Terry L. Mathis

Terry L.
Founder and CEO,
ProAct Safety
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Terry L. Mathis is the co-author of “STEPS to Safety Culture Excellence” and founder and CEO of ProAct Safety. In 2013, EHS Today named him one of “The 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS” for the third consecutive time. He can be reached at 800-395-1347 or info@proactsafety.com.


Safety and Performance Excellence: How to Strategically Improve Safety Performance

Discussing "how" to improve is tactical. Discussing "what" to change is strategic. Sound strategy establishes a framework that helps everyone in the organization make decisions aligned to move the performance toward the goal or goals. It clarifies and prioritizes which activities will be most effective in accomplishing the desired changes.

The following model is one we use with client organizations to help them assess and strategically target areas of improvement. The model identifies three areas:

Safety and Performance Excellence: Zeroing In on Zero 1

As organizations advance their safety performance, opportunities for further improvement dramatically shrink. Some think otherwise because the shrinking opportunities, as they diminish, become more difficult to identify. Those who don't realize these premises tend to fall into Einstein's definition of insanity; i.e., doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

These constitute our largest group of clients: the ones who ask us to identify why their safety efforts are no longer producing results.

Safety and Performance Excellence: New Beginnings 1

Humans tend to dwell on the past, especially on past shortcomings or failures. We treat them like anchors and let them drag down our performance, leaving us with the feeling that no amount of effort can quite overcome them. We let them overshadow our successes.

Safety and Performance Excellence: BBS: Silver Bullet or Out-Dated Thinking?

Behavior-based safety (BBS) has its disciples and its critics. It has been called the silver bullet of safety and it also has been labeled as yesterday's thinking. Based on the evidence, it is neither.

If it really was a silver bullet, the organizations using it would be accident-free. If it truly was old and dead, it would have been abandoned by previous users and would not be attracting new ones. So, if BBS is neither magic nor dead, what is it? The answer to this question depends heavily on how you use it.

Safety and Performance Excellence: Who Owns Safety? 4

A large part of the former USSR's population was comprised of peasant farmers.

Yet, when the government seized ownership of all farmland and assigned some of these farmers to raise crops, the country almost starved. The government made a concession to its own ideology and gave many families a plot of land on which they could raise food for themselves, tax exempt. In the early years, these plots, which were a small fraction of the arable soil, produced 90 percent of the nation's food.  They still produce a significant portion.

Safety and Performance Excellence: Leading Humans

So, here we go again. I have coached several top-level executives who wanted to be better leaders, were extremely intelligent and had a lot of technical education and experience in their respective industries. All of them struggled with exactly what they should do to increase their effectiveness and engage their people. All of them were masters of leading and managing almost everything except human beings.

Safety and Performance Excellence: Whatever Happened to Motivation?

Not so many years ago, the word "motivation" often was heard in organizational environments, There were plans and programs designed to motivate employees to be safer or more productive. There were incentive plans for executives and managers to motivate increased production, income and profits.

Safety and Performance Excellence: The Magic Pill Called "Big Data"

Applying analytics to safety data is being touted as the perfect way to determine the right leading indicators for safety. Compared to blind choices and wild guesses, the use of statistical analysis certainly has some advantages. Admittedly, pursuing the wrong leading indicators can be expensive and dangerous. Modern analytics has progressed significantly with the computerization of mathematical processes and use of massive sets of data. Using this technology to find a starting place for determining leading indicators makes a lot of sense.

Safety and Performance Excellence: Behind the Bradley Curve 1

A hot topic today is safety culture. The concept that a population can become a homogenous group that practices and reinforces safe practices, and passes such practices down to future members of the group, is appealing at many levels.

Since the concept of culture is not clearly defined nor a part of everyday management practice, organizational leaders have struggled to understand exactly how to make a culture better. A model called the Bradley Curve has become a popular way of thinking about cultural development.

The War on Accidents

In a war, the military is charged with accomplishing a mission. Casualties and wounded not only create tragedy and heartbreak, they also make it even more costly and difficult to succeed in the mission. Steps are taken to minimize casualties; soldiers are trained and briefed, non-commissioned officers are assigned to direct their actions, officers develop strategies to complete the mission with minimal casualties and intelligence is sought to keep informed about the enemy's movements and other changing conditions. The whole war is a dynamic and flexible team effort to win.

Special vs. Common Causation

W. Edwards Deming, one of the fathers of manufacturing quality control, explained the difference between special causes and common causes. He was speaking of the causes of defects in manufacturing processes.

He explained that sometimes someone does something obviously wrong, a machine malfunctions or raw material has an obvious flaw. When such an event causes a defect in manufacturing, that defect has a special cause. However, sometimes everyone performs normally, machines function as usual, raw materials meet specs and still a defect happens.

Culture Is the Cop-Out Culprit 1

When a tragedy is caused by complex factors, experts tend to blame the culture. The Challenger disaster and the Texas City refinery explosion resulted in commissions finding fault with and making recommendations for improving the cultures.

The Alternative to Management by Exception 1

Historically, safety has been managed by exception. When something or someone becomes the exception to what we want, THAT is what gets addressed.

Are Cardinal Rules for the Birds?

Over the past several years, virtually every major client of ours has adopted a set of cardinal rules for safety. There are several different names for these sets of rules, but they basically are held as more important than other rules. The thinking behind this trend is based on a belief these particular rules can prevent accidents of a higher potential severity than can be prevented by other rules.

Engagement: The Fourth Component of Safety Excellence

In previous articles, I labeled the first three components of safety excellence as strategy, assessment and coaching. The fourth element is both an extension and implementation of the first three.

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