Of peaks and peak performance – The saga of Safestart

Larry Wilson, Safestart Author And CEO

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For almost 25 years, SafeStart has been serving clients with solutions to increase personal safety awareness and skills. Today it champions in human factors management.  The company has taught millions of employees in more than 60 countries how to improve human performance — reducing preventable deaths and injuries both on and off the job. SafeStart has helped thousands of companies, large and small, reduce injuries, increase engagement and achieve sustainable cultural improvement. In an interaction with Industrial Safety Review ( ISR), Larry Wilson, the author and CEO of SafeStart narrates the growth story of his organisation which is into training and orientation in safety.  He is also on the editorial advisory board of ISR. – Editor

Vision for SafeStart

Sometimes, vision is limited by what you can see. It reminds me of a time when I decided to run up the side of a small mountain. It was back when I was living in LA – working in Hollywood or trying to work as much as I could. But quite often, on the weekends, I would go, visit my friends in Palm Springs, which was about a two-hour drive east into the desert. On Saturday, while my friends were working, I decided to run up the side of one of these small mountains on the south side of the city. When I got to the top, I realized that there was a succession of peaks, not just the one I had climbed. I just hadn’t been able to see them all from the street. I could only see the top of the first one from there. So, I ran to the top of the next one, and then the next. Then… I turned around and went back because I didn’t want to run out of daylight and I was getting pretty tired. But that’s kind of what happened in terms of the vision.

Training to reduce injuries

We started out trying to make a training program that would reduce injuries and accidental fatalities more than anything else ever produced. However, just as we were getting there, at least in North America, people started asking us to make something they could share with their families. So, we did that. But then, that naturally led to some of the children sharing the videos with their school class, and at the same time, we were also taking the concepts and techniques to elite athletes in high-risk sports who were using it initially to reduce injuries. And then, to carry the metaphor a bit further, another peak came into view. Although it’s almost literal. The athletes were starting to notice improvement in their performance. Their ability to get into the “zone” or their “peak performance” state had gotten better. It had long been somewhat of a mantra in athletics:
I. Control the mind;
II. Control the moment;
III. Control the performance.

Now, after learning the Critical Error Reduction Techniques in Safestart, the athletes were adding:

I. Control the states;
II. Control the mind;
III. Control the moment;
IV. Control the performance.

Of peaks and peak performance - The saga of Safestart

Extending the concepts to performance

So, from there, the next peak was extending the concepts to performance. But then, another unexpected realization: It happened when I was doing some PR interviews with a specialty plastics company. I was talking to a lady from the office who works in customer service. Since she doesn’t have a high-risk job, I just asked her about errors or performance errors in general. Have you noticed whether you make more or less? And how about your coworkers. Have you noticed whether they make more or less? Graciously, she said she didn’t know about the others. But with herself she said, “it’s always one of those…” meaning rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency. “Not when you’re learning”, she continued. “That’s different. But after that, it’s always one of those…”. That got me thinking about how much time we really get to spend learning something new or doing something new on a weekly basis. Then I started asking other people. And, although it’s really no surprise, we all spend 90-95% of our time doing things we already know how to do. And in some cases, know how to do it well, have done it before-successfully. So now, it’s not just 95% of unintentional injuries. The state to error pattern is over 95% of all the errors we make (see Figure #2 – state-to-error risk pattern).

So, the vision went from trying to make the most successful industrial safety program to what we are doing now, which is to take these concepts and techniques for preventing serious performance errors and injuries, and to be able to deliver them to the world, through mobile technology.

Of peaks and peak performance - The saga of Safestart

Progression from one peak to the next

This all makes sense, but the progression from one peak to the next took time. Moving into or being in the line of fire or somehow losing your balance, traction or grip are just a subset of all the errors, that are caused by the four states. Which means we can use the same four critical error reduction techniques, to prevent all the errors, or at least 95% of them. So, the vision went from trying to make the most successful industrial safety program to what we are doing now, which is to take these concepts and techniques for preventing serious performance errors and injuries, and to be able to deliver them to the world, through mobile technology. Or to put it more profoundly:

Every child;
Every worker;
Every athlete;
In every country;
In our lifetime.

So, a lot of new peaks over the years. And with each one, a new training program. We added, Preventing Sprains and Strains to the original 5 units on Critical Error Reduction Techniques. Note: each unit takes about 2 hours and most companies do a unit a month. Then came Critical Decisions, another 5 units on how rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency or more likely how a combination of these states can compromise or negatively influence our decision-making. There is also “Rate Your State” a wonderfully simple engagement tool where supervisors ask their employees to rate each of the four states on a scale from 0-10. Then there is SafeStart Performance, which is 3 units and this is usually done some time around year 2 or 3. It includes “Anticipating Error”. This gives us all a great deal of help in terms of preventing defenseless moments when we don’t or won’t likely have our eyes and our minds on task at the same time (which means you won’t get the benefit of your reflexes. On a personal level, this is probably the most powerful tool in the toolkit. And finally, there is SafeTrack, a positive observation and feedback process for year 4.

