Improving safety performance through sports science

I was at my daughters first rowing team meeting at high school tonight. She was really excited about what lay ahead this year and the challenges she will face with being part of the rowing team. I must say, based on the aspiration and success of the team that has gone before, as a parent, my advice is to get your daughter into rowing! The discipline, motivation and how to overcome hard work, really stood out.

But I digress. What’s this got to do with improving safety? Well this team of year 8 girls, nearly 50 in total, had a team of 10 coaches! 1 coach per 5 girls or one per quad team and a single skull. Great to see my money being used on the kids.

They introduced each coach one by one. A mixture of semi-professionals and old girls from the school. As I said, all very impressive people. But what came next really surprised but also made me reflect. They introduced the performance coach! yes a performance coach. Their key guy who collects and analyses the data, feeds back the observations and develops individual programs for each rower to optimise performance and maximise chance of success. Wow. We need one of those at work!

That made me think. Hell yeah, we do need a performance coach at work. One who can collect and analyse individual safety performance, feed it back and develop an individual program. Hmmmm…..why don’t we have one of those and what would that look like if we did?

What information would we collect to improve safety performance. We see it in elite sports where it seems they are measuring every little thing. Looking for tiny improvements which give competitive advantage. Team players wear tracking and monitoring devices whilst on the field of play. They are analysed by the second. Often a time sync’d video is watched by the entire team, so you (and your team mates) can see your mistakes in full HD, frame by frame. This is a time tested approach and critical to improvement. Analysis, review and feedback. The breakfast of champions.

But what are we doing in safety, to improve performance? What are we measuring in terms of how we can be safer? Do we even know what to measure? Then reviewing and feedback in the workplace. Is this even possible? I can see a work force deeply suspicious of any video being taken, let alone playing it back for all to share lessons learned!

I feel we are a long way from this. We still haven’t progressed from safety is a compliance issue and any review of performance, especially if it is failure is normally met with penalty. Little wonder workforces are suspicious.

So the question in my head is how would we design a safety performance improvement plan based on the sports science/performance methods? Who would that performance coach be and what would be measured? My high school teenage daughter has one for rowing. Why don’t we?

How safety can build leaders in your organisation

How do you create and grow leaders in your business? Ever thought of safety as the vehicle? Lets explore.

Leadership plays an important role in safety. Look at your safest teams. You will find leadership present. And typically with people who haven’t been on the expensive leadership courses but intuitively know and have learned the skills to be a leader.

They understand to be a leader requires two things:

  1. Knowing and understanding why people do what they do, and
  2. They know that for themselves.

Leaders constantly look for the “why” people do what they do and use it to get them to follow. They understand humans have 6 basic needs and the interplay of these needs. They seek out an individual’s preference and purposefully adjust their communication to match. They then look for impact. Making changes to themselves to maximise the impact, where needed. They learn about people and learn about themselves.

This can be taught. Leaders weren’t born leaders. Leaders learned how to be leaders. They have a high level of curiosity about people and have discovered how their own behaviour affects others. They understand how to be impactful and most importantly, what they need to change to affect this. They take ownership for this whole process.

So why use safety to grow leadership? Easy……Safety is an area the entire organisation is involved in, in one way or another. From the board of directors to the cleaner. For many, it is a fundamental tenet in their thinking, if not in their action. And this is where leadership can have the greatest impact and make the biggest difference. In the actions of people being safe. We start at safety and move through the organisation with the same leadership skill.

Invest in safety leadership training. It will provide your biggest returns.

Safety data – how your culture drives what you see

Like most people I believe in collecting data, analysing it in some way, expecting trends or patterns to emerge and tell us were to focus our safety efforts. What’s the data telling us about how we can prevent injuries?

In my workplace, we are very proud of the leading indicator data set. Over the past 4 years we’ve collected an impressive set of hazard, near miss, behavioural observations and audit data from the contractor groups. Our groups have consistently over delivered in relation to the rest of the site, indicting strong participation. Testimony to how strong our culture is. But does it tell us the real story?

I have always suspected the data set, even though large and easily statistically reliable, is riddled with many human biases, rendering it useless to fulfil its primary objective as predictive tool. Let me explain.

My observation is our group (the owners representative) has built a very strong safety culture. We’ve actively involved ourselves in our contractors safety business. We been very effective safety leaders on site, with reporting a foundation element. Hence, lots of hazard identification.

