Nuts & Bolts No One Can Find: Part 2

Nuts & Bolts No One Can Find: Part 2

They all live here now…

If you give the ideas I talked about in Part 1 a fair shake, it’s a good bet that your work planning is off to a good start. I’ll be honest, many organizations or at least certain crews within an organization really do a pretty good job at it already. But, whether you’re just beginning to improve your process or already great at it, there’s a hidden hazard that can derail even the best plan: Making sure everyone knows how to put it into action. 

Since I’m sure you’re keeping with the model I talked about in Part 1, you’ve already asked the key questions that have helped you map out the job. So, now your people know what they are doing, how they are supposed to do it, what tools they need to do it, and how someone could be injured. In order to make that stick, there are five actions you need to take.

  1. Verify your people know the job: You’ve already laid out what the job is, but it’s crucial that people know how to do it. As with the questions, this may seem like a dumb task, but knowledge shouldn’t be taken for granted. Is anyone on your crew new in their role? Is this a task that hasn’t been done for a long time? Have conditions or configurations changed since the last time it was done? These are the questions that often go unasked, and can lead to accidents if not addressed.
  2. Remove unnecessary complication: This is probably the least intuitive step of the process. It requires a bit of surveying on site coupled with some critical reasoning. What I’m driving at is really quite simple though. I’m talking about removing the hose that everyone has stepped over a hundred times, or staging the workers in zones to prevent them from getting in each other’s way. It might even be a simple thing that people don’t even realize is in their way. A good example of that was the Airman who stood outside in the rain for three hours because he had reported to duty five minutes late and arrived to find a shut door. He didn’t try to open it because he assumed it was locked (it wasn’t). My point is that you open all of the shut doors standing in the way of your people completing their tasks.
  3. Gather all your parts and tools and lay them out: During the planning, you’ve identified what you need to do the job. In this step, you actually go get it, organize it, and make it accessible to the crew. The better you are at doing this, the less likely your people will experience frustration when they can’t find the right screwdriver or they’re missing a crecent wrench.
  4. Identify upset conditions: Assuming the plan was good, and it should be if you follow the format, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. With this step, you should be looking for anything abnormal. For instance, if you planned to work on a section of steam piping which was to be locked out and bled, you may have expected that the valves would seal completely. If you discover once work is underway that one of the valves is leaking by because it is damaged and won’t close completely, you need to stop and reassess. You may have to reassess several times. The key is recognizing when you need to do it.
  5. Plan for failure, stack the odds in your favor: This step directly corresponds with the brainstorming your crew did when you were planning the work. Since you’ve identified the things that could cause someone to be injured, you now have the opportunity to put safeguards in place to prevent that from happening. If you know that there is a good likelihood someone could come into contact with chemicals, maybe the right thing to do is to set up an exclusion zone and then provide PPE designed for that specific hazard and an emergency action plan to be used in the event of an exposure. Look for areas where people could easily make mistakes, and then alter the process in a way that will minimize the consequences when that happens. A great, and easy example of this can be found in any gym. If you watch an experienced lifter squat in a squat rack, you’ll see them set the safety bars in a position where they can easily “dump” the bar and abort the lift if they’re not going to make it. People with less experience just grab the bar and go (and subsequently end up on “gym fail” videos).

If you approach job planning the way I’ve outlined in these two posts, you’re likely to experience two very profound side effects. First, the risk of personal injury will be reduced significantly. Second, and only slightly less important, your people will be engaged and more productive. 

I never would have thought that my Dad’s cans of nuts and bolts could have illustrated such an important lesson. The crazy part, as I alluded to in Part 1, is that it’s not a “safety” lesson. Planning and organizing your work is just a good way to conduct business. As you can tell from the picture, my Dad learned that lesson. The only downside is that my kids won’t have the joy of rummaging through a coffee can when they help Grandpa with a project.

As promised, I’ve included a free planning worksheet with this post. Feel free to download and use it as much as possible. You’ll be glad you did. If it helps (it will), drop me a note at and let me know what your people think.

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Nuts & Bolts No One Can Find: Part 1

This can is probably older than me…

When I was growing up, my dad had about a half dozen Folgers coffee cans full of old nuts, bolts, screws, and other random metal things. The collection consisted of the extras from every car project, every trip to the hardware store, every new piece of furniture; he’d even pick up poor little metal orphans off the street. I was at his house this past weekend and noticed one of them in his shed.

