What every CEO needs to know about safety

What every CEO needs to know about safety

For many CEOs, safety is their highest priority. It is a table stake for how they want their business run. They hold a genuine concern for the people under their charge. It’s personal.

So when a person is hurt, anxiety levels understandably rise. The pain and suffering of the person and the obvious weight of often, onerous legislation. CEOs look to act but are bombarded with questionable safety programs, based on dated notions of why people do what they do. It’s a tough job at the top.

But there is a better way. Armed with a few key principles, a set of good questions and a growth mindset, safety can be the jewel in the crown of every organisation.

The key principles

The first key principle involves absolute clarity of the core elements of an incident. They are; hazardous energy (something which can hurt you), a person or people and leadership. Understanding the interplay of each element is critical. The principle is “To get hurt, a person must contact hazardous energy or hazardous energy contacts a person or both”. Look at every incident based on these 3 elements.

The second principle is a bit like the advice Bill Gates gave to graduates; “Life’s not fair, get over it”. In the workplace, You can’t get rid of all the hazards so get over it. Hazard removal follows the law of diminishing returns. Apply the 80:20 rule for hazards and look at all the core elements to maximise return.

The third principle relates to how we think about the decisions we make. The reality is, people don’t make conscious decisions, most of the time. Habits dominate our behaviours. Habits come from our automatic thinking, not our logical and rational thinking. Think of most decisions made as the habitual one’s, not the best ones.

The fourth principle follows on from the third, and is about behaviour or should I say, habits. The principle is Being in the line of fire hurts. An understanding of line of fire hazards and habitually looking for them is what matters. Not being in the line of fire ensures injury will not occur.

The fifth principle applies when we are talking about teams. It is Leadership changes everything. Time and again, the history of human endeavours show leadership is the difference between success and failure. From the sporting field, the battlefield and business. Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “There are no bad soldiers, just bad officers”. The same holds true for any pursuit involving a group of people. Success comes from effective leadership.

So the principles are:

  1. To get hurt a person must contact hazardous energy or hazardous energy contacts a person or both
  2. You can’t get rid of all the hazards. Get over it.
  3. Habits dominate our behaviours.
  4. Being in the line of fire hurts.
  5. Leadership changes everything

The good questions

Great CEOs know good questions are game changers. They use them to motivate and inspire. When asked with humility, they build rapport and respect. Good questions create open discussion and above all opportunities to learn for everyone.

So what are good questions? They are open questions. The type of questions you can’t answer yes or no. Open questions make you think. They create a deeper connection between two people. They often include the words, “why is that?” or “can you help me understand?”. They get to the core of what is going on. Open questions are good questions. Leaders know they are a superpower and use them all the time.

The growth mindset

As the commander-in-chief of the organisation, the CEO has all the responsibility to ensure the organisation grows. No growth means death.

With the growth mindset, the CEO knows their basic abilities are developed with dedication and hard work. This is how everyone’s abilities are developed. A good starting point is brains and talent but dedication is the fuel and hard work the process.

But what do we grow to improve safety? You guessed it, Leadership. Specifically, grow safety leadership.

Leadership changes everything. If your …….. culture is bad, look at your leadership. Your team’s ……….. performance is poor or they are not solving ……. problems, look at leadership. Place the word “safety” in the previous sentences and you know what I mean.

Develop leadership with a growth mindset. Leaders aren’t born they are grown.

So, Mr CEO….you now have the fundamentals to improve safety in your business. Key principles to frame your thinking. Questions to engage, build trust and seeking out root causes to problems. And critically, growing and developing the team’s and your leadership.

This is what every CEO needs to know about safety.

Overcoming complacency – What is it first?

Overcoming complacency – What is it?

Complacency seems to appear frequently in incidents, when viewed through a behavioural lens. But few useful or demonstrated effective solutions exist. We see lots of telling people “not to be complacent” or complacency is just being lazy so use the punish model to change behaviour. Nothing which addresses the real reasons why people do what they do.

So, I thought I would post a short series which tackles this issue head on. First up, a definition of complacency. I checked out dictionary.com and it says:

A feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect: source

This seems a workable definition as it covers the two areas I think are important. “Feeling” and “unaware”. Lets look deeper.

