Interviews Exploring Safety Differently

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Ron Gantt has recently participated in several interviews talking about Safety Differently (SD) with Jeff Dalto. Here’s a quick summary of those articles (there are currently four).

What Is Safety Differently?

In the first interview, Jeff asked Ron to explain what Safety Differently is, and Ron explained that Safety Differently is a movement that’s attempting to change:

  • How safety is defined
  • The view of and role of people at work
  • The focus of the organization

Ron continues by explaining each of the three from the viewpoint of traditional or “normal” safety and then from Safety SD, like so:

How safety is defined: As an absence of negatives in traditional safety, and as the presence of positives (such as the capacity to be successful in varying conditions) in SD.

Workers: The problem that must be controlled in traditional safety, and the solution in SD.

The focus of the organization: Safety is bureaucratic accountability in traditional safety, and safety is an ethical responsibility in SD.

Jeff then went on to ask Ron what’s “wrong” with traditional safety and why we need to rethink it and (at least in part, abandon it). One of Ron’s answers, harkening back to the definition of safety, is that traditional safety is too focused on what we don’t want (hazards, incidents, risks, unsafe acts, etc.) and not focused enough helping workers get work done and helping the organization achieve its goals. In this context, Ron notes that the methods of traditional safety are at least in part responsible for the fact that many organizations marginalize safety, don’t see safety as a “value added” proposition, and/or are frustrated with safety for creating safety v. production decisions.

The interview continues by covering some common confusions about SD (Ron answers by saying many people think it’s another form of behavior based safety, or BBS, or that they try to combine SD with BBS) and by explaining three common areas of resistance to SD: (1) the belief that there’s nothing really new in SD, (2) the belief that we don’t need to modify traditional safety, we just need to do “more of it” or do it “harder,” and (3) the belief that there’s no data behind SD approaches.

Read the entire interview here.

 

Is Safety Differently Really Any Different?

This second interview came about after an especially interesting conversation about SD and similar new approaches to safety that began on LinkedIn (credit to Michael Kleinpeter for starting the discussion).

The discussion was broad-ranging, but at least part of it focused on one of the areas of resistance to SD that Ron identified in the earlier interview (above): whether or not SD was really any different than traditional safety.

Jeff began the interview by asking Ron what his response was to those who claimed SD really wasn’t new or different, and his answer began: “These are actually understandable responses, and, in some sense, these critics are correct. From some perspectives safety differently is neither new, nor different…You can find organizations that have been practicing some or perhaps even all of what safety differently recommends for decades. The point of the differently in safety differently is not to say that no organization in history has ever adopted these ideas. Rather, it is a statement that what safety differently recommends is different than what people traditionally see as normal safety practices.”

Ron then calls out (once again, as in the previous interview) three key differences between traditional safety and SD:

  • Definition of safety (absence of negatives v. presence of positives)
  • View of workers (problem v. solution)
  • Role of “Safety” in organization (bureaucratic responsibility to those higher in organization v. ethical responsibility to workers)

And below are just some of what Ron had to say about each:

Definition of safety: Many workplaces and processes are complex, and how people deal with complexity leads to both failures and success. So focusing solely on eliminating the causes of failures will also eliminate the causes of successes

View of workers: Ron states that of the three “key differences,” this is the one that people most often say is not different at all. He admits that many organizations try to do this, but that in many cases, they’ve only really scratched the surface and haven’t fully applied this in a systematic manner.

Role of safety in organization: Ron acknowledges that many safety professionals DO want safety to be an ethical responsibility, but states that often their primary focus in on “higher-ups”: management, regulators, etc.. He closes by saying “We should be asking workers what they need instead of asking them why they aren’t following our rules.”

Read the full interview here.

 

Safety Differently and Incidents/Incident Reporting

As Ron explained in the previous interviews, one of the big departures between traditional safety and Safety Differently is the view of the worker.

Traditional safety tends to see the worker as a problem who must be controlled. The feeling is that if management simply writes enough procedures, and if workers follow them, there will be no safety incidents. And from there, it follows, that safety incidents are most likely the result of workers who made bad decisions, departed from procedure, and should either get re-trained or be disciplined/punished in some way (perhaps even being let go, depending on severity).

As a result of this mindset, many incident investigations end by blaming “human error,” and Ron argues that we don’t really learn or benefit from that identification. Plus, because workers are aware of this general pattern, they have little incentive to report incidents or even near-misses, often assuming they’ll simply be blamed in one way or another.

Ron argues that companies that adopt the SD approach will:

  • See an increase in reporting of problems
  • See different types of issues reported, such as issues that lead to production and quality issues

Ron continues by stating that one of the biggest challenges for safety professionals in this regard is to not aim for perfection or zero and instead to change their relationship with failure, knowing it’s bound to happen in one way or another and to use it as a learning opportunity.

In closing, Ron explains that the best way to begin an incident investigation is to (1) involve people who do the work in the investigation and (2) understand how work is performed (not just how work is planned).

Read the full interview here.

 

Safety Differently and Safety Training

Because learning is so strongly emphasized in Safety Differently, Jeff wanted to ask Ron some questions about safety training.

As you might have guessed based on the materials above, Ron said that much of safety training is too focused on what regulators say and on compliance and that much safety training is, as a result, “boring.”

In keeping with his ideas that safety should contribute to helping workers get the work done, he believes safety training should focus on “what it takes to get the work done” and should:

  1. Begin by working with workers to determine which competencies they need to get the work done
  2. Work with workers to identify ways to help them acquire that competence

Along those same lines, Ron notes:

  1. Safety training is often performed as if there were a distinction between safety and operations
  2. Safety is really just a part of operations
  3. Safety training should therefore be delivered with operations training—for example, when teaching a worker how to change out a pump, teach the worker lockout/tagout procedures as well (instead of teaching the two in entirely separate sessions)

Ron closes by noting that it’s also important to see if training is even appropriate for the given circumstances. Many times, people automatically assume that because a “problem” has occurred, training is the logical answer. But that’s not always true—sometimes there are other, more logical interventions, and in fact training may bring nothing to the table. As a result, it’s always a good idea to perform a thorough analysis.

Read the full interview here.

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