Promoting an Effective Safety Culture
Featuring Casey McClain, CSP
Casey works in our Plattsburgh office, serving many of our large business clients in their safety needs throughout Vermont and New York. With years of experience in health and safety, Casey discusses the essential components of a positive safety culture in the workplace. For more information or more help on your organization’s safety needs, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Loss Prevention team!
Intro – Ryan (Host): Welcome to Got You Covered presented by Hickok and Boardman Insurance Group, the podcast where we unpack the countless ways in which insurance affects our lives, and so you can properly manage your unique risk.
Ryan: Alright everybody, welcome back to another episode of “Got You Covered” presented by Hickok & Boardman insurance Group. I’m your host, Ryan Lee, a client advisor with the firm. Today we are talking about probably one of the most broad, but also the most important topic about safety in the workplace. It’s the safety culture of your organization. It’s one of those things that everybody says, “Yeah, we got a good safety culture.” But, do you really? There’s a lot of elements that go into having a really strong safety culture, making sure you have buy-in from everybody.
And today, I brought on a very special guest. A friend of mine, and a loss prevention advisor with Hickok & Boardman Risk Management. His name is Casey McClain, and he’s a Certified Safety Professional. And Casey, welcome to the podcast.
Casey: Thank you very much, glad to be here.
Ryan: Absolutely, man. So, before we get into the nitty gritty on safety culture, why don’t you tell everybody, very briefly, about an overview of your role here at Hickok & Boardman.
Casey: Sure, so, what we do is, our Risk Advisors, we usually work with our clients helping them to understand some of the safety risks that they may face in a regular workday. We do some mock inspections, we’ll help them with their written program development, we can go on their sites and do site visitations and just help them identify some of the risks and hazards that their employees may face.
Ryan: I love that. And honestly, man, it’s great having you and the rest of the risk management team on our team because that’s just been such a key differentiator for us. So, how did you stumble into the insurance world, just curious?
Casey: Uh, well, like most of the things that have happened to me professionally, I’ve kind of stumbled into most of my careers. I accidentally kind of fell into the health and safety field with my last employer – started as a supervisor on a production floor and the former EHS supervisor or manager for the plant ended up leaving. And I kind of helped fill in and back him up while I was in the supervisor role. So, when that role came open, they asked me if I’d be interested, and I jumped into it. Kinda got thrown to the sharks in that field, really kinda found out I had a real strong passion for it. After being there for several years, having known you, this position actually came open and the HR department from Hickok & Boardman reached out and said “Hey! Would you be interested in this role?” And I said, “Yeah, you know, I might wanna talk about that.” So, when I found out a little more about it and realized that it really – this role kind of focused on my passions of health and safety, which is really that identification and developmental process, versus more of the maintenance side of the health and safety where it’s like you’re filing documents and making sure things are filled out. So, I jumped on the opportunity, and now here I am. And I really enjoy what I’m doing.
Ryan: That’s awesome. Well, we’re glad to have you. And you’re an excellent teammate and as we talk about safety culture today, I mean that’s really, that’s where you and your team comes in and – without a proactive approach to safety, a company can fall behind really quick. And part of that is establishing a really strong safety culture. And there are a lot of components to that. Let’s just go through a few of them. Because I know you and I could probably talk for an entire day about safety culture. And I’m sure you could even go on further with all the knowledge and experience you have on this subject. But, what are some of few keys for a company to be thinking about or implementing when they want to implement a true, positive safety culture.
Casey: Yeah, so I think a lot of places – you know there’s always been a focus on safety on trying to develop a bottom-up safety approach where you really kind of drive the employees to be the leaders in safety. The problem with that is that in a safety culture you really have to have that commitment from leadership. So, if you don’t have that commitment at the management and ownership levels, you’re going to run into an immediate roadblock there. Because those employees are gonna see that their really isn’t that support in place for them to focus on safety. So really, that’s kind of where you start. You wanna make sure you have that support system in place so that you can encourage your employees to be able to participate in the safety activities, be proactive, and see the results of their activity. So, if you don’t have that commitment at the beginning, you’re pretty much, you’re in a dead end to start with.
Ryan: I see a lot of that with, you know, both sides of the spectrum. When I’m looking at the insurance side, and the insurance relationship with underwriters, they wanna see that also. And that can really improve a company’s risk profile. It always works out better when you can see the leadership buy-in.
Ryan: What else?
Casey: Yeah so, a lot of places, too – one of the big things that most companies look at is that compliance side. So, what you really wanna do is, you know, avoid having that OSHA or some other agency come in and start fining you for any of those issues that you may have in place. Or that you haven’t identified. But compliance isn’t – shouldn’t be – the end goal. Compliance really is the first step in a safety culture. What you wanna do is make sure that you have all those programs in place, and you have your people educated to know how to follow those programs so that you reach that compliance level.
