Workplace Safety

Safety Riddle: Who am I?

You may know me.
I’m your constant companion.
I’m your greatest helper – I’m your heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure –
I am at your command.

Half the tasks you do might as well be turned over to me –
I’m able to do them quickly and I’m able to do them the same every time, if that’s what you want.

I’m easily managed; all you’ve got to do is be firm with me.
Show me exactly how you want it done and, after a few lessons, I’ll do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great men and women and, of course, servant to the failures as well.
I’ve made all the great people who have ever been great –
And, I’ve made all the failures too.

But I work with all the precision of a marvelous computer, with the intelligence of a human being.
You may run me for profit or you may run me to ruin;
It makes no difference to me.

Take me, be firm with me and I’ll put the world at your feet – Be easy with me and I will destroy you!

Who am I?

(scroll down for the answer)

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I am HABIT

We do most things without thinking consciously about what we are doing! Let’s consider that for a moment. We would not be able to function without these habits. From walking, moving, driving a vehicle, to most of our lifestyle routines like sleeping, hygiene, eating and drinking, all of which we do automatically. The same is true in our work. From writing, spelling, typing, operating plant and equipment to following rules and procedures, or breaking rules and taking shortcuts.

Be careful. The best safety device is a careful worker. Get the safety habit.

In fact, SAFETY HABITS are fundamental to achieving our goal of ZERO HARM or ZERO INCIDENTS. People need to abide by the rules and procedures, without having a mental debate every time as to whether or not these are valid. Put on the seat belt, lock out the machines, test the lockout, put on the harness and hook up at heights, use the PPE and and and … a nearly endless list of life-saving rules. These SAFETY HABITS have to be taught and learned, like driving a car. It takes hours and hours of practice for us to reach the level where we can do it out of habit. Once we have acquired these SAFETY HABITS, we have to guard against falling into the trap of ignoring the basics and going for shortcuts – all in the name of trying to do it smarter.

The issue of habits is so important, that I have dedicated the very first chapter of my book to it!

Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,

Jürgen

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Time for Gratitude

thank you,ke a leboga,ke a leboha,ngiyabonga,ndo livhuwa,ro livhuwa,siyabonga,enkosi,dankie,ngiyathokoza,inkomu

 

As leaders and safety professionals we forget to show GRATITUDE. We are looking in the rearview mirror, focusing on what went wrong, why we missed our targets and, often, who to blame.

At the end of the year, it is time for us to be grateful for what we have and to count our blessings. Think about the number of activities and tasks that are being completed by all your people, without any incident or mishap. They run into the millions. Let me put this into perspective.

The vast majority of these activities are done out of habit (routine), without conscious thought. That is where your training and systems are paying off.

Consider a simple task, like driving a vehicle. I get into the seat (hopefully after walking around the vehicle and doing my pre-start check), fasten my seat belt, check the mirrors, start the engine, switch on the lights, engage the reverse gear, look left and right, release the handbrake, check the mirrors again, apply gas, steer the vehicle to the right and left and turn, apply the brakes and then take a breather — all this just to get out of my driveway at home!

To complete the task of getting to work safely, I will have to perform hundreds of activities such as this and more (using indicators, changing lanes, accelerating, braking, keeping an eye on the traffic, stopping, etc.). Each one of these I accomplish successfully, without incident and without conscious thought, but each one has the potential of leading to an occurrence which could result in damage, an injury, a fatality and, most definitely, lost time.

Now, multiply these hundreds of activities by the tenfold of tasks or jobs that each of your employees completes every day, by the number of employees, contractors and visitors on your site every day, and finally, by the number of working days this year, and you will have to add a large number of zeros to your figure of gratitude.

This also puts into perspective why ZERO HARM is such a tough goal to achieve.

Please count your blessings and let your people know how indebted you are to them for having done so well, as you cannot even express this ratio:

number of incidents and near hits
number of activities completed

Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,

Jürgen

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Taking your eye off the ball / road / task

One of the main causes for most accidents is lack of concentration or taking our eye of the ball / road / task at hand. Often, this is only for a few seconds. That’s all that’s needed to ‘lose control’ of a vehicle, fall or trip when we don’t look to see where we’re going, losing our balance or footing and falling from a height, losing our grip and dropping something. The list is virtually endless. You can choose any verb you like and it can be linked to some kind of incident, because it is all about human action.

When we do something which involves a degree of risk, even if it is as mundane as walking or driving, we have to pay attention and stay 100% alert, all the time.

