On today’s episode, we discuss which factors support workers stopping their work for safety reasons and which factors hinder workers from stopping.
The paper we use to frame today’s discussion is We Can Stop Work, but Then Nothing Gets Done.
“You can see the finished product, but you don’t see how the sausage is made.”
“What matters with those immediate supervisors and the co-workers, is not what they say they’ll do, but what they’ll...actually do.”
“You help local management be able to have these conversations with their workforce, so that they can...understand that people have different views of what’s safe and what’s unsafe…”
Weber, D. E., MacGregor, S. C., Provan, D. J., & Rae, A. (2018). “We can stop work, but then nothing gets done.” Factors that support and hinder a workforce to discontinue work for safety. Safety science, 108, 149-160.
David: You're listening to the Safety of Work podcast episode 10. Today, we’re asking the question, what supports and hinders stopping work for safety? Let's get started.
Hey everybody. My name is David Provan. I'm here with Drew Rae and we're from Safety Science Innovation Lab at Griffith University. Welcome to the Safety of Work podcast. If this is your first time listening, then thanks for coming.
The podcast is produced every week and the show notes can be found at safetyofwork.com. In each episode, we ask an important question in relation to the work of safety, or the safety of work and examine the evidence surrounding it. Drew, what's today’s question?
Drew: David, today we're going to ask what factors support or hinder a worker to stop work for safety. This is something that comes up a lot in accident reports, this idea that workers sometimes continue working right through unsafe situations. The assumption is that work is safer when workers are able to identify unsafe situations and to stop work rather than plowing ahead and continuing to work through those unsafe situations.
This is something that comes up in pretty old schools of safety and management, so it's not one of those theory-dependent things. Whether we are talking about behavioral safety, safety culture, or complex systems, they all think that this capacity to stop unsafe work is [...]. It's almost like a last line of defense because things have become unsafe and we use the stopping work to avoid continuing into that unsafety.
The trouble is that we often talk about this very simply as if it's almost like some moral failing, but the situation of being unsafe is obvious. The decision to stop, or not stop should be fairly easy. Of course, it is easy in hindsight. You have someone go [...], of course, they should have stopped. And of course, we would rather they had stopped so we make recommendations like we need to do things to increase workers’ hazard awareness, we need to do things to help workers to see risk better.
Some organizations even go a bit further and they put in place an organizational process for stopping work. We sometimes called this the authority to stop work. Usually, it has a few different [...], it has a communication from the CEO, it might have lanyards around the workers neck, sometimes it has this little laminated signed card saying, “You have the right to stop work,” or posters on the wall that say things like, “If you see something unsafe, stop it. You have the right to stop if work is unsafe.” Sometimes we might even put in place recognition and reward programs in order to recognize people who have stopped work, to say, “Hooray, that's a good thing.” Reinforce behavior and motivate others to do the same thing. It's a way of showing the organization that safety comes before production and profit.
David: Drew, we could fool ourselves into thinking this is all quite a simple process to manage safety in our organizations, we plan and prepare for work to be done safely is step one. Step two, we make sure that our workforce can recognize when things aren't safe. Step three, we impair them to stop work. The stuff we haven't planned for is able to be recognized and corrected in the moment. There's almost like this three-step plan to always be safe. By now, we should be aware that nothing in safety or any system involving people is that simple. Do you want to tell us about this week's research?
Drew: Sure. The paper this week is called, We Can Stop Work, but Then Nothing Gets Done. Fact is, that support and hinder our workforce to discontinue work for safety. Normally, we go through both the title, the authors, and the journal. The authors of this paper is going to sound a little familiar, at least I hope, to our audience. The first author is Dr. David Weber and the other three authors are Shaun MacGregor, David Provan, and Andrew Rae.
We're not going to be exactly impartial in discussing this paper, but at least we have a little bit more insight than usual into how and why the paper was written. David Weber was one of the very first PhD students to come out of the Safety Science Innovation Lab. After he graduated, he went to work with you, David, specifically in order to conduct this particular investigation. Maybe you'd like to give us a little background on why you thought this would be an interesting and useful study for the company to sponsor.
