Deming on Safety Point 14: The Transformation is Everyone’s Job
December 1, 2012 2 Comments
By Phil La Duke
By far the most universal belief in worker safety is that safety is impossible without top management commitment and action. It’s also the most offered excuse for the failure of a safety management system. I don’t think I have ever attended a safety conference where I didn’t run into at least one caterwauling, simpering, burnt-out safety professional who blamed all his failures on a lack of support from leadership, or management.
Too many safety professionals are orphans of the modern workplace; helpless eunuchs who are afraid to do their jobs. In most cases, the safety professional is both leader and management. What’s worse is that they don’t want their jobs to get better; they would rather have sympathy. Too many safety professionals would rather stand on the sidelines and grouse that the game is fixed and they have been cheated than to get in the game and win.
Deming believed that organizational transformation was everyone’s job; that everyone in the organization played an integral role in moving the organization away from outdated methodologies and obsolete values and toward a high-functioning organization that is capable of competing on a global scale.
Deming was big on vision but offered little in instruction as to exactly how we are supposed to achieve the desired state. A lot of people criticize him for that, but I think Deming’s lack of prescriptive tools is the greatest manifestation of his genius. There is no magic bullet in business, and there is no one solution that every organization can implement that will guarantee success. Ideas need to be adapted to the business conditions of each individual organization and environments. And while there is no magic recipe for transforming a corporate culture, here are some general guidelines for exactly who owns what in cultural transformation.
Top management commitment and action
This step resonates with safety professionals who desperately want operations leadership to assume ownership of safety. Certainly senior leadership must be committed to an efficient and safe workplace. If the C-suite doesn’t value safety, then safety cannot exist. Unfortunately, many senior leaders don’t have a clue as to exactly what it means to transform the workplace into one that values safety. This issue underscores the on-going need for safety professionals to educate leaders in what they need to do to achieve true workplace safety. It’s unfair for safety professionals to expect management support and commitment until they provide, in specific, measurable terms exactly what their goals and methods are, and the tasks necessary to achieve them.
Transformation of Safety
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. This idiom nicely describes many in safety. If we are going to transform our organizations into high-functioning, highly effective organizations that value worker safety as essential to business excellence then perhaps the biggest transformation must come in the safety professionals themselves. It’s time to reengineer safety—scrape away all the fads, the vestigial practices based on junk science, and commit to change. Changing the safety professional begins in academia. We need to stop producing generation after generation of safety professionals who are trained to perpetuate safety superstitions based on eighty-year old research. We could quickly add safety professional organizations to this list of institutions in need of transformation. Professional conferences must stop pandering to the safety demagogues and hucksters who gather to tell each other what they already believe. The safety media has to stop buckling to safety vendors who, in many cases, dictate which stories are permitted in print (and before anyone accuses me of belly aching, I have never had a story squelched because of an advertiser, but I have been asked to tone down my rhetoric a bit in response to an advertiser complaint.
Operations must invest in core skills training and stop pressuring the training function for less time spent in classrooms. Training remains the single best way to improve workplace safety, and yet Operations often fights to get workers back into production quicker. This is short-sighted; studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between quality worker training and workplace productivity and worker safety. Operations must come to realize that there is no such thing as profitability and profits without safety.
Poorly maintained facilities and equipment are significant sources of workplace risk. Unfortunately, too often, the maintenance and facilities departments are given passes for not meeting their obligations for worker safety. All maintenance and facility managers need do is howl that they don’t have enough resources and too often senior leadership let’s them off the hook. Lack of resources is not an excuse for not containing a hazard. While it is often impossible to correct a hazard, it is seldom impossible, or even prohibitive to contain a hazard using low-cost alternatives.
Too often purchasing does not look beyond cost. Buying equipment, tools, machines, and materials without taking the safety of these items into consideration often undermines the overall safety of the workplace. In some cases, an investment in purchased goods that are more safe to work with and operate will pay off significantly by creating a safer work environment.
In many organizations the continuous improvement group is completely removed and independent from the Safety function. This organization needs to change quickly if the company is to steward its resources and to improve safety through process improvements. The internecine rivalries between Safety and CI are destructive and should be sought out and exterminated.
Deming was right. Transformation IS everyone’s job and transforming the organization to one that values worker safety and sees safety as an integral element in workplace efficiency will require unprecedented cooperation between traditional rivals. The work will be hard, but the benefits will make this work worth the effort.