Building a Climate for Culture Change: 3 Key Concepts for Your Safety Evolution

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An organization is a complex set of dynamically intertwined and interconnected elements (inputs, processes, outputs, feedback loops and environment) in which it operates.  These elements are continuously changing, interacting, ebbing and flowing (Katz & Kahn, 1978).

Many safety initiatives fail to reach their potential because they are introduced and left to fend for themselves. Without the forethought to plan for sustaining new initiatives in this complex web of interconnectivity, companies often miss this valuable opportunity to make tremendous differences in peoples’ lives. When EHS professionals plan for their organizations’ safety evolution, they first need to build the climate for culture change.

Safety Climate vs Safety Culture

Organizational culture is a socially created construct. As a construct, culture is not easily quantified or measured. However, culture functions as a “control mechanism,” informally reinforcing or inhibiting some patterns of organizational assumptions or behaviors. These patterns of assumptions are so basic, so pervasive and so completely accepted as “the truth,” that no one thinks about or remembers them. They become “the way we have always done things around here.” (Schein, 2000)

Organizational climate, on the other hand, is what people see and report happening to them in organizational situations (Schneider, 2000). Safety climate focuses on the situation and on the perceptions of what the organization is like in terms of practices, policies, procedures, routines and rewards.

Climate describes “what” happens, whereas culture explains “why” people do the things they do. Thus, changing culture is more of a long-term process, where impacting climate can happen relatively quickly. Giving people year-end bonuses may influence the short-term climate, but fail to impact the long-term culture.

So, to create safety culture change, organizations first must positively influence their climate to ensure a long-term impact. With this clarification, to produce lasting change, EHS professionals need to focus on climate elements of new initiatives that will in the short-term influence the characteristics that need changing while at the same time, reinforce safety cultural norms that are maintaining the beneficial assumptions and behaviors that are keeping people safe.

3 Keys for Creating a Safety Evolution

Very seldom is a safety culture completely broken. Most of the time, companies either organizationally are complacent (few injuries, incidents, property damage, etc.) or have latent deficiencies and “drifted” but have not experienced any indicators. In either case, this is an ideal time to attempt organizational change, instead of waiting for someone to get hurt and risk looking reactive.

There are many methods for creating and sustaining organizational change (see Kotter, 1996, for one example). To create a safety step-change, however, there are three keys to ensure long-term success:

1) Make safety personal – Too often, organizations dehumanize safety by focusing on numbers or the recordable rate. The OSHA recordable rate, for instance, is one frequently used method of assessing safety performance. Whereas this recordable rate is an indicator, for high-performing organizations, it is an inadequate means for assessing safety culture because there are far too few instances to truly get a picture of performance.

Many companies only focus on injury statistics and not on safety statistics. To impact the safety climate, organizations never should quote the recordable rate to their employees. This reduces their experiences to numbers and minimizes the impact on the people with whom we work.

Furthermore, as we get closer to zero injuries, and the more the organization emphasizes these numbers, the more likely employees are to feel pressure to not report their injuries to avoid spoiling a perfect record. Achieving a safety milestone such as a zero recordable rate may positively influence the safety climate, but may negatively impact the culture if employees feel they must hide their injuries to receive recognition.

Safety is about people. To create the next safety step-change, organizations need to make safety personal again. When someone gets hurt, has a near miss, identifies property damage or makes a mistake, organizations have to respond in such a way that employees perceive this as a learning event and not an opportunity to shame and blame their coworkers.

This requires a change in our verbal behavior and how we communicate; we must portray these incidents as opportunities for system/process improvements. Using a one-on-one safety coaching, for instance, leaders should focus on the impact to the employee, their welfare, family, and livelihood, and not discuss if this would be considered a recordable incident. For organizations to move to the next level of safety performance, a focus on achievement-oriented safety statistics is essential.

2) Use safety analytics – As we move closer to cultures where injuries are rare occurrences, companies need to focus on achievement-oriented safety statistics to assess progress. This leading-indicator mentality has been the hot topic in safety for decades. However, few organizations know what to do with their leading indicators once they obtain them.

Counting the frequency and quality of leading indicators will not change the climate around safety.

To make lasting change, organizations need to use their safety intelligence to make proactive changes. These proactive changes can strengthen your initiative and thus strengthen your safety climate.

The safety field collects a plethora of safety intelligence, from training records to safety observations. Unfortunately, after an initial assessment, this critical safety analytics often is stored away and goes mostly unused. So, to impact our safety climates, we need to gather all our safety “big data,” put our safety analytics to use and get our leadership teams to become truly engaged in acting upon our valuable safety indicators.

