Safety Observation Program – Roll Out and Results

Kaitlyn McNaughton

Director of Engineering and R&D Laboratories at Blount International

Learning Objectives

How to introduce a safety observation program into labs. It will provide the why we choose to do this, how we instituted the program and our results.

Key Themes:

  • Observation based safety enables and encourages your team members to take an active role in daily safety.

  • To have a heartfelt safety culture your team must feel comfortable raising safety concerns, raising new ideas and share their perspectives/ input and be empowered to be part of the solution.

  • To be successful implementing observation based safety people must know that everyone is participating in this because they care about one another. People must observe and be open to seek first understand why people are doing something a certain way and make sure people know your intent is improvement safety for everyone and is not punitive.

"One thing you'll notice is that in many of our future success goals, a lot of it was about our team feeling more connected, and knowing more about one another, and what each lab team does. "

Kaitlyn McNaughton

Director of Engineering and R&D Laboratories at Blount International


Hello, my name is Kaitlyn McNaughton. I’m the Director of the Engineering in R&D Labs at Blunt International. I’m looking forward to sharing a topic with you that is near and dear to me, and that is how to introduce a Safety Observation Program and improve your team’s safety, culture, and ultimately, your team’s overall engagement.

As a quick background on the labs here at Blunt International, our team is made up of a computer aided engineer, a model shop, which includes machining tools such as a punch press, and machining, lathe, etc., metallurgy lab, which has ferrous metal testing or functionally steel, and the performance lab where we complete true performance testing on our products. Given the wide variety of testing equipment, you can see how it would be critical for us to have a focus on safety.

When I became the lab director, I observed the team and noticed several behaviors that made me concerned about safety, and really the lack of safety culture in our labs. I had many team members who expressed to me that they felt they did a good job and that they did their job safely. However, when I started to observe, I noticed that there were some things that didn’t match that statement.

For instance, I had a team member who actually set up a teapot in our chem lab, which is, to me something that’s borderline egregious. When I talked to them about why did they do this, they said, “I didn’t think or perceive that this was something that was a concern or was a safety concern to me.” So that really kind of gave me the focus on, I think we have an opportunity here.

Given my observation that our behavior didn’t match with what I was hearing from the team, I had the team take an anonymous survey to raid our culture. That’s what you’re seeing on this slide. When our team self rated, the results showed that nearly all of the team felt there was an opportunity to integrate safety further into our daily behavior. After reviewing this data together, our team concluded that we wanted to create a way to work on safety behaviors before issues occurred, and to focus on creating a safe environment every day. We wanted to have a process where all team members could participate, and we all recognize that there would be support that was needed. Those include things like specific training, money to spend on improvements, and just time, as we all know, that’s a limited resource.

As a team, we then drafted a purpose statement, and our vision together of what we thought our team should look like. We also made that focus [inaudible[, what do we look like if we’re successful in six months? I love to you to use a really short timeline such as six months as a target, because this is something really tangible. Everyone can imagine how change might look if you were to make it an effort and really focus on something in the six month timeline. It makes it much easier to really define what does success look like.

One thing you’ll notice is that in many of our future success goals, a lot of it was about our team feeling more connected, and knowing more about one another, and what each lab team does. While our lab areas are co-located, I noticed that there wasn’t really a lot of cross sharing between the groups. I think this is an interesting detail that shouldn’t be missed because how do you see your co worker as human, and care about their welfare if you don’t really know that? So that’s kind of a key to this.

Also, one benefit that we have is by starting the sort of program, we ended up introducing more team members to more of each other’s work. Now, with buy in from my team, I asked for volunteers for committee to define how would we introduce safety into our culture. To create our observation based safety program, this subcommittee worked with our organization’s insurance provider to discuss examples of safety observation programs they had seen instituted at other companies they cover.

During these discussions, a key emphasis or committee kept coming back to was, what allowed these programs to be successful? And how do we make sure that all of our team members are empowered to be part of the solution? I [unintelligible] when we generated safety observation data, which we are going to start creating a lot of, the worst thing we could do is to not take action on what team members are observing.

Also, all of our team members needed to know that they were empowered to fix the easy stuff right away. So we create a culture where we all feel accountable to one another, Finally, we recognized there needed to be a process for more complex issues that would need more time or effort to fix. After meeting, we pulled the entire team back together.

So, what is a safety observation? Well, a safety observation is simply an observation where one team member is talking to another, and observing them doing something around safety. This observation can be done by and of any team member. When it is our team member’s turn to make a safety observation, we say, “Simply ask a team member or even a visitor in the lab if you can watch the test that you’re doing, so you can better understand it, and to discuss what you observe with that team member around safety.” We did ask that if they did ask to observe a visitor, they share what our process and our program was, so that they weren’t taken off guard. We were very focused on making sure there was an emphasis around asking why, how, and what they’re doing with their tasks.

