Posts filed under ‘Safe and Healthy Workplaces’
At this year’s NAEM Forum in Tucson, several speakers and participants made the point that a strong environment, health and safety (EHS) culture is a prerequisite to achieving and sustaining a high-level of EHS performance, and EHS managers are better served by focusing on building an EHS culture than focusing strictly on outcomes. Building a culture that values EHS is difficult and takes years, so it’s important to have a clear vision of what a strong EHS culture looks like. Here are my thoughts on the core characteristics of a strong EHS culture.
- Top management is involved and visibly supportive: Senior managers include EHS in enterprise goals, metrics, and operations reviews. They engage in safety-related activities, such as safety walks and self-audits, and set a clear and consistent tone through their actions that EHS is a core value.
- All levels of management are accountable: EHS comprises a significant portion of performance evaluations for managers and supervisors. Managers and supervisors are expected to create a safe work environment for their associates, and ensure the people under their supervision tend to their EHS responsibilities with the same rigor as they do quality, productivity and schedule.
- EHS is integrated into core business processes: The EHS program is made operational through the enterprise business management system and standard operating procedures. In enterprises where EHS is well-integrated, EHS doesn’t require special attention or management exhortations. It is simply how business is done.
- EHS is communicated effectively and frequently: EHS requirements are understood by all associates. New associates receive EHS training appropriate to their jobs as part of orientation. Management realizes that the importance of EHS must constantly be reinforced to achieve and maintain a high-level of performance.
- Doing the right thing is innate: Associates have a high-level of EHS awareness, receive sufficient and continuous EHS training and are given the tools to ensure effective EHS management. Associates do the right thing and do things right, even when nobody is watching.
- Associates are motivated: People find intrinsic value in high EHS performance. They understand its contribution to the success of the enterprise and take pride in doing their part.
What characteristics do you think are essential for a strong EHS culture?
As safety practitioners, we know that engineering controls (elimination, isolation or substitution) are the first and preferred levels in the Hierarchy of Controls. By eliminating or reducing the exposure to a hazard through the design of a job or workstation, we establish a level of safety for all people working there. Engineering controls, also called Prevention through Design (PtD), also reduce the need for administrative (behavioral) controls and use of personal protective equipment. PtD is not a new concept, but is a recent initiative that is taking hold again.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is leading a national initiative to promote this concept and highlight its importance in all business decisions. The concept continues to focus on planning and design of new workstations and process through two steps:
- Identifying hazards and
- Designing out the hazards through engineering controls.
It sounds easy. But if it is, why do environment, health and safety (EHS) programs struggle to control hazards after the fact? Why do safety professionals and management still rely heavily on behavioral and administrative controls instead of engineering controls? In my experience and through Humantech benchmarking studies, we’ve identified the three key elements for successful PtD processes as “At the right time, by the people (in the right role), and with the right criteria.”
- Right time: Prevention starts at the design phase when layout and tool design are concepts. This is where chemical, musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), and pinch-point hazards (to name a few) are easily identified by reviewing drawings and mock-ups. Changes made during the design phase to add capture ventilation, reduce reach distances, and add guarding cost 1/10 to 1/100 of what they would cost if made retroactively.
- Right people (role): The person(s) who designs the workplace or tool or specifies equipment is the best person to find and fix unacceptable exposures. Typically, these people are in an engineering role (process, production, mechanical, facilities or new product design engineers). Benchmarking studies continue to show that a common characteristic of companies with effective ergonomic improvement processes is that engineers, not solely the safety staff, are responsible and accountable for low-hazard design of the workplace.
- Right criteria: For engineers to be successful in designing jobs and workstations with low risk/hazard, they need the right tools. I am not referring to a shelf of engineering textbooks, but a limited and focused set of design guidelines, specific to that product or industry, that quickly provides the acceptable limits for design. Examples of ergonomic design guidelines include standing workstation height; reach distance; force limits for reaching, pulling or pressing; and viewing distance and placement. From this, engineers can quickly design the physical parameters of the workplace to fit the capability of the working population.
The concept of PtD sounds simple. And, in fact, it is simple. As simple as patching a leaky boat so you can paddle, not bail. Is PtD working in your organization? Is it practiced at all levels of the organization, or does EHS have to be the cheerleader and driver of the process? If success relies on EHS, what are the barriers you’ve encountered and how have you overcome them?
Over the years, I’ve met environment, health and safety (EHS) managers who are convinced that by driving safety and ergonomics through a grassroots approach, some day the initiative will catch on with supervisors, managers and company leaders as an infectious commitment.
“If you build it, he will come” may have worked for Ray Kinsella in the movie “Field of Dreams”, but let’s get real folks: This approach is a shot in the dark for quickly and effectively improving and sustaining safety and performance in the workplace.
Indeed, the key elements of leadership in maintaining an effective and sustainable ergonomic improvement process are no different than those of an EHS system, company culture, or any other aspect of a business. The bottom line is that leadership must occur from the top.