Culture is something that’s gonna come after that. So, culture isn’t going to develop as a result of compliance. Culture is going to be developed on a foundation of compliance. If you talk to anybody from OSHA, they’re going to tell you if your company is compliant, you have a passing grade. You’ve got a D. That’s what you’ve got. So, if you’re hitting the compliance measurements, OSHA standards are really the baseline. They’re saying this is the minimum that you have to do. So, if you’re at the compliance level, that’s great, and you want to be there. However, it’s not going to help you move forward. It’s not gonna help you really reduce those risks. All it’s doing is making sure that, hopefully, someone won’t be killed or severely injured at your work site.
Ryan: I think about our previous episode with Jen and Lindsey talking about the experience mod. And she made a similar comment – when you’re experience mod is exactly 1, perfectly average, good. You’re just barely… you’re passing. You’re not doing well. You could do worse! But there’s a lot more opportunity here, so I like the way you phrased that.
Casey: Yeah, absolutely.
Ryan: What else? What else is there? I’m sure there are bunch of other points as well.
Casey: Oh yeah, absolutely. You know, a big part of this too, people talk about pro-active safety. And really, that should be one of the goals you start looking for as one the lower levels to hit. You wanna make sure that you’re trying to just identify hazards before something occurs. So, you’ve got hazard IDs, near misses, and incidents. You wanna be identifying a ton of hazard IDs, and you’re still gonna have a couple of near misses, and you really wanna try to do this for an avoidance of incidences. If you can identify and have your people trained to see those hazards before something occurs, and how to, not just recognize them, but also to be able to provide that feedback on how to get them corrected, that’s key. So, you wanna make sure your training people, not just on how to identify them, but also utilizing their knowledge and their experience to help identify mitigation. That’s gonna help get their buy-in because they understand they have some kind of ownership for those safety issues. But it also helps to – it’s gonna drive those solutions to be something that’s effective, and something that they’re gonna use.
If you try to engineer every single solution, a lot of times you’re gonna run into obstacles because the people are just gonna find the workarounds to not used that engineered solution that’s now created more work for them. If they find a faster, better way of doing a job, that is safe and effective, then that should probably become the standard way to do that job. It shouldn’t be that they get taken to task because they’re not following this written standard of work that was developed by somebody who may never have done that job. So, you really wanna encourage them to identify it and also provide that feedback on how to mitigate.
Ryan: Talk to me about ‘accountability.’ I assume that’s a real challenge when companies are trying to establish a strong safety culture.
Casey: Yeah, absolutely. I think what you’ll find a lot of times is, you know, you might have a supervisor who is on the production floor and they’ve got the guys they’ve been working with for years that they know really well and they’re buddies with – and they do something wrong and, you know, they just kind of give the under-the-table approach of “Hey man, you just – you can’t do that.” And then you might have the new employee who’s new to the team, no one really knows ‘em, they could do the same exact thing, and they’re getting written up. Those employees are gonna see that. You know, people aren’t idiots, they’re gonna recognize there are favorites being played. So, you really wanna make sure you have an accountability system that is fairly implemented across the entire organization. And that goes from your newest person on the production floor, to the owner of the company. If you commit a safety violation or you do something wrong you need to make sure you have that corrective action taken no matter who it is.
You also wanna make sure you’re not looking at blaming somebody for everything that happens. You wanna look for those root-cause issues. You know, is that person doing that because they weren’t trained? or are they doing it because they didn’t have anybody supervising them doing that task when they should have been? You wanna look for those root causes and really understand those, versus automatically defaulting to the personal accountability and blaming the person. But when it is something where a person’s involved and they’ve chosen to put themselves at risk or put the equipment, or machinery, or your property at risk, you wanna make sure that that corrective action is fairly implemented no matter who they are, how long they’ve been there, and what level of the organization they’re at.
Ryan: One of the top questions I almost always get from the insurance and underwriting/marketing side of this business is ‘Do they have a safety committee?’ Tell me about ‘safety committee.’ That’s gotta be a piece of this.
Casey: Yeah, so I think the safety committee is definitely a key part of this. You wanna have that committee exist, and you wanna have them be functional. But you also wanna make sure that they also have the power to act and re-act and participate in the programs. So, having a safety committee for the sake of being able to keep minutes and file those and say “Yup, we have a safety committee, and they meet once a month and they talk about safety problems and safety issues,” that’s great. But are they actually being – is there feedback being effectively implemented, or do they exist for the sake of existing? You wanna make sure that you have a team that is engaged and that they’re able to make decisions that they can provide to leadership, and that leadership can implement those decisions. A lot of places it’s… that’s a checkbox to mark off that ‘We have a safety committee and they meet.’ And again, that’s hitting that compliance thing. You wanna look beyond that and really have that be a functional group.