It’s all in your mind

When we discuss complacency, we easily recognise it as a mental process. A mental process which affects what we do.

The latest neuroscience shows a more detailed picture of mental processes while helping us see deeper into these mental processes. Due to these advances, we now have a better understanding of the why we have a “feeling” of security and “unaware” of dangers.

These processes happen in the automatic thinking part of our brain. Task repetition creates neural connections. More repetitions, stronger connections.

It is helpful to picture these connections in the back of your brain. These connections operate with very little effort from you, and virtually no input from your conscious thinking or front of mind. Our brain makes this conscious thought about the task a redundant process. It does this for energy-saving reasons.

The consequence of this redundancy is our brain directs conscious thoughts to other things it finds interesting. This includes waiting for something interesting to appear. The result is our conscious thoughtful processes are not engaged in the task you are doing and diminishing our ability to compute risk and hazards during the task.

This is compounded when we add emotions to the completion of a task. As humans, we like to complete things. Picture crossing an activity off your list you did today. How did that feel? It is a powerful brain response. And the more we complete, the happier we become. The more certain and secure nothing bad will happen.

What does it all mean?

So complacency is created as a result of strong neural connections formed through repetition, no longer requiring your conscious brain (reduced awareness), linked to the powerful human emotions (feeling secure) with repeated task completion.

Little wonder we see complacency over and over. What is more mysterious, is with such a common cause of incident, why we don’t have more effective means to deal with it.

In the next post, we will look at the evolutionary hack we all have and how to use it to solve the complacency in safety.

Can you believe what you see?

Last week I was involved in an incident which wasn’t an incident. Two people reported seeing a person drive past them holding a mobile phone. Like most workplaces, driving whilst on a mobile phone is a major issue. Firstly it is illegal in all states of Australia. Secondly, most research shows use of a mobile reduces driver abilities to perform driving tasks and hence reduces safety.

An investigation was commenced, looking for data to understand what actually happened. Many had jumped to a conclusions and guilty seemed unanimous.

Very quickly though, we arrived at a conclusion the driver was not driving whilst on his mobile phone. The evidence showed the mobile phone remained on the drivers desk all day and he could not have been on the phone when observed. So what did the two people see?

So much of what we see, is a construct by our brain. Our brains filter much of what is optically available, with an initial search function looking for patterns which we can recognise quickly. Our brains also fill in data which may not be present with information it thinks should be there, rather than what is there. Actually, the connect point of the optical nerve to the eye is a blind spot. So the brain fills in the bit in the middle.

What did they see? Well that was easy to find once we understood what pattern they recognised. They saw a driver with his head resting on his right hand, clenched around a security access card. The access card is also black. See the pattern they saw? Easy to do. We filter the optical data to match the patterns we have in our mind. Daniel Kahneman says the brain is a machine for jumping to conclusions.

Why is this important for safety? We need to be aware of the limitations of what we see, especially when it relates to things which can hurt us. Be aware of the patterns written into your brain and how it affects what you see. Assume you will jump to conclusions quickly but they may not be accurate. Be self aware……

Safety Leadership – Learning from incidents

One of the greatest opportunities leaders have to practice their leadership skills is before, during and after an incident. Let me explain further.

Before the incident

Planning for your response to an incident can and should be planned. Another word for this is running drills. Purposeful practice that builds routines and scripts into your system 1 thinking is the objective with running drills. Remember the brain is a muscle and repetition creates muscle memory. Plan out what you want to do during an incident. Write it down and then practice it. Either physically, by moving around and actually doing the response or mentally, visualising what you will do. The brain research shows us there is little difference in effectiveness between the two approaches. The point is to purposefully practice frequently.

During the incident

Observe your emotional state for starters. People follow leaders that are calm and confident during a crisis. That means not acting emotionally. Not being in the emotional part of your brain. Be pre-frontal cortex. The easiest way to do that is to ask yourself questions

Using open questions can be beneficial in developing others but during an incident, closed questions convey the sense of urgency often required. Directions creating prompt action (if prompt actions are necessary) is often the most effective way to deal with the situation. This is the only time when closed questions can be more powerful than open questions.

