Jesse Hardy, CSP, CET, CUSP

Overcoming the Effects of Short-Service Employees

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“Are you calling his family, or do you want me to?” the superintendent asked. The project safety manager replied, “I’ll call his emergency contact after I find out where the ambulance is heading. Can you call the division manager and give her an update?” The superintendent shook his head as he surveyed the scene and said, “I’ll have to keep it short and simple for now, but tomorrow morning we’re going to need to be able to explain to everyone how a 19-year-old kid with three months of experience was able to jump into that piece of equipment and put it into an overhead power line.”

Although this is a fictional conversation, it may hit close to home for numerous industry workers, especially if your company is adapting to rapid growth by hiring new workers, also known as short-service employees (SSEs).

In its August 2017 issue, Incident Prevention published an article I wrote titled “Overcoming the Effects of Rapid Growth” (see https://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/overcoming-the-effects-of-rapid-growth), which described how leaders can use operational analysis and powerful communication skills to overcome the effects of rapid company growth. In this article, I’m going to expand upon that topic by shifting the focus to overcoming the effects of rapid growth through SSE onboarding, field mentoring and coaching. That’s because if the Crucial Conversations skills I wrote about in the last article made an impact, and you now have hired the additional people you need to accomplish your company’s ever-growing mission, then it’s likely you are facing a different problem: How do I get these new people up to speed so they meet our quality and safety expectations?

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David McPeak, CUSP, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM

Frontline Fundamentals: HP Principle Two: Your Crystal Ball

I have fond memories of G.I. Joe. When I was a kid, I played with the toys and watched the cartoons. I sang along with the theme song and was ready to say “knowing is half the battle” in unison with the hero at the end of each episode, after Cobra had been defeated. The Joes were smart to realize that knowledge is power, and knowledge is especially powerful when it comes to safety, and more specifically, incident prevention.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to know the future – think about how powerful it could make you. How much money could you make if you could predict winning lottery numbers or the winner of a sporting event? Think about all the undesirable outcomes you could avoid – such as getting injured – if you knew the exact date and time they were going to happen.

It’s unlikely you will ever know exactly what the future holds, but you can use human performance (HP) to predict, manage and prevent error-likely situations that could have led to incidents. In other words, the second principle of HP – that error-likely situations are predictable, manageable and preventable – gives you a crystal ball.

Let’s define what is meant by the term “error-likely situations.” These situations occur when error precursors are present and negatively impact decision-making. Error precursors, which are grouped into four categories – task, work, individual and nature – include such things as imprecise communication, departures from routine, distractions, inaccurate risk perception, overconfidence and time pressure (see more in the TWIN Model of Error Precursors sidebar).

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David McPeak, CUSP, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM

Frontline Fundamentals: HP Principle One: People Screw Up

The first principle of human performance (HP) is that people are fallible and even the best make mistakes, or in simpler terms, people screw up. How error-prone are we? Studies vary, but for our purposes, we will use an average of five mistakes per hour. That’s a lot of mistakes, and a scary thing to think about is we often are not aware of our mistakes.

Let’s consider how this relates to safety, and more specifically, how HP Principle One needs to be incorporated into your safety and health management system. Safety programs tend to be based on the concept that if there is a rule and the rule is good, people will always follow the rule and perform perfectly, which simply is not the case.

While it would be fantastic if no one ever made another mistake – no one tripped and fell in the right-of-way, no one skipped a step in a switching procedure, no one dropped a tool from a bucket, no one forgot to look before backing – that is not realistic, and it is irresponsible to assume mistakes will not happen.

Executives, managers, supervisors and safety professionals, you need to acknowledge that mistakes will happen, and ensure safety by design and defense in depth are being utilized to protect your employees from their mistakes. Utilize these concepts, and the consequences of errors will have little impact on the safety and health of the workforce. If you are responsible for investigating incidents, don’t forget to put yourself in employees’ shoes as you examine motivation, perhaps thinking about what you might have done in a similar situation. People rarely intend to hurt themselves, and part of your job during an incident investigation is to think about employees’ decisions, which likely made sense to them at the time. Be careful about the tendency toward Monday morning quarterbacking that starts with, “Here’s how I would have done that job and that would never happen to me.” If you haven’t already, educate yourself on organizational HP tools such as benchmarking, observations and self-assessments. Being critical of people does not engender appreciation of the value of investigations and cooperation.