See it, fix it, share it (SFS) is our hazard and near miss branding if you will. An action lead initiative where the individual is expected to take ownership of a hazard and do something about it. We’ve been very success, building quite a machine around this initiative. Maybe too successful when it comes to using the data as a predictive tool.

The problem is this…..When we review the data, especially when you represent over time domain (weekly period), and overlay what initiative we are discussing that week, you see the group reacting to which ever initiative we are running. For example, when we ask everyone to be aware of vehicles and mobile plant in the work area, we receive lots of SFS’s about driving. When we discuss hazards in the work area. We get lots of SFS’s about slip and trip hazards. It is almost as if we are creating the data with a weeks lag!

What is going on here I suspect, stems from human biases and the “priming effect”. When the data set fills with hazards we discussed the week prior, clearly we are influencing the outcomes. And if we are influencing the data set, it will tell us what we already know.

Extending this thinking one step further, there appears to be a dichotomy going on here. The closer and stronger the relationship you have with the work force, the more priming affect you have. And subsequently, any data which you collect from that work group, will reflect that priming. Not good if we want to use the data set as predictive.

What’s the answer? Well, the first issue is beware of biases which run through your data set. If you are collecting data based on human behaviour it will have biases. Period. If you have a strong safety culture, the data set will reflect it. You will see in the data what you are driving. But this may not be a bad thing. If we can see priming effects then use this to your advantage. Prime away…some may say this is manipulative but the reality this is how humans work and our overall intent is to keep people safe so our cause is a noble one. But what do you prime with?

Well most of us who have been around the block a couple of times, and actually learn from the those trips, know that at the most basic level, injuries occur when a hazard and a person interact. Understanding the different interactions is important and the basis of much of our rules, procedures and documentation. But at the lowest level, it is about staying out of the line of fire and using our brain to drive our actions to achieve this. Priming your work groups to having eyes and mind on the hazard, will set them up for success. To go home to their loved ones in one piece.

We seem to be in a good place. The data is telling us we have influence over our work teams. Happy about that. But what data sources other than lag indicators do we use? Thats another topic but it involves getting out into the field and being observant. Safety is not a desk job. The best safety leaders I know are in the field, listening, learning and leading.

So be careful with your data sets. Some data is better then none but deeply understand what it is telling you.



Safety leaders must have courage

I was reminded today of the importance of courage and safety leadership. I facilitated a lessons learned and asked the team “What did you learn from the past 3 months and what can you do to improve safety?”

The team provided excellent feedback. As we summarised, engaging with others surfaced. Getting into the field. Visible leadership presence. Building effective relationships. Better use of the data. Communication, recognition more BBQ’s. Nothing there.

Then I came across a comment which struck me. “Shrugging off the reluctance to intervene on a safety issue”. I thought Wow. Who was this. As I looked around the room, I didn’t see many “shrinking” violets. I glanced at the form again and recognise the writing instantly. I had no idea this person felt this way. Only yesterday, he lead an intervention with a group of big tough civil contractors. The main protaganist tattooed from head to toe! For him that must have taken some courage.

Thats when the memory came back. An old HR mentor of mine Marco Serra once said to me “Popey, courage is not acting without fear, courage it is acting in-spite of fear”. Not sure where he got it from but it was resonated with me ever since.

Every aspect of safety leadership puts you out there. From engaging and intervening with people you don’t know who may be doing something unsafe or trying new initiatives which may fail because the old ones don’t work. All of these activities can create some element of fear in us.

Fear is such a crippling emotion. It is our brains way of keeping us safe (fight, flight or freeze). Warning us about hazards. But our brain is not very good at discriminating hazards these days, creating strong fear emotions about things which aren’t hazards. Public speaking being just one example of how fear can turning highly intelligent people into babbling wrecks. Public speaking is hardly a sabre tooth tiger!

Safety leaders will be out there, getting after it. They will be engaging with others, building effective relationships. Creating a safety culture. Taking it from where it is to where it should be. Inevitably situations for intervention will occur where feedback on existing practices needs to be highlighted and the new, modelled. They will be influencing others in this culture change. Driving change puts you, by definition, out of the comfort zone (either yours or some else). Into a place where the fear emotion lives. Facing the fear is what leaders do. Courage is what gives you the strength to face that fear. If you want to be a safety leader, face those fears. Exercise and strengthen these courage muscles.