You wanna have that driven by the employees. In a lot of places, they’ll have a safety committee and the safety leader, the health and safety leader, is the person who leads that group. They should be a consultant to that group, but your leader should really be somebody that’s a frontline leader on the production floor or even a production operator – somebody that works out there. You want them to, kinda, empower them to be that liaison between your workforce and management. You don’t want it to be a, another management group that, you know, the employees are gonna provide feedback to the health and safety leader and they take it, and they might do something with it, they might not. You never know.
Ryan: Yeah, seems like that is a big piece to this – is creating an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their own findings or concerns about safety.
Casey: Yeah, absolutely. And a big part of that, too, is having that communication that goes up the chain. You also wanna make sure you have that communication that goes back down the chain. A lot of places don’t really close that loop of communication. So, a lot of times, what you’ll get, is you may have an employee that’s excellent at finding hazards and reporting them. But you’ll find that over the course of time they may start not reporting as much, or finding as many things. Well, often that’s because they’re not getting feedback on what they reported. So, those things may be getting fixed, you may have a great maintenance team that goes out and corrects all of those issues that have been submitted. But that employee that has been getting those submitted, never gets that feedback that says “Hey, just so you know, we fixed this issue. Go take a look and tell us what you think. Does that fix the problem? Or do we need to do something more?” And if you lose that engagement because you’re not communicating it effectively back down, you’re gonna find that they just stop participating and that engagement disappears.
Ryan: Talk to me about rewards and recognition and incentive programs. I’ve heard people make arguments in favor or against them – I’m sure there’s a lot of nuance. I’m sure it’s unique to every business. But, tell me, how you see that fitting into safety culture.
Casey: Yeah, so there’s a couple things I always look at with rewards and recognition. Pretty common, a lot places, what they recognize, is they will work with their team and say “Hey, if we don’t have any injuries for 6 months, we’re gonna have a pizza party.” All you’re doing in that situation is deterring people from reporting things that happen. So, really, you’re just kinda tying your hands behind your back by implementing a reward system based on any kind of reactive issues. So, if you’re looking at reductions in incidents, things like that as your measure, you’re really not helping yourself out. Because all your doing is your encouraging people to not report things.
Really what you wanna do is focus more on the pro-active side as far as rewards go. So, the hazard recognition: are employees talking in safety huddles? You know, you have a safety huddle, you have employees talking about what’s going on. Or is it just, you know, management and leadership talking at employees. You wanna encourage their activity and their participation, and really that’s what’s going to drive you. And there’s all kinds of different rewards and recognition levels, obviously. A lot of people will say sometimes all it is is a ‘Thank you.’ And that does mean something to a lot of people. You know, just from my own experience, there’s a lot of times where, you know, you step up and you do something above and beyond and you never hear anything back. Well, then why am I spending my energy-
Ryan: Yeah, exactly.
Casey: – to do something. You know, you’re gonna lose that pretty quickly. So, you wanna find a way to at least recognize those people who are engaged. And if you are recognizing the ones who are engaged, it’s, in a way, going to encourage the ones that might not be to become engaged as well. So, you really wanna make sure you find those high performers and make sure they’re recognized for what they’re doing. It’ll help them to continue doing what they’re doing and hopefully it can also help to drive some of the lower performers to step up their game as well.
Ryan: That’s great. Casey, thanks for sharing this quick run-down of, again, what probably could go on for a deeper conversation over a whole day with a company. But, safety culture is big. You’ve consolidated the points really well. I appreciate your time. Do you have any closing thoughts on safety culture for the listeners out there?
Casey: Yeah, I mean I would say, really, it’s – an important part of that is really kind of assessing where you’re at. Like I said, compliance is kind of that baseline and foundation you want to build from. So, really you wanna take a look at where are we at as far as compliance goes. Do we have compliance covered? Because if you don’t have that part covered, you’re not going to get to the safety culture level. So, you wanna make sure you have that done. And once you’re there, then you can really start digging into, “Okay, how do we move this forward from here? How do we go from that rate of ‘D,’ how do we get to a ‘C,’ and then an ‘A,’” and then, you know, on a roll, if you will, as far as safety goes.
Ryan: Awesome. Thank you so much. If you would like to learn more about the Hickok & Boardman Risk Management team, or connect with Casey or any of his colleagues – we have two other members of that team here at Hickok & Boardman – we’ll put their information in the show notes. Check it out, you can reach out to them. You can have a deeper conversation about your own company’s safety culture or safety needs. This has been another episode of “Got You Covered” presented by Hickok & Boardman Insurance Group. Thanks again for listening! See ya’ next time!