“Workplace Fatalities” by Todd Conklin (2017)

Safety Leadership ProcessTodd Conklin works with companies to help them recover and begin to heal after they have experienced a fatality in their workforce. He has come up with a different, creative way to look why the number of fatalities at work has remained at about 4,700 people a year for a number of years. Our programs of focusing on accident prevention have significantly reduced the total number of recordable injuries, but they have not had much impact on reducing the number of fatalities.

In our work, we normally plan to do the job well and prevent an injury or incident. We do training on how to do the particular piece of work. But, for most of our work, we hardly do anything to look at what can kill a person, consider the things that will prevent the fatality, and discuss the ways a person can recover from the situation when it happens. In work, like a confined space entry, which we all know can be deadly, we do everything well most of the time. But in most other tasks, the training is less demanding and the things that can kill someone are often over-looked.

Here are three questions he suggests that we talk together about before doing a job:

  1. What hazards do you encounter that have the potential to seriously injure or kill you?
  2. When your work goes bad what keeps you from getting injured or killed?
  3. Are these enough?

It will take some time to discuss these fully, so please create the space and the trust in the workday so these discussions can take place.

The people actually doing the work are usually in the best position to have the intimate knowledge required to go deep enough.

Todd’s book, Workplace Fatalities: Failure to Predict: A New Safety Discussion on Fatality and Serious Event Reduction, is available from Amazon.

The Work Place Violence Spectrum…and What We Can Do About It!

Violence in the workplace is a costly, unnecessary, largely preventable problem. It shows up as incivilities, bullying, sexual harassment, vengeful actions, and sometimes as homicides. These dysfunctional behaviors are costing businesses and the people working for them a lot of money and suffering.

stop workplace violence

According to the Bureau of Labor Statics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, there were 403 workplace homicides in 2014 out of a total of about 4,700 workplace fatalities. Almost two million harassment incidents are reported to OSHA each year, and while there is guidance to thwart them, there are no OSHA Standards dealing directly with this problem. There is, however, the General Duty Clause requiring employers to provide a safe workplace, and it has been noted that this includes physical safety and psychological safety.

Each time I see the scroll come across the bottom of the TV screen, or read an online news report of the main points of the day, I cringe when it relates to another occurrence of a workplace violence incident and tragedy. We know it is preventable. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Call us at 716-622-6467 and let’s discuss your concerns in this arena!

Pertinent Questions

workplace violence

What does an engaged, satisfying workplace look like?

Many surveys indicate that almost 70% of the people in our workforce are unhappy with their work situation. Are these people putting in their best efforts to make the safety of their place any better or help to solve customer problems quickly or reaching out in a caring way to help one of their work mates who may be having a problem?

What should owners, managers and supervisors be doing?

Owners, managers and supervisors have many things they can do to make their organizations safer and more humane, and to increase positive engagement. It begins with these people in leadership positions recognizing and owning the problem. Thorough pre-hiring investigations and careful screening of supervisory candidates are necessary. Strong policies and training about workplace violence are needed. Terms like bullying need clear definitions. Clear, widely shared standards of behavioral expectations are required. Follow-up by all levels of management is necessary to be sure that everyone is doing their best to build a more humane and productive workplace.

What is particularly required of supervisors and managers?

Supervisors need training on how to be fully aware of what is happening with their direct reports…(Do they know their people?) and are they able to hold the important, sometimes difficult conversations with their reports to address and head-off problems before they get out-of-hand? As people talk together about these problems in an atmosphere of trust and caring, everything in the business will improve. We have seen all aspects of performance go up 30-40% when the people can work together like this…when they are able to lift up the elephants (including the psychological ones) that get in the way of the team or work group from being the best that it can be (together).

