Tag Archives: accident prevention

Safety PR and Crisis Communication: Are You Ready?

A terrible accident has happened in your work place. An employee falls from a ladder, lands on his head, and dies at the scene. This is one of the most terrible events that can ever occur within any organization. Immediately after the employee’s death, there is confusion, guilt, sadness, anger, and a myriad of other emotions. What is the first thing you should do? What do you say? How do you say it? To whom do you say it? The decisions made and actions taken after any type of crisis situation can spell disaster for your organization.

Don’t think “It’ll Never Happen Here!” A crisis may happen anywhere – anytime, and high profile organizations are more susceptible to some crisis. It is a fact that bad things CAN and DO happen to good organizations. It’s essential to understand that new threats develop regularly, that we need to be aware and be ready.

Let me say first that I am not an attorney and nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. The information and suggestions here are from my own experiences and understanding of dealing with crisis situations in the workplace. I strongly encourage anyone that is dealing with a crisis to seek out qualified and experienced legal advice.

In a catastrophic event, your every word, every eye movement, every emotion that shows, will resonate with those around you. In a crisis event, communication is different. Uncertainty is one of the greatest concerns for most, so it’s important to reduce anxiety and demonstrate that things are under control. But instead of making promises about outcomes, express the uncertainty of the situation and a confident belief in the process you are using to fix the problem and to address public safety concerns.

The consequences of a crisis can be far and wide and can lead to devastating results. What happens or is done on one front will impact what happens on another. This includes issues like litigation, law enforcement, regulatory agencies, the community, clients/customers, the press, business partners, employees, etc.

Two key issues to consider in crisis communication include the need to instill confidence and to provide information to all concerned (employees, family, police, government investigators, local news media, and public). The bottom line is that we want to have the public respond, en mass, in a logical, predictable manner designed to ensure the greatest good to the greatest number.

One thing for sure is that we must act quickly as bad news travels fast, especially in today’s world of social media which tends to thrive on bad news. By acting quickly, we can preserve the organization’s reputation and control the information that the public, employees, etc. receive. It does take work, but it’s much simpler than rebuilding a damaged reputation.

The KEY to success or failure is effective, caring, and honest communication. Before with employees (training) and media. During with employees, media, outside responders, regulatory agencies. And After with employees, media, regulatory agencies, contractors.

No doubt, there will be lots of questions from every direction. While you can’t always prevent the crisis, you can be prepared by understanding what sort of information people will want to know, such as:
• What caused the accident?
• What is the organization’s procedure to handle such an incident?
• Will there be an investigation?
• What is being done to mitigate the risk?
• Has this happened before? If so, when?

Of course, there will also be lots of rumors going around. Immediately dismissing a rumor is a dangerous move. Take everything you hear seriously, but with a grain of salt and investigate rumors before you comment. Correct wrong information quickly and thoroughly. Try to persuade those with unconfirmed incident information not to publicize it until official confirmation is received. It is extremely easy for information to be published very rapidly on blogs and social media, and it can be extremely distressing if the next of kin of a victim finds out about an accident through such unofficial, unconfirmed channels.

The goals of your crisis communication should be to protect your organization’s reputation, reduce tension, demonstrate commitment to values, to communicate promptly and continuously, to maintain control of the flow of information, and, of course, to end the crisis.

So what can you do? Think carefully about the messages you send out. Consider using just two to three key messages that include things like: Facts, Concern, Commitment, and Actions to take. I suggest that these be no more than ten seconds each and no more than 30 words, and then keep repeating these three messages. . .
Famous Example: STOP! DROP! ROLL!

There are some keys to navigating a crisis; these include:
• Consider, above all other factors, the health/safety of visitors, employees, public and community.
• Gather all facts as rapidly as possible.
• Immediately notify, and maintain contact with, appropriate local authorities (Police, Fire, etc.).
• Notify legal advisers when appropriate.
• Maintain records of all proceedings.
• Encourage candid discussion of solutions.
• Communicate quickly and fully with one another and public.
• Develop answers to predictable questions.
• Monitor events and adapt as necessary.
• Lead and facilitate investigation.
• Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”.

There is much, much more to consider in crisis communication, including how to deal with the media, press releases, matching the message to the audience, how to use social media to your advantage, understanding risk communication, putting together a crisis management plan and team, and understanding the skills required of a spokesperson. All of these, and more, will be covered in my upcoming audio conference titled “Safety PR: What To Say When A Serious Incident Hits Your Organization”, February 3, 2015. Learn more or register at: http://www.theindustrycalendar.com/showWCDetails.asp?TCID=1014501&RID=1011610


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What Behavior Based Safety (BBS) Is And What It Is Not.