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Steve Willis

Avoiding the Silent Danger: Three Skills for Improving Your Safety Culture

The other day my oldest son cooked himself a batch of steaming hot Rice-A-Roni. He didn't even wait until he’d found a place to sit before the first spoonful hit his mouth. And I’m guessing the deliciousness overpowered his cognitive abilities because he then staggered into the TV room and plopped down on one of the couches – a definite “no Rice-A-Roni zone.” Now here’s where things get interesting.

First of all, my son knows the rule. His mother and I explained it, we demonstrated it, we had a group discussion about why it’s important to obey it, we practiced taking food to acceptable eating areas within the house, we posted warning signs – you get the idea. In other words, he definitely should have known better.

So, here’s the crucial moment: I walked into the TV room that day to find son, bowl and rice exactly where they shouldn’t be. What made this a crucial moment was that I knew what happened next would set the tone for either success or failure in the future. Recognizing that opportunity, my brain kicked into gear with five possible responses:

  1. Get upset and yell.
  2. Give my son the “You know you shouldn’t be doing this” look and wait for him to take corrective action.
  3. Remind him of the rule and ask him to come back into compliance.
  4. None of the above – he’s almost done, no rice has spilled and confronting him won’t make a big difference anyway. In fact, it might even make things worse.
  5. Some of all of the above in just the right combination to come off as passive-aggressive.

When it comes to a situation like this, and you’re removed from the actual event, it’s easy to see the right answer. But in the moment, we often choose poorly and set ourselves up for “Groundhog Day,” reliving the same exact scene over and over again. In other words, what you permit is what you promote.

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David McPeak, CUSP, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM

Frontline Fundamentals: Measure What You Want

Imagine this scenario: A worker seriously cuts his nose on the job. The laceration causes part of his nose, at the base of the nostril, to partially separate from his face. The worker glues his nose back together with super glue to prevent going to the doctor and having an OSHA-recordable injury. He then receives two rewards through the company’s safety incentive program. The first is an immediate reward when his supervisor recommends him for safety excellence because he prevented a recordable injury. This is followed by a financial incentive at the end of the year, when his work group is given a bonus for not having a recordable injury during the calendar year.

Here’s another scenario to consider: An employee is stopped at an intersection and gets rear-ended by another vehicle hard enough that he is taken to the emergency room and receives medical treatment. Pursuant to 29 CFR 1904, “Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness,” this is determined to be a new, work-related case that meets the general recording criteria and therefore is a recordable injury. Because he had a recordable injury, this employee is not invited to attend the company’s annual safety awards dinner, where prizes such as televisions and all-expenses-paid vacations are raffled and given away. Note: OSHA prohibits employer retaliation for reporting an injury (see 1904.35 and 1904.36) and will not allow employers that offer financial incentive programs to participate in their Voluntary Protection Programs.

Incentivize Desired Performance
Both scenarios are unfortunate and too common in the workplace. Organizations need to be aware that the absence of injury does not necessarily indicate the presence of safety. With that in mind, they must stop programs that incentivize results and instead focus on performance, which is the combination of behaviors and results. The guiding principle behind any incentive program, coaching or feedback should be to never reward results or punish someone without understanding the behavior driving the results. Get the desired behaviors and the results will take care of themselves.

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Jesse Hardy, CSP, CET, CUSP

Overcoming the Effects of Rapid Growth

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Once upon a time, there was a construction company that did great work. The employees delivered their projects on time without change orders, and they completed them without harming people or the environment. All their happy clients gave them more and more work, which the company gladly accepted, believing that surely the fairy tale would continue. But then the company discovered that this rapid growth had spread them so thin that their production, safety and environmental quality had faded away. This moved them from best to worst in the eyes of their clients, and the company almost went bankrupt due to injuries, lawsuits and loss of contracts. The end.  

Not all stories have a happy ending. And many of you well know that the current project-load reality in the utility construction industry certainly isn’t a fairy tale. However, there still can be a positive outcome for your company – even in extreme growth cycles – if you and your leaders master the skills of operational assessment and communication.