Some recent, heart-wrenching examples:

Here is a current example of a situation that was reported in the Washington Post where everything was missing. The recent killing by Radee Prince of three people in Edgewood, Maryland and another in Wilmington, Delaware on October 18th is a case where all the things described above were missing. He had a record of 42 arrests, including 15 felony convictions, but did anyone look? Why was he hired? He bullied his co-workers so much that a peace order (like a restraining order) was sought but denied by a judge because it did not meet the burden of proof. People had complained about him to management, but Prince was deemed to “be a good worker.” Where were the supervisors and others to support the claim of fearful concern by coworkers? He was eventually fired but returned to the workplace a number of times threatening other employees. Who let him in? This mess was costly, preventable and so sad!

In another example, on October 20th, in a Ford Stamping Plant in Detroit, police were called when a 21 year old, part-time employee was reported to have a gun in the plant. When he was found and confronted, he shot himself. Didn’t anyone notice that this person was not behaving well? Did anyone know and care about him? Was the EAP person invited in to consider coaching this person? His whole world had collapsed around him and no one noticed?

Helping to reduce workplace violence is work that all of us can do and have a part in. Let’s all pull together to help each other. Do we all care enough?

Are you cringing right now, because you think that having a comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention Program (policy, training, vulnerability assessment) means too much work?

Think again.

The more fully engaged your people, supervisors and managers are, the better your workplace will be on many levels. The more “aware” of what is happening around you and the more able you are to have open dialog about this changing world of work – including the psychological and physical aspects of your workplace – the better off everyone will be, including the bottom line. (Give us a call. We can help you through this!)

Workplace Violence Prevention

(Richard N. Knowles & Associates is in alliance with The Workplace Violence Prevention Institute. Accordingly, it is appropriate to lift up how Workplace Violence and Safety are related.)

stop workplace violenceViolence at work is a growing problem. Shootings are becoming one of the leading causes of workplace deaths. Many organizations are having the local law enforcement people come in and do active shooter programs. This is a start. Preventing workplace violence has several aspects and becoming aware of how vulnerable your workplace may be, requires a physical-safety and psychological-safety assessment. These problems just don’t happen overnight in most cases. When someone is struggling with a serious problem at home or at work and have to just keep it to themselves, they get more and more lonely and resentful. If they are subjected to bullying and harassment things get bad, quickly. Stuff can build up to a tragedy. (How well do your supervisors know their people?)

Most of the time when these incidents are investigated, co-workers say that they knew the person was not right, having a problem and being isolated. They often report that they were concerned enough about the person that they tried to avoid them and stay away.

In many organizations where the information should be flowing up and down, the organizations are restricted or blocked, and top management knows only about 10% of what is happening on the shop floor. Information flows need to open up so that critical information is shared and acted upon. A powerful way to open up the flow of information is for the top people to get out of their offices, walk around their facilities and talk with the people. The managers can encourage people to look out for each other and help each other. Talking together, listening to each other, learning together is an effective way for the organization to build the psychological safety where it is okay for people to talk together, learn together and help each other better.

Looking out for each other, helping each other, talking together, listening and learning are keys to improving both the physical and psychological safety in our organizations.

Richard Knowles and Associates has a workable dialog process to help leaders and their teams, organizations, hold the difficult conversations that need to be held around preventing workplace violence. There is a process available that is easily integrated into the day-to-day workplace. It is not enough to prevent hiring the bad “hire,” nor is it enough to prevent promoting into supervision the bad “supervisor” where incivilities beget harassment which can beget taunting which can beget all sorts of dysfunctional, hurtful behaviors, and which can create hostile workplaces and breeding grounds for more severe violent behaviors. With a strong, comprehensive, positive workplace violence prevention program, tragedies can be prevented – hostile workplaces can become civil workplaces. Understanding workplace violence prevention means leaders need to look at both the physical safety/security side and the psychological safety side of one’s business, organization and teams. Call us 716-622-6467 to learn more or send me an email.

workplace violence

Hurry, Hurry, Hurry…

slow down at work to stay safeAs I travel around and watch things happening, I see so many people in a big hurry. We are coming to the end of the good weather so people are hurrying to get outside jobs finished up. Roofers are really busy and not taking the time to properly use and secure their fall protection. I read of a recent 29-story fall in New York City when a guy on a big construction site fell through an unsecured hole in the floor.

