The Safety Iceberg: Just 10% of workplace safety issues are obvious. Hear expert Rosa Carrillo explain why 90% of safety problems lurk below the waterline due to cultural lack of awareness.
Ms. Carrillo is a safety consultant, speaker, author and MSOD. She is a bilingual expert in Transformational Leadership for environment, and safety and health. She discusses this safety iceberg with host Dan Clark in this podcast.
Rosa is especially experienced in high-hazard industries, and excels in coaching organizations where trust is low and communication is poor. She is the president of Carrillo and Assoc. of Long Beach, CA.
Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast for more info, including links and transcripts.
Rosa Carrillo: Realize that it’s going to take you a while to dive below the iceberg down where you need to build that confidence, and trust and communication. Don’t lose faith.
Rosa: This is Rosa Carrillo, President of Carrillo and Associates.
Dan: 10% of safety issues are obvious to us, but do 90% lurk below the surface? Hello, I’m Dan Clark, and to enlighten us about this is Rosa Carrillo, President of Carrillo and Associates in Long Beach, California. Rosa is a bilingual expert in Transformational Leadership for environment, safety and health, especially in high-hazard industries. She excels in coaching organizations where trust is low and communication is poor. She comes in and takes over. Hello Rosa!
Rosa: Hello, I like that. Taking over. Alright!
Dan: So, you’re one of the originals in safety culture. You taught and, I understand still teach, leaders at the US regulatory agencies?
Rosa: Yes, yes. I still have a relationship because they are deeply into nuclear safety culture so we’ve been learning together.
Rosa: They have a very deep belief that most of the behavior is driven by cultural expectations. And, of course, culture is a very intangible and difficult thing to understand. So we all talk about how important safety culture is, but, you know, how do you manage it, how dow you influence it as a leader? And then, if you’re a regulator, how can you find out what’s really going on and going past the tip of the iceberg, right?
So I really focus on is helping people understand the nature of culture and how, ah, difficult it is to really find out what’s going on. And that leads you to what you said before, is that trust is fundamental to that, right? Because you’re not going to tell me what’s really on your mind or what’s really going on unless you trust me to cover your back.
Dan: You bring in the human element.
Rosa: Yes, I would say very much that human element. Is there any other element?
Dan: Well, I suppose not.
Dan: Let’s march on to The Safety Iceberg. I don’t think that a lot of managers realize that only 10% of the safety issues are apparent and the other 90% are below the surface. Can you expand on that please?
Rosa: Sure I will. And you’re calling it the safety iceberg but it’s really the culture iceberg, which my field of study and research is in organizational development. And the idea of the culture iceberg came about way back in 1976. That’s when it was first introduced by Ed Hall. Because when you go out to visit a foreign country, you can see the obvious things like the language, the way people dress, the food, right?It’s very easy to identify those things but the way you get in trouble, if you’re living in a foreign country, is not knowing the expectations—the cultural expectations—that people are taught through their parents and the people around them.
It was in the late 80s I was working with Stephen Simon, and he had come up with the idea of applying the concept of culture to safety. And I was studying OD, and I said “Well, you know what? We could just take this cultural iceberg and apply it to what’s going on in safety.” Because managers and safety professionals tend to focus on the visible aspects which are, of course, you know, “How safe is the equipment? Are we mitigating the hazards?” and “What are the regulations? Are we following the regulations?”
So those are all very concrete and tangible and when we found out that those things really weren’t affecting the numbers the way that we wanted them to, we then got into behavior based safety and began measuring behavior. Again, because that’s very concrete.
So, what happens, because we’re all being measured all of the time, and were professionally required to deliver measurable goals and measurable progress, then we tend to focus all of our solutions on the tactical side, the technical side. And even behavior observation programs fail because we’re only focusing on the behavior and not really on the things below the iceberg that really drive people’s decisions on how they are going to behave.
And what’s below the waterline that really drives behavior? Number one is our relationships. The way people treat each other. Are they respectful? Do they collaborate? “Does my manager really appreciate what I bring to the workplace? Does he or she listen to me or implement my ideas?”
Based on those relationships in the way that we interact in the workplace, different beliefs, of course there’s the whole emotional concept that begins to take place. If you go into a workplace that’s having a lot of accidents you’re probably going to find some pretty bad relationships, frustration, just looking forward to the end of the day because they don’t enjoy their work. And all of those are things that are going on below the iceberg and affecting your accident rate.
