekeeping responsibilities into employees' jobs. This helps ensure that these duties are faithfully fulfilled.

An effective housekeeping program identifies and assigns responsibilities for:

· General workstation cleanup during and at the end of each shift.

· Daily housekeeping duties for the entire work area.

· Removal of scrap and unused materials.

· Proper storage of tools, materials, etc.

· Inspection to ensure housekeeping duties are completed and done properly.

Never underestimate the impact of poor housekeeping standards on health and safety performance. It is often the underlying cause of most slips, trips and falls in the workplace. Start your year by clearly defining housekeeping requirements and allocating responsibility for maintaining a clean and tidy workplace.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Unsafe employees:Reform or terminate?

Any effective health and safety management program requires discipline and follow-through from both management and workers. Often, however, employers fail to follow through on reforming or terminating unsafe workers; instead, just letting them continue to flail along while putting themselves and others at risk.

While the threat of a termination-related lawsuit is undoubtedly sobering, doing nothing is far from an acceptable solution. Failing to act when an unsafe employee ignores safety practices or engages in reckless behaviours can destroy your safety culture. Morale drops, injury risk increases, and you face greater exposure to compliance-related complaints and citations. This accepted behaviour soon becomes the norm and so your safety culture is eroded to a point where you no longer understand why you are experiencing so many incidents.

So how has this attitude become entrenched in our working culture?

  • Production time and cost constraints place pressure on safety considerations.
  • A perception amongst workers that supervision tolerates safety deviations, if they are in the interest of getting the job done quicker.
  • Inability or lack of desire to implement disciplinary action with regard to safety deviations.
  • Legislator’s failure to impose the law on employers and employees. (Risk of punitive action is not perceived)
  • A lack of understanding of the law.
  • Haphazard and self serving health and safety implementation and control.

People will continue stealing if the advantage outweighs the risk of capture and punishment. Similarly workers and supervision will continue taking short cuts if actions are tolerated and remain unchallenged. Reformation requires a culture change at all levels in the organization.

So how do company’s overcome this attitude and create a culture of self disciplined compliance:

  • Including health and safety competency as part of the recruiting process.
  • Entrenching health and safety performance requirements into employment contracts.
  • Defined disciplinary codes to address health and safety contraventions.
  • Incentive programs. (Performance rather than outcome based)
  • Health and safety knowledge included in individual development programs.
  • Visible leadership and consequential enforcement of safety rules.

Safety successful organizations have, through these means, replaced the requirements for reform and termination with the concepts of continuous improvement and individual development.

The need to reform or terminate is indicative of a health and safety system that is haphazardly implemented and is based on continuous recovery from failure. This need can only be overcome if we take ownership and acknowledge health and safety as an integral business driver. Clearly defined systems provide for early intervention and reduce the need to terminate, which in itself is a costly process.

Set your standard, continuously measure performance against it and stop tolerating sub-standard performance. If your system is right then terminating non-performing elements of your organization will not only be objective but beneficial to everyone.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Do we make a difference?

This is a common question amongst professionals who are mostly charged with the responsibility of preventing things from happening. This already creates a problem as how do we go about proving that we prevented something from happening? Answering this question could be as challenging as resolving the current crime issues in South Africa. Traditionally we measure our success as to whether we have had fewer or less severe injuries than the previous year. Okay, fair enough… So we hurt fewer people, or we hurt them less badly than in the past,but what we are actually saying is, we measured decreases in our failures or we didn’t screw-up quite so badly. The average safety person, just like the average member of management, looks at safety performance in terms of frequency of losses and severity of losses year over year. Our profession has no viable means of benchmarking what we do in a meaningful manner other than attempting to illustrate how we might have kept a few bad things from happening as terribly as they did last year. Given how many risk-control and risk-reducion solutions are in today’s workplace, it would be reasonable to suspect that the safety profession has met the measurement challenge head on already. When accidents and injuries do occur, even if they are severe or catastrophic, we often hear safety people saying things like “if only they had listened to me, this wouldn’t have happened; I knew something like this was bound to occur; or my personal favorite It could have been a lot worse if they weren’t wearing hard hats”. When bad things happen, people in the Safety and Health Profession are just as likely to rationalize these events the same as anyone else who wants to avoid or minimize blame. To date I can't recall any quantified study attempting to demonstrate any direct, or indirect benefit related to having a dedicated safety officer ever being undertaken. I have not found evidence, that indicates investing in a safety professional yields positive financial results for an organization. Intuitively, we may feel like we make a difference, but there is nothing in the way of quantifiable proof to indicate that we do. So the next time you are wondering what to do with those 15 minutes you have between Lockout/Tagout Training sessions, start thinking about how you REALLY impact the bottom line. Always remember, no business or organization is in existence for any other reason than to make money. If you aren’t adding to the profit picture, you are taking away from it… and that is a situation that won’t last very long. We need to have a concrete means of aligning our workplace efforts with clearly definable and reasonably attainable results. These results must be understandable to all stakeholders and must absolutely result in dramatic improvements to the overall workplace. Until then, Safety Professionals should stop believing the myth that they make an easily identifiable difference.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