A wise person once noted, “What interests my manager motivates me.” This is the key to leading a safety and ergonomics process over time. Think about it: At work your priorities and activities are guided by how your manager tracks and measures your performance. It is our experience that when managers, engineers, supervisors and employees have a clear understanding of their involvement in the effort to improve workplace ergonomics (and they are held accountable to those expectations), effective workplace changes are made.
Yet leading an ergonomics process is not usually intuitive to many in top management roles. As an EHS manager, however, you are in a position to coach top management on the few things they need to do; simply put, they need to hold their direct reports accountable for ergonomics performance (see my prior blog on effective goals and metrics for ergonomics). The four most important things they can do to make sure this happens are:
- Set clear expectations (responsibilities, goals, roles, targets)
- Provide people with the resources, tools and training they need to meet their responsibilities
- Visibly and actively monitor and track progress
- Take action when expectations are not met
Fortunately this four-step approach is not foreign to managers and supervisors. They follow some form of these steps to complete work, build widgets and manage production. Leaders in safety should apply the same approach (accountability) to influence, guide and lead their organization to success. It’s all about planning, managing and following through.
Kurt, my climbing instructor from several decades ago, was a great illustration of how not to lead by example. His immortal words “Do as I say, not as I do” sent a mixed message. While he told us to wear the correct helmet and always climb while belayed, he climbed bare-headed and without a lifeline. He was technically knowledgeable, but clearly not a leader.
On the contrary, Dave Packard, Bill Hewlett and Bob Hall were true leaders, who set expectations for performance (including safety) and held people, including general managers, accountable for the quality and safety of their workplace.
Whether you base your company ergonomics program on Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) models, the Safety Management System, lean manufacturing or continuous improvement, strong and visible leadership by people in top management is critical for ensuring that engineers design tools to fit the first time; employee teams reduce exposure to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) risk factors before injuries occur; and that employees adjust their own work stations to best fit them.
If improving ergonomics is a priority for your organization, does your top management team lead by example? Have they set performance expectations, goals, and clear roles? Do they track performance?
If not, what have you done to best prepare them to lead?
At NRG Energy, environmental compliance is a management commitment. Through the pillars of its environmental management program, the Princeton, N.J.-based company delivers on this commitment in the approximately 42 power plants it owns and operates throughout the United States. This week, we caught up with Senior Manager of Environmental Business Tony Shea to discuss the company’s successful compliance strategies.
GT: When it comes to building a successful environmental management program, where do you begin?
TS: It starts with commitment from the very top of the company that environmental compliance is an absolute must. For NRG, that commitment is reflected in our environmental statement and our core values, and we do not make compliance decisions based on economics or other circumstances. It is understood that our plants simply must comply. And that commitment is constantly reaffirmed by our top management down through the plant management.
GT: Once the management commitment is in place, how do you embed compliance into the day-to-day operations?
TS: When we’re talking about power-generating facilities, compliance is a factor in many decisions operators make while on the job. At NRG we try to keep potential environmental impacts at the forefront of everyone’s thinking as we perform our daily decisions and actions.
In 2007, we implemented a system to track environmental compliance performance called the Environmental Key Performance Indicator (EKPI), which tracks incidents such as permit violations, notices of violation, reportable spills and even administrative compliance. The EKPI also accounts for each location’s participation in our econrg initiative, which includes projects focusing on environmental stewardship, greenhouse gas reduction, or water conservation projects in our local communities.
At the beginning of each year, every facility gets a target score. To reach the maximum EKPI score, the facilities need to have a perfect compliance record, and that score is ultimately tied into the bonus of every employee at the plant. Over the past four years I think it has really changed the mindset to reinforce the message that environmental compliance is everyone’s job.
Training is also a critical component of compliance. We’ve improved operator training, enabling them to better understand environmental requirements and potential impacts as they make decisions in their day-to-day operations.
GT: What are the other elements of your program?
TS: In addition to our EKPI, our environmental management information system (EMIS) and our audit program also help us ensure compliance.
We initially implemented our EMIS across all of our generating facilities in early January 2007. That initial roll-out included using it for our EKPI and for tracking environmental events. Shortly thereafter, we began using the EMIS to track any environmental responsibilities that come from permits or environmental regulation. If it’s something that can be scheduled, we’ve scheduled it into that system. The system then sends an email to the employee responsible for making sure it gets done. We’ve seen significant improvement over the years in administrative compliance thanks to our task tracking system.
Every significant facility also gets audited annually by an independent, third-party consulting firm. One unique aspect of our EKPI is that audit findings do not count negatively. We want to find all potential issues and correct them. Audit findings only impact a facility’s EKPI score if the corrective actions are not completed in a timely manner, or if there are repeat findings from year to year. We believe this sends the right message to the employees and encourages a collaborative relationship between the auditors and plants. We want perfect compliance, so it is important to identify potential risks or weaknesses and address them immediately. Our senior management and our plant management are on board with that and welcome the audits.
Tony Shea will share more details about NRG’s compliance program at NAEM’s EHS Compliance Excellence Conference on July 27-28 in Minneapolis.