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Discovery Newsletter: Perspective, Jim Hannan

July 1, 2016

min read

“We have to have a culture based on our MBM Guiding Principles, modeled by leaders and all employees.”

When Georgia-Pacific was going through the worst safety performance it had experienced in more than a decade, we turned to the MBM® framework to help us reassess what we were doing and how we could do more to prevent serious incidents.

Whenever an employee or contractor is fatally injured on a company site, the effect of that event is both shocking and saddening. It prompts you to re-evaluate everything about how you manage safety, and rightly so.

That’s where we found ourselves in late 2013 and 2014 after a series of workplace injuries, some of them fatal. This was completely unacceptable by our standards and far below what we’d come to expect of ourselves. Prior to 2013, it had been five years since we experienced a workplace fatality.

We realized that our results had to improve or we wouldn’t operate our facilities — so we challenged everything about our safety programs and training. 

Simple solutions

Sometimes a simple solution is the best solution. In this case, something as simple as stopping and talking openly and honestly with employees, and listening to what they had to say, turned out to be a powerful tool that has been part of getting things back on track at GP.

Facility supervisors started meeting with small groups of employees to discuss those severe injuries and fatalities. The aim was to take time to share knowledge and seek feedback on what was working and what wasn’t in their own facilities. In addition, our leadership visited these manufacturing facilities and had similar honest discussions about any obstacles or challenges to working safely. These meetings were humbling but also very helpful in setting the foundation for real improvement. 

Armed with this information, we then worked through the
MBM framework, which helped us see that ultimately, we had gaps across all five dimensions that were contributing to these poor results.

For example, although we talked about a shared vision for safety excellence, we discovered that our vision caused the entire organization to focus on a lagging indicator — the number of OSHA recordable incidents. By doing this, we tended to focus on mitigating every type of recordable incident, rather than focusing on eliminating the most critical hazards: those that had the potential to most significantly affect our people, our communities and our business.

Principle 6 

We also learned that we didn’t have the right knowledge processes throughout the organization. In post-incident inquiries, we found that some managers and employees didn’t have a comprehensive understanding of the manufacturing processes that they worked around every day, despite having attended all required training. Without effectively applying the seven elements of risk management, there was a potential for gaps in knowing how to best manage problems.

As a result of these meetings, we started focusing on identifying and mitigating critical hazards as our top priority, and on verifying that people know and honor the controls that help them work safely.

These small group meetings made a big difference in how we look at operating safely and have created a channel to better communicate about hazards and how we work to achieve safety excellence at GP. 

And, we’ve done a much better job of applying MBM to understand the “human action” part of why people sometimes do not honor controls. People who didn’t have a healthy respect for the potential dangers and took controls in a casual manner have been major contributors to serious injuries and fatalities in our company
over time.

Some 18 months later, I’m pleased that our results have improved. Our serious incidents are down significantly, but they’re still not where we want them to be, which is zero.

More to do 

Beyond the statistics, the most telling improvement has been in our ongoing approach to knowledge sharing and learning. This has been key to our improvement to-date and will continue to be critical for future improvements.

Unlike safety training videos, near-miss reports and other one-way communications, these very honest discussions involve people talking with other people about real-life incidents and what went wrong, but — more importantly — how to prevent incidents from occurring again. 

Even with good improvement over the past year, there is still more to do to achieve our vision of safety excellence.

Systems and programs are necessary safety tools, but if we don’t connect with people’s hearts and minds, we won’t be successful. 

We are all responsible for safety. We have to have a culture based on our MBM Guiding Principles, modeled by leaders and all employees. Each of us needs to demonstrate, through our actions and words, our personal commitment to our own safety and the safety of those around us.