I can remember ‘helping’ him on projects when he’d hold up a bolt and say “find a nut that fits this.” Then hours of endless searching would ensue until I found that one perfect nut. I hated those cans.

Seeing them got me thinking about all the nuts we deal with in the safety field. I’m not just talking about all the crazy people that still think Heinrichs triangle is a real thing either. I’m talking about the parts and pieces of our safety programs. In this post, I want to talk through one of the most simple, innocuous, and seemingly well-intentioned pieces that nearly every company employs in one way or another: The Job Hazard Analysis (JHA). 

It’s one of the safety staples that everyone touts, and some even brag about. One of the foundational cornerstones of any good Safety Program. One of the essential Nuts and Bolts that holds any good safety machine together. 

People call them all different sorts of things. It could be labeled a Pre-Task Plan or Standard Operating Procedure. Maybe it’s a Task Risk Analysis where you work. Whatever your organization calls it, it’s there to help workers mitigate risk. Or is it? If you looked at it from the perspective of the nuts and bolts analogy, could you say for sure that you found the right nut and the right bold from your Folgers can? 

I tend to make weird correlations in my mind, so I realize that probably doesn’t quite make a whole bunch of sense. Let me break it down.

Let’s use the example of a JHA that comes in the form of a “Pre-Job Checklist.” It’s something your employees complete every morning before they get at it. The supervisor dutifully reads down the list, and the crew nods along as he checks YES or NO next to each line. I’m sure you’ve all seen the ritual. 

“Any fall hazards? Yes” 

“Everyone got their proper PPE? Yes” What does proper mean anyway? Nevermind, I’ll save that for later.

“Work at height hazards? No” And on it goes until they reach the end of the list and then pass the paper around for everyone to sign. You know, because signing stuff makes you safer…

What I just described is an exercise designed to protect the legal interest of the company, not the lives of its workers. On rare occasions, you might find an outstanding supervisor or two who makes a point to go beyond the checklist, but the only thing an activity like that does is cover the company’s ass. Plenty disagree with me on that, and I welcome the debate. Especially the ones who are quick to note how effective pre-flight checklists are. Here’s a note of caution on that line of thinking: PEOPLE AREN’T AIRPLANES! I can talk for hours about checklists (and I don’t just say that to convince you how interesting of a person I am).

If you’re willing to think beyond the checklist, consider this. What else could that conversation look like that would make it valuable to the worker? I submit that the answer is very (almost childishly) simple. Just discuss the work and how it will be done. It should look like this: 

What is our job today? Here the crew describes what they have to do. Are we replacing a pump? Great. How is that done? 

What do we need to get it done? Here the crew lists out and strategizes about what they need. Do you need parts from the stockroom? What size wrenches are required? Do we have all of the gaskets and lubricants needed to put it together?

Who’s doing what? Here roles are assigned. For simpler tasks, this may seem dumb since everyone should already know what they’re doing. Maybe. But calling it out will keep people from wandering around without purpose, doing ‘stuff’ to stay busy, and walking all over each other.

How could someone get hurt during this job? Here the crew brainstorms. They should talk about areas where extra coordination and communication is needed as well as considerations for other people who may be in the area. 

How do we make sure that doesn’t happen? Here the crew should discuss the measures they will take to account for the risk they just brainstormed about.

That’s all it takes. If you engage in discussions like the one I just laid out, you begin to engage your workers in the process. Not only that, but you’ve just taken the first steps toward “building safety in” to the process rather than allowing it to just be something EXTRA. You may not have noticed, but only two of the questions I asked had a safety specific connotation. By talking about things like tools, tasks, and strategy people will begin to get the idea that safety isn’t just “1st” and then on to the real work. They will begin to think of the safety elements as steps in the process. It’s a simple shift in thinking, but an important one.  

There’s one more pretty incredible thing about my Dad’s collection of scraps that’s worth special mention. I was so in awe of the vintage 80’s Foldgers can that he has been hanging onto since I was a kid that it almost didn’t click. I’ll cover that in Nuts & Bolts No One Can Find: Part 2. I purposely left out some really important things in this post, so make sure you check it out. Also, I’ll be giving away a free downloadable tool you can use to facilitate your Nuts and Bolts discussions.  

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Safety is KILLING us!

Workers Deserve Better

The data used in this post was taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) news release dated December 18, 2018. The numbers are staggering, but so is Industry’s response. And not in a good way. We can do better.

