Culture of Elf n Safety – A New Paradigm (part one)

business man reading newspaper 7

After recently reading some works by Sydney Dekker, I have been having a mini rant at the Culture of “Elf n Safety” and how it needs to change (and no I’m not talking about safety culture here, I am talking of the “culture of safety” which in my opinion are two completely different things).

My first thought about a new paradigm for “Elf n Safety” is about the bureaucracy we have built into our safety departments; in particular the data that we collect in order to show how effective we are. You know… all those lagging statistics with which we attempt to prove that all is well with the safety regime and the bosses can, rather foolishly, relax and not worry about the safety of the work place because the data is showing “how good we are”.

Now one thing we have to remember is that data in not intelligence and intelligence is not knowledge and a manager using data rather than knowledge is treading a dangerous path.

So let’s get this clear, data is simply “raw information’ which needs to be scrutinized, contextualized and assessed to turn it into intelligence, which then becomes knowledge when it is shared between those on the “need to know list”. From there we can use the Knowledge in meaningful and hopefully constructive ways to learn and clarify current situations, progress etc. and thus to make informed decisions.

Let’s take the example of Injury Frequency Rates, we count all the injuries for the month, week by week, and we add them up – This is Data!! Then we do a mathematical calculation to get the frequency rate but we still only have data! (I know what you will say and yes I know we need to compare apples with apples)

But when we begin to look into those injuries and their causes and the nature of injury then we can begin to call that intelligence i.e. it has been scrutinized and contextualized. This intelligence then has to be communicated to people who require it and becomes knowledge.

Of course this communication is not so simple either; it has to be accomplished in a manner which makes sense to the recipient and who can then further evaluate the facts according to their experience and perception and ultimately take informed action or make decisions.

Further to the above, the Knowledge gained has to be managed properly; but that is a large subject in itself which I will cover as some further point.

So let’s sum up this topic, the next time you put up that PowerPoint slide in your next monthly safety review, make sure you are not simply showing off useless data which makes the department look good, or worse, that the boss may experience a baseless “warm feeling” about the great “elf n safety” on in his company.

If we as Safety Professionals cannot unilaterally make this paradigm shift then our bosses and company executives should be insisting that we make the change and begin by supplying them with knowledge and not data; believe me they would not accept that from their accounts department.

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Culture of Elf n Safety – A New Paradigm (part one)

When will Safety, Productivity and Quality Meet?

rebar_mess

There are times when I go on an inspection that my blood temperature rises and I explode into a seemingly “demented” rant which puts a little fear into some site people… I declare it is my passion for my profession and frustration which causes me to do this.

When I came across this particular scene was exactly one of those times… The “Red Curtain” came down and I got somewhat abusive with the Site Manager and his Safety Team and my arms were flailing around.

Now it wasn’t just the fact that machine guards were missing from this machine but more about the whole set up of the equipment and how the people were working. If you look closely you will see that on the ground there are lengths of re-bar everywhere (yes that’s correct… the operators were standing on top of the re-bar). Workers were in real danger of tripping over the re-bar and falling onto the machine or into the V belt pulleys. Out of shot and behind me there is a 2m diameter hole which was about 300mm deep and covered with some springy boards (just to make things even more hazardous).

Whoever set up this work station was an idiot… pure and simple! There was no thought about a logical workflow… i.e. re-bar arrives, moves into the machine, re-bar cut and moves further along into the bending machine. Not this supervisor: He decides to lump all the machines into the centre of the re-bar storage area!

Now in this instance the quality may not be so negatively affected but certainly the productivity of the workers is brought to a snail’s pace as they try to negotiate the minefield of slip, trips and falls; further to this not an iota of thought was put into workers safety.

Maybe the quality does get affected in that workers are thinking more about their safety than the job in hand so that “Nearly Right is Enough”

Who knows what the workers were thinking… but one think I know, these “supervisor clowns” were not thinking at all… so can we assume their workers are also absent minded?

Good Safety = Productivity + Quality = Profit

When will Safety, Productivity and Quality Meet?

The Safety Pledge and the Puja

puja

A few years back on my first tour of duty in the “developing economy” where I work I attended a Safety Meeting where, much to my surprise, at the very beginning of the meeting everyone stood up with outstretched right arms and started to recite a “pledge” to work safely for self, family, the nation and community at large.