However, in the heat of the moment when your brain is more likely to be in the emotional centres and the time when logical and rational thought is needed but not possible. Getting front of mind is critical. Hence asking ourself a the question is very very important.

After the incident

This is the best time for leaders to develop skills using the OPEN framework and make a powerful impact on leadership development. Using the OPEN framework creates positive outcomes from often negative situations, including:

  • Seeking knowledge and information from others gives them status and significance
  • Creates buy-in for solutions
  • Strengthens the connectedness and a share sense of purpose
  • Provides growth opportunities to learn and develop new skills
  • Variety to the persons daily routines.

These are a few positive outcomes that can come from an incident and being planned in response. Leadership is not something that is turned on or off depending on the situation. When you are a leader it is on always. Learning to use those situations in life to work on leadership skills will advance you and your much much quicker.

Safety people – Getting the best

What does the best safety person look like? For too long our organisations have thought safety advisors are highly knowledgeable about safety laws, procedures and rules. The expert on hazards and mitigations. Proficient incident investigator with ready made solutions. Walk about pointing out where the organisation does and doesn’t comply. People make good or bad decisions and it is all about knowledge, training and understanding consequences of your actions. Typically the person feels 100% responsible to keep everyone safe. The comply or die safety cop.

Today is a different story. The best looks more like a highly skilled coach with behavioural economics understanding of human decisions and touch applied neuroscience. As we have become more efficient at tackling hazards, safety advisors need to move from the hazard towards the people side of the equation (check out this blog) and know more then ever before about people. Understanding social thinking and developing the safety leaders in the group.

  • Look for the following in a safety advisor as the best will appear armed with this knowledge:
  • They will talk to you about Tony Robbins and the six human needs, linking these elements into any safety program they are involved with.
  • Seek out opportunities to prime the group and know what cognitive dissonance is.
  • Discuss data and be wary of the heuristics and confirmation bias.
  • Know what Daniel Kahneman won and the 4 parts to the habit cycle.
  • Look forlorn and shake their head when performance management for a safety breach being planned
  • Above all they understand people and why they do what they do, using it to keep people safe.

So where are these safety avators….the future of safety? Well they are not part of the last stop before retirement gig or the stickler for detail and rules! Firstly, they are likely to be young. Without the biases and collective experiences of poor science and wrong judgements. They are from a field of learning and knowledge that seeks to understand people not hazards. First hand interaction with people, applying techniques which adjust or leverage what is known about peoples behaviour. Where do such people exist you ask? Marketing. Yep Marketing. Think about it for a second. Marketing specifically build programs around why people do what they do. They know we are not rational, logical beings, considering all the information and then making a decision. Too be blunt most of us don’t make decisions, we just think we do. The future safety advisor will tell you which system you are operating in most of the time.

And if you are in need of a safety advisor then go to marketing and get someone preferably young, leading a group of people and excited about what how they can help people. Pick one that has knowledge of Facebook, twitter, Instagram et al and understands the power of social connections.

Good luck in your journey and be ready for what the not too distant future holds. Less about the hazards and more about the people.

Safety Leadership – Bringing it all together using the six human needs

Researching for the book I am writing about Safety Leadership, I stumbled across another gem from knowledge universe.  In this instance, it was the six human needs as defined by Tony Robbins. It started with Zoe Chances Ted Talk about additive behaviour and quickly linked to another Ted Talk by Tony himself. This discovery has transformed my thinking about how to bring together the elements of safety leadership. Actually, how to design any safety program so it will stick.


So according to world renowned performance coach, speaker,  Anthony Robbins, we are all driven by the requirement to fulfil 6 Core Human needs. These needs are not just desires or wants, but are hard wired into our brains serving as the basis of why we do what we do. They are always present, driving us and never go away. Therefore by understanding “why we do what we do” day by day we can begin to determine how to get to what we really want. In my field of interest its safe behaviours.

Interestingly, every person is influenced and motivated by the order of importance they place on each of these 6 needs. It seems we want to fulfil these needs in everything we do however it is not always in a positive way and not always in a resourceful or sustainable way. It is really how we meet these needs that can shape our lives and ultimately our success. Tony’s programs focus on which need we hold highest in our lives and uses them to change your thinking and hence your life.

So what exactly are the 6 core needs, you might ask?