BBS theory has been around for many decades, but in the past few years it has become increasingly popular among some businesses and with many safety professionals. The phrase Behavior-Based Safety in its strictest sense refers to the use of applied behavior analysis methods to achieve continuous improvement in safety performance. Behavior Analysis is promoted as the scientific study of behavior, with the primary objective being the discovery of principles and laws that govern behavior. I would say, though, that to be truly effective this must include all behaviors, not just those of the front-line worker.

Many proponents of BBS Claim it To Be:

  • An excellent tool for collecting data on quality of a company’s safety culture.
  • A scientific way to understand why people behave the way they do when it comes to safety.
  • When properly applied, an effective next step towards creating a pro-active safety culture where loss prevention is a core value.
  • Conceptually easy to understand but often hard to implement and sustain.

…But Claim It Is Not:

  • Only about observation and feedback.
  • Concerned only about the behaviors of line employees.
  • A substitution for traditional risk management techniques.
  • About cheating, manipulating people, and aversive control.
  • A focus on incident rates without a focus on behavior.
  • A process that doesn’t need employee involvement.

Yet some safety professionals with which I have communicated claim BBS is the only method to use in safety management and injury reduction. Others I have talked with claim that BBS is too flawed to be useful. BBS proponents often state that conditions do not cause accidents, behavior does. In fact, some BBS proponents state that more than 85% of accidents are the result of unsafe acts. This belief seems to stem from Herbert Heinrich’s theories developed in the 1930’s. Personally, I have not found any solid evidence of Heinrich’s “statistics”, yet time and again I see this so-called “fact” used to support the position on BBS. So, the Heinrich myth lives on. But does this mean there is no value to some concepts of Behavior Based Safety? No, I think there is value in BBS when properly combined with other methods.

BBS says safety is about people, and behavior is the challenge. But BBS does not focus on identifying and correcting hazards and is often seen as “carrot and stick”. Critics claim BBS emphasizes the worker without taking the system into account. Another approach to consider is that of using a Safety Management System (SMS) . The SMS uses planning, risk identification, analysis, operational control, directives and processes, and continual improvement. Safety Management Systems focus on hazards (which I believe to be the true source of injuries) and I would suggest that removing or reducing the risk of injury can be more successful than relying solely on BBS.

It’s important to note that an effective SMS is not about regulations or reprimands: it is about systems and using what works for the given situation. It’s also important to realize that there are pros and cons to both SMS and BBS methodologies. Safety management systems will always be flawed to some degree, as you can’t plan and control for every hazard. And systems can be inflexible while behavioral approaches may be more adaptive. However, behavior is hard to understand and change, while hazard identification and correction can be implemented easily in most situations.

Accidents are complex and a concentration on behavior alone can detract from finding other causes. But a focus on systems alone might overlook some behavioral issues; there are things in BBS that may be useful. So what are we to do? We need to understand that there are many causes to accidents other than just behavior. There may be environmental conditions, physical hazards, management & systems, equipment, etc., to consider as causes.

It’s not unusual for an organization to see these two approaches as an “either-or” proposition. While the strong proponents of each (BBS and SMS) may see them as diametrically opposed, this may not necessarily be true. But there is no “canned” solution; each organization should select the components of various theories and systems that work for them.

What Really Works In Keeping The Workplace Safe?
1. Controlling risks at their source.
2. Vigorous enforcement of the law.
3. Treating people with dignity and respect.
4. Using BBS and Safety Management Systems (SMS) together.

A combination of safety management systems and behavior-nurturing systems might better ensure a higher probability of working safely. BBS and SMS can and do work together. But BBS in its entirety and on its own might cause more harm than good, as it has a tendency to cause a level of distrust between management and front-line workers. In my opinion, bringing BBS into a culture where there is no trust can only lead to disaster.

So I would suggest that using caution with behavioral theories is appropriate. We are always learning new things about human psychology, and what we thought was true about human behavior a few years ago may not be true today. Bear in mind also that employees don’t like being “psychoanalyzed” and many unions are strongly opposed to BBS in any form. There is clear value in injury reduction through removing or controlling hazards (conditions). While behavioral modification might work, it can be complex and involved, and often is met with tremendous resistance. It all boils down to using what works. No one system, process, or theory has all of the answers.

