Strategically Piloting Safety Success

By adjusting your interventions to your objectives, you can more efficiently and quickly turn around safety performance and culture.

Times are tough, management's tight, but the pressure's still on to reduce losses and achieve sterling Safety results. Wiser heads realize that an old apple tree won't magically produce delicious pears; you've got to plant different crops.

That's fine, but as the old Rascals tune goes, "How can I be sure in a world that's constantly changing?"Similarly, how can you make the most of precious resources, know what will work at an early level--whether this be new equipment, changed procedures, or training interventions? Rather than jumping into an unfamiliar river headfirst (too shallow water? hidden rocks?), befriend Strategic Piloting.

First off, look at what piloting means: navigating from starting point to destination. Planning, directing, plotting the path and position of your vehicle. Providing a guide for your organization for the next course of action.

Piloting can have several objectives:

  • "Safe Test." Make a neutral analysis of cost-effectiveness of a proposed intervention with a small group for consideration for future/broader rollout. For many, this is the beginning and end of piloting.
  • "First aid" for groups/departments/areas/sites that are having problems.
  • "Buy In." Turn around a skeptical group by showing positive results of new intervention from within. Highly resistant groups often will discount breakthrough returns, even from their nextdoor department or plant neighbors.
  • "Demonstrate success" to others within the organization in order to secure future support and funding resources (by developing in-house statistics and positive responses).

Best pilot interventions both accommodate your objectives and take into account your worker population. We've had the opportunity of working with many organizations worldwide that, on first contact, were in different places along the Safety Culture/Performance Continuum (see: Next Level Safety Cultures). But no matter the country, industry, or stage of Culture, we've seen each company has a bell curve of:

a. lower-level performers (generally, a small percentage)
b. mainstream of"OK"/mediocre performers (largest percentage by far)
c. higher-level performers (generally, about the same small percentage as lower level group)

Considering this, we've designed three kinds of strategic pilots:

  • 1. Statue of Liberty Pilot. For lower-level performers;"send us your tired, your poor, your wretched… ."This kind of pilot is typical for many companies (sometimes out of frustration or pressure to get significant results with toughest cases). There are usually several underlying reasons these groups have a history of lower Safety performance (e.g., physical exposures, culture, history of management-supervisory- worker relations, certain characteristics of workers, etc.). Because of these factors, a successful new intervention is likely an uphill battle; you can prevail in uphill battles, but you have to know what you're getting into in advance and also work harder.
  • 2. Pioneer Pilot. For relatively high-performing groups, departments, sites. Usually these will eagerly volunteer if given an opportunity; they are highperforming because they tend to be receptive to trying new, potentially useful interventions and also have an internal demand for next-level improvement.
  • 3. Representative Pilot. This approach targets the middle of the bell curve, covering the average range of employees/sites.
Keys to Successful Piloting

There's a lot more to this, of course. But here are some critical keys to successful piloting:

  • Strategically select which kind of pilot to employ.
  • Get target group involved early to set leading indicators.
  • Customize intervention (tool, training) to their exposures.
  • Feed progress reports back regularly.
  • Elicit broad involvement (management, Safety Committees, etc.).
  • Measure performance in many ways — subjective reports, observations, range of statistics.
  • Report back returns as early as possible.
  • Design and implement course corrections when off track.
All of the above has helped many companies worldwide. By adjusting your interventions to your objectives, you can more efficiently and quickly turn around Safety performance and culture.

This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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