Earlier this year I ran Supreme Industries’ numbers and found that our work hours were up 56 percent over the same period last year (January-May). I was shocked – not because of the rapid growth, but because I didn’t receive any warning signals from our safety scoreboard. Don’t get me wrong, I knew things were busy, but other than the fact that I was ordering a lot more health, safety and environmental (HSE) supplies than last year, I didn’t see the magnitude of our growth in my daily life. But why didn’t I?

Flashback three years: I’m sitting with Nate Boucher, Supreme Industries’ vice president of civil and drilling, and Gavin Boucher, vice president of clearing and operations, and Nate says, “Jesse, our field leadership wants more professional development. We’ve done ‘StrengthsFinder 2.0’ and ‘Emotional Intelligence,’ but what’s next? We believe our divisions are going to be growing for the foreseeable future. Gavin and I are taking care of equipment and infrastructure planning, but we want you to prepare our field leaders professionally for what’s coming.” After that conversation, I took some time to outline what we needed to do in terms of future professional development.

Getting back to the present day, I believe the conversation I had with Nate and Gavin three years ago plus the actions we took after the conversation was over are the reasons why I didn’t notice a rapid growth cycle on our safety scoreboard earlier this year.

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David McPeak, CUSP, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM

Frontline Fundamentals: Organizational Culture: What Caves Can Teach Us

If you were in a cave and someone yelled “Watch out for that stalagmite!” would you look up or down? If you said down, you are correct. Both stalagmites and stalactites are formed in caves by mineral deposits from trickling water. Stalactites result from water dripping from the ceiling. They hang down, typically are hollow, have smaller bases and form faster than their counterparts. Stalagmites are built from the ground up when water drips on the cave floor. They have a more solid structure with a larger base that takes more time to form.

This imagery is useful when contemplating and discussing organizational culture. Does your company have a top-down (stalactite) or bottom-up (stalagmite) culture? As you think about your answer, consider how your organization handles the following occurrences.

Occurrence 1: Change
Stalactite: The company is reactive and changes only because they have to due to incidents or regulatory reasons. Management creates or revises programs and policies that are implemented during lecture-style training sessions conducted per organizational hierarchy. Employees have no or very limited opportunities to ask questions or provide feedback about the change.

Stalagmite: The company is proactive and changes because they want to. Leaders anticipate the need for change. Frontline workers are involved in creating or revising programs and policies that are implemented during training sessions, and they encourage questions and feedback from safety leaders, safety advocates and change agents.

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Phillip Ragain

The Human Error Trap

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The agitation of the managers sitting in the meeting room is palpable. The safety director sits stiffly at the conference table. Everyone is overwhelmed by a hurricane of thoughts. "We did everything we could, right?" Conjectures whirl. Voices surge. "We've spent the last three years installing a safety management system to keep this sort of thing from happening. It was textbook!”

These leaders wonder to themselves, “Did I do something that led to this?" But soul-searching eventually gives way to frustration as a voice stands out in the room: "What were they thinking out there?"

People grab hold of these words and their implication – that the incident occurred because a handful of people in the field did something wrong. It seems a simple matter of fact that explains what happened and points to what must be done next. "We will review our policies, retrain everyone, hold people accountable and get rid of those we can't trust." And it works … until the next storm blows in.

This scenario has played out countless times, with an array of casts and in the aftermath of many different kinds of events. Some are small-scale events, like an employee failing to lock out equipment before servicing it. Others are catastrophic events, like an exploding chemical plant.

My colleagues at The RAD Group and I propose that the thought process represented here is a trap, and one that people at all levels of an organization can fall into quite naturally. We call it the “human error trap,” and when organizations become ensnared, they find themselves unwittingly stuck in a status quo of safety.

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David McPeak, CUSP, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM

Frontline Fundamentals: Responsibility for Safety

You are responsible for your own safety and the safety of others.

Most people would say they agree with that statement, but do their actions reflect their agreement? Let’s consider that question in the context of the following incident investigation.

The Incident
Bob, who works in shipping and receiving, has just cut himself with his pocketknife while attempting to cut a zip-tie off a package. Randy, the shipping and receiving manager, is Bob’s immediate supervisor. Pam is Bob’s co-worker. Ron is the facility’s safety supervisor and is interviewing Bob, Randy and Pam as part of the investigation.

Bob’s Interview
Ron: Can you tell me what happened?