King III and Corporate Governance from 2010

I am sure we are all aware of the King II report and its impact on the approach to Risk Management in South Africa. The draft King III report was published for comment in April this year and will more than likely be legislated early next year. The following key issues stand out in the King III report as opposed to the King II report: 1.It has adopted an "apply or explain" basis instead of the previous "comply or explain". This in part is because the report has been expanded to include all entities and not only JSE listed ones. This will allow medium to small entities to apply the principles selectively, but with an explanation as to why certain principles have not been met or implemented. It thus has a more self regulatory basis. 2. The code will be legislated, whereas the previous report merely served as a code of best practice. 3. It has a risk based approach rather than a pure legal compliance concept. KPMG have summarized the Risk Management portion of the report as follows: Risk Management Risk management is inseparable from company’s strategic and business processes. The Board is responsible for the risk management process (including company’s risk appetite,capacity and tolerance limits) and may delegate risk management to a Risk Committee. The Risk Committee: Can be comprised of executive, nonexecutive directors, management and independent risk management experts with a minimum of three members - Should be chaired by a non-executive director and meet at least twice per annum - Consider risk maturity, risk management activities, significant risks, material losses or changes in risks, due diligence activities, IT risks and risk reporting. Management is responsible for implementing the risk management process and risk management should be embedded in the company, practised daily by staff, and risks should be assessed on an ongoing basis. The Board should: - Ensure regular (at least annual),comprehensive risk assessments and must review the risk register - Ensure risk identification is directed towards company objectives - Ensure quantification, appropriate response to key risks and validation with stakeholders - Adopt a risk management plan and approve the company’s chosen risk philosophy - Approve key risk indicators and tolerance levels. (Internal audit to provide independent assurance on the risk management process) - Disclose risk tolerance and report on the effectiveness of risk management in the annual report - Ensure the company’s reputational risk is protected - Determine the extent sustainability issues are addressed and reported (e.g. through stakeholder risk assessment, ethics risk assessment, environmental risk assessment and human capital considerations) - Take ownership of IT governance including IT security.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why fire risk assessment is important for your business

Fire poses a major threat to all businesses and should be of prime importance to any managing director or boss. The consequences of a fire can be far reaching and can even leave a business in the same state as the burnt out premises; ruined. If operating in a single premises the effects can be even more devastating, hence the importance of fire risk assessment procedures are an essential component of any health and safety protocol. For companies who house supplies and other integral business elements in their premises the effects of fire can be even more damaging. In terms of continuity of supply and relationships with buyers, the effects can sometimes never be recouped. An efficient assessment of the risk that fire may pose to your business should be regularly carried out to ensure not only the safety of your staff members, but also to protect your business. An employer's own conscience should force them to undertake a thorough fire risk assessment, although legal requirements for employers are extensive in ensuring staff safety. The process of fire risk assessment involves identifying the various sources of ignition that may be present in your business. Not only should an assessment identify the ignition points but also the levels of combustible materials in a workplace. Such materials include soft furnishings and elements of the structure such as a timber frame or desks. The purpose of a fire risk assessment is to minimise the potential for fire in your business premises. The risk assessment should involve the identification and if possible the elimination of hazards in the workplace. If these elements cannot be eliminated from the day to day uses of the business, fire risk assessment should advise ways in which the hazards can be dealt with and avoided. Usually safe working methods can be developed that put hazardous practises as far away from combustible materials and ignition sources as possible. This may mean that your risk assessment will take a few days to get a true understanding of the patterns of work in your business. Also, as part of the assessment, the people who work in your premises will be examined. This may include assessing the risk staff members, customers and other members of the public that may have access to your premises. The number of people present in the premises in the event of a fire will also be estimated by the assessment of visitor numbers over a few days. As a result of this information escape routes and fire safety protocol will be part of the risk assessment to ensure evacuation is carried out efficiently and effectively in the event of fire. As well a the means of escape, fire fighting apparatus and equipment will be assessed as well as the number of people who are able to operate this apparatus in an emergency. Considerations of age, health and agility in terms of the people present on the premises will also be part of the risk assessment. These factors are important especially when considering different working environments such as nurseries, factories or care homes. As a result action plans can vary immensely. The risk assessment report will ensure that there are sufficient staff members present to cope with a fire should it break out. Also the action plan should focus upon minimising the risk of fire in the first place, by understanding the causes of fire and elements involved, prevention should be more effective. Assessment will also include an appraisal of the current action plan and the working order of the various fire fighting equipment in a business premises. Fire is a risk that worries most employers, an assessment can inform bosses where they are with ensuring the safety of there staff and how much they need to do to increase this safety. As a legal requirement, following the recommendations of the report is a vital legislative requirement.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mine Deaths - Tragedy or Economy?

I woke up this morning to a beautiful Zululand day, and suddenly my heart went out to the families of those men killed in our mines the last two weeks. In an article in the Mining news the General Secretary of Cosatu called these deaths a national disgrace. Now im not a political activist, but i cant agree more. We are always willing to show solidarity and concern after having killed people by slosing sections of our operations whilst investigations are being done, but never commit to identifying pre-emptors to these tragedies, closing areas to afford us the opportunity to implement control measures to prevent these deaths. Remove the fatality rate measurement - are we really willing to measure our success against the number of people we kill??? Tighten legislation and make directors, managers and owners directly liable for these deaths, while in the same breath directors, managers and owners should start taking action against employees who fail to adhere to safety requirements. Its time for action - no more deaths - no more debilitating injuries - no more excuses - no more clever post incident solutions. In OHSAS 18001 we have a world class health and safety management system so its not that we dont know its just that we dont care enough. Maybe we are still a third world country if we only act when legislation is enforced! Read the article: Deaths a National disgrace Make a difference: Make every day a "Zero Harm" day, show that you care by acting, stop justifying ludicrous lagging indicators like fatality rates and define and manage proper leading indicators. Yes mining is dangerous but there is no need for it to be deadly! Its good to work, but having to die for your work is criminal. Remember the families who no longer can share this sunday with their loved ones