Sometimes, when safety people go out on a plant floor, other employees go the other way.
Why? Because it’s often perceived that safety people find things that are wrong and then fix them.
The result: resentment and fear.
Addiction to blame often undermines safety programs and employee engagement.
Blame often arises from Root Cause Analyses (RCA), performed after an incident, particularly after an injury, or worse, death.
10 ways to improve RCAs
How can companies perform RCAs without playing the “blame game,” that has a negative impact on employee engagement?
Here are 10 steps to improve RCAs:
- Avoid labels: Be careful of using phrases like, “the worker had a poor attitude.” Instead, objectively describe a specific behavior that led to an incident. Accurately describing the behavior will help to successfully control it.
- Give specific instructions: Telling employees to “work safely” doesn’t work as well as giving specific instructions. Example of a good instruction: “Put the key in your pocket after you lock out the machine to remove the risk of energy being activated by another worker.”
- Avoid the fault-finding mindset: Look for the positive as well as the negative. An example of the positive: Identify solutions employees have come up with for safety problems. It’s good to spread those around as best practices and to get employees to talk about techniques they’re found to work more safely.
- Set specific learning objectives: Have training objectives, and observable performance conditions that can be measured.
- Commit to continuous improvement: Use “plan, do, check, act.” Each run through the cycle should bring you closer to your goals. Perform RCAs for near hits. Remember, better near hit reporting means your number of near hits will go up short term, but that’s a good thing. Make sure others understand this, too.
- Train employees about RCA: Teach them about different RCA techniques using a mock incident. Employees with special safety roles should receive more specialized RCA training. Make sure you can document the effectiveness of the training. You may want to include office workers, executives, temps and contractors.
- Track your progress (metrics): Track leading and lagging metrics. Tracking near hits is great, but make sure everyone understand how to interpret trends. Track metrics related to issues that are a particular challenge for your company (e.g. overdue action items). Incorporate what you’ve tracked into a robust corrective action program.
- Improve corrective action management: Once you’re identified root causes, it’s time to develop good corrective actions. Every root cause should be addressed by a corrective action. If a RCA points to problems with an existing job safety analysis, be sure to include corrections in the JSA. The most effective corrective actions are those implemented at the design level.
- Share responsibility for RCA: Responsibility should be shared by team members to ensure you’re receiving enough input and different perspectives. This helps keep your investigation system intact if some of the primary people involved move on. This includes having management buy-in to RCA. If management doesn’t sign off on RCA, you may not have the blessing or authority you need to dig deep enough to identify systemic issues.
- Ensure employee engagement: Without employee involvement, you’ll fail to identify accurate root causes, which will cause you to fail to take good corrective actions. Involve employees at all levels: supervisors, shop floor and office. Share progress on investigations and especially on corrective actions. You can’t maintain an incident investigation process, or any part of it, by yourself.
(Adapted from a presentation by Phil Mole, EHS and Sustainability Expert, Velocity EHS, Chicago, at ASSP’s Safety21 Conference)