There are many reasons why we get distracted, but one of the most prevalent ones is fatigue.

safety incident - boredomsafety incident - daydreamingEspecially when concentrating for longer periods of time, we do get tired and often really exhausted. This is made worse if the task at hand is familiar, repetitive, or boring and the working environment hot, humid or uncomfortable. In addition to fatigue, there are a host of other factors which cause us to lose focus, which means our minds wander. We could be daydreaming or thinking about the home, family, girlfriend, car, something which happened yesterday, last month, or some need we have.

safety incident - tired

There are no easy answers. As the employer, you have no control over how much sleep employees get, how much alcohol they consume or the family relationships, to name just three of the issues involved. I can, however, suggest a few things that you, as the employer, can do.

  1. Look at all critical operations involving risk and investigate ways and means to change the operation, automate the process or do something which will make it easier, and safer, for the ‘operator’ to take a mental break, every so often, without ‘losing control’.
  2. Ask those people “who push the buttons and use the tools” to help you identify these opportunities, including those where they are taking short cuts in order to cope with this problem of ‘losing concentration’.
  3. Look at the working environment, including stress levels, shift patterns and working hours, and provide innovative solutions to help people combat fatigue and stress. There are many opportunities like Health & Fitness centres, EAR, etc.

Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,

Jürgen

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Safety Data – a blessing or a curse?

Data is USELESS unless it is USED, unless it is analysed and the insights gleaned from this analysis ACTED on.

With today’s technology we are swimming in data. You can find information on anything (and just about anyone) under the sun. It is increasingly and more rapidly available to us if we know where and how to look for it and what to do with it.

We have to be highly selective about what information we ask for and read. This is especially true of emails and the internet. Always ask: “What for?” or “Why?” do I need this information and “By When?”.

safety MIS overload

One of the biggest complaints made by front line supervisors especially is that they no longer have the time to ‘supervise’ and manage on their feet. They are ‘forced’ to manage on their seat because of the demands made on them by the many systems requiring input of data. Most of this data they, the front line supervisors, do not directly benefit from – it is feeding the information hunger of the systems and is ultimately for senior management’s benefit. Ironically, much of the data does not get used for pro-active purposes, but rather for being re-active = the “rearview mirror” effect.

Look at your systems, especially your safety systems, and ask what is it doing for you and those people ‘who push the buttons and use the tools’. Is it helping rather than hindering them? Be brutally honest about this and challenge the systems people to give you a tool that works for you, rather than you working for the system !!!

safety MIS analysis

This post gives a macro perspective of what data can do if used correctly.

Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,

Jürgen

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Show me the good stuff

I use my mirror technique to customise my presentations for each client.
For this technique to work, I need photos of the GOOD, bad and ugly stuff.

Hunt down the GOOD stuff and find the safety champion and give him/her the recognition.

This enables me to ask the audience:

“What do YOU see?
What is wrong?
What is GOOD?
Who is responsible?
Is it the player or is it the coach?”

This is a most powerful technique to engage the audience and to get them to take ownership for what they see. Play the video on my S.H.E. ATM screen to see what I mean.

Sometimes, however, for security reasons, clients do not allow me to use my own camera. In these cases they offer to let me have their photos. I invariably find that all they can give me is photos of the bad and ugly things. Photos of poor housekeeping and maintenance, waste and spillage are typical examples, because those are the obvious ones. Also, the photos are normally taken of the plant, equipment, stores, workshops and similar areas. It is seldom that I am given photos of personal work spaces like office desks, cupboards, toolboxes, rest areas, chairs, etc. We somehow focus on the negative, on the breaking of the rules and poor behaviour. People find it tough to share with me photos of GOOD areas which are clean, neat and tidy and where the rules are being followed.

I also do not get photos of improvements, where a safety problem has been fixed. Taking before and after photos is something safety professionals do not do.

When I take my own photos, I hunt down the GOOD stuff and find the safety champion so I can include him / her in my photo. Recognising people in this way is a most powerful tool for motivation.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,
Jürgen

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Safety, for Safety’s Sake

Most companies have certain safety rules around driving, lifting, walking, personal safety behaviour, etc. Rules like:

  • reverse park your vehicle
  • switch on head lights when driving
  • bend knees and keep back straight when lifting something
  • hold onto hand rail when walking up or down stairs
  • use gloves, goggles and other PPE

While at work, people tend to follow these rules, especially when in leadership positions. They know they have to set an example. That’s true. Employees watch what leaders do and follow their lead.

Does safety matter when you are not being monitored?

The question is, though, what do you, the leader, do when you are at home? How do you park at the local shopping mall? Do you keep the car lights switched on when driving in town? Do you hold onto handrails when taking the stairs to the doctor’s rooms? Do you keep your back straight and wear gloves when working in your garage at home? If not, why not? Has the “safety reason” changed now that you’re not at your place of work? Most likely not, right? What has most probably changed is that you no longer feel watched. You no longer feel you have to comply with so-called “workplace” safety rules. You now behave “naturally”.

