Get your FREE Audiobook and Resource Toolkit for my new book,“Results.”Take Me There!
Click for my FREE 'Results' Resource Toolkit!


“Zero Injury” Victim

Sample Client List

A couple weeks ago I sent an email about the negative impact of a “zero injury” goal and how it affects the front line and managers alike. I received some email responses from leaders, thanking me for raising this issue. One person’s account was particularly moving for me to read, and so I asked if we could reprint parts of it.

What follows is a response to my blog post last week from a life-long professional Environmental, Health, & Safety (EHS) leader. Much can be learned just from reading about his hands-on experiences. I hope you learn as much from this as I did.

I have had the opportunity to work for companies ranging from proprietorships, a small extruded rubber products firm, a large wood furniture manufacturer, and several large chemical companies.

The chemical companies all had robust (for the time period) EHSS processes while the other industries were much less sophisticated. For example, at the furniture company, I got splashed in the eye with solvent used to remove wood finish…the emergency response was for me to use the drinking fountain to rinse out my eyes and then the foreman checked my eyes…”You are good to go back to work”.

Another time I was working next to a coworker using a hydraulic system to make cabinet front frames. We were getting paid based on “piece rate”, and she was taking shortcuts to make more product. She had the tip of her finger amputated. I called for help. A foreman responded, got her finger wrapped up a bit to take her to the local ER.

I was asked to help look for her missing finger tip…and then was asked to run the machine that she was running with zero training and no concern that someone just got hurt on the machine. I was a “go getter” and stepped right in without much thought.

As I progressed through my career in the chemical industry, both myself and the industry were changing for the better. Early in my career I fit into the existing EHSS culture despite observing/being aware there were obvious lapses in some of the practices… such as fall protection (no fall harnesses even available). However, within about 5 years, I was seeing that I needed to be a true leader by walking the talk and challenging the gaps in the framework we were using to help develop the EHS culture we desired.

The company I now work for has absolutely espoused “Zero Injuries” along with zero environmental events. Even before that policy was adopted, the enormous level of pressure for artificially low rates has driven behavior on my current work site (nearly 30 years).

I once experienced a NaOH (sodium hydroxide) burn on the back of my calf while at work. I made the proper reporting, got immediate onsite medical “first aid”…and for the next 30 days, I was required to have the onsite nursing staff tend to my burn to ensure it did not trigger an OSHA recordable case.

There are many cases of people returning to work after sustaining some level of injury to avoid an OSHA classification…managing pain with OTC meds versus prescription, allowing an operator to become an office worker for a time, etc.

I have spent 15 years in EHS roles and a similar amount of time in true operations roles.

As I took the BSL (Behavioral Safety Leadership) courses offered by Reaching Results, I found insight on some of the missing links I had struggled with in making behavior changes. I believe the concepts that I learned were the most valuable of my career, as it helped me be a better leader in making improvements.

After taking the BSL training, I conducted a BIP (business improvement project) in an attempt to improve the site’s behavior on reporting environmental releases/spills. I simply sent a personal email to each individual that entered a spill report into our reporting system thanking them for making the report and for any actions they took to minimize, mitigate, and/or prevent reoccurrence.

Within about 6 months, the level of minor spill reports increased by 50%. This caught the attention of upper management…”Spills are going the wrong way”. There was no change in the amount of spills occurring. It was just improved reporting.

I stood my ground as I could tell by the reports that people were working their butts off trying to make improvements… because someone was showing they cared and was offering support to get resources to make improvements. Within a year, the data supported that the larger spills were less in number as we were making needed changes that addressed the causes of both small and large spills.

Note: in recent years, the numbers were way down…”management” sees this as improvement…my BIP impact was short-lived.

I also did a deep dive into the spill data… and shared with one unit manager that Team 4 in his unit was “World-Class” as they had not reported a spill for over a year;-}  The manager was oblivious to the situation.

As our site performance was not meeting the corporate expectations, our parent company sent a new EHSS leader to help us improve.

During the 1st person’s tenure, we made modest improvements similar to what we had accomplished in the past. As this was not a good enough improvement, that person was replaced by another EHSS leader. Within a month of him being on site, it was obvious that managing the metric was his game and that his success was going to be based on creative interpretation of our internal system and/or ignoring the facts.

In one case, when I shared that a certain amount of material was released into a sewer that triggered a higher level of spill/release category, he said whoever did the calculation must be wrong… I told him I had personally completed the calculation with input from qualified resources. We stayed with my calculation.

I was also insistent on setting up a review board with our safety team on any proposed creative interpretations…alas, they sometimes supported the interpretation as they also were being measured on our performance. To be fair, some of the interpretations were based on good reasoning but not on a frequent basis. In no case did the interpretation impact any regulatory reporting requirement.

Since I left my role, the internal system has changed such that it takes into consideration secondary containment. This was seen as very likely to reduce our event rate…however, due to another factor that came into play and mostly offset, if not worsen, the event rate. Creative interpretations continue.

Bottom line, in the many years that I have been on site, there has truly been much EHS progress made. However, some of the recent performance improvement is artificial and the EHS culture is not healthy.

I would love to hear your comments on your own work experiences. We all know that “what gets measured gets managed” – but we often don’t hear about the negative downstream impacts that Zero Injuries programs can have. I thought this reader was very generous in sharing his experiences.

Do you have similar experiences to share?

Or have you implemented a Behavioral Leadership program that has made a positive impact in your workplace? Would you like to?

If you’re thinking about how to get your team up to speed on these or other techniques I cover, email me for info on my courses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.