Podcast #113 – Aubrey Daniels, PhD, “Safe by Accident?”


Episode #113 is a discussion with Aubrey Daniels, PhD, the founder and chairman of his firm Aubrey Daniels International. Today, we are talking about his most recent book titled Safe By Accident?, a book I really enjoyed.

So I was happy to speak with him about creating an effective safety culture in an organization – what doesn't work and what does work? Why do organizations try to blame and punish their way to safety? What's a better alternative?

Lean thinkers and students of Dr. Deming will recognize a lot of the ideas here, I think. Please take a listen and check out his book…

To point others to this episode, use the simple URL:  www.leanblog.org/113.

Disclosure: I was provided a free copy of the book for review by the publisher.

For earlier episodes, visit the main Podcast page, which includes information on how to subscribe via RSS or via Apple Podcasts.

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Automated Transcript (May Contain Defects):

Announcer (1m 31s):
Welcome to the Lean Blog Podcast. visit our website at www.Leanblog.Org. Now, here's your host, Mark Graban.

Mark Graban (1m 43s):
Hi. welcome to the podcast, episode 113 for February 21st, 2011. My guest today is Aubrey Daniels PhD. He is the Foundry and chairman of Aubrey Daniels International. And he is the world's foremost authority on applying the scientifically proven laws of human behavior to the workplace. For more than 30 years, Aubrey and his colleagues have helped the world's leading organizations employ the timeless principles of behavioral science to re-energize the workplace, optimize performance, and achieve lasting results. Aubrey is the author of five bestselling books, including Bringing Out The Best In People: How to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, and most recently, the book we're talking about today called Safe by Accident, Take the Luck Out of Safety Leadership Practices to Build a Sustainable Safety Culture.

Mark Graban (2m 32s):
And the co-author is Judy Agnew. So in today's discussion, I think Lean Thinkers and students of Dr. Deming both will recognize a lot of the ideas that we'll talk about and that are in the book, including the idea that blaming and punishing individuals does not improve safety in an organization, and that managers have to proactively manage the process rather than just reacting to specific safety incidents. So you can find notes on this post and comment If. you go to Leanblog dot Org slash one 13 and you can find all past episodes at Lean podcast dot Org. Aubrey, I want to Thank you for taking time to join us today on the podcast.

Mark Graban (3m 12s):
Thanks for being here.

Aubrey Daniels (3m 13s):
It's my pleasure.

Mark Graban (3m 15s):
Now, Aubrey, can you start by introducing yourself to the listeners about your academic and professional background studying human behavior in organizations, how it led you to writing this book?

Aubrey Daniels (3m 27s):
Well, I began my work and after being at the University of Florida where I got a PhD in clinical psychology and first started working in clinical area in mental health and gradually moved into consulting. 'cause I had to make a living and state salaries didn't cause you to make a very good living. First started in the area of, did some work in education and then in business. My first exposure was basically helping firms deal with issues of absenteeism, turnover back in the seventies.

Aubrey Daniels (4m 8s):
I've been doing this a long time. I I've probably been involved in this more or less full time for about the last 45 years. So I'm not a newcomer to the field by any stretch, but I I, we got into safety really as a result of work we were doing where we were trying to help companies improve production quality and cost and safety would always be involved in that process. And one of the things that you discover, like many things that organizations do is that the practices that they use are not always scientifically based.

Aubrey Daniels (4m 52s):
They come from more from experience than, you know, what they know from a scientific perspective. And a lot of things seem to make sense at one level, but you know, don't really hold up to the scientific scrutiny. So all the books that I've written are from the standpoint of behavioral psychology, behavior analysis is the academic field supporting this and where most of the research is done. So I've come to safety, you know, through that particular, down that particular road. And, and now we're, we're highly, highly involved.

Aubrey Daniels (5m 32s):
Not, we do more than safety, but safety's a big part of our work.

Mark Graban (5m 36s):
Okay. And you know, the title of the book, Safe by Accident and, you know, implies certain things, and you write about this early in the book, the idea that good results don't necessarily mean that there's the right process and the right culture for safety in place. That, that maybe companies are just being lucky for a period of time. Is that fair to say?

Aubrey Daniels (5m 57s):
Right, exactly. You know, it's like, I guess most people are aware by now that the day the BP rig exploded, they were celebrating seven years without a lost time accident. So, you know, you gotta figure something was going on for seven years that wasn't exactly like it was supposed to be. And after seven years, he caught up with 'em. And this is a problem. You know, I I I basically said that any organization, the better you get at what you do, the more at risk you become because you're not paying attention to behavior and, and people are doing things that are unsafe and unsafe. Although each individual act has a low probability when you accumulate them, it, you know, produces a certainty of some kind of disaster.

Aubrey Daniels (6m 44s):
And we're seeing that happen all over the place.

Mark Graban (6m 46s):
Now, in the case of the BP accident in, in your research here, is it fair to say that with that seven years track record, it wasn't just one day's bad practice or one day's unlucky occurrence that led to this, that there was kind of an an ongoing set of practices that would've given you pause even though the results were still looking good, as you said?

Aubrey Daniels (7m 11s):
Absolutely. Absolutely. In other words, many things that go on every day that are, are unsafe, but in and of themselves have a low probability of producing an accident. And, you know, If, you were, if you've been on a rig, you know, from a safety perspective, I think you might have seen many of these things happening. And and they would say, well, nope, don't worry about that. We'll let that go at this time, but don't do it again next time. Do it right. That that's sort of a culture. I, you know, I wasn't there, So I don't know that, that that's what happened. But I'm, I'm, I've seen lots and lots of places where that is, is in fact what happens.