To help our team members, we did create a list of values, and I will share those next. We felt this was critical is one thing our team defined as success was our team getting to know each other better. So this helps because sometimes people can be, and generally I would say, people are fairly uncomfortable being observed. But it’s much easier to be observed if you are explaining a task that you’re very comfortable with. It’s a job that you know how to do and you do day in and day out every day.

The other nice thing is by having actually less familiarity with one another’s tasks, it makes it less intimidating in many ways. Because as the observer, I feel comfortable asking what might be otherwise dubbed as dumb questions. It can kind of help expose maybe biases in that task or job that the team member has been doing for so long, and they’re doing odd workarounds for things that seem off to an otherwise unconditioned die because they’ve been doing that job for so long they just think that’s part of the job. So it allows these groups or these outside observers to go, “Huh, that seems really odd or strange,” and get a little bit more detail about why did you start doing that? What led to that? A lot of this is focused on the why.

Please note that the other thing that we did do when we introduced this program is we did have a mandatory safety training as a team. I took the whole entire lab through OSHA General 10. The reason for this is simply because it gives our team members resources and support and the recognition that there’s a lot of resources out there to help us. It also provided a common base of safety knowledge. I did notice that after this training, team members would often volunteer something within their job that they thought was strange or different, or say, “Oh yeah, from that training, I learned the following about ergonomics.” This seems like a little bit of an ergonomic issue, and let me show you why. I do think that training has to be a fundamental part of this program.

I wanted to share the ground rules or the values that our team created together. I am going to read these because they were so important to us. Engage with one another open, respectfully, and honestly. Know that whomever is observing you is your peer and they care about you. Keep in mind that a new set of eyes may help identify hazards you’ve missed. Make a commitment to use this time to get to know one another as a person is you are observing on a personal level. All team members are equals. Be participants. Share thoughts, knowledge, and experience with one another. Be accountable to one another. Complete action items as committed. Be open to change. Recognize that people can change, too. Don’t make assumptions. Ask and seek to understand.

As I kind of shared with you, when somebody has done an odd task or they’ve done a task for a while and you say, “Hmm, that seems odd,” ask what led you to do it that way. That’s a perfect example of why that’s important. Focus on talking about [unintelligible] in process, not people. If you see a safety improvement that is easy, do it, take care of it. We call these are do something. Listen actively and ask for clarification if you need it, and celebrate the good things that you do see. These, as you know, are really important to our team. I would encourage if you do establish a program that you should establish these or your own ground rules with your team because they will be unique and specific to your own team’s DNA.

One key takeaways for successful safety observation program though, people need to know that safety will not be treated as punitive, but the focus of your team and your culture is just to continue to get better and improve. We sort of have this focus of every day I want to improve, every day I want to make my work a safer place to be. You may be saying to yourself, “Okay, great, I’m interested,” now how does the actual observation take place?

We had established a weekly stand up meeting already in our lab. So we decided this would give us an opportunity to pull our Safety Observation team members and our Safety Action team members. Each Monday, we would pull or draw randomly five names out of a box. The day that the first one pulled would be the first one reporting the day of the next week, and everybody knew those. They were pulled randomly each month. After you completed your observation, you went in a box that said you’d been completed, and you weren’t pulled until the very next month.

Similarly, we did the same with our Safety Action Team. So with the Safety Action Team, we pull these once a month—the first Monday of the month—and the leaders were always a participant. So myself and my two lab managers participated in every Friday Safety Action Team. The other team members were drawn randomly, and this was intentional. One was pulled from each of my different lab groups. My CA Engineer fell into the model shop team. The intention of this was also so that these groups would work collaboratively since their day to day work activities didn’t have them doing all that much together.

The goal with these observations that the team was given was that their report out should take less than 5 to 10 minutes—they were daily, as you can see. They needed to share those observations with our entire lab team. We also asked that our team members record their data in an Excel spreadsheet. This was mostly used for tracking purposes such that we could track the actions that we were taking, and also build a parade of concerns.

Each month with the Safety Action Team, we met once a week on Fridays at nine o’clock. We set that up as an established time. The first year that we did this, we met each Friday for an hour, and we found that we had a lot of carryover activities or homework. So in 2019, we introduced a new format for this, where every Friday, we would meet one hour leading till the final Friday of the month. Then, the final Friday of the month, we did a Kaizen style event. This was a pretty major change. I’ll show you some of the results later. But this was significant because it allowed us to do a great deal more planning, and purchasing of goods or materials, or things that we might need to complete our event, such that on event day, it was really a go to action. We did all the work. We had everything lined up to be successful.

Now, I’m going to share with you our actual observation form. So each observer was asked to fill out the following sheet. We had these on a clipboard at our DMS meeting. On the back of our clipboard, we actually included our ground rules that made it easy so that no matter who was using it, they always had the ground rules with them, and they had this form. This is very simple. It’s something that the team members could review very quickly with a team member. Then, what they actually reported out at DMS was the side that shows safe conditions observed, unsafe conditions observed.