Here they are: Significance, Certainty, Uncertainty, Connection, Growth and Contribution. According to Tony, the first 4 are the needs of the personality or our physical needs. The last 2, the needs of the spirit or the soul. They can be defined as:

SIGNIFICANCE: Also called: Status, Recognition, Validation & Uniqueness

Everyone needs to feel special and important. To satisfy this need people find ways to feel unique or special and prove their self-worth.

CERTAINTY: Security, Comfort, Safety, Control, Stability & Predictability

This need is simply about achieving order & control in life. Knowing we can be comfortable to have pleasure and avoid pain. Main function is to ensure an element of security, and it is manifested in safety and physical comfort

UNCERTAINTY:Adventure, Variety, Surprise, Novelty or Challenge

It is a physical & emotional need that encourages us to bring the new, the unknown and sometimes disorder into our lives. Everyone needs some variety in life. Our bodies, our minds and our emotional well-being all require uncertainty in some way. Just as a sense of security is reassuring, so the excitement that comes from variety is necessary.

CONNECTION: Social, Communication, Love

Connection is represented by the human desire to communicate with, relate to and receive love from those around us. Everyone needs connection with other human beings. We are all motivated to share and develop relationships with people to meet this need in our lives.

GROWTH – Through personal development, knowledge and learning we fulfil the need for growth in our lives. This core need is what drives us to mature and evolve as human beings.

CONTRIBUTION – Finally, we all share the need for Contribution. It is manifested in our desire to serve those around us and give something (typically love) rather than simply receiving. Contribution is about sharing what we have with others as we all desire to go beyond our own needs and give to others.In its positive aspect, significance leads us to raise our standards, but if we are overly focused on significance, we will have trouble truly connecting with others

Great leaders are aware of these six needs and which is their strongest, as well as those around them. They understand to motivate people they need to tap into those human needs. They are masters in reading which human needs are strongest amongst their team and tailor engagements to meet these needs. Being deliberate and considering how we are meeting these needs in others. Be sure to design programs that have all of these elements so it appeals to everyone.

Over the next couple of weeks I will share the safety leadership programs we are developing and how they meet these needs. It is a brave new way to design safety programs but for maximum effectiveness we must consider this criteria.

A brilliant one pager – The Amazon Way

I’ve been researching leadership over the past couple of months for material for my first book, The Safety CEO. This week I came across an article on www.time.com – “3 books every leader should read to be successful”. The book that grabbed my attention was “The Amazon Way” – by ex Amazon insider John Rossman. The reviews of the book were overall good (I’d be happy with them 4.4 stars) with most criticism coming from readers expecting to hear more about current Amazon strategies or the inside stories being dated.

What I found brilliant though was a piece of work from collaborator, Todd Clarke. Todd is a software engineer that has a flair for creating visual media and a passion for lean techniques. He produced a one pager on the 14 principles Rossman writes about. You can also get a copy from www.getlit.com/portfolio/. Todd has created a number of one pagers worth reviewing.

amazon-way-visual copy

Now technically, the style would get canned for lack of clarity, too many words, fonts too small, etc. For instance it would never be used as a pilots checklist. But instead I found the style thought provoking. It engaged system 2 quickly. It has the right balance of words to relay a message but not too much to bore me. The use of images already wired in my mind (Einstein, Malkovich, blues brothers) sent neutrons firing all over the place!

The layout is quite interesting. In a number of places on the page you are required to pay attention. Not much that it is taxing or too effortful, switching you back to system 1 or off. Just enough to keep you in system 2 so the messages are being reviewed consciously. Difficult enough to require marshalling your resources creating a small neurological investment. Hooked!

The other interesting part I thought about is I am currently creating one pagers and in a completely unrelated search, this appears in front of me. Almost from nowhere. The universe conspiring to guide me or just my brain unconsciously primed to look for matching patterns? Not being a believer in an almighty force, looks like my brain is doing it again. One pagers here I come!

Get real safety industry – become behavioural economists

Todays blog is short and sweet. Safety people need to get real about their understanding of human behaviours. We need to stop with the economic rationalist view that we seek all the information and make logic, rational decisions on all the data and immediately adopt the view that people make decisions based on their fast thinking part of their brain, strongly influenced by those around them and based on mental models developed from the sum of all of their experiences.

