Posts Tagged safety culture

Killer celery=4 deaths while car crashes=~20,000

So if tainted celery is worthy of attention on CNN home page as soon as news of these deaths is released, what does it take to get that attention for 20,000 deaths within 8 months?

Why isn’t public attention about the cause of 20,000 deaths on every media outlet, all the time? Where is the demand to prevent this? (We have pretty good idea actually, will discuss in future post.)

We don’t accept 4 deaths from a food source. Nor should we. Business operations are shut down when this happens. The source of the fatalities is destroyed, pulled from shelves and eradicated, immediately, as much as possible.

In contrast, we passively accept 20,000 deaths from another source of fatalities. Not only do we not demand preventive action, effective prevention is actively thwarted by some beliefs and behaviors.

While France is currently rioting enough to disrupt a country’s operations over a 2 years’ delay to retirement benefits (not that I agree with that uproar, I’m just making a connection), I ask you to consider this contrast that boggles my mind…

We don’t accept 4 deaths from celery, but we accept 30,000+ deaths a year from car crashes in the U.S.

That’s unacceptable to accept, but U.S. society does and that’s a culture to change.

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What can be deadly, starts with a “c” and has 11 letters?

Just as we learned that each year thousands of men die from stubbornness, there’s another potential killer that might sound unusual to say. But most of us know it well. You may likely recognize it.

com·pla·cen·cy   |   [kuhm-pley-suhn-see]   –noun, plural -cies.

A feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.

An article in a recent Occupational Health & Safety discusses how complacency can lead to injury and fatalities. It shows how our minds can be excellent safety devices, but what can happen when we “check out” or we’re “just not all there”?

I’d also argue that in order to not get struck down by this potentially deadly thing, combatting complacency doesn’t just apply to our individual situations. It applies to what we’re going to do about environments, systems and policies too.

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How do you know when culture changes?

Imagine going from believing:

  • Risk taking is part of the job.
  • The job is dangerous so accidents are to be expected.

to believing:

  • Safety commitment is a business offering.
  • Zero accidents are the goal.

These beliefs aren’t held by two different places. This was the change within one organization. That’s clear evidence of culture change.

Imagine thinking “we do it because we have to” about safety, to thinking “we do it because we want to.” Culture change.

These were examples heard today at the National Safety Council’s Congress & EXPO where senior executives from three companies known for their strong safety cultures spoke: Schneider Electric, Johnson & Johnson and DynMcDermott Petroleum.

Several more points shared:

  • True safety culture will transfer to off the job hours. People take a value for safety with them to other areas of their lives, and may likely influence family and friends too.
  • Ask:  What values drive your daily decisions? Really think about this.
  • Safety is not a “bolt on.” It is how to do business. This should be true under both favorable and challenging economic times. A value is a value no matter the economy.
  • The man or woman at the top must model the culture visibly to employees.
  • Accountability is reached with behavior-based compliance. Behavior-based approaches are the business drivers.
  • Dashboards that monitor business processes should include environmental health and safety metrics.

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Much to learn from aviation safety culture

My husband is a private pilot so we fly often. This makes me wonder about  differences between safety beliefs and behaviors in aviation vs. motor vehicles. A relative who doesn’t get to fly in four-seater planes is staying with us this week, so yesterday we flew to Madison, Wisconsin for dinner (at Bluephies if you must know, and if you’re in town you must go!).

During the flight, my husband explained to his cousin all the dashboard controls that monitor altitude, attitude, other air traffic, the weather down to within a few miles of our plane both horizontal and vertical space (yeah I’m not a pilot so I’m writing this layman terms), airspeed, all the nifty features of the GPS. I was ignoring the conversation because I’ve heard this routine many times. Until he said the words that caught my attention … “situational awareness.” All of these instruments, plus the ongoing conversation via the radio, maintain constant situational awareness, which we all consciously know is life-or-death critical to safety while flying. Ignore any of them at your peril.

Situational awareness is critical for safely “piloting” motor vehicles too, but do we pay so much conscious attention to it? Do we  place such a high value on it? No. How many drivers have even spoken the words “situational awareness” while talking about their cars’ dashboards? Have you ever heard these words? (those of us working on driving safety don’t count!) Instead we tend to show off the really cool things that don’t have much to do with driving — wi-fi speakers, music, etc.

Whenever my husband asks his passengers for complete silence while taking off and landing the plane, it reminds me of the cognitive distraction of talking on cell phones while driving, and the impact of this distraction in driving situations with a heavier workload and higher crash risk, such as intersections and stop-and-go rush hour freeway traffic. When flying, the need for the pilot’s complete attention is 100% front-and-center. This deep safety value is not in motor vehicle driving culture for many reasons, and the differences are interesting. I’ll explore these more in the future.

At a recent national meeting about traffic safety culture, one participant raised a question about aviation safety culture as a model. How did values, beliefs and behaviors toward safety move from the barnstorming culture to the safety-conscious culture that exists today? And what can we learn to help influence safer motor vehicle driving behavior? Watch for more about this here …

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