That is one of the fundamental safety issues – what I call the Speedcop Syndrome = when we do something out of fear of being caught and not because it is the safe thing to do.

As long as that is the driving force, then safety is not really a value inside people’s hearts. When people “reverse park” at home, that’s how you know that you have safety embedded in the culture of your company. But, trust me, it starts with you, the leader. Don’t expect the troops to behave correctly, consistently safe, if you have not yet made that leap yourself.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,
Jürgen

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Jump Starting at Grootvlei

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean ‘jump starting Grootvlei Power Station’. 😆 Auke Maas, the SHE manager and his team are switched on. I mean jump starting my Harley Davidson motor bike at Grootvlei. Yes, a Harley Davidson, “nogal” (= “on top of it all”), with a reputation of being a super-reliable bike. But let me explain.

I was late for my meeting with Auke and his team  😐  and, in my haste, I forgot to switch off the Harley’s ignition. As a safety feature, the main light is always on when the ignition is switched on. So, when I left the meeting, I proudly started, er, rephrase, tried to start the bike, because Auke, Arno and Peter wanted to hear the engine. NOTHING. Not a click.  😳 The battery was DEAD.

There I stood, far from home and miles from a service station.

Fortunately, I had the support of the Grootvlei team and, with the help of Arno, who got some tools, we opened the battery compartment. In the meantime, Peter, the chief fire master, got the portable jump start unit from the fire station. In no time at all, the Harley was running, and I was on my way home.

A helping hand from the folks at Eskom Grootvlei

What are the safety lessons?

  1. Even when in a hurry, take the time to follow the correct procedures and do the right things, one step at a time (stop the engine, switch off the ignition and lock the helmet, panniers and bike.) Doing things in a hurry often leads to incidents = NEAR HITS.
  2. Be prepared. Have a set of tools in your vehicle for emergencies. A small fire extinguisher is a good idea too.
  3. Have a backup in place. The portable jump start unit is a brilliant idea for emergency vehicles. One cannot have an ambulance or fire engine not starting because the battery ran flat.
  4. Establish a root cause, even if it was a near hit with no injury or damage, and make the necessary change to avoid making the same mistake again. In my case, it required a behaviour change – I make it a habit now to switch off the ignition to stop the engine.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,

Jürgen

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The Power of Gold

One of the most powerful motivators is RECOGNITION, and yet few of us use the full potential of this simple technique, because it’s a tough habit to practise. This is best illustrated using the Olympics as an example.

For most of the competitors. it is about making it onto the podium and bringing home a medal – preferably gold. They will have practised for countless hours, taken part in many events and pushed themselves to extreme limits.

Most of us have no idea just what it takes to get into the Olympic team. It is literally blood, sweat and tears combined with dogged determination, self-sacrifice and a single-minded goal mentality. Not because they are being paid for it, not because of policies and procedures, and certainly not because they have to (comply) … but because they want to be the best… the best they can be and to make it onto the winner’s podium.

That is what drives them – the ‘Power of Gold’.

Obviously, there are only a few who reach the Olympics level, but the principle of RECOGNITION applies to all levels of competitive sport. The ‘Power of Gold’ is imprinted on us from the time that we compete for the first time in primary school.

From a safety perspective, the ‘Power of Gold’ does not mean recognising only those safety achievements that are outstanding. To leverage this power, we should make it a habit to identify good safety behaviour by making the time and effort to tell the individual or team what you have taken note of and why it is important. This is why I encourage event organisers to use my “Isibopho” red / green card and whistle.

STOP, and say thank you when you see someone doing the right and safe thing. Just imagine if all your employees were to practise this habit on a regular basis – the ‘Power of Gold’ would be priceless, taking your safety culture to a different level.

WARNING – It goes without saying that recognition only works if it is genuine and deserved. Do not make it a hollow and meaningless gesture. Also, even if the person being recognised is uncomfortable when you give them genuine ‘hugs and kisses’, don’t let that put you off. Do it anyway. Keep it brief, specific and appropriate.

BTW … This is not a new concept. In the book ‘The One Minute Manager’, Kenneth Blanchard devotes an entire chapter to the ‘one-minute praises’.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,

Jürgen

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Walk Your Talk

Walk your talk. Put your money where your mouth is. Be ruthless in getting SAFETY FIRST – from HEAD TO TOE.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,

Jürgen

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Safety As A Value

This month I introduce a second group mail series wherein I will share with subscribers my thoughts on Why Safety is an Issue for Most Companies, or, putting it differently, Things we Must Address if we Want to Improve our Safety Performance.

In the first one, I am talking about one aspect of a safety culture, namely our individual values and the resulting behaviour.
Read more here.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,

Jürgen

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