David: Before I answer your question, I suppose we got to episode 10 before we threw one of our own research papers into the podcast. Maybe it can be something we can do now every 10th episodes. Our listeners might get to hear us talk about one of our own research papers in the show, maybe we're okay at doing research as well as just commentating about it.
An answer to your question, at the time I was inside an organization, in a safety management role and we're running learning teams (yes, we are running learning teams in 2015), we're looking at teams across the organization that we were really curious about to improve safety and operational performance. There was this conversation that kept repeating itself in discussions that we were having about incidents in the organization. The conversation went something like this, “Why were they doing that, or why did they do that? Surely the risk should have been obvious to them at the time. Surely they know that safety comes before anything else and they should have stopped for safety. Why didn't they stop?”
I suppose with hindsight, everything is always, always clear, but we kept saying to be having this conversation. As much as we try to reinforce those messages, like we said earlier, we worked on hazard awareness and we worked on the authority to stop them, we worked on reinforcing and rewarding that behavior. We still seem to be having these repeating conversations. So, I was just commenting on my own PhD research at the time with the lab, Drew, and I thought, “Here's a great opportunity to conduct another workplace-based research project to try to answer this question, rather than just keep doing what we're doing.
Drew: If I remember correctly David, the organization had one of those formal authorities to stop work programs with a laminated card. I think you had a little bit of a suspicion that there was a lot more of stopping of work going on, than what’s being captured all visible to that formal system.
David: Yeah. There was a long running, formal system around the authority to stop work, signed off but successive groups of executive managers. It was spoken about and it was knowing about in the organization. It was rarely then discussed as actual events that had occurred. Like I said, I spend a lot of my career not very curious about what was actually going on, convinced that what were doing was the right thing because I really started my own research. I started to more and more question everything that I saw around me. This just happened to be one of those questions that came up at the time. I really wanted to understand what the workforce experience of the authority to stop working, stopping work was.
Drew: In order to capture that work force experience, the method we settled on for the study was focus groups. Each one of these groups was for a different LPG distribution depot with the range of different jobs associated with that distribution. I probably should just clarify, LPG is just our name for household gas in Australia. These are groups who are filling up and distributing gas bottles that are connected to houses, who typically aren’t connected to the network gas supply.
We've been trying to keep these focus groups reasonably free of supervisors and managers, the idea of being then that the participants could speak freely. It wasn't totally successful. There are some depot managers and supervisors mixed in with these groups, but they have fairly low-level employees in the sense that they're not part of the central safety organization or central management of the company. They work very much day-to-day with each other. David was able to get the participants to open up, and tell some pretty authentic sounding stories about what their work was like.
David: Yes Drew. I think this our first podcast (correct me if I'm wrong) where we discussed focus groups as a method of data collection. A focus group, which I'm sure everyone’s familiar with, is basically where you try to have a discussion with usually a small group of people and you also usually have it around a set of guiding questions. What you're trying to do as a researcher is just facilitate a discussion that allows participants to build on the ideas of others.
There are two authors that conducted the field research. They all conducted the focus groups with David Weber. Some of our listeners might know David. He's now a HOP Consultant within the Southpac HOP Lab, and Shaun MacGregor who works with me at [...]. The three questions that they had in this study for these focus groups were, question number one, what makes you stop your own work and stop the work of others? Question two, what makes you continue work when you probably should stop? Question three, what are your thoughts on the authority to stop work, which was the organization’s program around it.
The data came from a sample. The data came out of 10 focus groups. It was between three and four participants in each group, a total of 34 participants and 691 minutes of recordings that were then transcribed for analysis. Drew, what do you view some focus groups as a data collection method?
Drew: There's a couple of different reasons focus groups are used. One of them is, just that it's a way of boosting up the numbers. It's much easier to get 34 participants as participants in focus groups rather than in one-on-one interviews. Some of that is just logistics, some of that is, people are more willing to be interviewed if they're a part of a group rather than sitting in a one-on-one situation.