There is no doubt this is a complex, controversial, and even divisive subject. To learn more about combining BBS and Safety Management Systems, join me on January 6, 2015 for my next audio conference on this subject. “Behavior Based Safety: What Works, What Doesn’t, And How It Can Help Your Organization” http://www.theindustrycalendar.com/showWCDetails.asp?TCID=1014275&RID=1011610

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10 Steps to Effective Safety Programs

10 Steps to Effective Safety Programs

  1.  Find an Evangelist.This is critically important. While the steps to follow are not difficult, you do need someone to make it happen and manage it. You need someone in your company that truly believes in making the workplace safe for all employees, can do some research, learn quickly, has the ability to manage multiple projects, and can obtain buy-in from all levels. This might be an existing employee that has shown promise or you may need to bring in someone else. Not every company has someone like this in their employ, but you may and not even know it. Take a good look at your employees, the things they do and what sort of ideas they have had in the past. Start asking around and you might just find someone on staff that can be your Evangelist. If not, there are plenty of very good consultants out there that you might use. I would suggest getting one person to work on contract whose only responsibility will be your new safety project.
  2. Implement an ISMS. This is an Integrated Safety Management System. A lot of words for a means of making things happen and controlling them. Putting an ISMS in place is not really scary or difficult, it just sounds like it.  The ISMS is merely a tool and is not meant as a be-all and end-all. It is designed to help you plan, implement, and control safety measures that will reduce time off from work injuries, increase production, improve employee involvement, and ultimately reduce costs and increase revenue through improved customer relations. A search on the Internet will bring up lots of ISMS examples and help on developing an Integrated Safety Management System.
  3.  Educate & Train. This is probably one of the most important of the 10 steps. Everyone from the CEO to office and warehouse workers must be trained and educated (there is a difference between training and education). We train for skills and we educate for specific knowledge and concepts. Both are essential to a successful ISMS and a safe workplace. How training and education are implemented depends on your situation and resources. I recommend beginning with off-the-shelf, self-paced, interactive training courses in every safety subject appropriate to your workplace, such as chemical safety, materials handling, office ergonomics, etc. You can always move toward more customized courses later, but the important thing is to get the training started right away. These training courses need to be readily accessible to employees from anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day. This is easily done through one of many safety training providers that offer courses and a Learning Management System (LMS) to deliver and control everything. Good LMS’s are available for little money or you can go with an open source LMS like Moodle for free. Also check out MasteryTech or TrainCaster, which both offer courses and an LMS at a very reasonable cost. Try a search for “affordable LMS”.
  4. Make Information Accessible. Lots of ways to do this, but as easy as it is to build and manage an Intranet, it just makes sense to do so. Nearly every business has computers and these computers are connected in some sort of network. With today’s applications, creating and maintaining websites is really a quite simple task that nearly any employee can learn quickly. Once your site is up and running, this is where you post all of the information your employees need to stay safe, like job procedures, your safety policy, safety programs, and just about anything else you can think of. An Intranet is also a great tool for your employees to report accidents and submit suggestions for improvement.
  5. Involve Employees. None of this will be successful without everyone’s involvement to some degree. All safety professionals will agree that safety starts with management, and that ongoing safety in the workplace is the responsibility of each and every employee. Besides, your employees know the workplace better than anyone else and they can do the things that will save you money and increase your revenue. Setting up and running a safety committee is a good way to get employees involved and to continue spreading the word about working safely.
  6.  Identify & Control Hazards. Unsafe situations must be controlled in order to reduce injuries and limit or eliminate lost work days. And you can’t fix a problem that you do not know exists. This is where hazard identification comes in to play. It is actually very easy and does not take much time. Simple walk-around inspections and more in-depth job analysis will reveal the dangers with the biggest chance of causing injuries that put employees out of work. Do an Internet search for “job hazard analysis”.
  7.  Ensure Legal Compliance. Got to do it. If you are not in compliance, all it takes is one unhappy or disgruntled employee to make a call to OSHA and you will have inspectors all over your facility. And you can be certain that if you have not already implemented a very good safety system that OSHA will find violations. Sure they will give you a chance to fix them before they start hitting you with fines, but once you are on OSHA’s radar you may be on it forever. This is not a good thing. Another not so good thing is litigation. If an employee is injured because of a hazard that management knew about or should have known about, both civil and criminal prosecution is possible. Under California OSHA, and soon to be under Federal OSHA, managers can be held personally responsible and can go to jail.
  8.  Automate Recordkeeping. This is really easy. OSHA requires nearly all employers to maintain work-related accident records, including documented accident investigations. OSHA provides a really nice Excel spreadsheet for this purpose. Additionally, I have modified this spreadsheet to make recordkeeping really painless. Use my email link at the end of this article and I will send you a copy.
  9.  Let Your Customers Know Advertise your new safety system and its results to existing and potential clients. This will show just how serious you are about your safety responsibilities and how you want to do the right thing. Make a big deal (it really is a big deal) about your safety system and how it has improved your business.
  10.  Continuous Improvement. None of what has been done so far can remain static if it is going to continue putting more money in your pocket. Part of this safety system must include a means to occasionally re-evaluate it and continually be looking for ways to improve. As your safety system continues to mature, your employees will continue to benefit from a safe workplace and your customers will continue to see your commitment to safety. This is clearly a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

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