“Hi, my name is John and I work in the procurement department. Last year my decision to delay the purchase of the new gloves the business identified were necessary (due to a number of near misses we identified that were causing potential hand injuries) meant that Terry on manufacturing line 4 lost a finger and now can’t play guitar in the band he was in.
I’ve never met Terry. I’ve never even been down to where he works. I don’t know the hazards he faces. I didn’t even know we needed the new gloves due to some near-misses. I was asked by the H&S team to buy them but I’d run out of budget for that quarter so I decided to delay for a few weeks to push it into next quarter.
I didn’t tell anyone due to the flak I’d get so I kept it under the radar until I could make the purchase. The procurement director would not have been happy otherwise.
I know these things are important and I’d hate to think that people would be hurt because of the decisions I’d made. Do I feel responsible for Terry’s injury? I guess in some way I do, but I get so many of these requests through and we’ve only got so much money. What’s the priority? When an accident happens all hell breaks loose anyway and money will get spent.”
Getting health and safety decisions right in a business is an incredibly complex undertaking. So complex, that when you sit with senior leaders and look at the dominoes in their organisation and the incidents they see, you can watch the steam escaping from their ears whilst they consider the implications of the culture on decision making amongst different departments.
In fact, it’s this point that illustrates how safety is just another facet of the business that’s being impacted by the difficulty of getting disparate departments and sites to make cohesive decisions. Instead of working in self-interested silos.
One of the things we’ve done very successfully in organisations to overcome some of these problems is to emphasise the importance of individual behaviour amongst those in the production areas of the business. And that whatever else goes on, whatever other decisions have been made – what can you do about that to stop yourself and your colleagues being hurt?
In the case of Terry, despite John’s decision, he still had a choice to make about whether he carried on with the job without the right gloves, or stopped it, or found another method. And in fact, another one of the things you can do to support this situation even further is help the managers in your production areas to recognise and encourage this ‘right to refuse’.
But how do you go beyond just dealing with the end of the chain of dominoes (Terry’s behaviour), and the middle of the chain of dominoes (Terry’s manager’s behaviour), to dealing practically with some of the more remote dominoes (John’s choices in the procurement department).
The key here is visibility
You must make John aware of the situations that occur in an ongoing, practical way, that makes it very clear exactly what the priorities are and the real-life consequences of not doing so.
Obviously this assumes that individuals are motivated to make the right decisions given the right information, but in my experience it’s very difficult for people to do otherwise once they start to recognise the human cost of the decisions that they’re a part of.
How do you address this visibility? Well, there are a raft of communication tools and processes out there but the most effective way we deal with it is through a social dashboard within our Engage software. This dashboard helps people make the situations they face more visible across the whole organisation – making very clear the consequences, and helping peers to promote the most important ones (via the use of a Facebook-like ‘thumbs up’ button).
As you’d expect, this greater visibility sends waves across an organisation by suddenly allowing everyone to see the impact of decision making on people’s safety in a way they just weren’t able to before. Instead of needing a dedicated team that physically drives a particular issue with statistics that only they have access to, Engage’s increased visibility means that issues take on a life of their own, with your organisation’s community deciding the importance. And through greater engagement, they do something about it.
So, alongside all the work you do dealing with the immediate behavioural dominoes – spare a thought for those remote ones. The ones you’ve had to park because of the complexities of working within an organisation. If you can effectively raise the visibility of those issues, you’ll make a more effective and longer-term difference.