The other big advantage is, if you can do focus groups well, then the interaction between the participants tells you something that you wouldn't get by just interviewing them directly. You can see the way they form a consensus opinion on things. You can see the way they play off each other, what that one person says reminds someone else of something. That's searching for agreement in a group process reveal stuff that doesn't necessarily come out in interviews.
The disadvantage is that sometimes, that consensus-seeking process can hide things that individual participants might be willing to tell you if they weren’t part of the group. You definitely get the group picture, you get how the group talks, how the group thinks, how they relate to each other, but possibly you still get this sub-surface consensus representation. You don't necessarily get the divergent opinions you get if you totally interviewed 34 people and that couldn't hear what each other was saying.
David: Yeah, I agree, Drew. In my experience with focus groups, sometimes they do suffer from the normal things that our listeners would experience in team meetings at work as well. There's people who are more willing to talk, people who are less willing to talk, there's people who are not willing to disagree with someone else, there is all of the other social pressures in there and relationships empowered, and so on that can make speaking easier for some people and harder for other people. I think you really have to have a topic that is something that you feel like people can speak about in a group situation. It really comes down to also the skill of the facilitator to manage the conversation.
Drew: I personally find that facilitation skills in focused groups are much harder than in interviews. In interviews, there's just one rule basically, which is shut up. A good interviewer doesn't direct the conversation, they let their participant talk and they hold themselves back from contributing too much in order to create that freedom for people to give longer answers, to express themselves, to start opening up more. The trouble is, in a focus group, you can't make other people do that.
Even if the facilitator is willing to listen, that doesn't mean that the members of the group are going to listen to each other and someone can start speaking only to be drowned out by someone else. If the interviewer then intervenes, to get the [...] to here, then they're taking much more of an intervention rather than that take just in a normal interview.
David: I agree entirely, Drew. I suppose in this research, you end up 691 minutes of recording and if you're fortunate to be in a situation where you've got a budget for your project, you get that professionally transcribed into hundreds of pages of conversational text. Then you got to go about making sense of it. Do you want to talk about how we turned focus groups and interview transcripts into research findings?
Drew: Yeah, that's a lot of work. I think that's something that goes on fairly invisible to people who read research papers. That's unfortunate, I think, for young researchers particularly is, you can see the finished product, but you don't see how the sausage is made.
There are three basic steps that you follow, no matter what methodology you're using. You basically shatter the data, then you put those shattered pieces back together, like a jigsaw puzzle, then you grab lots and bits of the detail and feed it back in. The shattering is basically going through the data and trying to find individual bits that are interesting. We call it coding, but it's basically attaching labels to each of those individual bits. The putting back together, we call finding themes, which is finding bits that look like each other and trying to work out what the patterns are.
David: I think our listeners or hearing organizations would be familiar, at least in the present day and age, you do a lot of workshop activities where you all are given Post-it Notes. Part of this, you can picture a little bit as you end up with thousands and thousands of Post-it Notes that you're trying to cluster into themes. Depending on your coding methodology, there's a bit more signs to how you group in those themes, but if people have in their mind, “How do I code this stuff?” It's not that much different in principle, than having a whole heap of Post-it Notes that you put up on a white board.
Drew: And not necessarily a lot more technology than that either. If people are picturing, grabbing all these interview transcripts, and sticking Post-it Notes over them, that's not a metaphor. That's often how we actually do it. There are software tools that work a little bit better if you're familiar with using them, but I actually make all of my junior researchers do it, the Post-it Note way first, so they physically understand what is is that they're doing when they use the software.
David: I think Drew—correct me if I'm wrong—there are two different types of qualitative analysis on this type of data. When I came up with a set of predetermined categories and themes that I went searching the data for information that fell into that bucket, that's one way coming in. You can have a theory or a framework, but you're trying to get data to explore and understand, and you look for data points that fit into the predetermined buckets that you're looking to fill up. Or you come at the other way, which is the way this study came out, which is a process called grounded theory, where you start with a blank piece of paper and you actually inductively create your own theory based on how the pieces come back together.