Now ordinarily I accept that this sort of ritual (like the puja*) is beneficial in safety promotion but then I came to a realisation that this “Safety Pledge” is really a load of drivel…

It may have meant something to those people around that meeting table for a few seconds at most but I wager that as soon as they all sat down the devotion to safe working practice was the furthest thing from their minds… I personally was feeling a sort of uneasiness that the managers and those above them might actually think that this is a good practice in their safety regime..

A few months later I was attending a “Safety Week” event (something else I do not entirely believe in) and surprised that their pledge was repeated no less than four times, one for each language represented in the site (Hindi, Tamil, Chinese and English).

I wonder if any of the participants in the chanting of the pledge, really, and I mean really, believe that there is a half-penny worth of value in doing it.

Now the “Puja” to me that is another issue… In this case it is related to a religious belief that a particular deity will protect the equipment or operation from harm or misfortune… My humble opinion is that because this is done before a particularly hazardous piece of work, it focusses the people’s minds on the task ahead making everyone more alert to dangers; indeed I often participate in the puja when requested to do so. I do however still resist sticking out my right arm and reciting a load of crass nonsense in the hope that safety will improve

*Puja – a religious ceremony used for a variety of reasons but in construction it is practiced before a particular hazardous task or when commissioning a system, to bring good fortune and safety

The Safety Pledge and the Puja

Pike River Mining Tragedy

pike river mineA lack of Safety Governance and escalation of accumulated issues went tragically wrong on this New Zealand Coal Mine

Just recently I was completing a case study on the Pike River Mining Tragedy and its relevance to safety in general and governance in particular.

The tragedy took place on 19th November 2010 in New Zealand’s South Island and resulted in the death of 29 miners and only two survivors; sadly one of those killed was only 17 years old and on his first day on the job (he elected to start one day early).

The exact ignition source of the methane explosion is not known but the failings of management prior to the explosion are now well documented and in the public domain thanks to the Royal Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Graham Panckhurst and the two volumes of report running to hundreds of pages.

The failings began with the directors and senior managers of the company who failed to exercise safety governance of the developing mine and abdicated their safety responsibilities to people much further down the line and, further, failed either to seek advice, or to heed the advice of the subject experts who were called in prior to the disaster.

Other failings included lack of adequate safety support, no appointed Ventilation Manager, Lack of Competence / Experience among underground workers, a lack of adequate planning, differing standards for employees and contractors, evidence of tampering with safety devices, poorly planned and executed ventilation, use of contraband underground, poor government regulations, failure to take action on serious safety issues raised by workers… the list just goes on and on.

What is most striking for me though was the rush to get production coal out of the mine… The mine’s development had been held up because of difficult rock conditions in reaching the coal mining areas and the location of the mine in a conservation area: Due to this management were anxious to begin coal production and this, together with a myriad of other acts and omissions was the final episode leading up to the tragedy.

This space here is far too small to go into a lot of detail on this tragedy (you need to see my case study for that) but one detail is clear, if you shirk from your responsibilities on Safety Governance the road from there-on is slippery one and nothing good can come of it… If you are in a senior management position you need to know your Safety Governance Roles and enforce them diligently.

(See my blog on MTR Safety Governance for a good example of how Safety Governance should be run).

Finally as damming a statement as you will find in any report, here is an extract from that Royal Commission:
“The (River Pike) company did not have a clear strategy from the board that set out its vision, objectives and targets for health and safety management. It did not treat health and safety as a key corporate risk and prioritise the development of an integrated health and safety management system”

Don’t let that legacy be your legacy…

Pike River Mining Tragedy

Pike River Mining Tragedy

pike river mine

A lack of Safety Governance and an escalation of accumulated issues went tragically wrong on this New Zealand Coal Mine

Just recently I was completing a case study on the Pike River Mining Tragedy and its relevance to safety in general and governance in particular. The tragedy took place on 19th November 2010 in New Zealand’s South Island and resulted in the death of 29 miners with only two survivors; one of those killed was only 17 years old and on his first day on the job (he started a day early).

The exact ignition source of the methane explosion is not known but the failings of management prior to the explosion are now well documented and in the public domain thanks to the Royal Commission of Enquiry led by Justice Graham Panckhurst and the two volumes of report running to hundreds of pages.

The failings began with the directors and senior managers of the company who failed to exercise safety governance of the developing mine and abdicated their safety responsibilities to people much further down the line and, further, failed either to seek advice, or to heed the advice of the subject experts who were called in prior to the disaster.