Most of the people doing these jobs have a good idea about the hazards they face, yet they seem to ignore the possibility of getting hurt. Many of these people have families and loved ones who will suffer if they are hurt or killed. Why do you suppose they ignore this? Do they think “it” won’t happen to me?

What will it take to get these people to pay attention and be more mindful in their work?

  • Do we need more rules? OSHA already has plenty of them.
  • Do we need more fines? There already are provisions for fines, yet they do not seem to be having much impact.
  • Do we need more supervisors overseeing the work and making the people work more safely? Good supervisors are in short supply and those who are out there have lots to do and are also rushing.
  • Do we need more dramatic pictures and videos of people working unsafely as a reminder? There are lots of these floating around YouTube and other internet sites. Maybe those out on the jobs are not seeing these reminders…maybe (to their detriment) they have blinders on regarding the hazards of the work.
  • Trying to make people work more safely is okay, but we seem to be stuck with this approach. There have been about 4,600 fatalities a year for the last 4-5 years so things that we are doing are not having much impact.

Doing things to the people to get them to work more safely is not working well enough.

One way to do this is to open up the discussions about safety (and talk with each other) to make the workplace psychologically safe enough for people to stand up and ask the important questions and have the important debates about how to work more safely. Lots of organizations say that people have the right to stop a job if it is not safe; do they really?

There is so much pressure in many workplaces to get the job done as quickly as they can that people are reluctant to speak up. (Mixed signals). Some people are afraid of losing their jobs if they speak up. This is not okay!

Most of the pressure to hurry up and get the jobs done is based on the belief that this is the way to maximize their profits. How much does it cost to stop a job for 10-15 minutes to get the safety right? Injuries cost a lot of money in terms of the medical bills, lost time being away from the job, getting someone else in to do the work, OSHA inspections, reports, fines, bad publicity, investigations, and audits. The average cost for an OSHA Recordable Injury is over $50,000.

Stopping the job to get the safety right saves a lot of money, pain and suffering.

Slow Down and Work More Effectively

haste makes waste and you need to be safe at workA good, proven approach is to have brief start up meetings to review the hazards of the day’s work, making sure we have the right PPE and other equipment in place and used, asking each other about what might go wrong and working to avoid this. We need to look over the schedules and be sure we have the equipment we need and the right people for the work.

Each person can make a good contribution to this start-up meeting by talking together, listening, and asking questions. Each person can take responsibility for themselves and their workmates so that everyone has a safe, productive day and can go home in good physical and mental shape.

The fastest way to get the job done is to do it right the first time!!

NOTE: A Good Leader knows this! Savvy supervisors care about the job getting done, while at the same time, that the people doing the job remain safe while doing the work. Holding start meetings to ask people…What are the things you really need to consider for this job? What unexpected things could happen? And how will you prepare for those? Do you have everything you need? Tools, PPE, etc.? What can you teach another (today) about the importance of this work being done safely? How will you look out for coworker/s (today)…during the completion of these jobs? A Good, Respected Leader/Supervisor knows and cares about the people reporting to him/her, shows commitment to safety in all ways, and continually develops expectations of excellence within a learning environment–which the supervisor is keen to establish.

Pressure Cooker: We Need to Partner with Each Other

Changes in our workplaces keep coming fast and furiously. A recent report released by Price-Waterhouse-Coopers indicates that by 2030 the pressure on workers to perform will be huge. Organizations will be using all sorts of ways to track performance…even putting chips under their workers skin to look at location, performance, health and wellness! They may be tracking safety performance as well. Managers will need to be having “mature conversations” with the people about all this change and the feeling of threat this creates for their people and their jobs. The pressure to keep improving skills and performance continues to increase.

