News & Information Blog

Root Cause Analysis vs Behavior-Based Safety, Part I

By Susen Trail | 10/23/2019

Recently, I was at a safety conference where the keynote speaker was Eric Giguere, who, even though he had never been trained in it before, volunteered to work with a crew installing sewer pipe.  He recounted how his supervisor, with 30 years’ experience working in and around trenches, provided no safety leadership and no trench box.  

Mr. Giguere was at the bottom of a 6’ trench when it caved in on him.  It took less than a minute for him to be buried, and ten minutes for them to dig him up, dead.  They were able to revive him, but the experience left everyone at the worksite traumatized.  It left everyone in Mr. Giguere’s life traumatized, including the woman he had married six days before.

It was a small company and they did have trench boxes, but the Supervisor chose not to use one.  The experienced men on the crew chose not to speak up.

In an article on the EHS Today’s website Lee Shelby wrote an article, Saving Lives and Limbs through Safety Culture, where he describes his decision not to wear the right gloves when he worked as a power lineman.  He stated “The safety manual for my job was thick. I am sure it took a lot of time and effort to create it.” 

Mr. Shelby stated that he walked by the box which held the gloves that would have prevented 13,200 volts of electricity from entering his body later that day.  He chose not to wear them.

He was not invisible, and someone surely noticed his unsafe behavior, but no one chose to speak up.

The safety culture at Mr. Shelby’s company shifted after the accident.  He stated that employees started to call attention to risky behavior.  They became actively involved in their workplace’s safety.

Mr. Shelby discussed the many reasons employees don’t speak up:

  • Fear of looking foolish
  • Fear of retaliation
  • Not wanting to challenge an authority figure or someone who has seniority
  • Not wanting to be seen as a complainer
  • Not wanting to alienate a co-worker

Some Safety Managers are mystified as to why the employee has these concerns when he or she has been invited over and over to participate and to report anything that concerns them about safety.  When this is the case, it is important to investigate the reason employees feel they are outside of the safety process, just as diligently as you would the cause of an unsafe condition.

From my experience on Worker’s Compensation and employee complaint investigations while working as a public sector occupational health and safety enforcement officer, I can add a few more reasons employees don't speak up:

  • The complaint process is onerous:
    • Finding the complaint form, filling it out, putting it in the right box
    • Interrupting your Supervisor to give him/her the information
    • Finding the Safety Manager and interrupting them
  • The complaint process is opaque, the form seems to go off into a black hole:
    • Nothing is done
    • Something is done but no one tells the complainant
    • There is a reason nothing is done but no one explains why to the complainant
  • The complaint process is either unrewarding or, as stated by Mr. Shelby, has negative consequences for the complainant:
    • The employee has to step away from his assigned work to report
    • The employee has to take personal time, break, lunch, stay after work, to report
  • Last, but not least, it’s called a “complaint” when it is really a preventive Safety Observation

When we designed Simple Safety Coach every effort was made to remove the physical and emotional barriers to employee engagement.  We started with creating opportunities for employees to participate:

  1. They can submit a Safety Observation, anonymously if they prefer, for
    1. An unsafe condition, missing guard, ineffective training, Supervisor who does not provide safety equipment in the field.
    2. A praise report, good work practices by a fellow employee, good training, Supervisor who looks out for their safety.
  2. They can participate in the investigation and remediation of unsafe conditions or in accident investigations.
  3. They can follow Safety Observation or Accident investigations on the dashboard.
  4. They can access training materials any time they want to refresh their memory.
  5. They can get credit for mentoring a new employee or assisting a non-English speaking employee.
  6. They can view their profile to see if they have a certification that is coming up for renewal.
  7. They can view their training history to see if they have any training coming up.

Last but not least, they can see their reward points for doing their part in keeping their workplace safe.  More on that in Part II of Root Cause Analysis vs Behavior Based Safety.

Looking to see if Simple Safety Coach is right for you?