We did ask that, in the moment of the safety observation, they share with a team member what they saw that they were doing well. So share something you see that the team members doing safe. This is often something like, “Hey, it was really great to see you wearing your PPE,” or “I really appreciated how focused you were on the task,” “I could see that you had cleared the area so that there was nothing in the way,” “I noticed that you swept the floor before you started your work.” Those sorts of things were very insightful. It’s nice to hear what you did well, as well as to share the things that maybe need some improvement.

After that, we ask that people include the checkboxes. Those checkboxes were entered into our Excel sheet, and those helped us to create our Pareto. Top concerns were tracked on our DMS board. At our DMS, each observer was asked to share, again, was safe conditions observed and the unsafe conditions. If there was something that was really easy, we said, “Just do something right away.” Don’t wait. Take care of it in the moment. Of there was more action required, we established a process for that.

So next I’ll share with you what that process looks like. The process, as mentioned, was if it’s easy, just do something right away. So you might ask, “Okay, what falls into this task. What’s something easy?” We’ll give you an example. Perfect example is when we first started this, we had a team that was using a broken broom. Literally, the broom was splintered, and they held on to it. Here, we have really high end equipment, and we’re using broken rooms, right? So essentially, that was a throw it in the garbage, go buy a new one.

The definition we gave people was, these tasks shouldn’t take more than 20 or 30 minutes. Submit a maintenance ticket, sweep the floor, something very simple. If it was gonna take longer, then we said, “Okay, let’s use our Safety Action Team, and let’s establish the process for that.” So those would be more midterm follow up items that they would enter into our Excel spreadsheet. Finally, we sort of had a category that said, “Well, if it’s really going to be longer term, we’ll assign those tour lead operators.” We already had established lead operators for each piece of equipment. Therefore, if they’re much bigger, well, we’ll give them to them, and we’ll establish that as an actual project. So that has worked very well for us.

Finally, the results. In 2018, when we started our program, when we rolled this out in May of 2018, our team completed over 200 safety observations and result 86 safety improvements directly, so those just do something. Another 68 were captured as midterm follow up actions, and our safety action team completed six midterm follow ups, which resolved an additional 20 of the observed concerns. So left us with about 60 that we hadn’t resolved yet. In 2019, the team reduced the daily observations. We went from five days a week down to two days a week. However, we still were able to implement 57 improvements directly. Team just took action, and applied them right away.

As I mentioned, we introduced our new Safety Action Team format, where we would meet once a week on Friday, one hour each Friday until the final Friday of the month. Then, the final of the Friday of the month was following the Kaizen format. So the first time we’d met, we’d go out and do a gumbo. We’ve captured new ideas or anything we observed. Then, we do planning. That allowed us to really order supplies, prepare. As you can see, the results are fairly transformational before and after. Having such a cross functional group, we found we’re able to do a lot. We introduced new guarding on several pieces of equipment. You can see we put in sound insulation in one of the rooms, and actually removed a redundant piece of equipment that we hadn’t used in some time. So by using this format really allowed us to make significant changes.

This year in 2020 before the pandemic, we had actually completed another 24 observations and three full day events. Once the pandemic hit, our business was actually deemed essential as we’re part of the pulp and paper process, which helps the toilet paper and masks. So we never closed our operations. That meant that we went into quick pivot mode in implementing policies and procedures and protocols to maintain safe distance and social distance where we worked.

Now that we’ve been working for some time, there’s another actual improvement that’s occurred that’s been driven really primarily by my team, and that the team has begun to court or video record to help facilitate safety training. We’ve had team members who have recorded themselves walking through the lab showing everyone where our battery safety should be, where our fire extinguishers, where are all our fire alarms, where’s the safety cans that we would put a battery into, and all the egress that people need to know about. Doing this [unintelligible] that same team member identified, we had an opportunity to put in new safety fire alarms, and reach out directly to the vendor and coordinating to did all that work because they knew they could.

Additionally, we had another person do a training on a new acid edge procedure because we’ve had several new team members. So they video recorded themselves doing both the procedure as well as our chemical hygiene plan, so we could send that video recording out, and people could watch it and get that training, but also be doing that socially distant.

So that’s what I have for you today. Thank you for letting me share this topic with you. I hope you can see how my team has benefited and our culture has improved. Having put in this effort before the pandemic, I believe that it really made us more resilient throughout this global crisis, and allowed us to continue to be safe in the building working together.

I actually had one team member tell me during the pandemic that she was very comfortable at work because she trusted her fellow team members. She knew that they were going to follow good protocols, and trust that no one would come to work if they were not feeling well. So this really built a culture of trust in one another. Hopefully, you find this helpful. Thank you for listening. Please feel free to leave questions and comments below. Thanks again.

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