Bob: We have a specially designed box cutter we use for cutting zip-ties. It works really well, but we lost it. I told Randy we lost ours and he said he would get us another one. That was three weeks ago. What am I supposed to do, not work? I have a job to do, and I’m going to make sure it gets done.

Ron: What could we do to prevent this from happening again?

Bob: We need the right tools for our job. Someone needs to make sure we have them.

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David McPeak, CUSP, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM

Frontline Fundamentals: Risk Tolerance

A fundamental premise of working safely is that hazards must be identified and then controlled. Too many incidents occur because hazards are not identified, or worse, they are identified but ignored or tolerated.

One of my favorite ways to introduce the concept of risk tolerance is to ask a Frontline class this simple question: “What are some things you might hear someone say before something really bad happens?” It always amazes me – and scares me – how open participants are when I ask this question. Typical responses I have heard include:
• “We’ve done this a thousand times and no one has ever gotten hurt.”
• “We’ve always done it this way.”
• “This is going to hurt.”
• “If this works, we’ll be heroes.”
• “I think it will hold.”
• “I can survive anything for two minutes.”
• “What’s the worst that could happen?”
• “Here goes nothing.”

That list could go on for a long time, and it gives us a lot of insight into how we think about hazards and risk. In fact, I want to be sure to mention one incredibly memorable response not listed above that led to some great discussion about risk tolerance: “Hold my beer and watch this.”

Take a moment to remember if you have ever made that statement or heard someone else make it. What followed? I have heard stories involving “testing” an underground dog fence, in which someone held the shock collar in his hand and ran through the fence; jumping off a roof into a swimming pool; attempting to bench-press 400 pounds; boxing a kangaroo; and a myriad of other superhuman feats fueled by alcohol. Oddly enough, sober people do not think it is cool or that it will impress someone if they, for instance, eat a spoonful of cinnamon.

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Mark J. Steinhofer, CHST, CSP, CUSP

The Silent Secret About Successful Safety Communication

The Silent Secret About Successful Safety Communication

It’s a chilly morning, and the crew is eager to make progress on the substation upgrade before tomorrow’s snow. A shiny pickup truck pulls up to the job site, the driver’s door opens and out walks a good-looking guy in neatly pressed khakis, a white button-down shirt and highly polished lace-up shoes. He stops a couple yards away from the crew, looks at everyone, breaks into a cheesy smile and makes a joke about his golf game.

Nobody laughs or even snickers. After an awkward pause, “Joe Office” tells the crew that fall protection is the day’s safety discussion topic. He points to one of the crew members and mentions that he saw him working without a harness yesterday, and that isn’t acceptable. He drones through the rest of the lesson and asks if anyone has any questions. There’s no response from the crew, so Joe Office grins again and tells everyone to stay safe as they shuffle off to the day’s tasks.

Words Mean Little
What Joe Office doesn’t realize is that nobody paid attention to anything he said. Oh, they heard him just fine, but Joe lost most of the crew members before he opened his mouth, and the rest tuned out within the first 30 seconds of hearing him speak. They pretended to listen while they thought about other things.

It’s true that Joe Office knows a lot about safety. Unfortunately, he has no clue what his body language projects and can’t read the body language of the workers with whom he’s communicating. As a result, in this scenario he wasted everyone’s time and had zero effect on the crew’s well-being.

The fact is that humans do far more listening with our eyes than we do with our ears. According to Mehrabian and Wiener, and Mehrabian and Ferris, when a verbal message is delivered, a typical human being only receives about 7 percent of the message via the words that are spoken. Thirty-eight percent of how a person receives a message is due to the way those words are delivered. And a full 55 percent of the message is conveyed through the speaker’s body language.

In other words, when a safety professional speaks to a group of workers, the nonverbal components of his or her message have a far greater impact on listeners than what’s actually being said. The professional’s physical appearance, body language, tone and pace of voice determine how carefully the workers will listen and how much they’ll retain.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

February 2017 Q&A

Q: We are a small, distribution-only municipal utility that has been looking into human performance. We are having some trouble understanding it all and how it could benefit us. Most of the training resources are pretty expensive. Can you help us sort it out?