Other failings included lack of adequate safety support, no appointed Ventilation Manager, Lack of Competence amongst workers, lack of planning, differing standards for employees and contractors, evidence of tampering with safety devices, poorly planned and executed ventilation, use of contraband underground, poor government regulations… the list just goes on and on.

What is most striking for me though was the rush to get production coal out of the mine… Mine development had been held up because of difficult rock conditions in reaching the coal mining areas and the location of the mine in a conservation area: Due to this management were really in a hurry to begin profitable work and this, together with a myriad of other acts and omissions lead to the tragedy.

This space is far too small to go into a lot of detail on this tragedy, but one detail is clear, if you shirk your responsibilities on Safety Governance the road from there-on is slippery one and nothing good can come of it… If you are in a senior position you need to know your Safety Governance Roles and enforce them diligently.

See my blog on MTR Safety Governance for a good example of how Safety Governance should be run.

Finally as damming a statement as you will find in any report, here is an extract from that Royal Commission:

“The (River Pike) company did not have a clear strategy from the board that set out its vision, objectives and targets for health and safety management. It did not treat health and safety as a key corporate risk and prioritise the development of an integrated health and safety management system”

Don’t let that legacy be your legacy…

Pike River Mining Tragedy

Banishing the “Safety Unclean”

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How should we tackle people who show little or no regard for safety norms?

Recently a Facebook special interest page which I subscribe to raised an issue suggesting that people who post pictures depicting poor site safety should be banished from the group and made to walk with a sign around their neck stating that they are a danger to society (OK I am just joking about that last bit).

I was against banning the people and suggested that we should rather be posting positive comments about the lack of safety and make suggestions about how safety could be improved. My suggestion was met mostly with support but there were others who still called for a ban on the “great safety unclean”.

Perhaps this is a reflection of what happens in the real world where people are found doing something unsafe and the immediate reaction is to scold them and put them back to work; and nothing is done to address the causes of the unsafe behaviour or conditions.

Recently I was on a compliance inspection in the “developing economy” where I work; when we came into one section of the worksite and found about ten people chipping away at concrete to expose “couplers” in previously installed re-bar. These workers were on their haunches and all around them was 10mm re-bar which was at about the same height as their faces and eyes. The contractor’s site safety manager’s first response was to instruct them to bend the re-bar over away from the work area as per my suggestion: My immediate reaction was to stop them from complying with this instruction!

I wanted them to do it differently because I had a feeling that the workers were not too sure why we were asking them to bend the re-bar and probably thought it was just this “meddling ex-pat” wanting to create extra work… after it appeared that they couldn’t see anything wrong – and that was exactly the problem… They couldn’t recognise the hazard!

We spent just a minute or two gathering them all together and gave them a quick explanation of what the hazard was and how to fix it… job done!

As managers and safety professionals we should always take the time to explain the hazards we have identified and the reasons for rectifying them… either before rectification or immediately after fixing them, depending on the urgency… it only takes a minute but it is a minute well spent.

So back to Facebook… should we unilaterally banish peddlers of unsafe photos to the safety wilderness or do we take them to one side and embrace them with advice? If we take the latter course of action we have the opportunity to reach out to others with similar poor safety standards.

Banishing the “Safety Unclean”

Emerging Economy and Safety Standards

ppe standards comparison

In a recent posting on LinkedIn I received some feedback which virtually accused me of being unknowledgeable in my field and of disseminating information which was not factual (in spite of the fact that I had been very careful to point out that my source was quotes from the Times of India).

During my first contract in the south of this the largest of the “emerging economies” I enjoyed a good reception to my advice based on my years of experience in different fields of industry; however here in the north of the same country I detect a little resentment to my being here. I cannot quite put my finger on the issue but I have had several “run ins” with local senior staff (one even making statements which were tantamount to accusing me of being a colonialist!)

Nevertheless I continue to dedicate my time to improving safety standards by hook or by crook and dragging safety standards into the 21st century. With this in mind I decided to contrast one simple safety principle of PPE usage between the UK and the “emerging economy” where I work. The result is the picture at the head of this blog. To be fair the photos were both posed presumably for keepsakes but I am sure, even to the untrained eye, the difference in standards is immediately evident.

In those words of Rumpole of the Bailey (UK Courtroom Drama of the 70s / 80s)

“I rest my case M’lud”

Don’t misconstrue the purpose of my attacks on safety standards in the “emerging economy”, they are not intended to humiliate but rather to stimulate discussion and evoke action to bring about change

Photos Copyright a Social Media User & Crossrail

Emerging Economy and Safety Standards