Much of the safety data gathered by organizations comes from some sort of safety audit, inspection or observation. These processes are used to gather intelligence on the effectiveness of safety management systems. However, this information often is not trusted, is misused or is ignored.

Using safety analytics on the audits demonstrates to the organization that its participation in the safety process is needed and valued. Without using it, the collected data negatively can impact the long-term culture and lead to indifference and pencil-whipping.

To improve the climate for using observational data, organizations should develop a data usage plan to ensure safety intelligence is being reviewed, acted upon and communicated. A successful data use plan outlines who is going to get which report, at what frequencies, how they will share the information and what the value-add is for the organization.

The data usage plan should be rolled into a pre-existing leadership meeting, along with a week-look-back/week-look-ahead to help diagnose where the week’s inspections/observations should focus. These safety analytics help drive proactive change, demonstrate that safety gets a seat at the leadership table and help create a climate of continuous learning.

3) Build trust – By following the first two suggestions, the level of trust greatly should improve.

However, in many cultures where the primary focus only is on counting the number of inspections (checking off a box) – and failing to act upon the data is the norm – organizations begin to lose trust in their data. This “venomous cycle” often happens to the cultures that focus more on the numbers and less on the people-side of safety.

If employees do not trust that their safety audits are being reviewed, for instance, they may not put much effort in completing a quality observation. The leaders, in turn, receive safety data they do not trust and are hesitant to act upon it. This inaction leads to further pencil-whipping, more mistrust, and more inaction. To reverse this cycle, organizations need to act upon their safety analytics.

By using a data use plan, organizations can create a “virtuous circle” by acting on the observation intelligence provided and demonstrate the value of the information. This action and follow-up communication creates momentum that can produce a climate of discovery that eventually will lead to a culture of a learning organization.

Once your employees trust that the data they provide will be used to help their coworkers stay safe, the trust in the organizational processes grows and a cultural evolution begins to take shape. This empowering safety step-change can help organizations lay the foundations for decades of improvements, and eventually eliminate death on the job.

Office Safety Part 2: 15 More Tips for a Safer Office

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In our last post we listed 10 tips to keep your office environment safe for employees, and in this article we continue with 15 more tips and common work-safety issues that employers and safety officers need to keep in mind to maintain a safe workplace.

Vision problems

Although looking at a computer monitor cannot damage your eyes, spending a large portion of your workday at the computer can cause eyestrain, according to Chicago-based Prevent Blindness America. Eyes can become dry and irritated, and workers may begin having trouble focusing. A few work area adjustments can help alleviate some of these issues.

1- Dim the lights and use task lamps
Florescent lights in office buildings often are too bright for optimal vision. According to the American Optometric Association, light that is at about half-normal office levels is preferred. This can be achieved by removing some bulbs from overhead fixtures. If more light is needed for a particular task, the British Columbia Public Service Employee Relations Commission recommends providing individual task lamps rather than increasing overall lighting. The commission cautions that lightbulbs in task lamps should be fully recessed to avoid the creation of a bright spot in the worker’s line of vision.

2- Correctly position monitors
Prevent Blindness America recommends workers place their computer monitors slightly below eye level and 20-26 inches from their eyes. Screens that can tilt or swivel are especially beneficial. “Your eyes’ resting position is a few degrees below the horizon when you’re looking straight ahead,” Paquette said.

3- Minimize screen glare
The American Optometric Association points to screen glare as a major cause of eyestrain in the office. To minimize strain, avoid positioning monitors opposite open windows, or be sure to always close shades or blinds. A glare reduction filter also can be used.

4- Wear the right glasses
Workers should tell their eye doctor if they spend a large portion of the day working on the computer, the association recommends. The doctor can check the efficiency of vision at 20-30 inches – the typical distance a computer monitor should be placed. Glasses are available for computer use that allow the wearer to see the full monitor without having to excessively strain the neck.

5- Increase font size on computer
Small font sizes on the computer can strain both your vision and your neck, as workers tend to pull the head forward to view smaller print. A simple adjustment to the font size on the computer screen can eliminate the need for this. “In many software programs, you can use the CTRL-scroll up or down or CTRL+ or CTRL- to increase or reduce the size of the page you are looking at,” Paquette said.

6- Take a break
Giving your eyes a rest and allowing them to focus on things at varying distances can help reduce strain and fatigue. OSHA recommends workers take a 10-minute break for every hour spent on the computer. These breaks can include working on tasks that require your eyes to focus on objects at a further range.

Fire safety

Local fire departments responded to approximately 3,830 office fires each year between 2004 and 2008, according to the Quincy, MA-based National Fire Protection Association. On average, these fires caused four civilian deaths and 37 civilian injuries annually. Some routine inspections around the office can help reduce the likelihood of fire causing such devastation.