There is a “workable pressure relief valve” already available to us to release these stress levels! It’s called Partnering for Safety and Business Excellence. The need for open, honest, disciplined, constructive dialog is critical. It is through these sorts of continuous conversations that people and organizations change. The positive energy for continuous improvement builds one conversation at a time over and over. Showing respect and caring for both the people’s mental and physical health, as well as for the success of the business, is critical. The business can’t succeed without the creativity and energy of the people and the people’s jobs can’t survive without excellent business performance.

Who Really Cares Enough to Step In and Hold those Critical Conversations?

A recent report by the Rand Corporation, Harvard Medical School and the University of California-Los Angeles, finds that 20% of the people in our workplaces feel that the work environment is “grueling, stressful and hostile.” Other reports I have read indicate that as many as 80% of the people in our workplaces are very dissatisfied with their managers and their lack of consideration, listening and caring. It is noted that about half of the workforce would leave their current job, if they could find another, expressly because of their “boss.”

Thus the Forbes quote, “People leave managers, not companies.” Let’s face it. There are many managers and bosses that shouldn’t be managers and bosses. Many…cannot lead, are indecisive, don’t tell the truth, cannot hold the difficult conversations, aren’t clear in their expectations, have favorites, don’t follow-through, lack caring and concern.

There’s Fault…Everywhere:

It is not just the managers who are a problem. A story in the August 15th H.R. News indicates that people between 18 and 34 are putting themselves at risk by not following the companies’ safety procedures, even though over 50% say that they have read the procedures and understand why they exist. This leads, for example, to the tragic story of the death of a 29-year-old Athens, Georgia man on August 9th, who thoughtlessly jumped out of his forklift truck to catch a toppling, heavy, hydraulic car lift he was moving; it fell onto him.

On top of all this change, frustration and anger in our workplaces, many people are suffering from bullying from both managers and co-workers. Shouting and swearing are clearly inappropriate and so are actions like inappropriately withholding information, the unfair allocation of work, deliberate over-monitoring, spreading malicious rumors, and making unreasonable demands.

Stress, indifference and bullying are behaviors that block the ability to have the focused, disciplined, purposeful conversations required for both the people and their organizations to successfully negotiate all the changes we are and will be facing. The costs for the people and their organizations are huge resulting in the loss of as much as 30-40% of their effectiveness.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Let’s all of us pull together and partner to build a successful and prosperous future. I challenge you to change your workplace for the better. Give me a call at 716-622-6467 and I’ll explain how you can do that quickly and effectively.

What Linkages Do You See for Engaging More with Your Employees…and Reducing the Risk for Workplace Violence?

workplace violenceEmployee engagement has long been a concern to the U.S. workforce…it is a vital component of employee attraction and retention. Yet, with all the leadership programs targeted to “engage better with employees,” there hasn’t been a significant shift in relationships.

Add to this the alarm being sounded of various degrees of workplace violence happening…from unchecked incivilities and unprofessionalism leading to bullying to harassment to taunting (cyber or otherwise), leading to behavioral dysfunctions and, ultimately, violence from fist-fights to vengefulness to physical/mental abuse, to homicide. And the connection is…not knowing your people and lack of authentic engagement!

Culture is an outcome – an outcome of all the interactions of people – with each other, with supervision, with management, with the systems and processes they work with and in the carrying out of everyday “norms.” How interactions happen, how engagement takes place, and how deep it evolves are all key cogs in the workplace culture wheel – whether it is spinning for Safety, Quality, Morale, Involvement, Sustainability – the very same critical engagement processes need to happen. (Note: The Process Enneagram© is an example of a constructive dialog process used successfully for cultural-based improvement outcomes).

So creating a culture of engagement requires more than completing an annual employee survey and then leaving managers on their own, hoping they will learn something from the survey results that will change the way they manage.