A: We can. Human performance management (HPM) has been around in various forms and focuses since before the 1950s. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, it seems the focus was on companies performing functional analysis and correcting issues that created losses, thereby promoting more efficient and error-resistant operations. In the ’60s and ’70s, much of the literature on HPM seemed to surround the nuclear power industry, and indeed the introduction of HPM into the transmission/distribution side of the utility industry appears to have come through the generation side. In the ’70s, researchers began to experiment and write about more closely analyzing the knowledge and skills of the performer. It took a while to sink in, but the safety industry began to research HPM as a culture analysis and risk prevention tool. It makes sense. Human performance – in particular knowledge, skills modes, decision-making modes and performance – affects all of every enterprise whether you have an HPM program or not. Organizations are made of people. HPM has identified and categorized commonalities in types of personalities that predict how people make decisions and perform tasks. Studying human performance also can help identify safety culture issues and risk behaviors. It’s not a big or expensive step to train your workforce on problem-solving and decision-making characteristics of the human mind. Soon they will understand their own processes and the limitations of the way they naturally think, allowing them to make adjustments toward better performance. So if we can take advantage of HPM to prevent incidents, why not do it? Most organizations start small. Pick a few key people to begin training on the basics of HPM, and then look at your organization to see where the initial undertakings can do the most good. There are several experts associated with Incident Prevention who will be glad to help should you need it. Additionally, on the iP website (www.incident-prevention.com) you can find numerous HPM articles in the iP archives as well as information and training sessions from past iP Utility Safety Conferences. HPM works. We hope you will pursue it.

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David McPeak, CUSP, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM

Frontline Fundamentals: Controlling Hazards

Frontline Fundamentals: Controlling Hazards

“Get us a bucket truck, a rock and a hard hat. The rest of the class and I will meet you outside in 10 minutes.” Those were my instructions to a participant who, during a recent Frontline program session, challenged me as I was teaching the hierarchy of controls and explaining why PPE should be considered the last line of defense.

The participant was adamant that he had always been trained that PPE is your primary protection and that if you are wearing it, you are protected and can work as you want. The rest of the group validated that was how they understood their training. This put us at an impasse because I firmly believe safety boils down to your ability to identify and control hazards, and I am extremely passionate about using the hierarchy of controls as a decision-making tool to control hazards to the fullest extent possible. I also believe overreliance on PPE is a serious and growing problem, and that far too often, hazards are identified but tolerated or not properly controlled.

After about 10 minutes of failed examples and discussion with this Frontline group, I decided to go another route and requested the bucket truck, rock and hard hat. The participant who had challenged me gave me a quizzical look and replied, “What?” I told him that per his understanding of PPE, if there was a hazard that involved me dropping a rock from a bucket raised 30 feet in the air, he was OK standing underneath the bucket as long as he was wearing his hard hat. I then gave him three choices: eliminate the hazard (I don’t drop the rock); eliminate the risk (he doesn’t stand underneath the bucket); or I drop the rock and he relies on his hard hat for protection.

Suddenly it became obvious to the class why elimination is the first choice in hazard control and PPE is the last line of defense. We then had an amazing and exciting discussion about the hierarchy of controls and how the group was going to change their training. More importantly, the class talked about how they were going to approach hazard mitigation in the future.

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Phillip Ragain

Assimilating Short-Service Employees Into Your Safety Culture

Assimilating Short-Service Employees Into Your Safety Culture

Culture is one of the most significant drivers of an organization’s safety performance. It can take time to build a safety culture, and it also takes time for employees to assimilate into an existing culture after beginning work for an organization. This poses a serious challenge for organizations that regularly scale to meet project demands. An influx of short-service employees (SSEs) often coincides with an increase in incidents. While there are a number of reasons for this – such as poor hazard recognition – one significant reason is that SSEs have not yet assimilated into the existing culture’s standards of safe operations. Despite efforts to overcome this problem, many companies continue to report that it remains one of their greatest challenges. After examining SSE programs implemented by different organizations, my colleagues at The RAD Group and I have identified criteria for an SSE program that helps new employees more effectively adapt to a company’s safety culture.

The Root of the Problem
Once a strong culture is in place, it is like a hidden force guiding people’s decisions to work safely. However, it takes time for people to fall under the influence of a safety culture, and in the meantime they may work in a way that does not align with their employer’s standards. The root of the problem, of course, is that SSEs by definition have not been in the organization long.