The reason there are four years of progressive training is that we all know it takes more than one year for sustained culture change. So, we built a 3–5-year curriculum which takes most companies about 4 years to complete. And that hopefully answers the second question.

Impact on companies

In terms of the third question, the impact we have had on companies, the results have been outstanding: a 50% decrease in injuries in the first year and 80% over 4 years. However, this is a team effort. We help them get it off the ground and then we train their personnel to be the trainers. Then we train additional people to be on the steering committee and run the process. But on an average at over 10,000 worksites band in 69 countries, the results have been outstanding. However, at some of the sites, the results have been incredible, and not just for safety. Some have also had a 53.5% decrease in cost per ton, or a 48% decrease in customer complaints, or a 70% decrease in unscheduled downtime, etc. Once people learn the Critical Error Reduction Techniques well, they can apply them to all areas of their life and career. This is a big improvement over, “try to be more careful next time”. But keeping these concepts on top of mind and enabling people to do the simple tasks in “Anticipating Error” are the kind of things mobile technology can really help with.

Once people learn the Critical Error Reduction Techniques well, they can apply them to all areas of their life and career. This is a big improvement over, “try to be more careful next time”. But keeping these concepts on top of mind and enabling people to do the simple tasks in “Anticipating Error” are the kind of things mobile technology can really help with.

How technology comes to rescue

We can let them post videos and stories and let them watch what other people have posted. We can get them to report close calls and near-misses, we can remind them about habits like, moving your eyes first or testing your footing or grip before you commit your weight, and we can deliver refresher capsules of micro-learning to help keep the concepts fresh. So, there is a lot of potential to improve reliability and reduce human error with technology that just didn’t exist before. So that also provided an additional perspective to the vision. Now getting these concepts and techniques to everybody, not just the employees of good companies and their families, but everybody. That’s a big part of the changing vision. However, getting it to every country, even with technology, in our lifetime, will still be a challenge.

There are a lot of languages. Not everyone has a smart phone (although that is changing rapidly), and many people, governments, companies and contractors have never seen the state to error pattern or heard of Critical Error Reduction Techniques. So, while technology gives an alternative to classroom training, that doesn’t mean getting it to everybody is going to be easy. But what it will be able to do is to provide a cost-effective solution for contractors. It will also reduce the difficulty of getting contractors into a classroom. So, after all these years, finally there will be something contractors can do which will help with human factors and at-risk behaviour (they can take the short modules on their phones, participate in “Rate Your State” conversations and do “Anticipating Error” for themselves. This is important, because in many countries the contractors who work for small companies are at the highest statistical risk for experiencing a fatal workplace injury.

SafeStart started with the multi-nationals that had sites in India (Proctor & Gamble, UTC Aerospace, Epiroc, JLL, etc). But quickly, Indian Nationals started getting on board. The Muragappa group and the Coromandel Fertilizer division went on SafeStart and have had great results. There has also been a lot of interest from the Oil and Gas sector and the Mining sector.

Foray into training in EPC’s

We are very close to having something that will be cost-effective for contractors, that will be meaningful and will have a positive impact on behaviour. It will be 14 x 10-minute modules that you do once a week or maybe twice a week. So, it will take 7-14 weeks to complete. There will also be practice activities like working on habits that they will do in between modules. It was designed so that anyone with a smart phone can learn these concepts and techniques.

In terms of sustainability, we are (naturally) moving away from printed training materials to online modules you can access on a smart phone, tablet or laptop/desktop computer.

Advisory services

To answer to the question about our advisory services, as mentioned, we really just try to develop the internal capability within the organization so they can look after their own implementation over the initial 4 years and beyond. However, we do conduct a senior management overview for half- a-day at every site. SafeStart is for everybody. But every safety or performance improvement initiative works better with leadership support. So, we do a lot of webinars for stakeholders and a lot of leadership support sessions. And we do Rate Your State training for first-line supervisors. But we don’t really offer advisory or consulting services as some companies do.

In terms of “our role in changing organizational culture leading to safety and productivity”, as mentioned before, we teach all the employees how to use the Critical Error Reduction Techniques to first prevent injuries. But then in the next 12 months we are expanding the same concepts and techniques to reduce performance errors, quality errors, and customer service errors and enhance performance. This has a dramatic effect on culture. Employees and managers all take more personal responsibility and yet, it’s in a blame-free context. So, the culture also becomes more positive.

Results in India

And finally, one question that hasn’t been answered directly, “what about impact and results in India?”

Well, SafeStart started with the multi-nationals that had sites in India (Proctor & Gamble, UTC Aerospace, Epiroc, JLL, etc). But quickly, Indian Nationals started getting on board. The Muragappa group and the Coromandel Fertilizer division went on SafeStart and have had great results. There has also been a lot of interest from the Oil and Gas sector and the Mining sector. The culture in India is very receptive to human error. There isn’t a lot of hypocritical denial like you can find in Europe, North America and parts of Asia. So, the future for human factors in India combined with the technology looks bright… very bright!

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