7- Maintain cords in good repair
According to the Office of Compliance, damaged and ungrounded power cords pose a serious fire hazard and violate safety codes. Cords should be inspected regularly for wear and taken out of service if they are frayed or have exposed wire. Further, cords should never be used if the third prong has been damaged or removed. Make sure cords are not overloading outlets. The most common causes of fires started by extension cords are improper use and overloading. Extension cords should be approved by a certifying laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories, and only used temporarily to connect one device at a time.

8- Inspect space heaters
If employees use space heaters, verify the devices are approved for commercial use and have a switch that automatically shuts off the heater if the heater is tipped over, the Office of Compliance suggests. Further, make sure space heaters are not powered through an extension cord or placed near combustible materials such as paper.

9- Never block fire sprinklers
Furniture and tall stacks of materials can block the range of fire sprinklers, reducing their effectiveness in the event of an emergency. Objects should never be placed higher than 18 inches below sprinkler heads to allow a full range of coverage, according to the Office of  Compliance.

10- Do not block escape routes or prop open fire doors  
Items never should be stored along an emergency exit route. These paths should remain free of clutter, according to OSHA. Fire doors should not be held open by unapproved means (such as with a garbage can or chair), as this creates a significant fire hazard.

Administrative controls

In addition to employee training and improved equipment, certain administrative controls can aid hazard recognition and the elimination of potentially dangerous situations.

11- Conduct walk-throughs
Periodically walking around the office can help with hazard recognition and maintenance of ergonomic task design. Turina recommended employers conduct an ergonomics screen of every workstation at least once a year. “Employee complaints are invaluable in the process, but yearly reassessments can help to ensure that a good fit is maintained between employee and workstation,” he said.

12- Monitor signs of musculoskeletal disorders
Recognizing the symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders can alert employees of the need to make an ergonomics alteration to their workstation. But workers need to know what those warning signs are. “Lots of musculoskeletal injuries developing from poor ergonomics start out asymptomatically and can become quite severe by the time an employee starts to experience symptoms,” Turina said. Pay attention to any pain, fatigue, numbness or weakness, as these may be signs of an ergonomics problem and the start of a more serious MSD.

13- Talk to employees about their concerns
Simply asking workers how they are feeling can go a long way toward recognizing hazards. “Employers need to take advantage of the cases where employees are experiencing symptoms like discomfort and fatigue early on, when quick, inexpensive interventions can usually solve the problem,” Turina said. “Ignoring these early warning signs can lead to employee suffering and astronomical cost in some cases.”

14- Establish employee reporting systems
Establishing an employee reporting system can be the best way for organizations to get a handle on potential hazards before they cause injury. Consider creating an anonymous reporting process that encourages workers to come forward with their concerns. “Research shows that early intervention yields the most cost-efficient results in all areas,” Paquette said.

 

15- Correct mouse placement
Paquette often sees workstations where the computer keyboard is on a tray, but the mouse remains on the desk. “That spells disaster for the neck and shoulder on the side of that mouse,” she said. She recommends that the mouse always be placed beside the keyboard.

How Technology Can Shape the Future of EHS – Part 2

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In Last week’s article we discussed some of the new evolving technologies that could – and are starting to – shape the future of EHS, this week we continue to discuss more technologies that have potential for being part of future EHS /OHS systems and software suites.

Beacons and Sensors

Beacons and sensors are devices that either broadcast data to nearby portable electronic devices, or detect events and changes in their environment and then correspond with the appropriate response

Beacons and sensors are already being widely used in many EHS applications, here is a look at some of the most frequent ones:

Safety Alerts. An example of thi would be a worker entering a hazardous area of where work is being done that releases chemical fumes. The worker can then be equipped with an electronic device that picks up the signal from a beacon. As a result, the worker receives an alert or reminder on the electronic device asking him to make sure he is wearing a specific piece of safety equipment.

Detection of hazardous Chemical Releases. A Sensor can detect that a chemical spill has taken place, and then send an alert in real-time to electronic devices carried by workers, warning them to stay away from that area or to take special safety precautions.

Equipment Performance Statuses. Sensors can monitor the real-time performance of equipment or assets, So if the equipment is not functioning correctly, or is about to malfunction, it can send a real-time alert to warn workers. LNS Research has written a lot about this and the link between Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and EHS.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented Reality is a real-time direct or indirect view of a real-world environment whose elements are augmented or supplemented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. Games like the world-famous Pokémon Go are good examples of the use of AR. Some of the applications of Augmented Reality in EHS include:

Safety Smart Glasses. A pair of smart glasses can be programmed to view real-time environmental information such as airborne chemical and particulate concentrations, or oxygen levels in a confined space.

