Jan 21

Beyond Zero How to Send your People Home in ‘Better’ Shape than they came in!

A number of years ago I attended a safety banquet for a utility company. The purpose of the event was to celebrate, with workers and their spouses, the fact that the work group had worked the entire year without a lost workday case.  During the event, a vice president took the podium to share a few words. I still remember what he said.  “Your families let go of you each morning.” He began.  “You belong to them and we borrow you for eight hours of work.  Your families expect and deserve to have you back at the end of each day, whole and healthy.”


That being said, the term zero injuries is becoming a more common trend or theme for industry. Many organizations have ‘target zero’ or ‘zero is possible’ posters pasted all over break rooms and on truck bumpers. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, located in Atlanta would consider safety improvements as “One of the greatest health achievements in the 20th century.” According to the CDC, the workplace today is, on average, nearly 40,000 lives a year safer compared to the 1930s. Yet, it could be argued that safety gains over the last half-decade have flattened.  For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that fatalities were record low in 2003, with 5,575 work place deaths; that number has slowly risen since the low point.  It begs the question, have we reached a backstop called zero? If that is the case, in order to move us into the next level of safety performance, it may force safety professionals and leaders across the country to ask, what’s beyond zero. If I can send my people home ‘in the same shape’ as they arrived, can I return them ‘better’ than they were when they arrived?


How to Move Beyond Zero:


Start with a firm foundation—I believe it was Stephen Covey who said, “Systems are designed to produce the results they are currently producing. Organizations are systems. If you don’t like the results you are producing—change the system.”  First and foremost, we can’t move beyond zero until we are ‘near zero.’  If your organization isn’t there, stop reading now and return to this article after sustained safety success is established.  Near zero is found in safety statistics, but those numbers are driven from the establishment of an effective safety system. These systems make the firm foundation of safety success and include; safety and hazard awareness programs, safety committee processes, accountability systems, senior leadership and engagement, recognition programs, etc. Once these are in place and we have measured success over time, we are ready to look beyond zero at the possibilities that exist.


Stretch and Flex Programs: about a decade and a half ago when I was an overhead electric lineman, I was reporting to a job site in Boonville, MO. Reporting along side our line crew was a railroad crew. Before the rail crew began work, they were required to stretch and flex. In so doing, they had about as much passion as a boy who was required to kiss his sister! Their heart was not in it!  Fast forward to last summer when I spent sometime with major construction companies. I was amazed and pleased to find that they had an aggressive stretch and flex program. They have dubbed their employees as ‘construction athletes.’  And, their workers understood the importance of such programs. In Boonville, as the old timers ‘made fun’ of the rail crew, they also popped aspirin all day to help aching muscles and joints.  Physical work is tough and can take a toll on the body over time.


Gut Check–If we change our perspective to ‘beyond zero,’ how does that change the view of stretching and flexing over time? How important is proper lifting, body positioning, micro stretch breaks and flex programs? We are only given one body and it’s not to be ‘spent’ at work. Instead, our bodies can be used to earn a living so that we may enjoy life after work.  What’s beyond zero? I’m not sure, but I do know it begins when our collective work groups can touch their toes!


Energy Breaks—“A man was walking through town,” an old story begins, “and notices a friend on a bridge getting ready to jump. He quickly runs over and tells his friend not to jump. Come down, instead, and talk about the problem. So the friend did come down, they talked and two hours later they both jumped!”  What is arguably the number one danger in the workplace? Complacency. What is the opposite of an enthusiastic and proactive energy level? Yes, it is complacency and it can hurt and even kill!  Here is a simple litmus test on organizational energy.  If ‘one’ is very low energy and ‘ten’ is optimal energy, rate the following safety activities; your most recent safety meeting, your organization’s safety committee engagement, the last safety observation activity, the most recent job briefing, etc. Unfortunately, if we are honest, most organizations are hovering around two or three on the ‘ten’ scale.  All too often, the work environment tends to be an energy hole, draining away personal energy and engagement.  Commitment, feedback and compliance might be jumping off the bridge with this low energy.


Gut check-Would a higher level of energy help workplace safety? What results can you achieve with a higher level of enthusiasm and energy level? What are some tools that could be used to raise an organization’s energy levels? Can our people leave a job site physically tired yet emotionally energized and how would that wipe out work place complacency?


Community—“No one told us to take the fun out of work,” an anonymous quote reads, “we did that on our own.”  In their ground breaking book, First Break All of the Rules—What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently; authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman reached some interesting conclusions.  They tackled a mountain of data, over 80,000 manager interviews from across the country and from diverse industries, to determine that community plays a substantial role in employee performance. Among other conclusions, they found the following work place qualities in high performing employees; an environment where supervisors care for employees as people, development is encouraged, opinions count, praise is given often, there is commitment to quality and employees have a best friend at work.  To that end, how is the community in your workplace.  Do employees have friends? Does your organization care?  What kind of feedback is given and how often?  In the end, community is a place where we care and want to be present. What can we do to move our organizations toward community?


Gut Check—Would feedback for safe work rules and safe work compliance be better or worse in a caring environment or in a ‘community’? What are five small things your organization could begin doing tomorrow to encourage community?


“Don’t be afraid to give up the good,” said Kenny Rogers, singer and actor, “to go for the great!”  After the safety system foundation is poured and our organizations are ‘near’ zero it seems to be time to look beyond zero. It seems to be appropriate to look at how we can return our people home ‘better’ than they came to work. In the end, work has mostly been viewed as a place where one ‘gives’ life. Why, however, can’t we look beyond zero and view work as a place where we actually get life, grow and become a better person? Once strong programs are in place and the safety foundation is poured, if we begin to think beyond zero, amazing thoughts, and results, can happen. These are just a few ideas…what are yours?


Matt Forck, CSP & JLW, is a leading voice in safety.  Matt keynotes conferences and consults industry on safety’s most urgent topics such as; safety awareness, employee engagement and motivation, cultural alignment, accountability and leadership. To learn more about Matt, book a presentation or download FREE safety tools, go to www.thesafetysoul.org.