Drew: What makes it rigorous is something that's often invisible to the people that are reading it. It's how willing you are to initially find patterns and then reject those patterns because your data doesn't fit. Doing it poorly, you begin to see patterns and you just make everything fit those patterns. Doing it well will go through many, many different attempts to fit patterns to the data and give up because there's bits of data that just don't match the pattern. One thing I'm actually going to have it all these, just taking photos of my wife and keeping all of the photos. You can see over time the way initial ideas just don't fit the data.
David: Just so people have a sense for this paper and then we’ll move on to the findings. I know David Weber, who remember this well. I think it was about a year from the time of finishing the last focus group through to having a version of the paper to submit in terms of the analysis and that was a full time research activity, in terms of just coding and recoding and coding and recoding to be confident that the data are being fairly represented in the findings.
Drew, the paper has findings in four categories. Those four categories are, number one, reasons to stop—what are the triggers to consider stopping—the second is the factors that support stopping, the third is the factors that hinder stopping, and the fourth is the ways that people go about stopping. These are the four categories or findings. Do you want to talk about the first one, reasons to stop?
Drew: Just before I go right into that first category, I'll explain that what we essentially have here is an underlying model or assumption about how stopping work, works. The idea is that there's got something that triggers you to begin to think that stopping might be a good idea. Then there's an intermediate feud state, where you might stop, or you might not stop depending on what the factors are that are going to encourage you to work stopping, or encourage your way from stopping. Eventually, there's got to be some action that you take. That's what creates these four categories.
The first one is, what even put into your mind in the first place that you should consider stopping? This is the one place in this study where rules and compliance get a solid mention. It surprises us because we're also figuring the rules wouldn't play a big role, but there were some hard and fast rules, things like scaffolding, inspection tags, and gas fitting compliance plates, when those things we're missing, that immediately, and as far as we can tell, always, triggered a discussion about stopping work.
There are other things that are a bit vaguer, things like weather, time, pressure, sometimes it was just a vague feeling of things not being right would trigger this initial discussion. The interesting thing is, given that initial feeling, there are things that are very much about the situation and the organization that can make that feeling go away again, or that can lead the person more and more likely to stop.
Another thing that surprised us was that the formal authority to stop work process. Certainly, the workers thought that that was something that would help them make a decision to stop. No one actually followed the process, but this idea that they had that management would back them up was really important, having that formal process reinforced the idea that management would back them up. A couple other workers said that, “Sure, I've got this signed piece of paper, but I don't know that guy. Because I don't know him, I don't know whether to trust the piece of paper.” In fact, the relationship with immediate supervisors was much more important.
David: I find this quite interesting and surprising at the time. I remember because I think we’re the safety practitioner or professional, [...] they've got fairly good access to management and senior management in the organization, they tend to know who’s senior management are, and they understand who’s who on the organization chart.
Messages that come from the CEO mean a lot and maybe do go some way to shaping behavior of people in roles, but when we got down to the front line workforce or right to the front line workforce in this study, it was really clear what happens around the scene. The management table really doesn't shape behavior in the front line workforce very much at all and it really doesn’t offer enough support or enablement for how people are going to make decisions or act.
People would say things like you said, that they don't know that person and even if they did know them, there's nothing that that senior manager could do to protect that worker from the response of their immediate supervisor. It was the supervisor that was going to make life easy or difficult for them in relation to a decision like this. That's really all I cared about in terms of work relationships. Their co-workers are in there, their immediate supervisor and everyone else was a distant second in their consideration.
Drew: This seems obvious. I know people would say it a lot, but we all forget it. What matters with those immediate supervisors and their co-workers, is not what they say they'll do, but what they’ll actually do. Really, the way they reacted last time is what matters, not the fact that they have said that it's okay to stop or said that they will support stopping or told people, “Stop and I'll back you up.” What really matters is, what were the first words out of the supervisor’s mouth, last time the work that wanted to stop.
That immediate reaction, that reaction that invites serious consideration that invites discussion, that doesn't push the responsibility back on to the worker, shows that unconditional support is what matters. No one wants to have to justify to someone else why they stop, that need to justify is a requirement of energy that's going to act as a barrier. Having an invitation, rather the need to justify. Having someone else who you know agrees with you that situation is dangerous makes it much, much easier to stop.
