I had a conversation with a 20-year veteran maintenance manager of a large pulp and paper mill. His comments and observations pertain to mill safety and the fact that people make the difference.

He said, "I visited another mill last week that has a significantly better safety record than our mill. They have the same paper machines and plant layout. Their floor areas are wet and the place is hot and steamy just like our mill. The equipment is reasonably well-guarded, but changeovers, alignments and adjustments are made 'on the fly,' while the machine is running. This is dangerous, but a standard industry practice. And when the web breaks, paper starts spewing out at 3000 feet per minute."

So if this mill is virtually identical to ours in physical characteristics, why is their safety record so much better?

His conclusion was that people make the difference. The culture, the attitudes, the values, the beliefs and the behaviors of the employees made the other plant significantly safer. He noted that everyone, line employees, supervisors and managers, demonstrated a very pro-safety attitude and commitment.

Well if people make a big difference, why can't we just tell and train people to change their attitudes and behaviors. As we all know it's not that simple. Human beings have a tremendous capacity to come up with reasons and "buts" that get in the way of change. Our beliefs become our safety standard.

When I surveyed a cross-section of hundreds of plant personnel about why people get injured, here's what they said.

Line employees are getting injured due to:

  • rushing

  • loss of focus

  • risk taking

  • inattention

  • production pressure

Supervisors and managers don't fully support the safety process by:

  • being poor role models

  • being inconsistent

  • pushing for production

  • being unresponsive

  • lacking long-term commitment

As you can see, the issues and concerns are complex, but they all relate to people's attitudes and behaviors. Lets examine why individuals get injured. In well over 90% of the cases, injuries are due to human factors.

Our research confirms and shows that most injuries are due to two factors: non-deliberate and deliberate behavior.

Non-Deliberate Behavior

  • Daydreaming

  • Distractions

  • Inattention

  • Stress

Deliberate Behavior

  • Calculated risk taking

  • Short cuts

  • Non conformance

  • Time

  • Comfort

  • Convenience

  • "Looking Good"

If you only focus on your line employees with your trainings and observations, then your process will meet with limited success. Line employees represent just one part of your culture. If you wanted to increase production, you would involve line employees, supervisors, managers and executives. If you wanted to improve quality performance you would involve everyone just as you did with production. So when you want to improve safety performance, it is critical and essential that you also involve the supervisors, managers and executives. They are also part of the culture and exert a strong influence on results.

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.