To better understand and respond to this enduring challenge, it helps to address three questions:
1. How do people assimilate into a culture?
2. Why do some SSE programs fall short?
3. What kind of program would more effectively assimilate SSEs into a safety culture?

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Pam Tompkins, CSP, CUSA, CUSP

Does Your Company Have an Effective Safety Management System?

Does Your Company Have an Effective Safety Management System?

Your safety program can have fully developed rules and procedures, a top-notch training program and the best safety equipment and tools money can buy – and there is still the possibility that it may not be successful. Although these things are extremely important and necessary, safety success will not occur until your safety program becomes a fully functional safety management system. This means that everyone in the organization is actively pursuing the same safety goals and working together in a synchronized manner to achieve those goals. A fully developed and well-executed safety management system is the backbone of safety excellence.

Safety Management System Components
What does a safety management system need in order to be effective? According to ANSI/AIHA Z10-2012, “Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems,” the following components are required for success:
• Management leadership and employee participation
• Planning
• Implementation and operations
• Evaluation and corrective action
• Management review

Let’s take a closer look at how each component is defined.

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Thomas Arnold, CSP, CUSP, MBA

Optimizing Your Safety Observation Program

Optimizing Your Safety Observation Program

World-class organizations do not achieve sustained safety excellence without a process in place that identifies risk exposure well before an incident or injury occurs. Yet countless companies have established observation programs without measurable success. In the paragraphs that follow, my goal is twofold: to provide readers with a greater understanding of the importance of employing a proactive safety observation strategy in the workplace, and to offer a step-by-step guide to ensure its effectiveness.

Broken Windows
To begin, I want to provide two examples of a topic that has significant influence on the human thought process and is a focal point of Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point,” a must-read for those interested in changing safety culture.

In a March 1982 article published in “The Atlantic” (see www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/03/broken-windows/304465/), George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson introduced what has come to be known as the broken windows theory, which suggests that context plays a material role in how people act. Specifically, if a neighborhood is plagued by buildings with broken windows, people will conclude that no one in the area cares or is in charge, and more windows will be broken. These minor infractions will then lead to major crimes and a steady decline of the neighborhood. Conversely, an orderly neighborhood free of property damage and litter indicates an environment where such things are not tolerated.

The second example dates back to the mid-1980s, when crime was escalating in the New York City subway system. City leadership put the broken windows theory to the test; if a subway train was tagged with graffiti, the graffiti had to be removed within 24 hours. The rationale was that in order to win the battle against crime, the environment has to be changed, especially the environment that people can see. After the graffiti rule was implemented, New York City subway crime fell throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In his analysis of these events in his book, Gladwell stated that the city had reached a “tipping point” that caused crime trends to dramatically reverse.

These examples help to demonstrate that there is a powerful connection between context and behavior, and it is one that applies to all industries. In our work as safety consultants, my colleagues and I have found that when leaders proactively focus on the observable safety aspects of a work site, they will positively influence the decisions of individual workers and ultimately change the organization’s safety culture for the better.

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Brad Stout and Jesse Gibbon

The Road to an Innovative, Award-Winning Safety Program

The Road to an Innovative, Award-Winning Safety Program

Monday mornings at Coutts Bros. – an electrical line construction and maintenance contractor – begin the same way they have for more than 50 years. The crew meets on the old Coutts family property in Randolph, Maine, before 6 a.m., coffee and lunchboxes in hand, wearing shirts and hats that sport a variety of company logos from the last few decades. Conversations are lighthearted; depending on the season, discussions range from the weekend’s Red Sox, Bruins or Patriots game to embellished fishing and hunting stories, complete with cellphone pictures to prove the tales are mostly true.

This family atmosphere has been at the heart of the company since it was incorporated in 1963 by the first generation of Coutts brothers, Stan and Bill, who initially ran the business out of their family barn – which is still in use as a garage – using a John Deere tractor. The company got their first taste of utility work when the brothers began using the tractor to haul, dig and set poles for the local power company. Eventually the tractor was upgraded to a bulldozer, and today Coutts Bros. manages a fleet of excavators, bucket trucks and assorted equipment used for utility maintenance and construction projects.