David: Working alone also hinders stopping and maybe that comes down to not having any support around or knowing that you've got to reach out to someone and then have to explain your situation, and then having to actively to stop someone else in order to stop themselves may think particularly hard. In the teammate setting, one of the things that was interesting is, even though once you've made the decision to stop, having the support is really good.
Working in a work group, if you're going to be the one who first raises the alarm or first raises an issue, and you're looking around and everyone else seems to still be working quite merrily, happily, and feeling safe, it's quite hard to make that first conversation. That's a really interesting dynamic, getting that first conversation started. Once that first conversation happens, then you're in a much more supportive environment to make the decision.
Drew: That's why the direct relationships really matter, because working amongst teammates and having to be the first one is hard. Working amongst non-teammates—if you're a contractor, or a [...] contractor, or if there are two companies working together—makes it super hard, because it makes it a more formal type of thing to ask them to stop. Whereas asking people that you're very familiar with to stop doesn't even have to be an express verbal request. It can just be a glance or a shrug of the shoulders.
David: Great point, Drew. If you're in a mixed workforce with contractors and clients, for your contractors to stop, they have to also stop the clients work. That could be potentially very, very difficult situation if you don't understand that really well and find ways to enable and support that really well, which we’ll talk a little bit about it at the end.
On the topic of justification, Drew, we said that participants were really fearful of having to explain why they stop and sometimes, if they knew that they would have to explain themselves, they were going to be inclined to try to work away through a situation unless it was totally impossible, or totally in contravention of a rule or something that was very obvious.
I'll give people an example to the context around this research, just so I can think about what it might mean in their organizations. These gas delivery drivers, they got all of their scheduling information from a call center. It was that call center who was in contact with the customers. They’d work at what needed to be done, they’d schedule it, and the drivers will then go and do the work.
If a delivery didn't happen for some reason because the delivery driver didn't feel it was safe, then they knew that they were going to have to explain themselves back to someone at the call center over the phone, they knew that that call center person was then going to have to explain the situation to a customer and why they had no gas for their stove or their hot water for another day, or two days, or three days. Understanding this chain of communication and the pressure that it created was really important for us in understanding decision making about stopping work.
If I can go into another example, about how to break that chain, I think this is very familiar now for deliveries in general, that originally this type of a business would have had a situation that said something like, “If there's a dangerous-looking dog, don't go on to their premisses to do the work.” Then we had in this business something like 30 or 40 dog bites every single year around that particular judgement, because it's like, “Well, is it dangerous? The person delivered it last time, they didn’t get bitten. Everything seems fine.” This is when we start to go back around to the rule at the start.
Once there was a rule in place that said, “If there's a non-restrained dog, you don't have to deliver,” then you straight away enable that decision to be made. There's no justification required, the customer can be notified with a very clear message that, “We told you to have your house in this situation and it's not.”
I just want to tie the story together, Drew, because it goes to the complexity and the pressures of, what happens when a decision gets made and then some of these other things about how these factors can help can actually break down some of those [...].
Drew: I like that story because it casts rules into a very different life, that I think we've talked about rules before. When we've talked about rules as something that can be broken, why workers might break or not break rules. In this situation, the rule is something that’s actually acting as a tool that the worker can use. Using something which appears it's written like it’s a rule for them, “You’re not allowed to go into a house where there is an unrestrained dog.” It is a useful thing for them to have. It helps them explain what they're doing, it helps them communicate with the call center. That rule doesn't restrain the worker, that rule gives them more capacity to stop work if they need to.
David: It's like rules are enabling resources. I like that and it came up in this study as well with a fatigue and driving hours, because these people are professional drivers, so say they can't drive for more than 14 hours or 12 hours in a day. If doing the next delivery or the next two deliveries was gonna take them over that time limit, they didn't have to have a conversation that was like, “I feel a little bit tired. I think I might go home for the day after 10 hours.” It was very clear that, “No, I can't work past this time,” so you don't have to have this debate about whether someone's risk assessment is the same as your risk assessment.