Highly engaged organizations share common practices like these:

  • They know creating a culture of engagement starts at the top.
  • All levels of the organization are held accountable.
  • They communicate openly and consistently.
  • They hold their managers accountable – not just for their team’s measured engagement level, but also for how it relates to their team’s overall performance.
  • They ensure that managers are engaging employees from the first minute of their first day at work. (Members of supervision possess emotional intelligence and are expected to be able to lead, interact with authenticity and caring with individuals and teams.)
  • They have well-defined, integrated, and comprehensive development programs for leaders and managers (including how to hold the most difficult conversations. And how to lead constructive dialog processes).
  • They focus on the development of individuals and teams with emphasis on constructive dialog around safety, quality, and the interactions of people to fulfill the business purpose. (This includes organizational assessments and vulnerability assessments for safety and security).
  • Engagement is a fundamental consideration in their people strategy – and not an annual “check-the-box” activity.
  • They hold regular, integrated, constructive dialog sessions to lift up the concerns that getting in the way of the team being the best that it can be and to support cooperation and collaboration.
  • They care about positive co-worker relationships as well as the business outcomes. (Workplace rules, policies, procedures are clear – and well established/communicated/enforced for working within the work environment – for supporting the sustainability of the business as well as the welfare needs of the people. Preventing workplace violence fits here).
  • They regularly hold team improvement sessions where knotty problems are lifted up and addressed, including process problems, safety problems, quality problems and interactive problems.

Some of these insights are gleaned from Gallup 4/17: The Right Culture; Others come from the experience of R.N.Knowles & Associates in helping Organizations and Teams become the best they can be together.

Engaging Workers – The Linkages you Need to Know About

Engage workersIn the June 2017 issue of EHS-Today is an article about engaging and training workers as a foundation block for an effective safety program, while applying critical thinking principles. The intent, of course, is to seek out more and more opportunities to have people involved and participating in safety risk assessment, engaging at a grassroots level for finding solutions and training whole teams in the entire process. At a deep level, each of us knows that having people involved and with you in moving your business or organization forward is a good thing!

But are we doing it? Are we engaging our people well? Or are we giving this lip service? Are we just trying to check off the box?

The recent 2017 Gallup Report on Employee Engagement tells it like it is. Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. up to $605 billion each year in lost productivity. They found that only 33% of U.S. employees are engaged in their job, and slightly more than half of employees (51%) say they are actively looking for a new job or watching for openings. Further, most employees leave, not because of the Company per se, but because of their boss’s behavior.

The report also shows that when a business or organization has high levels of employee engagement, that there is a 71% reduction in Employee Safety incidents, a 17% increase in productivity and a 24% reduction in turnover. (Duh!) These are significant pay-offs to note for both employees and employers!

Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg! What Employers, CEOs, Managers, and Supervisors are also missing are two other important linkages – tied to levels of authentic engagement:

  • Workplace Violence Connections: When knotty problems are left unresolved, when changes are imposed on people (without their input), when incivilities go unchecked, when team improvement sessions are absent, the risk of workplace violence and related dysfunctional behaviors increases. The call for honest engagement beckons.
  • It is crucial to have high emotional intelligence among Supervisors: Supervisors with positive impact possess high EQ. Old school managers that remain in the “my way or the highway” mode and that cannot create/support a culture of authentic engagement with their people, ultimately become a detriment to overall organizational success. So a learning environment, engaging everyone, is important.

It doesn’t take much to learn an integrated, on-going, constructive dialog process that can improve safety, fully engage employees, resolve the hidden elephants that are getting in the way, lift up any workplace violence behavioral concerns (from incivilities to bullying to harassment to vengefulness to deeper dysfunctions) while building the energy necessary to move forward with coherence and collaboration. And it can be accomplished quickly.

I challenge you to call me (716-622-6467) to learn about Partner-Centered-Leadership and how our Process can help you to glean some multi-faceted, on-going, engagement successes soon!

Sound the Alarm!

alarming safety trendsI just saw an announcement that the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety was closing after 59 years, to reduce costs. The ISO 45001 Standard is in the final stages and is aimed at improving safety around the world. Yet some people are reacting that it will not make a difference because of management indifference or cost restraints.

Workplace violence seems to be on the rise with 417 homicides and 354 shootings in the US in 2015. In spite of this, only 28% of the American Society of Training and Development members offer safety training programs in collaboration with law enforcement.

