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Safety 2 to the core

Often we get commissioned to train front-line teams because an error has been made.

After all, they were probably the ones involved at the 'sharp end'. How, though do the managers behave? In fact, what defines effective management culture?

To become even more specific, what is the relationship between managers and staff at all levels?

I've written before about organisation culture and who sets it. The Board will think they do, but in reality, it is the middle and senior management, and even team leaders, who deliver the actual version.

Erik Hollnagel refers to Safety 1 and Safety 2.

Safety 1, as I'm sure you're aware, is essentially backwards-looking. In effect, waiting for the next problem and dealing with the fallout.

Safety 2 is forward-looking, as in proactively looking for future issues and trying to head them off.

To achieve this, you need an empathic approach, one that seeks to understand, not what someone has done, so much as why it seemed like the correct action when hindsight might have proved it in error.

I argue that to behave in this manner, managers up to the top need to comprehend what these Human Factors are; how they affect good people trying to do a complex job under frequently very challenging conditions.

Any organisation I work with, I ask the staff if they know or have met their Chief Executive and Board. Guess what? In struggling organisations, the answer is normally along the lines of "well I've seen their picture" or "I've been at a meeting where we've been lectured at and told off".

An interesting example was a little while ago where I asked a roomful of senior leaders, in front of their Chief Exec, whether they worked in a learning or blame culture. Quick as a flash, the CEO said, "This is not a blame culture!"

However, one of the clinical leads was waving their hand and when prompted said, "This is absolutely a blame culture, and I and all my colleagues are practising defensive medicine because we don't feel safe!"

So let's look forward in Safety 2 fashion. What does it take?

One of our long term clients that have long since implemented a turnaround in culture, and saved thousands of pounds in the process, started by getting us along to talk to the Board. We were given just 30 minutes to enlighten them! Oh boy.

The words Human Factors came up at every subsequent Board meeting, and suddenly they fell in that they didn't know enough.

We were invited back to give them a short training course on what affects peoples' abilities to work safely and effectively. Things like:

  • Allow them to be human – give them adequate breaks and resources.
  • Examine processes – do they work? Or do you get workarounds because they are not fit for purpose?
  • Are equipment and training given so that it is easier to get it right than get it wrong?
  • Have they and their managers had some form of training in understanding these issues and the effect on performance?
  • Are they treated with empathy and understanding or needless, useless blame?

Sadly many of our clients come to us with the problems.

Often the CQC have told them off because of failings in performance or harm.

This is not difficult. It is no big secret that the way to get high performance is to look after and respect your workforce. Again a part of Hollnagel's Safety 2.

I ask people do they feel like a resource or a liability, a risk?

None of us is immune from error. We don't do it on purpose.

To paraphrase Sidney Dekker from his book 'Just Culture', don't resort to blame but try to understand why somebody thought the action they took was the correct thing to do. Ask why it made sense to them at the time.

Do this, and you will see…

  • a reduction in staff absence through sickness
  • better staff retention
  • more people applying for jobs
  • fewer incidents
  • reduced spend on compensation

You know it makes sense!

Contact us for a chat about how we can help move your organisation to Safety 2.

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