I like the way you mention that, Drew, because we've talked a bit about how processes and goals can be more useful in adapting work than fixed rules. But in this context, if you're having to come to a consensus, rules can be helpful resources to arrive at a consensus without having to have a long risk-based conversation.
Drew: This is probably a good point to move on, to the things that's into stopping, because not surprisingly, one of the things on the list is the exact opposite. If it's a situation that’s ambiguous where the worker feels that the situation is unsafe, that they can't point to some clear safety rule that isn't being met, then that's when they worry about stopping. They were afraid that if they stop, they'll be seen as being lazy, or incompetent, or unproductive instead of being safe, because they can't point to that safety rule.
Another thing that mattered was similar to normalization of deviants. If other people have already done the job at least once under the same conditions, or even if the workers themselves have done the job in these conditions before or in similar conditions, then that becomes the new normal and it's much harder to say “no” next time. Overwork and fatigue tends to make that even harder. It's like you need energy to stop, and when you're tired and exhausted, it's mentally easier to keep going than to change course.
David: We’re just about to talk about why is it stopping now, but just when you mentioned that about overwork, fatigue, tired, and exhausted, in most circumstances when people stop, it creates more work for them not less work. The work still needs to be done either at a later time that day, or pushed into a stacked schedule for the next day. Often when they're really tired and they may be feeling unsafe, they're also worried about how they're going to feel the next day when they have to get back and get the job done.
Drew: In fact, the workers specifically said that one of the things that makes it hard to stop is that, if they stop the task once, then they just get reassigned that same task through the scheduling system. Actually, the first time they say, “No,” the job just appears back the next day. And they say, “No,” the job appears back the next day. After being told to do it multiple times, eventually, they just couldn't do it.
David: They're gonna feel like they're not supported by the organization, so they're going to stop putting their hand up, because nothing is going to happen.
The final category about ways of stopping was really interesting. It was almost like people never just stop. It's not like, “Oh stop. I'll go and see you at my car for four hours or I'll drive back to the depot and I'll go home.” The way that they spoke about ways of stopping it was all about adaptation, not stopping.
It was always about delaying, re-assigning, go and consult with someone to work at it if we can change the process. Get something fixed, come back later in the day. It was always a moving forward action, there wasn't just a passive, we’re gonna stop and throw our hands up in the air and not do something. There was always this maneuvering and adaptation going on in terms of stopping. Workers probably wouldn't see it as stopping work, they just saw it as continually adjusting their work around their circumstances.
Drew: I don't know if this is a contradiction of David's work or a continuation of it. Since we had further work going on, particularly field work [...], where he noticed that those things that, whether study described as ways of stopping work, delaying the work, or reassigning it for someone else, or getting some sort of consultation advice before you continue, get things fixed before you continue, all those things don't have to be labeled as stopping work. In fact, they can be such a normal part of work that no one even thinks of it as stopping, they just think of it as just day-to-day adjustment that happens constantly.
If you take that view, then stopping unsafe work almost becomes one of these hindsight counter-factual things like human error. They don't exist until something bad has happened. We go back and we interpret it as if it was some sort of deliberate high stakes decision instead of just one of a thousand daily minor adjustments that keep work safe and productive.
David: When you reflect on it, Drew, it's one of those things that seems obvious and that's sometimes the case with ethnographic research. People play you back their reality and you go, “Huh. Yeah, I’ve never thought of it like that, but that makes a lot of sense.” It's just like, if I got to walk down the street, cross the road, and there's no lights, I could walk down the street and cross the road. If a car is coming, I’ll stop, I'll wait 30 seconds and then I'll cross the road. If the car just stop there, I'll just walk straight across the road. It's just normal.
You might say “Oh, you stopped walking when that car was coming and then you continued when it was gone.” I think if we think about stopping as just the normal adaptation of work and we find ways, I think then we’re in a position where what we’re trying to do is just find ways to enable people to adapt.