Virtual Safety Data Sheets. A worker scans a chemical storage area with a smartphone’s camera and the screen gets populated with virtual Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) above each chemical for convenient access to safety information.

Smart Helmets. A helmet can be equipped with a retractable visor capable of overlaying work instructions, system performance metrics, and temperature readings on the user’s field of view.

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual Reality is a technology that uses software to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulates a real environment, as well as the user’s physical presence in this environment by enabling the user to interact with this space and depicted objects.

Safety Training. Instead of traditional classroom training, pictures and video to educate workers about a hazardous environment, VR allows full immersion into the environment without having to leave the room. According to a study by Verdantix, having “real” experience before being actually exposed to a hazard is invaluable, and could reduce unsafe behaviors, incidents, injuries and fatalities.

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How Technology Can Shape the Future of EHS – Part 1

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As technology evolves everything evolves with it, and we can expect that a few years from now the EHS profession will look very different . Like all industries, Environmental Health & Safety softwares will also be affected by the emerging technologies that are changing fundamentally the way people perform their tasks.

An example of this would be mobility and the concept of cloud-based softwares. Today, there are many companies that use smartphones or tablets to report incidents and near misses, or use cloud-based applications to perform various EHS functions.

Since technology evolves quickly, this is a good time to look at the other ways in which technology will change EHS. Rather than using buzzwords, or writing yet another article about a specific technology, we will share with you specific applications in EHS that have been talked about. Therefore you will already have a look into the technology-enabled future of EHS. The post is divided by technology area and includes examples of applications and links to articles.

Wearables

Wearable are miniature computers or electronic devices that are worn by users. With Smartwatches and fitbit being the most known wearable devices. Let’s look at a few applications of wearables in EHS.

Reporting Incidents Using Smartwatches. A smartwatch can enable workers to report a near miss or an incident through speech recognition.

Smart Glasses. Since Smart Glasses came out many developers and software companies started creating applications for them, so of the applications of smart glasses in EHS are:

1) Displaying a list of work instructions to ensure that tasks are performed safely using both hands;

2) Recording or displaying videos of risky conditions that can lead to an incident;

3) Capturing a live video of a near miss or incident as it’s taking place, and using the video during the incident investigation.

Health-Monitoring Wearables. Wearables (belt, wrist band, etc.) monitor a worker’s vital signs (blood rate, temperature, blood pressure, breathing, etc.). If there is something abnormal, an alert is sent to the worker and/or his supervisor indicating that the worker may be under strain, which could increase the risk of incidents. As a result, the worker stops his activity.

Environment-Monitoring Wearables. Another similar application is where the wearable alerts the worker if he has a high exposure to hazardous chemicals, is exposed to toxic gases, or is exposed to unsafe noise levels.

 

Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT is the internetworking of physical devices, vehicles, connected devices, smart devices, buildings and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data.

Some scenarios make use of both wearables and the IoT, or beacons/sensors and the IoT. Therefore some items in this post under other sections could also have been placed in this section.

Let’s look at a few applications of the IoT in EHS:

Emissions Monitoring. Sensors monitor air emissions, collect data and send it over the Internet. The data can be used for reports, or to measure the environmental footprint of an enterprise throughout all facilities.

Water Management. According to Metcalfe, smart sensors that capture data will be used more often in water management, as opposed to water meters, because, as water becomes an increasingly scarce resource, there will be a greater need to monitor water in the natural environment.

Grid-Based Data Collection on Chemical Spills. Geographic information systems using grid-based data collections are also seeing progress. Collecting data using grids is less time-consuming than collecting data manually, Metcalfe says. For example, during a chemical spill, the areas where a chemical spill has occurred and that require an immediate cleanup response can be identified visually and more effectively.

Drones

Drones are currently being used in everything from food delivery to aerial inspection and monitoring. Let’s look at a couple of applications of drones in EHS.

Inspections. Drones can be used to inspect and identify problems, instead of putting human workers at risk during inspections, some of examples of this are:

  • Communication industries are increasingly using drones to inspect towers and antennas, instead of risking workers safety.
  • In the oil and gas industry, drones can inspect flare stack heads, and detect and locate leaks.
  • Many construction businesses has started using drones to perform roadway inspections.
  • Drones could be used to identify problems in enclosed areas, for example in sewers, before workers are sent into a potentially hazardous situation.

In addition to the scenarios above, another application would consist of using drones to monitor and inspect vast networks composed of thousands of kilometers of pipelines in the oil and gas industry.

Work at Elevation. The EHS Daily Advisor article also raises the possibility that drones could eventually be designed to perform the same work that robots currently do, but at elevation (e.g. welding, drilling), thus reducing the need to expose workers to fall hazards.