Panelists Debate Solutions to Serious Injuries, Fatalities

Members of a high-powered plenary session panel at Safety 2018 generally agreed about the strategies for solving this serious problem.

SAN ANTONIO -- Controls. Empathy. Resiliency. Communication. Systems. The high-level discussion of the panelists and the moderator at the June 5 plenary session at the American Society of Safety Professionals' #Safety2018 conference and expo touched on many aspects of safety and operational strategy. The panelists debated how best to prevent serious and fatal injuries, and it was a lively discussion.

Agreeing more than not, the five panelists -- Dr. E. Scott Geller; Dr. Todd Conklin, a senior advisor for the Los Alamos National Laboratory; Laurie Shelby, vice president of EH&S for Tesla Motors; Al Johnson, VP of EH&S for Cargill; and Ellis Jones, senior director of EH&S at Goodyear; along with moderator Dr. Tom Krause, who, along with Geller, is well known to safety professionals for expertise on behavior-based safety and employee engagement -- shared their views before a large and appreciative afternoon audience, with Conklin's humorous asides often highlighting their exchanges.

Conklin said the idea of "fatal precursors" is false because any accident can be fatal if there are no controls, and frequency does not correlate with severity. He said senior leaders should focus on preventing catastrophic failures, adding that the well-known hierarchy of controls pushes us toward expensive controls when effective controls might be less expensive and also be better solutions. "In safety, we're really good at measuring stuff that doesn't matter," he said.

Krause asked each panelist how senior leadership should work to prevent serious injuries and fatalities, and what safety leaders need from their senior leadership. Shelby answered that senior leaders have to be plugged in with their workers -- they need to be on the shop floor -- and the focus should be on controls.  Jones stressed that EHS leaders need to be a business partner with their senior leaders, while Johnson said senior leadership needs safety education and training. Conklin said the key need is resilient systems.

Geller stressed the importance of talking with employees. Workers need help identifying the needed controls, he said, and the leader has to give the workers the perception of choice, the notion of competence, and community. "Safety requires people to go beyond the controls -- to go beyond the call of duty," he added.

Krause pointed out that Shelby was the only person on the stage at the time who was trained as a safety professional – the others came up through management ranks, mainly, to reach their current positions. She responded by saying the profession needs to change how it trains EHS professionals, saying she was taught, “Drive down that DART rate,” for example, but now knows that’s not the way to prevent serious and fatal injuries.

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