Many safety people struggle with understanding behaviours. Especially when it doesn’t seem logical or rational. I’m not surprised.

Well I have some advice. Become a behavioural economist. Read Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrationality and Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” or a host of other books that show us how the real world is. How we make decisions in the real world and what we can do to influence that.

I have attached a list I found on business insider. The article is focussed on decisions in business but it was direct correlations to safety as the safety persons view of human decisions  is taken from the finance world.

Here is the list. Start at the top and work your way down. You will not regret it!


Behavioural change – Measuring the unmeasureable

I’ve been working with a group of very smart, highly educated safety professionals over the two past month, developing a behavioural based safety initiative. It has elements of safety leadership, neuroscience, behavioural economics and habits science.

The program is a pilot and planned to take a number of months but we have sneak previewed some of the content to a group of frontline workers. Bam….We had immediate acceptance and a pull from the frontline. “This is the best safety stuff we have ever had” they said. “How do we get more?” Never in the time that I’ve been a safety person had I witnessed such acceptance! I had participants send me emails, one guy returned the next day on his day off to talk more. Wow. What a massive rush which filled me and others full of confidence that we are on the right track.

The highly paid help then asked us “how do we measure success?”. My first thoughts, were you not in the presentation with the frontline that I was in? No thats right you weren’t. If you had, you would have seen for yourself what success looks like. Be that as it may, we progressed this discussion along a path of measuring the change in peoples behaviour. What a tough discussion. We had the engineer types wanting some type of “whatever” per person or per site and the cynical types saying whats the point, no-one is going to fill in forms so lets just see what happens.

As we are seeking to affect peoples behaviour, the key question is how do we measure behavioural change. Zoe Chance from Ted X fame and Professor at Yale talked about behavioural change being empirical and specific to the individual therefore as a researcher she can’t measure it across groups.

So here we were working on creating KPI’s for the measuring the un-measurable and without measurable KPIs we can’t show success implying failure in some way.

I left the meeting feeling deflated. Why do we need to measure something to show success. Can we feel success? The energy I got from the frontline workers when I was presenting felt like success. The follow up contact I got from the frontline workers felt like success. The additional requests for “can you share more of this with us” seemed like success. But it seems we needed to have a KPI to measure the unmeasurable to show success.

Safe Habits – 5 Keystone habits

I have spent the past 2 years observing people that DONT get hurt and interestingly there seems to be a pattern. A set of actions that these people do habitually, without thinking that I believe keep them safe. I have called them keystone habits. Let me jump straight in then provide some context for each habit:

1. Plan your day/task

2. Follow procedures/rules

3. Take action

4. Know your limits and ask for help

5. Recognise when distracted and self correct.

Plan you day

Study after study show that successful people plan their day. They plan the work and work the plan. Prioritising what is important, preparing for distractions and picture what success looks like. They have a clear vision and use their time in the most effective manner possible.

Follow procedures

Those that use correct procedures or checklists, to form routines are less likely to get things wrong when under stress and pressure especially when the procedure or checklist are deliberately practiced. A pilots routine in an emergency a great example.

Take action

Knowledge is great but action makes it happen. People that can habitually see a hazard and do something about it create an environment that minimises hazards and hence opportunity to come into contact with things that can hurt you.

Know your limits and ask for help

This habit has self awareness and courage all wrapped into one. Knowing how far you can push yourself before you break and being able to ask for help before you do, to get the job done leads to successful outcomes. This is an important combination for success.

Recognise when distracted and self correct

Probably the most important and the most difficult of all the safe habits is being able to quickly identify your distracted state and self correct. People that can remain focused and pay attention to hazards have all of our abilities as human beings to avoid such hazards working for us.

Essentially, each of these habits create opportunities to think about and look for the line of hazards in a habitually way. That thinking is done by the fast part of your brain and pretty much at your disposal whenever you need it. And that is the reason why they are keystone habits. They are automatic, omnipresent and appear when we most need them.

At the end of the day, the laws of physics tell us to get injured contact needs to be made with hazards energy. Don’t contact hazardous energy, don’t get injured. The keystone habits are those fundamental actions that we as humans make to stay safe.