Hello, all. I have been lurking for a while due to the incredible volume
of mail that I get over this mailing list. It's a LOT to read.
I recently left the organization which Geof Fountain describes. (BTW, How
are you, Geof?) Let me provide some additional perspective to the case
The contractor Geof mentioned has an entire system based on profit and
bonus incentives. While many companies are based on similar systems, many
also have similar problems in getting effective organizational
Ideally, the bonus incentives are linked to contributions to bottom-line
performance of the corporation. This is not the case, though. Many
higher-graded individuals receive incentive bonuses who don't directly
contribute anything to any bottom line. Add to this the fact that this
organization is heavily invested in "old boy" politics and the practices
of turf guarding and empire building become natural frames of reference.
Bonuses, advancement, promotions, etc. become linked more to whom one
knows and how well one can brown nose instead of actual performance. In
fact, many who perform well are perceived as a threat to the heirarchy and
are punished rather than rewarded. Those who resist this are "killed."
Those who simply keep a low profile to avoid the schrapnel are seen as
bearers of signs saying "victmize me, PLEASE!"
There are those in this organization who would say that I am an extremist
and that I have a negative attitude toward this organization. I guess it
depends on how you look at it. However, I am also attuned, through
friends, to continued information about goings-on after my departure.
What I continually hear is much more than scary.
What this organizational system leads to is a focus on making things LOOK
good at the expense of actual performance. The previous safety culture
was very much overkill and costs were driven up significantly as back-up
systems to back-up systems to back-up systems were installed. The
likelihood of a primary AND a back up system failing are extremely remote.
In the event that this DOES occur, I doubt that 3-4 more back-ups are
needed. If the primary fails, simply stop work until the PROBLEM IS
IDENTIFIED AND FIXED. However, this is not always the case. Let me get a
little more specific.
A work crew is using a welder or cutting torch. This crew may consist of
2-3 people. In addition, there is a single worker sitting close by whose
sole responsibility is to watch this work crew and ensure that a fire does
not break out. This worker is equipped with a fire extinguisher in case
such an event does occur. Training which this individual receives to
enable him/her to perform these duties directs that, if a fire is of any
size at all, the fire department is to be notified rather that using the
fire extinguisher to put the fire out.
In addition to this safety (fire) observer, there is a Health Physics
Inspector standing around watching the crew to ensure that nothing happens
that would place the workers in unsafe condition (after all, they ARE
using materials which COULD pose a hazard under the RIGHT conditions). I
am not sure what this PH Inspector can do if an unsafe condition occurs
other than report that it happened.
Unless BOTH of these individuals are present, work does not take place.
This amounts to 2X salaries in addition to the cost of the work crew (this
organization pays WELL, BTW). If something does happen, it is the work
crew supervisor who will probably be held ultimately responsible, not
these extra observors.
Within this large organization is a sub-organization that has the charge
of overseeing all aspects of safety (Safety Department). This department
was nominally built upon the premise of the overkill-oriented culture of
the past and focuses on reporting negative statistics (LWC's, etc). It
runs largely on a system of "Safety Observors" who have a QUOTA OF UNSAFE
INCIDENTS which they MUST OBSERVE AND REPORT each month. I know this
because a good friend is one of these observors. This department is
heavily invested in this negative reporting system and has considerable
political clout. Becoming the manager of this organization is seen as a
major step up the corporate ladder.
The customer is, by no means, squeaky clean in all of this. However, I
CAN say that they look for a balance between safety and operating costs.
Numerous complaints have been raised about the excessive cost of the
current safety program. The customer has even brought in other
contractors (mostly construction) and suspended the usual safety rules for
their work. The customer is relying on the subcontractor to monitor its
own safe work practices rather than imposing a foreign, costly, extremely
complicated set of "safety" practices upon this work. The result: A
quickly completed building project with a fair safety record, lower
overall cost than if an internal organization had done the work, and a
bruised organizational ego.
In the mean time, a worker is killed at one site. "Lessons Learned" are
quickly gathered, policies and procedures rewritten, "training" given to
all, and the appropriate threats issued. Within a couple of months
another employee at another site has died in the same manner. But that's
okay. They followed their own procedure so they are blameless. Bonuses
and careers continue and life goes on.
A short while back (before I left) another sub-organization began
exploring the concept of "behavior-based safety." This practice involves
focusing on near-misses and unsafe behaviors rather than the actual
accident-based statistics that are usually tracked and reported. One
central premise is that we tend to do that which we think about. If we
think about NOT having LWC's, we will eventually have LWC's. If we think
about NOT being unsafe, we will eventually be unsafe.
On the other hand, if we think about being SAFE (focusing on positive,
safe behaviors) we will tend to be safe.
Feedback from this effort is expressed in terms of "percent safe" rather
than the degree to which we were unsafe. This is a radical concept within
this organization which tracks so many negative statistics that working
there can be depressing.
This approach has been shown, in other organizations, to increase the
instance of safe behavior which, correspondingly, reduces the accident and
LWC rate. It has also been shown to reduce costs for maintaining a safe
workplace. It requires no shadow organization to watch everyone else
since the workers themselves, after training in techniques of providing
positive feedback, take turns acting as "safety observors."
At first brush, it would appear that this is the answer to many of this
company's safety problems. However, it is also a threat to the status
quo. The Safety Department has pointedly disapproved of this approach.
They have assigned people to follow this effort and gather/report negative
information about the results. The president of the company, in the face
of much information showing the positive effects of this approach
elsewhere, has chosen to stay with the old system. Meanwhile, the manager
of that sub-organization has come under fire from the heirarchy for doing
Whenever I think about this manager and this safety philosophy I get an
image of George Custer during the first few minutes of Little Big Horn,
wondering if his remaining force will show up in time to save him (and the
organization) from certain disaster. I hope that history doesn't repeat
The problem here is not the approach to safety. This is merely a symptom
of the problem. The problem is with the management practices of the
organization. The organization will reflect the focus of those who run it
and the focus here is on costs/profit and appearances rather than on
I believe that the solution here is a top-to bottom, side-to-side focus on
doing the work right and well while being safe rather than either "form
over substance so we can look good and get more money" of "safety and
all(any) cost." Neither is currently working.
Remember, If you always do what you've always done - you'll always get
what you've always gotten. If you want a change you HAVE to change your
A side note to Carol Ogdin, et al:
It is easy to espouse technology-based solutions and become enamoured with
the elegance and sophistication of the hardware. But learning doesn't
take place in hardware or software. Learning only takes place and has
meaning when it is in the mind, heart, and soul of the individual. Having
a pretty data gathering tool doesn't mean that learning takes place any
more effectively. It just costs more.
If an individual can gather data and effectively formulate conclusions
using the LP#2 computer system(Legal Pad w#2 Pencil), then a high speed
computer system is not required. Once those conclusions have been formed
they must be shared with others in order for them to become part of a
sustainable and lasting change. Without this, there is no true learning.
Having a central database for collection of statistics, subjecting that
data to analysis, and issuing policies and procedures, takes the onus of
learning off of the individual. Just as our attempts to legislate
solutions to rampant social problems has inevitably failed and taken the
responsibility for success or failure away from the individual, so, too,
will these approaches to safety fail and actually promote unsafe behavior
as individuals strive to reassert their independence from the bureaucracy.
Please understand, I LOVE technology. But a database is only a TOOL,
nothing more. It is the people involved who must value and make use of
that tool before it is worth the cost of acquiring and installing.
-- Clyde Howell firstname.lastname@example.org