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.

Fear is the strongest driver of behaviour

Fear is the strongest driver of behaviour

Fear is an interesting thing. In the modern world, it comes from our perceptions rather than our reality. We should fear the lion stalking. It is real. But instead we fear what someone might think or say. We create imaginary situations, translate them to reality and become fearful.

Our imagination plays an enormous part of fear. The mind imagines our reality, no matter how much evidence placed before it. This is “confirmation bias”. Where you filter all evidence to the contrary to what you imagine is reality or your belief. Religions use this natural brain function well. It is very powerful and we see its effects on behaviour.

Reflecting on my own experiences, I ask myself “How many times have I not done something through fear?” The main reason I am where I am, in my life journey, is due to my limitations. The things which hold me back. Those things which fear is limiting. Often the fear is simple. Not doing something or speaking up.

I see this all the time in safety. Recently, a person came to me concerned about what he saw as a major safety breach. Two people were working at height without fall protection. The risk was high and potential consequences catastrophic.

He told me what he saw. I was gob-smacked! He knew to tell them to get down. But he couldn’t. He was fearful of the repercussions.  What might happen to him, his company and the guys involved. Times are tough and these guys could lose their jobs.

What he imagined overcame logical, rational thinking and the expectations of him as a supervisor. He regrets not acting in the moment.

Fear is the strongest driver of behaviour.

The most important skill for Safety advisors

My observation today is about how to be an effective Safety Advisor. Much of my thinking comes from watching safety advisors who aren’t that effective! Let me explain.

A large percentage of my experience with safety advisors revolves around compliance. The safety person takes ownership for safety and wants to drive a safer workplace. Often though, the stronger the ownership with safe outcomes, the stronger the need for compliance.

The greater the knowledge with rules, procedures or regulations (they can quote them, and often do, to the page and paragraph), the more they see safety as a compliance problem. For people to be safe they need to comply. Lack of compliance is lack of discipline. Lack of discipline means we need more negative consequences. Its a model we are all very used too both at work and in the real world (think road rules!).

The effective safety advisors though, seem to know where to find the rules, procedures and regulations but are more focussed on building relationships with those around them. They are acutely aware of the importance of changing behaviours through positive interactions rather than negative. They know as an advisor, they need to lead the crew along not push them. To lead, they need support structures within the legitimate chain of command. Influencing leaders has a multiplying affect. One leader can affect his entire team. A brilliant return on investment.

To be effective then, a deeper knowledge of people rather than rules and regulations is paramount. To this end, I believe all safety people should learn from Robert Caldini’s book “Influence”. They should also study behavioural economics through Daniel Kahneman and Dan Areily’s work as a start point. Develop a deeper understanding of “why people do what they do”. Explore the vast body of knowledge of human behaviour from the sales and marketing world and test in our setting.

What we know is compliance has a limited return and is not a reliable method. What we need are techniques which are repeatable. Safety initiatives which we can rely on 100%. To achieve zero harm, we need 100% reliability.

So the most important skill to be an effective safety advisor?…Influence. Get out there and get amongst it.

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 – The Power of OPEN Questions

Effective leadership involves engaging with people. Great leaders connect with those that follow them and open questions play an important and pivotal role in that connection. So much so, I would venture to suggest that without the skilled use of the open question, you will be less effective as a leader.

I have deconstructed the process and created a mnemonic to help you remember the important elements of the open question. The mnemonics is OPEN and it stands for:

Observe – What is going on with you and with others?

Purpose – Your intent and what impact you want to have?

Empower – Understanding and removing the road blocks for people to be successful

Nuture – Developing leadership capability in others

The main premise you must understand is how you, as a leader, affect the other person. How do you inspire and motivate rather than just tell. Every time you interact with the people you lead, you affect them in some way. Open questions give you the power to leave them inspired and motivated.

People learn to be leaders.  The way to learn to be a extraordinary leader is to practice the leadership skills every day, look for feedback on your performance of the skills and adjust your performance to improve.  The more you practice and learn from each practice, the faster you will improve.Do this until is becomes habitual. 





Safety Leadership – Learning from mistakes

Safety leaders learn from their mistakes. Actually, you will find quotes about learning and mistakes from all the leaders or successful people you can think of. A quote I particularly like is “I’ve learned so much from my mistakes, I’m thinking of making some more!”.

Well, mistakes are part of life. If you aren’t making mistakes you probably aren’t learning and if your not learning, you will not improve.

Mistakes are a product of a process that you have been through. They don’t just appear. You have to do something to get to a mistake. Note the “do”.

We all know this is right at some level. So why then are we so reluctant to admit to mistakes and hence learn from them? What is it that let’s these opportunities pass us by?

I think it relates to one of the 6 human needs: Significance. The work place provides an environment to meet significance and for a lot of people it is a priority. Being recognised, having status, respect, all that stuff with the people around you. People get their self worth from the status they have with the group they work in. This seems true regardless of your title or position.

What a mistake does is diminish significance very quickly. A mistake is often seen as a weakness or lack of something (knowledge, skill, ability). This affects significance directly. How can you have significance if you are seen as weak or lacking knowledge?

We also tend to treat people that have made a mistake in a negative way which affects our social thinking. What will people think of me? How many times have we heard this comment from people that have made mistakes. Making a mistake is a big deal and a negative one at that! It is little wonder we don’t want to focus the necessary attention and learn from our mistakes.

So, what do safety leaders do? In my experience they do two things. They reflect on their own mistakes looking for the learning opportunities and take action. They are able to reframe (cognitive reappraisal) the situation from a mistake to a life lesson. A useful way I’ve observed is to restate the mistake, acknowledging it and then add “but what can I learn from it?”. Stating the issue in this way can produce a powerful affect in the brain. When you use the word “but” you (the brain) negates the words preceding the “but” and highlight the words after the “but”. Think of a time when you felt you did something really well and someone said “that was really great but ……”. what part of the sentence did your brain focus on? So reframing the situation is a critical technique to be able to turn the mistake into a learning opportunity.

The other thing that safety leaders do is create environments where it is ok to talk about mistakes. They understand the important learning opportunity mistakes are and focus energies to realise these opportunities with the team.  Often they do this by sharing their own mistakes and what they have learned. They put discussions about mistake on the agenda and use positive reinforcement when the desired behaviours appear. They also show significance to a person that has made a mistake. Ensuring significance through reframing and focusing on what can be learned.

Safety leaders understand and recognise the power that can come from mistakes. They are self-aware, habitually acting on important learning opportunities from mistakes they make and energise the team to do the same.

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.

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.

Human decisions – what behavioural economics can teach safety people

Many think that we humans do a tremendous job at making choices. Economic traditionalist claim we think like Einstein, store information like your computer and have the will power of the Dalai Lama. Supporting a notion that we choose unfailingly well. Unfortunately that isn’t anyone I know.

Instead, real people can’t do simple math without a calculator, forget where they put their car keys and eat unhealthy food too many times! A big difference between the traditional thinking about the choices we make and reality.

The safety world is no different. We seem to think that people assess risks rationally and logically. We often expect predictability in our risk-related behaviour. This is not what I have seen in the many investigations I have been involved in. Actually the contrary is true. Almost a predictable irrationality!

This is where the latest research and the many studies from the field of Behavioural Economics can show for us safety folks, how people actually make decisions and design programs based on reality. We are more irrational and biased in our choices then all of us want to accept, predictably!