Dan: So, if your boss doesn’t have a good relationship with you it’s probably because they don’t even realize that they’re supposed to have a relationship?
Rosa: Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. Because we can’t really blame it on the managers. When you go to MBA school, I don’t think they have a course on relationship building. Have you ever heard of one?
Dan: That’s always done after class, I thought.
Rosa: (laughs) Yeah, well at home, right?
Rosa: That’s where we learn about relationships and, of course, kindergarten was a good place. But, all kidding aside, managers are not taught the importance that the relationship plays and how they’re getting results. They’re taught all about how to organize the work. How to structure it. How to measure it. How to follow-up. They’re taught all the technical aspects, the financial aspects of it. But they’re not taught about how important it is to build those trust relationships and open communication. To the point where supervisors often say to me “Rosa, I, I don’t want to be friends with my employees because that would create a conflict of interest.”
And I say, “Well, it’s not about being friends with someone or going out to lunch and having confidential conversations.” When we talk about the importance of relationship, and a positive relationship, it’s about showing respect for the other person. Asking questions so that you really understand what they’re doing and how they’re contributing to the work.
I would say, in most organizations where I go in, it’s rare to find an employee that will say “My manager really understands how I contribute to the success of this organization.”
Dan: This is a sports analogy but Rick Pitino, basketball coach, always said that he has a great relationship with his college players because he talks with each one of them and says “I care about you. I want to know about you. I really am truly concerned about your future.” Maybe the job situation is similar.
Rosa: Yes, it is. We tend to think of ourselves as very mature, and people often tell me “Rosa, I don’t need recognition because I’m intrinsically motivated.” Right?
But brain research really contradicts that. They’ve done these experiments where a person—you know, you’re all hooked. Your brain is all hooked up to these monitoring devices—and a person is doing a computer program and the computer will say “good job.” You know, that little mechanical voice “good job!” And the brain completely lights up the monitor.
We are so happy, and to be recognized and to hear that we’re making a contribution even if we don’t even know it ourselves. I know that some supervisors say “If I try to approach someone and give them a compliment they just rebuff me.” But that doesn’t mean it didn’t go in, into their heart, and help strengthen that relationship. So that when you need to have a tough conversation, or you need to have somebody put in extra effort, you at least have that avenue open of communication.
Dan: Employee Engagement is so much a part of this too, and I understand that there’s a 70% disengagement in a recent Gallup poll. Tell us more about that. It just sounds like a horrible statistic.
Rosa: It does. It sounds pretty depressing, doesn’t it? Yeah, the Gallup poll numbers have been pretty consistent over the years. There’s disengagement, and then there’s not being engaged, which is two very different things.
Disengagement is when, basically, an employee is maybe even sabotaging. Actively trying not to contribute to the organization. And I think when an employee is not engaged—which is what they mean by 70% that employees are not engaged—it means that they are not feeling like their purpose or a sense of fulfillment from the work that they’re doing.
What the Gallup studies have shown is that when employees do feel a sense of connection with their purpose and values to what they’re doing in the organization. That’s when the magic happens, right? You really start making your numbers and even exceeding the expectations because people are personally motivated.
So it works for safety as well. You know, when you go into a plant that’s a stellar performer, those employees feel that they own the safety.
Dan: And a paycheck isn’t the only motivator, right? Sometimes compliments from managers can make a difference.
Rosa: Yes, and we always are careful to say that, of course, the money that people make is very important because they’re going to use it to support their families and achieve their personal aims. So we’re not saying that that’s not important. But, all of the studies show that it is not a motivator. Right?
Rosa: So, you can be earning a really good, strong salary, but if your immediate supervisor doesn’t value your contribution, or doesn’t respect you, or doesn’t actually implement your ideas, you’re probably going to leave the organization. That’s what the Gallup poll shows.
Dan: And also, the safety portion of this. There’s a huge price in disengagement. Explain that.
Rosa: Well, sure. I mean, actually, the Gallup organization has a lot of statistics, and I don’t have them at the front of my brain right now. But it’s easy to Google the Gallup organization and look at all their numbers. They have a lot linking engagement to shareholder price. There’s very specific case histories relating to safety performance, because if you think of engagement being very similar to empowerment, it’s a very powerful motivator.
