April 27, 2015
In my recent blogs on “Evolving Beyond Behaviourism,” I make several assertions in regards to companies and sites that have enjoyed safety success, yet are stalled in their further improvement.
These assertions are:
Safety is over-managed and under-led.
Further improvements will likely come more from Safety Leadership than Safety Management.
We need to lead safety differently.
A key area of Safety Leadership is ‘perspective’. Here are a few brief anecdotes to illustrate this:
When Perspective is Missing from Safety Management
In January 2013 at a shipyard in Asia, a worker was killed and eight others hospitalized with serious injuries when a 300 ton ‘block’—a section of a ship under construction—broke free from temporary welded fastenings and fell 60 feet into an adjacent work area.
This shipbuilding facility, one of the largest manufacturing sites in the world, turns out the equivalent of a world-class vessel per week. Their products and processes are extraordinarily engineered and precisely manufactured at scales that astound most people when seen for the first time. Yet the facility suffered a catastrophic loss.
Like most major safety incidents, it was not due to a single cause or two. Safety and line managers did a thorough job at the ensuing Root Cause Analysis (RCA), identifying the discrete factors that contributed to the incident: under-defined procedure; miscommunication by engineers and foremen; revisions to work method; and the need for improved manufacturing tools.
A further review, however, yielded additional causal elements: due to late deliveries, the normal sequence of assembly was changed; to keep the assembly on schedule, the “block” was lifted and secured in place by a night crew who typically perform routine tasks; the ship under construction is the largest of its kind in the world, thus the blocks composing it are often larger, subjecting the means and methods of assembly to previously unseen forces; the workload in the yard resulted in workers exposed to the fallen block.
None of these factors were called out in the RCA.
The RCA’s search for specific risks and factors in pre-defined categories, each with a separate solution path, did not prevent this incident, nor will it prevent the next.
Equally important: the management retrospective provided by the RCA falls far short of prevention. Perspective is missing here: the kind of perspective that Leaders provide in real time; and the kind that prevents incidents.
An Example of Safety Leadership
Early one morning in March of the same year, a crew waited to board a workboat at a remote location in the Indian Ocean to travel to an offshore work site. The seas were calm, and an experienced crew led by a seasoned vessel master with a proven vessel was briefed and ready to deploy.
Due to the marine company’s changing priorities, the vessel and master were assigned to another task and replacements were found. During the delay, the weather deteriorated. Also due to the delay, the embarkation point was changed.
Finally, the delayed vessel approached the quay with its frustrated crew, and then all realized that the egress for quay and vessel did not match. As the vessel pitched quay-side in the inclement weather, someone commented, “My buddies and I fish all the time in these conditions. We just jump and get after ‘em.”
However, the lead supervisor on the quay prevented the boarding and sent the vessel back to its port of origin, delaying the task for a day. No incident occurred. The lead was later recognized for excellent safety behaviour—stopping work. His perspective, combined with his commitment to the safety of his crew, led to this decision.
A few more words about his perspective: As the weather worsened and the ‘degree of difficulty’ increased, the lead talked to his crew and the vessel master. They discussed the discrete factors and potential adjustments for each one. The lead then paused, mindful of the big picture. He could sense that “enough was not right, rather than no one factor was certainly wrong.”
With the larger context in mind, he recognized that delaying the work was the right decision.
This is an example of Safety Leadership, and it is the kind of leadership that would have prevented the shipyard incident previously described above.
Safety Leadership Distinct from Safety Management
Safety Leadership builds on effective safety management in multiple ways:
Leaders see workers as the pathway to a solution rather than the cause. Workers are engaged in more than just Behaviour-based safety observations. They participate as Subject Matter Experts in discussions that seek differing views, and add their own experience and expertise.
This builds broader awareness. Instead of controlling workers or simply directing them to accomplish work, eliciting their participation adds to the quality of decision-making and execution. In the example of Safety Leadership above, including the workers dissipated their frustration and added to the perspective necessary in the changing conditions.
Leaders don’t just relate to safety as checking off a list that satisfies the requirements and focuses on the bits and parts. They bring awareness—from trust of oneself, others, mindfulness and even intuition—that recognizes but is not limited to specific expertise and procedure.
This provides them with perspective. Leaders cause and create safety, continuously. Even when casual assessments or formal reports have determined, “it’s safe,” or, “We’ve done this a thousand times and never had a problem before.”
Safety Leadership is a set of skills, awareness and capabilities that can and need to be developed and applied—in tandem with Safety Management—to achieve new levels of safety performance. It is difficult, but it can be done.
Why is it difficult? Unlike a procedure, personal protective equipment or a piece of hardware, Safety Leadership is invisible, intangible and hard to measure. It is the “soft stuff.”
We may call it soft, but this is hard work! It is often ambiguous and uncertain. In fact Safety Leadership is as difficult as the work of a shipyard or a large offshore campaign. It takes both practical and emotional intelligence (Nod to Peter Salovey and Daniel Goleman). It takes both focus and awareness, which is why managers find Safety Leadership to be so difficult.
Safety Management and Safety Leadership are thought of as complementary and distinct; in fact, they are directly opposed. That will be the subject of my next blog.
Thanks for tuning in. I welcome your thoughts and views of Safety Leadership versus Safety Management.