Case Study: Next Generation Capability

The skills gap in our next generation workforce is well documented. But what may be less widely known is the impact safety competency has on new workers when individuals who could share their safety and technical knowledge are no longer working alongside them. This lack of support can, and does, result in more workplace incidents. The problem is compounded when leaders prioritize results over reinforcing safe work practices and processes. As a result, younger, less experienced workers feel they must get the job done without really understanding how to best mitigate risk.

This case study will address the findings from a three-and-a-half-year program working with a pipeline service provider. The initial issue was a rising TRIR rate (total recordable injury rate) that crossed the 1.0 TRIR threshold that most pipeline companies require of contactors. The study shows that with specialized training and competency performance assessments, it is possible to bridge the safety gap.

The study focuses on five key areas:

  1. Determining why incident rates increased
  2. Analyzing the workplace changes that affected a previously successful system
  3. Engaging leaders and workforce to re-stablish a culture of safety
  4. Creating an HRO around safety, technical skills, and ability by demonstrating the right “Heartset, Mindset, Skillset”
  5. Building competence for the future

Identifying the Blind Spots

For the sake of our study, we will refer to the company that was observed over a three-year period by the pseudonym “Acme Pipeline Services Company.” The senior leaders at Acme hired a new Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) Director, who was tasked with stopping this upward incident trend across the company.

Acme’s new safety director set out to understand if in fact this increase in worker injury rate was an anomaly or if it was a more systemic event that was occurring. One initial finding was the decentralization of the organization across their different service lines. It was discovered that, over time, each group began to create their own processes, procedures, safety focus, etc. to address work specific to their requirements within the company as well as requests from clients.

It was also observed that the general safety requirements of the company were seen as a top-down driven program lacking input from the workers in the field; there was little or no learning and development training/coaching for the frontline leaders responsible for the safety of the workers.

One last point was the discussion among the senior leaders about the rate of attrition of their older and more competent workforce.

Why Were Injury Rates Up?

The HSE team looked at the incident and injury Root Cause Analysis (RCA) reporting that had been conducted internally over the previous three years of the company. While collecting data, they noticed a lack of cooperation across the different groups within the company.

They began a review of 31 incident investigations over the previous three years. Two incidents that occurred at the end of 2017 showed that the investigations were still in progress with limited information available after more than five months.

Of the remaining 29 investigations:

  • Only 11 (38%) were found to have fully identified root cause(s).
  • Only 10 (35%) provided courses of action directly related to tackling the identified root causes.
  • Only 8 (26%) used a formal process (TapRoot) for determining a root cause.

Meanwhile, over 60% of the RCAs identified the need to create or update procedures and train employees on the new or existing procedures to prevent recurrence of the incidents. However, the review showed little to nothing was being done in this area by the leadership to connect with a newer generation who lacked these resources.

Engaging Leaders and Workers: Culture Shift

Acme’s HSE Director needed to get a sense of where the executive leadership considered themselves as an organization when it came to their safety mindset. In order to run this analysis to get a true set of data inputs from the executives, he used the Hearts & Minds (H&M) program from the Energy Institute.

H&M is a behavioral safety toolkit designed to facilitate cultural change within organizations in order to improve people’s safety behavior and performance. The experiment was to use the H&M “Safety Culture Ladder.” This tool has two sets of criteria for its use: one, for the executive or senior leadership of an organization, and two, for the mid or frontline leaders.

In their self-assessment on the Safety Culture Ladder, Acme executives had picked the second rung from the bottom, which was the “Reactive” rung. The H&M definition for “Reactive” is: “Safety is Important; we do a lot of it every time there’s an accident.”

Creating A High Reliability Organization

Following the H&M assessment, the HSE Director and his team had outlined the changes throughout the organization that were contributing factors to the increased rate of injuries with solutions to start a journey to becoming a “High Reliability Organization,” or, HRO. It was essential to establish a safety mindset within the company as a whole.

To kick off the new safety strategy, workshops were held across the organization from engineering to the workers, to facilitate discussions on how work is executed and ways to help improve and inform the design of the new safety strategy. From this, a Safe Work Management course was arranged to help develop the safety competency of the operations workers.

They were then trained to run risk assessments on the hazards to understand the level of mitigation and controls that needed to be put in place using the hierarchy of controls chart. All of this was intended to be captured and recorded on the new internal Acme HSE forms.

Acme was starting to see signs of a move to a more robust safety culture. To confirm the data, the H&M Safety Culture ladder tool was used again in workshops and meeting to gauge if Acme was starting to move from the “Reactive” rung, upward. On average the feedback was showing they had move up to the “Calculative” rung and in some groups, it was even closer to the “Proactive” rung on the ladder.

Acme’s Results

Acme achieved a significant drop in injury rates. At the start of 2016, Acme’s TRIR rate was 1.78, and at the end of 2018, their TRIR had dropped to 0.25: a seven times greater result in safety from where they were when they started this journey.

As change evolved across the company, clients began to notice and comment on the difference they saw in the technicians showing up on their job sites. Some clients even went as far as contacting Acme’s HSE group to learn how they had “turned their safety program around” and even asked if they could copy their new JSA form for their own use.

As long as the leadership at all levels continues to hold each other accountable for safety, we believe this program will continue to provide assurance of operational reliability and integrity as the company moves into the future. Our next generation only ‘knows what they know’ due to a lack of experiences, and having fewer and fewer competent workers remaining at the operations frontline to help them increases risk. But, through training, assessment, and listening to the workers, it is possible to bridge the safety gap.

Companies that will survive for the next 100 years must create programs where they can have their workforce demonstrate they fully understand the safety and technical requirements of their jobs, especially with the continuing advancements in technology and changing worker populations.

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