SAFESTART: Shedding Light on Proven Error Reduction Techniques

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SafeStart is about how rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency can cause or contribute to 4 critical errors, which are eyes not on task, mind not on task, moving into or being in the line of fire or somehow losing your balance, traction or grip. SafeStart headed by the well-known trainer, mentor and author Larry Wilson, is engaged in teaching people the four critical error reduction techniques they will need to learn so that they can deal with the four states – before they cause critical errors – which can lead to serious incidents and injuries. SafeStart is now operating in 69 countries, and the program has been translated into 32 languages, it’s been implemented at over 10,000 worksites and the organization has trained a whopping 4,300,000 people, besides a couple of million children. It is a worldwide organization with offices in Canada, the USA, Mexico, Brazil, Europe, Africa, Australia, the Middle East, India, and the Philippines. Very soon it is also opening an office in Japan. In this interview the Founder-CEO Wilson Larry tells us, among others, the need for inculcating a safety culture in organizations so that we can preempt man-made incidents, injuries and fatalities. Excerpts:

Q. You have been involved with Industrial Safety for a long time. Would you say that safety is of paramount importance in industry, and what should companies do to ensure the safety of men and machines?

There are many companies that say “safety is paramount” or that “safety is number one” or that “safety is the first priority”…These are all easy to say, but in reality if there’s no production then there’s not much safety to worry about either. Balancing all of the priorities (quality, production efficiency, customer relations, etc.) in such a way so that safety is not compromised is really the challenge most companies face. However, with safety there can be ‘irreversible consequences’ so from that perspective you could say that safety is paramount in terms of importance.
The second part of the question: “what measures should companies take to ensure the safety of men and machines?” is… that it depends on where the company is now or where they are starting from. If the vehicle or the fork truck doesn’t have any brakes then getting them fixed (looking after the machines) is likely going to be a better place to start than telling the operator to be careful or not to go too fast because the brakes are bad. But if there’s nothing wrong with the brakes (or the machines), then telling the operator to be careful is the next step. However, telling people to be careful really doesn’t work. So what many global companies have done is that they have gone beyond compliance and ensuring the equipment is properly maintained, to adopting training programs and engagement activities to help employees improve their behaviour, their ability to prevent critical errors and their safety-related habits.

Q. Many at time, disasters occur due to human error. Your views?

Many a time could mean “once in a while” or it could mean “too many”. But even if disasters only occur once in a while, that’s still too many. Obviously, there are things like floods and earthquakes but there are also many ‘man-made’ disasters. Sometimes it’s a structural failure or a lack of sound engineering in the first place. Other times there can be some corruption involved and cheaper building materials were used. But most of the man-made disasters are (by definition) made by us. This means that critical decisions and human error cause most of them. And of the four states, complacency is usually huge when it comes to the human factors that cause the errors or decisions that lead to the disaster. This is because people can get complacent about maintenance. And this can be especially true when there are multiple levels of redundancy. So if the primary barrier, valve, etc. fails, there’s a secondary one. And if that fails there’s a third. But then, when it’s all too late, we find out that nobody has checked whether the third one was actually working… Why? Well there could be lots of contributing factors, but we know that in almost every case, complacency was a big factor.

SAFESTART: Shedding Light on Proven Error Reduction Techniques

Q. How can we inculcate safety culture in organizations?

That’s a good question. Unfortunately, the answer is not that easy or simple. To begin, it’s important to realize that ‘Safety Culture’ is the ‘sum of the parts’ or the result of all the inputs. It’s the question mark that comes after the equals sign (ie. a+b+c=?). Gary Higbee taught me that. Note: Gary and I wrote “Inside-out: re-thinking traditional safety management paradigms”. So it’s not just one thing, it’s the combination of everything. However, in my experience, a big component is leadership. What do they say? And more importantly, what do they do? Some leaders talk a good game. That won’t be enough to create or sustain a good Safety Culture. The leaders will actually need to demonstrate their commitment for it to be believed or felt by the employees. But “employees” or “shop floor workers” as I’ve heard them referred to, are not one homogeneous commodity. They can be very different depending on how long they have worked there, how much have things changed over the years, what’s the history of the site-have there been a lot of serious injuries or fatalities? What about explosions or fires? All of these things will also affect the Safety Culture. But, and this is important: you can’t just buy a new one. In order to improve the Safety Culture the company needs to look at changing the “climate” or the things that will affect it. As mentioned, they will need to look at all of the inputs and make efforts to improve everything, even if they can’t do it all at once. It would be nice if we could just ‘inoculate’ safety culture. However, it’s probably more accurate to think about ‘cultivating’ a safety culture. That takes time. I /we/Safestart has asked thousands (and thousands) of safety professionals, “how long does it take to build a strong, sustainable Safety Culture?” And over 95% said 3-5 years. Note: It can also erode or regress in about the same period of time (maybe less if there’s a serious incident).