Workers Deserve Better

In December 2018 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that from 2016 to 2017 worker fatalities were “down slightly” from 5,190 to 5,147. They went on to describe that only 3.5 workers per 100,000 died at work in 2017 as opposed to 3.6 in 2016. I’m not going to beat around the bush on this, those numbers are appalling. The fact that anyone saw fit to even try to cast a positive light on 5,147 human beings being killed while they try to provide for themselves and their families is downright disgusting. And all of it is our fault.

Let me explain what I mean by that. I’ve spent my career working in Industrial Safety & Health. We call ourselves Safety Professionals, but we are known by many different titles: Safety Officer, Safety Manager, Health & Safety Coordinator, Safety guy/girl, you name it. Most everyone who has held a job in this country has at least had a loose connection to someone in my field. We’re the ones who write all the safety rules, tell people they’re not wearing their safety glasses, fire people for violating OSHA requirements, and on and on. But we should be the ones protecting people.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many who strive day in and day out who do just that. But even the best among us have fallen into what I call the “compliance trap.” We get so wrapped up in the rules we make (or the ones our companies are required by law to abide by), that we forget about the people those rules are designed to safeguard. Not too long ago, I was told that a company can’t even begin to get “good” at safety until it is great at (OSHA) compliance. I find that fundamentally backward and potentially life-threateningly harmful to employees.

There are two distinct issues at play here. The first is legal compliance. The second is actual worker safety. Let’s start with compliance.

While I would never argue against being OSHA (or any other governing agency) compliant, I will argue until I turn blue that complying with their laws does not directly correlate with worker safety. Compliance is required, that’s without question. But compliance needs to rest on the shoulders of organizations, not individual workers. There are three things people miss when trying to sell compliance as a fatality prevention measure:

  1. OSHA enforcement is directed toward companies, not workers. An employee rarely has any personal motivation to comply.
  2. OSHA regulations are laws and written as such. Even if a worker was motivated enough to read them, there is nothing within them to envoke an emotional response powerful enough to make someone want to buy in. The rules may tell someone what they can or cannot do, but they don’t explain why (or how).
  3. Compliance “feels” oppressive. No one wants to be told what to do. Workers need a reason to invest their energy and will likely resist if they feel forced.

Now let’s look at what real worker safety means. I mentioned already that compliance is the organization’s responsibility. It would be easy to read into that statement and assume that I mean to say the worker is absolved of responsibility, but that is entirely false. Workers have the personal responsibility to perform to their safest ability while working within the compliant environment their organization owes them. The trick is getting them to buy in. Someone like me can yell OSHA at a worker all day long like its some four-letter curse, but the truth is OSHA just doesn’t mean anything to most people. Most people only care about what matters to them. For some it’s family, for some it’s fishing, but everyone has a vested interest in not dying. Meaning most of us enjoy living.

If companies would invest more time in figuring out what it is that people live for, appeal to those things, and then show them why working safely will allow them to continue those activities, we might actually see worker deaths decrease. My point is simple: compliance is required and safety is required but they’re distinctly separate things. Help me spread that message and actually make a difference in the lives of American workers. It’s far past time we do.  

If you’re looking for a practical way to help jumpstart the process, check out THIS POST

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ALL accidents are preventable: UNTIL THEY HAPPEN!

Might as well just dive off the deep end, rip off the band-aid and say it. Doc Brown was better at safety than most people who call themselves safety professionals… for one specific reason: He didn’t stay in the past.

I’ve been around and around on this subject more times than I care to admit, but it’s worth the mention. No doubt It will come up in future posts as well, because its a slippery slope that I would be willing to bet 99.99% of Safety Practitioners have fallen prey to. Here’s the scenario: Someone gets hurt, you tell them their accident was preventable.

It might play out a hundred different ways. Maybe you see a surveillance video of a severe injury and the immediate 20/20 hindsight look on the person’s face indicates they “knew better.” Maybe you have some subjective method for ranking the outcome or circumstances around an event which indicate what a “reasonable” person would have done otherwise. My point is that lots of safety people do things like this, and all of them are wrong for doing it.

When you tell someone who is (or has been) injured, you’re not speaking to a system. You’re speaking to a human. A human who had limited to no knowledge of what that one day at that one moment would bring. Sure we all have varying levels of risk perception, but we all miscalculate those risks from time to time. To tell someone who has already been injured that they shouldn’t have been, is just rubbing salt in their wound.

Here’s the thing. Maybe you’re reading this thinking that I’m just playing with semantics. And maybe I am. But if I’m right, and you continue telling workers their actual injuries were preventable, you’re just telling them it was their fault and they were too stupid not to get injured. Is that the kind of Safety Professional people trust?