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 – Building daily routines

Hi everyone. Well all 3 of you. Im back. It is time to make this a daily routine. Something I can succeed at. Step by step. Day by day. Blog by blog.

I want to improve my writing. I’m in my 50’s now and my future is in sharing knowledge and ideas, not selling my effort.

I’ve read a mountain of books on how to write. I could read another mountain’s worth and have only improved my reading skills not my writing prowess. Someone once said continuing to read and research is a form of procrastination.

Everything I’ve read though says the same thing. If you write poorly and want to get better, then keeping writing until you do! Simple. Like building any skill. Daily routines.

So, I’m committing to a daily blog. Ship something everyday. I expect somedays it will be great and others not so. I do aim to deliver value in some small way everyday. Well thats my aim.

Most of what I will write is about safety, particularly Safety Leadership. I want to change the way we do safety. Connect with people who are thinking about the next generation of Safety. Create a tribe or forward thinkers and doers.

Let me leave with a question: Describe what effective safety leadership is?

Until tomorrow.

Safety leadership – Lead like a gardener

In my career, I’ve seen some great and not so great leaders. The not so great have been plentiful.  The great ones though the most memorable. Typically, the not so great would ride in on the white horse to fix the problem for you, make you feel like crap then ride off again. Lots of noise and visibility about them. They are never off the transmit button with plenty of telling.

On the other hand, the great ones seemed less intrusive. They were there when you needed them, but in the background, supporting, positively challenging and encouraging. Sometimes they would ride in to fix a problem, but it was more about what I could learn rather than making me feel like crap, so I wouldn’t do it again.

It seems I’ve read a small forest equivalent of books and reference material about what leadership is. The amount of material I’ve consumed doesn’t make it any easier. Years could pass (in some ways it has) trying to “think” through what leadership is. It has for me.

Lead like a Gardener

Or you could listen to Stanley McCrystal’s thoughts about leadership. “Lead like a gardener”, he says. You can’t physically make a tomato grow. The only thing you can do is create the environment for the tomato to grow. The richer the environment the better the tomato. Everything starts with the right seeds. Plant them in fertile soil. Constantly nurture and tend to its growth. Help the plant be strong.

This is a powerful way to think of leadership. A divine explanation of what I have experienced in my life and career. Great leaders create a rich environment to thrive. They nurture, constantly observe, providing the feedback to promote growth not stunt it. They know people, like plants, are weakest at the early stages of growth. The more they grow the stronger they get.

So, what are you doing to tend to your leadership garden?

Because we have always done it this way!

This week I encountered this problem. A new way to think and doing something and a reluctance, almost open defiance, to new ways. When asked why not, because we have always done it this way!

That’s a poor answer to a set of reasonable questions.

Why do we allow the contractor to deviate from their work method? Why do put experience ahead of innovation? Why do we allow this risk when we could have zero? Why is this our policy? Why do we let him decide these issues?

The real answer is, “Because if someone changes it, that someone will be responsible for what happens.”

Are you okay with that being the reason things are the way they are? I’m not!

The safety bulls eye – putting people first

I want to share an interesting discussion that I had recently. It was with a young original thinking engineer about the “bulls eye approach”. Bulls eye approach I thought? WTF?

“Dude, whats the bulls eye approach.” He looked at me and said, “its what Di Bella Coffee do. Putting the most important person (the customer) at the middle of your business and building your organisation around it.” My mind went immediately to Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk about leadership and his book “Start with the Why”. Here is the Ted talk…..

Of course put your main focus in the middle and build your supporting organisation around it rather than the typical organogram with the most important person on the top and the least on the bottom (where is the customer again?).

So who does this relate to safety. Well I love frameworks that simplify and help explain. So I sketched this. Put the frontline person in the middle and layered the support around them. Wow…..It struck me how obvious it was and how much we don’t do it!

I shared it with my colleagues and it hit them equally as hard! Lets do it. We didn’t spend much time debating the positives and negatives we just made the change. The next safety presentation we made included our new model with the frontline person in the middle. What a reaction! They all got it and said how it was about time you guys worked out where to focus your energy! From that point onwards we got no resistance at all.

Give it a try. Put your frontline workers, the ones that are exposed to hazards and get hurt by them in the middle of your organisation and build the support around them. You will get new insights into how much support is present and if it is sufficient.