Drew: The example that springs to mind for me is the way we always blame people for entering dangerous flood water. Why did they drive their car into that water? Why did they not just stop? The answer is clearly no one ever just stops. They're trying to get home. There's this thousand adjustments that different people have made. Some people decided to leave work a little bit early because it was raining. Some people decided to stay back, because it was raining. Some people decided to go a slightly different route, because it was raining. Some people decided to wait and see if it got better. And other people pushed ahead. When you see all of these little adjustments, it becomes really weird to focus on just that one person who didn't make the adjustment, or made the adjustment in the different way.
David: Let’s [...] into practice now, Drew. I suppose, as we kick off following that last conversation, even though the workers thought that having an authority to stop work, signed off by the managing director was in some ways, some kind of comfort, even if that was a process they never followed, this may be one of those things where the authority to stop work processes like this, imagine view of how work gets done and we actually might need to have a whole different set of language and constructs behind how we think about it, because we were sprouting out to the workforce, the authority to stop working and they're like, “What? I don't understand.” and maybe we need different ways if we’re [...] to the workforce.
David concluded that, having an authority to stop work policy alone will not necessarily help your workers to stop. This is because discontinuing their work doesn't solely rely on their willingness to stop. It described this need to create a stop work environment, which is like a set of conditions that enable people to stop or adjust their work. You listed these under four categories: social, the technical or physical, the procedural conditions, and then the non-technical or personal conditions. There's quite a big table in the research paper, Drew, that it talks about all these different types of conditions. Maybe we can talk about a few under each of those four categories that our listener can maybe take away and think about.
Drew: One of the ones that I want to jump off with is the idea that being part of a team is a big facilitator of the ability to stop or adjust unsafe work. We spoke about this in our episode on the relationship between trust and safety. It's that ability to know that you can be the first person to speak up and other people are going to support you rather than disagree with you or make you justify yourself. I think often, we don't think about things like, supporting teamwork as part of the safety job, or we just love it in with the whole grab bag of soft skills and we say, “Yeah, soft skills are important. Now, let me get onto my main job.” Whereas here it's really central to that teamwork and communication.
David: I think along side that providing an absolute certainty about the absence of negative consequences and like we said earlier, that's not just saying that there's going to be no punishment for stopping work. It needs to involve open discussion about these issues when someone had just worked, when they stop work, when they don't stop work.
How do you facilitate a conversation, your organization, where you openly discuss those issues? You help local management be able to have these conversations with their workforce, so that they can openly discuss these things. They can understand that people have different views on what’s safe and what is unsafe and create an environment where teams respect the different views of people. So if someone does want to put their hand up first, then they know that they're going to be supported, they're going to have a discussion about it at some point in time, they're going to get the benefit of other people's views and perspectives, and they're going to be respected and listened to around their own views and their own decisions.
Drew: That one thing that really struck me was that, you could have a thousand times when someone needs to stop or adjust work and their supervisors supports them. You only need once, it doesn't even have to be real to have someone punished, or made to keep doing something that's unsafe. That will spread through the organization as a vicious dark narrative, on management doesn't really want us to stop.
One of David's suggestions, which hasn't been strongly tested, but I do think we should think about, is deliberately amplifying some of those day-to-day stories about how people are allowed to stop and adjust work and make it very clear that that's the normal to counteract the power of the stories that go the other way.
David: We know in life that bad news travels 10 times faster or 100 times faster than good news. We know in safety, in organizations that you just have to do a little bit of qualitative climate type of research, or just have any really frontline discussion to find out that someone was punished for something 10 years ago and the whole workforce still believes it. That's the way the organization is being run. Really, it's a one step forward, a hundred steps backwards if you make a mistake.
Drew: That doesn't mean we need to give gold stars and gift certificates to people who stop work. It just means we need to have opportunities for people to talk about times they've stopped working with each other and what happened. I think with new employees, get them to realize that this is normal, this is encouraged, this is what happens. If you need to stop work, it's no big deal at all.
David: On the technical side, there's some quite specific recommendations because of the industry-based nature of the way this research was done. But this idea of needing to provide people with sufficient variety and redundancy of equipment and resources, to enable them to deal with varied situations that they face. You do want to support your people, to be able to adjust their work in ways that are safe.