Safety Program Evolution
Throughout the years Coutts Bros. has been in business, their processes have evolved considerably, primarily with regard to safety. Those early morning conversations are cut short when a crew member sees that the clock has struck 6 a.m. – this means it’s time to stretch. “Chin tuck!” is shouted from inside the garage, and 30 heads drop with a thumb to their chins. The stretching program is one of many safety initiatives that Coutts Bros. launched three years ago as part of a comprehensive safety-focused effort.

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Thomas Ray, CSP, CUSP

10 Tips for Better Incident Investigations

10 Tips for Better Incident Investigations

Several years ago, when I was serving as chief investigator for the NIOSH-funded Missouri Occupational Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program, I was called to a scene where a 39-year-old journeyman lineman had been electrocuted while working for an electrical contractor. At the time of the incident, the lineman, his co-worker and the foreman had been working at an electrical substation. The city that owned the substation was in the process of switching their electrical service from a three-phase 4-kV system to a 12-kV system. There were several feeders on the structure, but only one was energized to provide service to the city. The lineman and his co-worker were on the steel framework of the substation when the lineman proceeded to work his way over to the incident point. He sat down on the structure next to the energized feeder and energized lightning arrestor and began to climb down the steel latticework. Typically the contractors accessed the structure with a ladder, but for one reason or another, the lineman chose to climb down using the corner latticework of the structure. At that point, the lineman contacted the energized arrestor with his forearm. His co-workers responded immediately and began CPR, and emergency personnel were summoned to the scene. Unfortunately, the lineman did not survive.

Despite our best efforts to protect workers in the field, incidents like these still occur and, as a result, you may find yourself leading an incident investigation. One of the primary goals of any investigation is to find out exactly what happened so that future occurrences can be prevented. With that in mind, I put together the following 10 tips designed to help you obtain quality information about each incident you investigate, put your interview subjects at ease, and determine an accurate account of what occurred before, during and immediately after each incident.

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Michael Burnham, CSP, CUSP

The Job Brief’s Hidden Influence on Utility Safety

The Job Brief’s Hidden Influence on Utility Safety

On your way to work today, how many dashed lines in the middle of the road did you pass? What ornaments decorate your dentist’s office? How many people wearing glasses did you see last month?

If you’re like most people, you don’t know the answers to these questions, and that’s a good thing. In his book “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload,” author Daniel J. Levitin states that the processing capacity of the conscious mind is estimated to be about 120 bits per second, barely enough to listen to two people talking to you at the same time, yet in our waking lives most of us are exposed to more than 11 million bits of information per second, according to Leonard Mlodinow’s “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior.” Without what psychologists call an attentional filter, we’d be able to recall the minutiae around us, but left without the mental capacity to draw reasonable conclusions about what we perceive, and therefore left without the ability to lead normal lives.

The problem with an attentional filter, however, is that it occurs on the subconscious level. Our brains decide what we notice without any conscious input from us. Of course, we can always force ourselves to notice small details by applying mental resources to count and memorize them, but that only happens with concerted effort.

In a utility setting, our attentional filter can create a conflict between what we do perceive and what we should perceive. Fortunately, the utility industry has an effective solution to our cognitive limitations: the job brief.

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Dave Sowers

Don’t Leave Employees to Fill in the Blanks

Don’t Leave Employees to Fill in the Blanks

Early in my marriage, my wife asked me to pick up some groceries on my way home. This task seemed easy enough; after all, I had been feeding myself for years. How hard could it be? We needed food and the grocery store had food for sale. The path to success appeared to be pretty well laid out. All I needed was a method of payment and a shopping cart with four functioning wheels.

As I negotiated my way up and down the aisles of the grocery store, I put great thought into what I added to my cart. I made sure to get the basics, including bread, milk and eggs, and I rounded out the cart with some other reasonable dining options. Mission accomplished – or so I thought. When I returned home and we began to unload bags full of bachelor staples, such as chicken wings and Cap’n Crunch, my wife came to realize that my future trips to the grocery store would require more specific guidance. It was clear that my idea of “mission accomplished” was vastly different from hers.

How did a task that seemed so simple go so wrong? Why was it that my wife’s job-specific expectations did not align with my understanding of how I should successfully complete the task? Was this misalignment a failure on my part or was poor communication to blame? When I was given every option in the grocery store to choose from, could my wife truly be upset when I filled in the blanks and chose the options that looked right to me?

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