As you might have noticed, I’m pretty opinionated about this subject. But I think it’s something that’s so deeply, mistakenly rooted in our professional culture, that people don’t even realize it’s a problem. This is a bigger discussion than a quick blog post, but let’s start small. Next time the opportunity arises, try this: Console your injured worker, tell him or her that their only job from that point on is to get better, then actively work to figure out how to prevent it from ever happening again. Don’t mention anything about how preventable it was. Better yet, go out and search for things that could cause harm and get rid of them before they do. That’s where real success lies.

If you like the content of this blog so far, please follow and drop a reply. I’d love to hear your experiences and examples as well. And for all you Millennials who don’t know who Doc Brown is, go watch Back to the Future. You’ll thank me later.

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Safety? No, we’ve got real work to do. Safety’s EXTRA!

I once interviewed for a Safety Manager position at a chemical production facility. It was a nightmare. At one point I found myself sitting alone in the plant manager’s office waiting for over an hour for him to show up.

When he finally did show, he proceeded to tell me that he didn’t have time to see me. But being the gracious and kind man he was, he suggested that if I wanted to hang around (for another few hours), he’d meet me at a bar down the street and we could talk then. I declined, but as I got up to leave he said something that stuck with me.

“You know,” he said. “I think the safety program is good when I have no idea what the Safety Man does.” Maybe that was bait, but I tend to think he was serious. That thought is what I’m going to tackle today.

If that guy was being serious about his position I’m willing to bet it’s because he actually has no idea what a good Safety Professional should do. I’m also willing to bet that there are thousands more like him. And you know what? It’s your fault.

It’s actually the safety profession’s fault at large, so don’t get your panties in a bunch just yet. This post could easily become a book chapter (or two…), so let me keep it pointed: Take a second and think about how your organization talks safety.

Is the conversation a two second blurb about the occurrence (or lack) of injuries from the previous day? Is it a check the box activity and then a quick reminder to “pay attention to your surroundings” before you send the crew out to do the real work? Or is it a meaningful, detailed discussion about what actions need to be taken in order to successfully (and safely) navigate the day.

If that conversation is anything other than the latter, safety isn’t important, it’s extra. It’s time to change the way we talk safety.

In my next post, I’m going to start breaking down some of the common pitfalls that we make which perpetuate the “Safety’s Extra” mentality. Until then check out IT’S A GIANT SLINGSHOT, SIR! and start thinking about getting down to business and really doing what matters.

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Truth be told, I’m tired so I couldn’t think up anything wittier to title this post. Daylight Savings can bite me.

In any case, since I’m just getting off the ground with this new blog and a new book which (if all the stars align) should see publication sometime later in the year, I figured it would be worth spending some time explaining a bit. My name is Jason Maldonado. I’ve worked in Industrial Safety for the past 15 years. Before that, as you may have gathered from my first post IT’S A GIANT SLINGSHOT, SIR!, I served in the United States Air Force. 

The reason I mention that is not simply to identify as a Veteran or get likes. It’s because that period of my life taught me the majority of the best lessons in leadership that I’ve had the pleasure to learn. In actually some of the best examples of great safety performance were demonstrated during my time in the military as well. Sadly, when I transitioned to civilian life, I walked into a world of regulation, interpretation, numbers games, politics, and gray areas. The difference between safety performance in the military vs. safety performance where I work now was incredibly simple, yet deeply profound: we were safe when we served because we had to be to live. That statement holds just as true in civilian industry, but our people just don’t believe it. 

I’m not going to throw shade on every man and woman out there trying to make a difference in the lives of the workers, I have seen and worked with some truly amazing safety practitioners throughout the years. But even the best of us send the wrong message more than we should. We are on a tightrope with a balancing pole that caries mandated regulations on one side and meaningful work on the other. For too long the safety profession has tried to sell OSHA to the people when we should have been finding ways to comply while creating momentum and excitement for why and how the job gets done. We should have been building safety in, not making it a checklist to mark off during a pre-shift. What we’ve been left with is “Safety” as an extra, burdensome, bureaucratic thing that gets in the way. 

So that’s what this blog is about: Challenging the status-quo state of our profession. I know there are many out there seeking and even achieving greatness beyond the bureaucracy, so I’m not alone in this. It’s time for safety as a function to get better, relentlessly.

If you liked this post check out THIS ARTICLE by the always engaging Phil La Duke.

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