And you really cannot be out on the floor—as a supervisor or manager—you can’t be out on the floor making sure people are following procedure. That’s an impossible task. You really have to rely on, first of all, people watching for themselves personally. But also, if I forget to do something that my coworker’s going to pull my coat to it. And I’m going to say “Thank you” as opposed to giving them a black eye over it.
Dan: That’s what we call teamwork, right?
Rosa: Exactly, exactly. You have my back, I have your back and we can keep each other safe.
Dan: Well, let’s talk about the other couple of issues that are under the surface in this iceberg. The Quality of Information Exchange. Can explain that?
Rosa: Yes. A lot of times when I have gone to where there’s been a serious accident or fatality, after you look at all of the mechanical failures or the procedural failures, the most compelling root cause was lack of trust and open communication. And so I pushed on that, and I said “Well, what are you talking about?” And they said “Well, we actually tried to warn management about this equipment so many times. But they’re not listening until somebody got killed.”
And that’s pretty tragic. All the information is there, but it wasn’t able to be heard, or listened to, or surface. And that’s all stuff taking place beneath the iceberg because hidden information is down there, right?Vital, hidden information is down there. So, unless you’re a pretty savvy supervisor or manager, and know this stuff is there, and you have to actively encourage people to speak up and actually reward them. Treat them well. Thank them for speaking up. It may even feel like really critical or that they’re criticizing, right? But, actually if that information doesn’t come up from below the iceberg to the surface, we can’t fix problems before they turn into a tragedy.
Dan: And especially something like that, where the employee is notifying their manager. That information is popping up above the surface, but it’s being pushed back down or allowed to float back down below. That, I mean, that’s just criminal, really. Especially when lives are involved.
Rosa: Oh, absolutely. And, of course, the most dramatic public example of that was for the “O” rings with the Challenger incident. A group of engineers struggled very, very hard to prevent that launch from taking place. And those were all cultural factors that drove that information back down below the surface.
Dan: “Go Fever” doesn’t exist just of NASA.
Rosa: Oh, dear. We had the BP oil incident, and before that the Texas refinery explosion. So we, we can point to the “O” ring because it’s so well-documented. So, it’s a great case history to learn from.
Dan: And a fourth thing that is below the surface, People’s Feelings And Emotions. That, kind of, relates to relationships, but it might be a little bit different. Please explain.
Rosa: Well, yeah. The important thing is, we’re trained very early-on to disregard those. “Suck it up, get over it.” “You have to be logical to be heard.” Managers get trained very heavily on the use of logic and facts.
But, the thing is—and I was doing a whole bunch of focus groups yesterday and I was encouraging people. I said “Please don’t let the lack of facts hold you back.”
Rosa: (laughs) Because if you feel, or perceive, that management doesn’t care about you, then that’s the reality, right? Because that’s the perception and that’s the feeling, so you have to allow people to express those emotions.
Rosa: Sometimes—I’ve seen it so many times—in conflict mediation between management and, and unions, for example, where the union has been allowed to express their frustrations and after that they were able to have an open conversation. So don’t push the emotions down. Let them surface. Listen to them. And then you’ll see that you’re able to then get to the fact level and problem solving level.
Dan: Well, that is excellent advice, Rosa, and we thank you. And we’re coming to the end of our time together here. Do you have any final thoughts about workplace safety?
Rosa: Yes. The safety professionals, and management, we’re all trained to look at the tip of the iceberg. And there’s so much cultural pressure on us to develop measurable strategies, measurable statistics. If our numbers aren’t going down right away then we stop the program, and we change the program, and we end up with a whole bunch of very frustrated employees, you know, telling us about the flavor-of-the-month, right?
So, I would say that take a long-term view. Realize that it’s going to take you a while to dive below the iceberg down where you need to build that confidence, and trust and communication. Don’t lose faith and eventually you’ll see those numbers turn around.
Dan: Well, fantastic. Thank you very much, Rosa
Rosa: Well, thank you for the opportunity.
Dan: Our guest has been Rosa Carrillo, President of Carrillo and Associates in Long Beach, California. Her website is CarrilloConsultants.com. That’s C A R R I L L O consultants.com. And thanks again to Rosa for helping us out today. I’m Dan Clark.
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