As we study and look at what is happening, we see a critical lack of managers and supervisors in their understanding of what leadership is all about and how important each of their roles is to the success of the organization. The guidance about leadership that fills so many books are not making much impact because it does not provide suggestions as to what leaders need to do.

Leadership is about action, about taking the initiative to work together, to partner, with the people to make their workplaces safer and better.

We Need Better Leadership!

leadership is needed for safetyMany of you who have been reading this newsletter know that our emphasis is on Partner Centered Leadership. We emphasize the importance of supervisors and managers getting into their workplaces each day and talking with the people. Talking with the people is a key to breaking through to safety excellence. Talking about the risks they face each day, how they are managing them, how their kids are doing, how the safety is doing, how the business is doing, asking them what they see as to ways to improve their own work, asking about problems they are dealing with, etc. Doing this with respect and really listening are vitally important.

This was the focus of my ASSE talk in Denver. There is a solid, scientifically based reason for engaging in Partner Centered Leadership. The Self-Organizing Criticality theory shows the importance of making small, focused changes like talking with the people. Each conversation builds the potential energy of the organization and at some point people begin to do things more safely, helping each other, taking the lead when they see a problem and begin the process to correct it. As the organization begins to work together more safely, share information and help each other, safety improves. The organization learns to live near the critical point where changes occur and their creative energy builds.

The Process Enneagram©, which I have spoken about in these newsletters and written books about, is the tool to us to develop the focused conversation that lift the organization towards excellence in safety. Combining the ideas about change coming out of the Self-Organizing Criticality work with the Process Enneagram© tool for developing focused, disciplined conversations enables the organization to achieve excellence in their safety performance and have more people going home safely.

Partner Centered Leadership is also the way for organizations to build more kind, considerate, helping, effective workplaces where everyone is looking out for each other. This is a key piece of work in reducing workplace violence. When there is an acceptance of bullying and harassment in the workplace, the field is fertile for violence. Partner Centered Leadership is the pathway to excellence. It is time to move forward. Call us at 716-622-6467 to get on board the important leadership train for safety.

Some Unsettling Trends

safety trendsThe American Society for Safety Engineers (soon to be The American Society for Safety Professionals) in Denver, Colorado, on June 19-22, 2017, was attended by about 5,000 people. This was a record for attendance. There were lots of papers and a huge trade show exhibit. I never saw so much safety equipment and other offerings.

I presented a paper during the last series of talks. It was titled “Breaking Through to Safety Excellence, Self-Organizing Criticality and the Process Enneagram©.” Even though I was among the last of the papers, I had about 150 people attend and received a rating for my talk of 4.7 out of 5. Many people came up at the end to talk further. If any of you would like to see my paper, please send me an email.

Richard Knowles presenting at the American Society for Safety Engineers

In spite of the large attendance and all the safety equipment in the trade show, I feel some alarming trends in safety performance. The number of workplace fatalities in the US has been at around 4,700 each year for the last 6-7 years. New regulations and ISO Standards are not making a strong impact. This is true in other countries, as well like New Zealand, where they have already had 28 fatalities; almost as much as for all of 2016 even though they had a new National Standards issued in April 2-16.

Managing the Dynamical Balance Between Production and Safety

Lots of organizations proclaim that “Safety is Number 1” or something like this. In my early years, I thought this way as well. In reality, we have to have both in order for the business to make money. I have talked about this before in other newsletters and in my talks at the ASSE Annual PDC Conferences.

Sometimes we need to work on and talk more about the safety hazards, needs and requirements. Other times we need to work on and talk about the production needs. Both Safety and production are always in the conversations; sometimes more of safety and other times more of production. This is a both/and situation.

We were always in this conversation when I was the plant manager and you can see from the results mentioned in the proceeding section, we were able to do very well in managing this dynamical balance. It is dynamical because, not only are the situations dynamic in themselves, but also there are many situations going on at the same time around them so everything is always moving. We have to be very alert, talk together, help each other work at our highest skill levels.