However, with all that said, most people-almost everybody-will say that the key to transforming the safety culture is with the leadership group: What do they say? What do they do and how often are they doing it? Typically, an engaged leadership group is the best place to start. But top-down approaches usually falter at the level of first line supervision. This is because it’s very difficult for the supervisors to be able to teach all of the employees all of the skills and habits, especially out on the shop floor. So to get a good or a great Safety Culture the employees also need to understand, at a fairly deep level (more than common sense), how the majority of unintentional incidents occur. These incidents and injuries were not because of something that someone else did; nor was it because something broke, failed or malfunctioned. In other words: the equipment or the machines didn’t do anything unexpectedly. So employees need to learn skills like self-triggering on the active states (rushing, frustration and fatigue that they can feel in the moment), and they may also need to improve some of their safety-related habits like “moving your eyes first before you move your hands, feet, body or vehicle”. So employees (all of us really) need to learn how to deal with human factors and the critical errors they can cause or contribute to. In summary: in order to have a great Safety Culture it has to be “top-down“ and “bottom-up”, not just one or the other.

SAFESTART: Shedding Light on Proven Error Reduction Techniques

Q. Please give us an overview of SafeStart and its activities?

Ok, well-very quickly – SafeStart is about how rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency can cause or contribute to 4 critical errors, which are eyes not on task, mind not on task, moving into or being in the line of fire (path of the hazardous energy) or somehow losing your balance, traction or grip. What the training program is about is teaching people the four critical error reduction techniques they will need to learn so they can deal with the four states – before they cause critical errors – which can lead to serious incidents and injuries. So that’s the first part. As far as the activities or what we have been doing for the last 23 years, SafeStart is now operating in 69 countries, it’s been translated into 32 languages, it’s been implemented at over 10,000 worksites and we have trained over 4,300,000 people. Maybe more if you count all the children. We made four videos for the employees to take home to their families. Everybody loves them. However, I would have no idea how to go about counting all of the children that have watched them. But it’s probably another million or two.

We have offices in Canada, the USA, Mexico, Brazil, Europe, Africa, Australia, the Middle East, India, the Philippines and this fall we will open an office in Japan. We also have an office in Russia, but that’s been pretty isolated for a while. However, they’re doing all right, which is good. Because there’s no way we could get money to them if they weren’t. So we’ve covered a lot of ground but there’s still a long way to go. Next year I’m hoping to get an office going in South Africa and maybe one in China too. In addition to all that, we have also been very busy on the development side. We have a new app called YouFactors (made in Chennai) that will enable employees to learn the critical error reduction techniques (CERTs) by completing one 10-minute module a week for 14 weeks on a mobile phone. There is also a “Habits Reminder“ function, a function where they can enter close calls in the “self-area” anonymously, another function for Anticipating Errors and Rate Your State (probably the most powerful) and a story feed where they can post their Safestart stories and see how many “likes” they get from all the other SafeStart users around the world. So we are very excited about this. And we will be launching it this month!

Q. One final question: as a SafeStart trainer or mentor what has been the happiest moment in your professional life?

There have been many happy moments. The family days and getting to teach the children the SafeStart concepts have been a lot of fun. There have also been some moments that have had a profound impact on me both personally and professionally. However the one that probably sticks out in my mind the most will be the subject of the next article which is: “Mental Health and Psychological Safety-One woman’s extraordinary journey with SafeStart”. It’s always moving when someone shakes your hand or hugs you and then tells you that SafeStart saved their life. But this one was probably the most profound moment of my career. I can’t say it was the happiest. We were both crying. And when I was on the plane heading home I changed or added this question to the very end of Rate Your State. After they’ve gone through the four states and the employee has rated each state on a scale from 0-10, they’ve talked about the critical errors the states could cause and they’ve discussed what critical error reduction techniques and habits might help, now they put the card or the phone away, and ask the same question in terms of 0-10 but this time the question is, “how are you doing?”

And if it’s appropriate, after that, “how’s your family doing?” I won’t tell you the whole story. You will get to read it, some of it in her words, next article. But yeah, that day in Columbia when she said that she self-triggered on the states and that saved her life…was probably the most emotional and also the most rewarding moment in 23 years.

Hopefully, there will be many more. Like I said, we’ve covered a lot of ground, but there’s still a long way to go…