Quit putting out fires and find the source of the sparks.

In our last blog we discussed the perils of chasing individual compliance issues without finding out the influences that may have encouraged non-compliance. We likened it to spending your day putting out little fires without ever finding the source of the sparks. To most third-party oversight It feels like progress to get someone to put on their PPE, but if we don’t find out what influenced the decision to NOT wear their PPE, the root problem is never solved.

Previously we detailed the typical third-party safety oversight response to an identified compliance issue; in this example, not using a spotter when operating a forklift, as required by company policy. You can read it here but the gist of the blog was to look at our tendency to go after compliance without addressing the factors that may influenced the choice to not be in compliance. If we don’t find out what encouraged the behavior, the source of the sparks, we can never eliminate it.

While the leadership response in the scenario of the forklift operator was emblematic of our typical reaction, the scenario itself was real; this happened to one of our coaches in the field. As promised in the previous blog we’ll show you how good coaching can get us to the root of the issue.

One of our coaches at a nuclear plant witnessed a forklift operator not using a spotter, as required. Rather than saying “Hey, use a spotter. It’s the company’s rule.” and noting the violation in a report, the Knowledge Vine coach engaged the worker in our Decision-Driven Safety process.

The first step looks a lot like compliance-based safety; does the driver know the requirement to use a spotter when operating a forklift? In this case the forklift operator was aware. Here’s where Decision-Driven Safety and other third-party safety oversight diverge.

Since the operator knew the requirement it doesn’t appear that a lack of training or poor communication is the issue. Yet the typical response is to remind the worker and their peers about the requirement it seems they already know and promise consequences for the next violation.

The Decision-Driven Safety process asks the worker to identify the influences, or human performance traps, that encouraged the decision. In this case, with a little discussion, reflection, and coaching the operator concluded that self-imposed time pressure and an inaccurately low risk assessment led him to operate the forklift without a spotter.

The forklift operator was then asked what human performance tools he could have used to ensure these internal traps don’t negatively influence his choices going forward. The operator stated that self-checking and a stronger questioning attitude could have helped him make a better decision. The operated committed to using the tools to recognize and mitigate these internal traps and being more diligent in his personal safety and the safety of others.

1. The scenario: here’s the issue at hand. We can’t assume there isn’t a knowledge gap with others, so yes, let’s remind them of the compliance issue.

2. The problem: here’s what influenced the behavior. Recognize the traps. They could be organizational but, in this case, it was internal to the worker.

3. The solution: here’s what we’re asking you to do to prevent reoccurrence. Commit to using the tools to eliminate the negative influences on your behavior.

No names, no blame, no threats. The focus isn’t on compliance with a known requirement; the smoldering ember. It’s on what influenced the behavior to not comply; the spark. This event isn’t just a cautionary tale of someone who “got caught”, but an opportunity to learn and consider our own behaviors and what influences them. This is also shows the difference between Decision-Driven Safety and the typical third-party safety compliance company.

Decision-Driven Safety looks at what influenced decisions and not just another non-compliance box checked. Only when workers consider what negatively influences their behaviors, both internal and external, and commit to eliminating those influences, can we create the kind of change that truly improves our safety culture…and lets us finally stop chasing fires.