Say for example, there is a really critical piece of equipment that they use on every single job. They've only got one of them in the truck and then it breaks. They're facing a situation of having to drive half an hour or an hour back to a depot, get a replacement, drive half an hour or an hour back to a depot. They're on their last delivery of the day. They've got a different tool that's close enough. You're just creating a situation where you're creating a difficult decision for them. You don't know which way that decision is always going to go based on all the other [...] in the organization.
I like the way that David talked about, just thinking about redundancy and variety of equipment, thinking about the situations that people might face, and giving them the resources to be able to adapt quickly, because we know that sacrifice judgement, which an adjustment, or a stopping of work is a sacrifice judgement. We know that smaller sacrifice judgements are much easier than bigger ones.
Drew: This next one is related. Obviously, you can’t provide every worker with every possible tool. Sometimes, you'll have specialized equipment that does specialized things. But having flexible approach is to the planning of work can avoid putting people into difficult situations.
One of the simple ones that appeared in this study was different sizes of trucks. If the work was planned correctly, then the right sized truck would turn up to the right situation, no drama. If the truck is too big, that's when the worker needs to make this judgement, “Do I press ahead? Do I walk further from the truck? Do I try to put the truck into a difficult spot? Or do I refuse to deliver today until someone can come along with a smaller truck?” Having planning halfway for work to be reorganized and to be planned out to avoid these sorts of things can create, stop work is needing to make the stop, or not stop decision. Instead, it just becomes a replanned decision.
David: One of the other difficulties about planning for work, and it's just probably, if we've got any kind of supply chain on logistics—listeners, this is not meant to cause any kind of offense—a lot of the scheduling systems around work, particularly in these environments now are quite rigid. Having the option for our drivers to say, “These are your 10 deliveries to do over the next two days,” and the driver has a whole lot of local information about which sites are wet and difficult early in the morning, which sites aren't good in the afternoon, and if they have a problem one day, they know that they can just substitute the next day’s job in that afternoon and can put the other one off till the next day.
Most of our systems now, most of our efforts in organizations are pushing work to be far more rigidly planned, far more time-bound, far more sequenced. That can really make it hard for people to say, “I want to do job number D, before number B, and I want to do tomorrow's work today, and today's work tomorrow.” Actually, thinking about how much rigidity and how much flexibility you've got in your planning and scheduling of work is really important for enabling people to adapt to the situation they faced.
Drew: Then the final category was, the non-technical things that we equip people with. In this study, it was particularly helping people deal with challenging social interactions. Often stopping work required people to deal with customers, or with the call centers, or with the planners. That needing to explain themselves and justify was much harder when they didn't have a clear script to follow.
In the cases where they could easily say, “The compliance rules says this,” “I'm sorry. I'm not allowed to continue to work without a compliance [...], I don't have a choice. I have to go away.” You clearly what language to use, what to say, but in situations where they were equipped with that, I mean the [...] fly, they're dealing with really difficult, interpersonal situations.
David: Finally on this side Drew, David mentioned the need to just continually learn and understand the work force’s views around these. It's a bit like both sides of the coin. We talked about it in safety, too, successful work as well as surprising work. Here he actually talked about the need to explore reasons for when workers continue to work, when other people or their management think that they should have stopped.
To understand why people are continuing their work in situations that may be others feel that they shouldn't have and also why people stop in situations when other people thought it was fine to go ahead, that's two things. You build a greater capacity in your workforce to make decisions around adjusting their work and stopping their work. You also help individuals understand that it's fine to think differently from other people and there’s a support environment where people can raise different opinions.
That's it for today, Drew. We now got 10 episodes unders our belt and we got a chance to talk about some of our own research, which made the preparation a little bit less arduous, at least at my end. We hope you, our listeners, are getting value out of listening each week. If you are, we’d appreciate if you could share this podcast with the colleague. Leave us a rating on whatever feed you're listening to this through. There's no downside in our opinion to more people, being able to practice safety based on the evidence.
That's it for this week. We hope you find this episode thought provoking and ultimately useful in checking the safety work in your own organization. Send any comments, questions, or ideas for future episodes to us at email@example.com.