• Troy Jeanes

Bridging The Gap

Safety Leaders are key to moving safety performance from good to great.

Where ever you current safety performance level sits, and what you would consider 'excellent' safety performance, there's a gap. Excellence will come if you bridge that cam, but first you must be able to identify the elements that are creating that gap.


Many management personnel will first make the assumption that a lack of training is their key issue, and will adopt a strategy of increased training - a resource intensive strategy. More often than not though, training only has limited impact, it doesn't fix all the issues.

An interesting perspective is provided by W. Edwards Deming who stated that "if you can't describe what you're doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing". Safety leaders can easily identify whether their workers can safely and effectively undertake their designated task or role by taking the time to discuss the process and understand. If there's a gap, Safety Leaders are much more easily able to focus their efforts on closing those gaps.


Some other common human performance elements that result in suboptimal performance are listed below.

Conditions

If the workplace is poorly designed, or if the workflow doesn't facilitate good ergonomics and safety of the worker, then the worker is going to instantly believe that their employer doesn't care about them. It doesn't matter how much training you do with the worker, if they have to climb onto a handrail to open a valve, or there's never correct tools to get the job done - what does management expect? Workers will do what they need to to keep getting paid. Fix the conditions, and morale and 'culture' will significantly improve.

Knowledge

Specifically looking at safety performance, knowledge about how to identify and treat hazards is critical. Safety Leaders need to understand that this type of knowledge isn't inherent in everyone's 'knowledge'. Yes, people are great at their job and always delivery quality work, but they generally work in an environment that isn't bound just by their job, they are working in hazardous environments where there are many workers doing different things. Increasing the collective knowledge and sharing information from all types of workers about 'their' hazards to others will reap rewards in as much as people are more aware and able to identify hazards that they are not familiar with and also how to take the necessary precautions to manage the risk. Do not assume everyone has the equal ability to identify hazards - we don't know what we don't know.

Skill

Safety Leaders who are able to recognize that just their team members need more than just knowledge of a skill to do it safely and efficiently. Workers may have the knowledge to know how to do it, but not the skills. Consider reverse parking, we know how to to park, we know how to use mirrors, to use a steering wheel, to use the brake, and put a car into the correct gear - but it's not that simple is it? Working individually with workers to understand where their skill execution gaps are and improving them will have great benefits in the long term for safety performance and also for efficiency.

Accountability

Another key aspect to getting from good to great is to implement systematic accountability. Having leaders in your team who just want to have others do the job and dish out punishment for poor performance is very dangerous. Leaders need to be help accountable for their teams, they need to continually coach, monitor, encourage, reinforce standards and expectations for their team. One way to do this is to measure and monitor individual performance. By setting sound metrics for this can ensure that the workers stay on track, they understand their roles and responsibilities and the results expected. One thing to really consider is to train your supervisors, not train your workers.

Culture

One thing that leaders will assume or assert is that there's a poor safety culture within their organization, and that this results in poor performance. It may be true but just because it's easy to say, it doesn't mean a thing unless they can clearly define what elements of the workplace are causing the attitudes and values of the workforce to be misaligned to those expected in a high safety culture workplace. It's the underlying issues that create the poor safety culture, attitudes are a result of the environment not the other way around. Workers don't come into their workplace wanting to be bad employees who don't care about safety, but if the environment permits it, well what should the leader expect the outcome to be?

Metrics Organizations that have a clear vision of what success looks like are more easily able to identify what's important. By having a vision, they're more able to easily identify what contributes to the vision that they're seeking.


A key challenge for leaders is the way that we measure what we want, when we align to industry measurements (TRIR, LTIF, etc.) we often miss what's important to their own organization, essentially you're measuring something that doesn't contribute to your own improvement. Measuring the wrong metrics prompts workers to also focus on helping the organization meet metrics that don't mean anything to them, resulting in decreased morale and 'culture'.

By focusing on metrics that guide the organization towards measuring and monitoring their own contributors to success.


Consultants / Safety Specialists

Consultants are somewhat of a counsellor for management. By asking the right questions and being able to draw out what leaders see as important within the organization, by helping to create the vision, consultants can help move the leaders mindset from the traditional problem-solving to goal-setting and to being able to more clearly diagnose what are the true causes of their performance problems. A by-product of diagnosing is that the leaders will have to engage with their workforce and this will increase the perception that the workforce has of their leaders - it'll demonstrate that they care.

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