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Safety and the reality of zero injuries

I have worked since the 1970′s in settings as diverse as onshore and offshore oil exploration, the North Pacific commercial fishing industry, a steel mill, a slaughterhouse, farms and the outwardly innocuous ”office”  cube.  Each present their own hazards.

But typically I have found the actual risk of injury is not directly related to the risks that are present.  I have seen two companies perform essentially the same task over periods of time in extraordinarily adverse field situations but with very different results. The difference is always in attitudes.

Since oil platform doghouses across the nation often proudly display  evidence of injury free days in the 1,000′s and vastly “safer” offices I have worked in have had quite toxic attitudes and personnel with various ongoing health and safety problems, the issue is truly one of personal responsibility and corporate leadership.   I want to present today an article written recently in Workplace HR and Safety which I believe touches on the heart of the matter. I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to your comments.

Tom Bryant is a partner in Meridian Consulting . His 35 year work career began in a farming community in Alberta and encompasses years in the onshore/offshore oilfield industry, penitentiary and parole supervision of violent offenders in the Correctional Service of Canada, and more recently risk management for corporate clientele primarily in the energy industry.

Beyond Zero Injuries

How to Send Workers Home in Better Shape Than When They Came In?

By Matt Forck, CSP, JLW

A number of years ago, I attended a safety banquet for a utility company. The event was held to celebrate, with workers and their spouses, the fact that the group had worked the entire year without a lost workday case. During the event, a vice president took the podium to share a few words. “Your families let go of you each morning.” He began. “You belong to them, and we borrow you for eight hours of work. Your families expect and deserve to have you back at the end of each day, whole and healthy.”

The term zero injuries is becoming a more common trend or theme for industry. Many organizations have “target zero” or “zero is possible” posters pasted on break-room walls and on car and truck bumpers.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers safety improvements as “one of the greatest health achievements in the 20th century.” According to the CDC, the workplace today is, on average, nearly 40,000 lives a year safer compared to the 1930s. Yet, it could be argued that safety gains over the last half-decade have flattened. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that fatalities were at a record low in 2003, with 5,575 workplace deaths; that number has slowly risen since the low point.

It begs the question: Have we reached a backstop called zero? If that is the case, in order to move us into the next level of safety performance, safety professionals and leaders across the country will ask what is beyond zero. If I can send my people home in the same shape as they arrived, can I return them better than they were when they arrived? Consider these steps to move beyond zero.

Start with a Firm Foundation
I believe it was Stephen Covey who said, “Systems are designed to produce the results they are currently producing. Organizations are systems. If you don’t like the results you are producing, change the system.”

First and foremost, we can’t move beyond zero until we are “near zero.” If your organization isn’t there, stop reading now and return to this article after sustained safety success is established.

Near zero is found in safety statistics, but those numbers are driven from the establishment of an effective safety system. These systems make the firm foundation of safety success and include; safety and hazard awareness programs, safety committee processes, accountability systems, senior leadership and engagement and recognition programs. Once those are in place, and you have measured success over time, you are ready to look beyond zero at the possibilities that exist.

Stretch and Flex Programs Build Self-Esteem

About 15 years ago, when I was an overhead electric lineman, I was reporting to a jobsite in Boonville, Mo. Reporting along side our line crew was a railroad crew. Before the rail crew began work, they were required to stretch and flex. During the exercises, they had about as much passion as a boy who was required to kiss his sister! Their heart was not in it.

Fast forward to last summer when I spent time with major construction companies. I was amazed and pleased to find that they had an aggressive stretch and flex program. They have dubbed their employees as “construction athletes.” Their workers understood the importance of such programs. In Boonville, as the old timers “made fun” of the rail crew, they also popped aspirin all day to help aching muscles and joints. Physical work is tough and can take a toll on the body over time.

Gut check: If we change our perspective to “beyond zero,” how does that change the view of stretching and flexing over time? How important is proper lifting, body positioning, micro stretch breaks and flex programs? We are only given one body and it is not to be “spent” at work. Instead, our bodies can be used to earn a living so that we may enjoy life after work. What’s beyond zero? I’m not sure, but I do know it begins when our collective work groups can touch their toes!

Combat Complacency with Energy
“A man was walking through town,” an old story begins, “and notices a friend on a bridge getting ready to jump. He quickly runs over and tells his friend not to jump. Come down, instead, and talk about the problem. So the friend did come down, they talked and two hours later they both jumped!”

What is arguably the number one danger in the workplace? The answer is complacency. It can hurt and even kill.

Here is a simple litmus test on organizational energy. Rate the following safety activities with “1” being very low energy and “10” as optimal energy:

____Your most recent safety meeting

____Your organization’s safety committee engagement

____Your last safety observation activity

____Your most recent job briefing

Unfortunately, if we are honest, most organizations are hovering around two or three on the scale. All too often, the work environment tends to be an energy hole, draining away personal energy and engagement. Commitment, feedback and compliance might be jumping off the bridge with this low energy.

Gut check: Would a higher level of energy help workplace safety? What results can you achieve with a higher level of enthusiasm and energy level? What are some tools that could be used to raise an organization’s energy levels? Can our people leave a jobsite physically tired yet emotionally energized? How would that wipe out workplace complacency?

Community Translates into Top Performers
“No one told us to take the fun out of work,” an anonymous quote reads. “We did that on our own.” In their ground breaking book, First Break All of the Rules—What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman reached some interesting conclusions. They tackled more than 80,000 manager interviews from across the country and from diverse industries to determine that community plays a substantial role in employee performance.

Among other conclusions, they found the following workplace qualities in the organizations where performing employees worked: an environment where supervisors care for employees as people, development is encouraged, opinions count, praise is given often, there is commitment to quality and employees have a best friend at work.

To that end, is there a sense of community in your workplace? Do employees have friends? Does your organization care? What kind of feedback is given and how often? In the end, community is a place where we care and want to be present. What can we do to move our organizations toward community?

Gut check: Would feedback for safe work rules and safe work compliance be better or worse in a caring environment or in a “community?” What are five small actions your organization could begin doing tomorrow to encourage community?

“Don’t be afraid to give up the good,” said Kenny Rogers, singer and actor, “to go for the great!” After the safety system foundation is poured and our organizations are “near” zero, it is time to look beyond zero. It is appropriate to look at how we can return our people home “better” than they came to work.

In the end, work has mostly been viewed as a place where one “gives” life. However, why can’t we look beyond zero and view work as a place where we actually get life, grow and become a better person? Once strong programs are in place and the safety foundation is poured, if we begin to think beyond zero, amazing thoughts and results can happen.

Matt Forck, CSP, JLW, directs K-Crof Industries LLC, an organization specializing in safety keynote presentations, training and safety consulting services. For more information and safety resources, visit www.thesafetysoul.org or send an e-mail message to matt@thesafetysoul.org.

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