The Need for a Fair and Just Culture… (Part 2)

15th November 2015

The workforce don’t trust the Executive Group’s motivations around investigating incidents, what can we do about it? Continuing from Part 1….the workforce doesn’t trust an incident investigation process and, by extension, the H&S Vision of the business. The output of the process appears to target operative level employees only in terms of consequence management – they will get the blame!

The workforce don’t trust the Executive Group’s motivations around investigating incidents, what can we do about it?
Consider an incident where an employee is hurt when he falls. He has attempted to retrieve a tool from a difficult to access area without using the proper route. The tool was dropped during a maintenance task and the correct route would take 30 minutes to access. This is versus almost instant access via the unauthorised route. At first pass, the incident seems clear cut, how could the operative have been so reckless? Is it not obvious that the chosen cause of action was unsafe and that a safe alternative was available?

It is possible that the incident could quickly be classified as one of those 95% of incidents caused by “behaviour”, a clear error by the employee with consequence management necessary for such a reckless act. Retraining will probably address these errant behaviours and the process can get up and running again promptly.

But…let’s pause for a moment. Have we rushed too quickly into confirming our incident causes, dishing out consequences and sharing this incident alert with the clear instruction about focusing on “employee behaviour”?

A thorough and prompt investigation should start by gathering facts on what happened during the incident, how it compares with what should happen and also what normally happens in reality. Classifying an incident and deciding if it will make the statistics or not should be done at the end of investigation process and not at the beginning!

In this example, interesting facts begin to emerge:

Completing the task this way is not unusual, senior members of the team – who taught the injured person when he joined the business – conduct the task in the same way.

There has been no formal assessment of risk around the maintenance task or the collection of dropped tools!

There is also evidence that the “correct” access route is effectively never used because it takes too long and the controls are perceived to be too complicated.

Rapidly the underlying causes are moving away from the injured worker alone and are looking at the failure of other team mates to speak up about a known unsafe situation. In addition, the absence of risk assessment for maintenance tasks and the training options for new employees are coming into focus. Simple enquiry identifies that, effectively, no checks are taking place either formally through audit or informally to determine if adequate H&S controls are in place.

Quickly the question is now being asked – why does the operations manager not know that key parts of their world are not working to the basic H&S arrangements of the organization? Note that what started with a “reckless employee” who may well have been the only person disciplined, then develops into a situation where we now know so much more about our “real” H&S performance and what happened leading up to the incident.

Let me be clear: my point is not that employees should not expect consequences and that managers are responsible for everything. We should all be held to account for what it was reasonable for us to know and do.

Consider for a moment the difference between the initial output and this enhanced investigation. How do you think the second version impacts upon trust, engagement and openness as opposed to the first? In short, a Fair and Just H&S culture is possible when employees believe that the stated objectives of an incident investigation are met. The behaviours associated with the investigation process are just one area for focus and a similar open and clear approach to deploying all other H&S arrangements will be required.

Gaining trust that an incident investigation will achieve the goals of learning and proper consequence management, takes hard work and dedication. That hard work must start with the Leadership team but must ultimately involve the whole workforce and the supply chain that supports any business.

If you would like to learn more about creating a Fair and Just Culture please get in touch.

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