March 06, 2015
Note: This is Part VI in a series of posts entitled "Evolving Beyond Behaviourism." To read Part V, please click here.
“Give me a lever and a place to stand and I can change the world.”
Over the course of the last few months here in Australia:
An empty iron ore train hit a grader working on a rail line for the Roy Hill project;
A rail overpass collapsed onto rail lines at the Rio Tinto Brockman 2 site;
19 rail wagons derailed on a Whitehaven coal train in the Gunnedah Basin in Queensland;
A lifting accident occurred at Roy Hill while moving a heavy module;
A worker died at Olympic Dam in South Australia in an underground rock fall;
A truck driver suffered facial fractures after a rollover at Jellinbah coal mine in New South Wales;
A fitter doing repair work on a bulldozer was killed in the Pilbara during exploration work;
Two workers were injured in a crane incident at a Port Hedland loading facility. One worker may suffer an amputation of his foot.
These recent incidents have led me to believe that despite a positive trend in recent years (including two years in Western Australia) with no mining fatalities, safety performance in Australia has declined precipitously.
Further, my belief is that this decline in safety performance is directly attributed to the downturn of the resources industry. Companies under cost and capital spending pressures are laying off people, curtailing safety programs and outsourcing their responsibility for safety to their contractors, sub-contractors and, unfortunately, their workers. This is the kind of traditional safety management which some forward thinking organizations (e.g., Shell) label as “pathological.”
In the face of constrained resources and sustained incidents, what is most needed is Safety Leadership. Perhaps the purest expression of leadership, especially Safety Leadership, is ‘Taking a Stand.’
The following are some examples of what I mean by Taking a Stand.
A teenage girl in Australia sets out to sail around the world, alone. She then accomplishes this feat, even after failing in her first attempt.
Despite political advice, a lack of technology and seemingly insurmountable costs and risks, the President of the United States promises to send a man to the moon and return him safely.
A jailed poet in one of the most troubled areas of the world becomes the president of the country.
A construction project suffers multiple lost time injuries and serious unrest in its labor camp. Following a shutdown and a closed door meeting of senior management, the project makes a public commitment to worker and site safety. As a result, the project completes more than 50 million man hours without another lost time injury and years of sustained high morale in its workforce.
The key to each of these successes? An individual took a stand—a stand for something far beyond what was predictable to happen.
What is a stand? A Stand is:
A personal statement of commitment;
Impassioned. It stirs emotion in oneself and others, and inspires others to discover or re-kindle their commitment;
Not a position taken against anything, rather, it is a commitment for something;
Catalytic. It causes something to happen—a new path, a new expectation, a new stepping stone on the safety journey;
Informed but not dictated by circumstances and management information;
Is often cast as an affront to what others see as reasonable, predictable and acceptable;
A clarion call for action. It wakes you up in the morning and provides the fuel to enroll others in new accomplishments, new ways of working, and a new future.
Once a leader declares what is possible, then effective management can follow and, indeed, will be critical to turn into reality what has been declared by the stand.
If you are reading this blog, I’m willing to bet that you genuinely care about the people on your site and in your community, and are proud of the operating culture in your enterprise. The injuries, incidents and deaths caused by your industry—yes, I said “caused”—are NOT acceptable.
It is time to take a stand that every worker will go home safe every day, period. I invite you to take this stand despite the current trend, whether caused by or highly correlated to the cutbacks, cost-cutting and outsourcing of safety or not. I implore you to declare to yourself and others that this spate of incidents is not acceptable—not to you, not to your company, not on your project, not on your watch. Then, with eyes wide open from the awareness, excitement and even fear of making this new future happen, I invite you to engage others in your organization in a committed conversation and invite them to take a non-negotiable stand for the safety of each and every worker on the job. Remind yourself and others that, if this level of safety is to be achieved, it is up to you first, then us together.
From your stand, the actions to take—Archimedes’ lever—will become clear. It will take courage, and it will take putting yourself out there, perhaps more vocally and visibly than before. And it will take your teams on a new journey in safety performance.
It is time to Lead Safety Differently. On 19 March in Brisbane, I will be hosting a public presentation and open dialogue with Professor and author Sidney Dekker on “Leading Safety Differently.” Come join us and others like you who give a damn and who are taking steps to operate incident and injury-free in this tough economic environment.
P.S.: A note of thanks to my JMJ colleague Miles Protter for his Safety Leadership in mining in Australia.