Mark Graban (7m 49s):
Sure. Now, in, in the book, you talk about a number of fairly common practices. I I think you categorize them as, you know, actions and things that companies do that actually don't improve safety. One of those is the idea of punishing people after the fact. So can you talk about that, you know, why, why do companies think that that would work and and why does punishing people likely create more harm than good?

Aubrey Daniels (8m 16s):
Well, it, it, it's a, it's a strange thing. But we, we run across this all the time, that whenever there's an accident, management feels that they need to do something. And punishing seems to be the thing that they jump to in know, you can demonstrate to your boss, you can tell somebody, you know, I chewed 'em out, I read a right act, you know, I fired somebody, I did these things. In reality, what that does is it doesn't really cause people to be safer. What it does is cause people not to report accidents or incidents. You, you don't wanna report near misses.

Aubrey Daniels (8m 56s):
You don't, in some cases don't even wanna report something that may reflect badly on what somebody else has done because you know the negative consequences of doing that. You see punishment, If, you think about punishment. What it does is physically, it, it shortens muscle fibers. And what that does physically is to cause you to be less reactive. You know, you, you, you tensor. So from a physical standpoint, you're not as safe as you would be if you're more relaxed. And certainly it has a psychological effect as well.

Mark Graban (9m 34s):
Is there a time, I mean, from what you've found, you know, I know we're talking generally a time where punish might, might be appropriate. I mean, if you're looking at a situation that's like, you know, a willful violation of a practice, I mean there there's maybe still some gray area involved here. I mean, what, what are some, is there ever a time where punishment might be appropriate? Could you maybe give us an example?

Aubrey Daniels (9m 57s):
Well, I've always had a problem with willful violations in terms of how you determined if something was willful or what's the difference between willful and just ignorant. You know, you just didn't know any better. But you know, somebody that does something that you would consider deliberate, you know, much like, you know, you see a child do something deliberately to fire the parent. My my take on that is you need to fire 'em. You know, in other words, if if they're to use our lingo, if they're reinforced, the history is such that that is reinforcing to them to, to demonstrate some dissatisfaction with something, you know, by sabotage or something else, then you need to get rid of 'em.

Aubrey Daniels (10m 42s):
But apart from that and, and, and something where somebody is, you know, accidentally moving into harm's way where you yell at them to cause 'em to stop doing something, I, I can't think of many places where we would, we would use punishment. Not, not punishment. I, I'm talking, when I use punishment, I'm talking about punishment for doing something unsafely. Right. Because, because what happens is when you have an accident, I mean, you're getting consequences that will reduce the probability. You'll do that again. So what, what does management add to that?

Mark Graban (11m 15s):
So I mean, sort of the idea of like, If, you touch a hot stove, you tend to learn touching hot stoves or a bad thing, right?

Aubrey Daniels (11m 22s):
Yeah. Nobody needs to punish you after that. You know, you know, you know, when you, remember when you did that as a child, your, your parents would say, see, see, I told you, you don't have to, they don't have to jump on you and, and, and chastise you for it. They just say, well, don't do that again. It'll hurt you. Yeah. And so, so the, the whole idea is to cause people, if they have an accident to walk, to learn how to, to change that behavior so that they won't do it again in the future. So, and punishment Yeah. Never does

Mark Graban (11m 49s):
That. Yeah. And so in lieu of punishment, so you talk about the desire, you know, for managers to say, well, you know, we, we did something. We're taking action in, in the book, you talk about things that, that companies can do, managers can do that maybe actually lead to problem solving and, and prevention. What, what are some i'll alternatives to that punishment route? If you, if you've gotta go do something, then

Aubrey Daniels (12m 15s):
Well, the, the, the, the best way to do that, of course is to develop a culture that's rich in positive reinforcement. And that is that, that we don't wait until somebody does something wrong to act, to spring into action. And this is what you see in safety all the time. It's a reactive kind of a system, not a proactive system. Although many companies do have things they do proactively. You know, management seems to, to come to life more when there's been an accident, when they do, you know, in terms of day-to-day activity. So what we wanna do is that we want to make sure that when people are doing things safely, when they're going to the trouble to go through all the steps or, or process and procedures that we've put in place, that we, we tend to track that in some way to let them know how well we're doing.

Aubrey Daniels (13m 3s):
We want to, to think of a safe environment as one where people are doing things safely a hundred percent of the time. So we need, we need a way to track that. And that involves getting out and observing people while they're working and seeing how, how safely they perform their activities. And, we can track that and then we can celebrate it And, we can provide positive reinforcement for it. And once you do that, you find that we can develop habits in people where, where the, the safe thing is a more difficult thing to do, but they take some sense of pride in doing it. And that only comes from a history of reinforcement, positive reinforcement.

Mark Graban (13m 47s):
And when you're looking for positive things, is it fair to say that you're looking for positive practices? Not just positive outcomes as, as, as in, you know, zero injuries, you're, you're looking for the practices that would lead to continuation of zero injuries. Is that right?

Aubrey Daniels (14m 2s):
Yes, that's exactly right. And this, what this means is, you know, you, you've got to look at behavior. The, the incident rates really tell you what happened. And what we know about change behavior is delayed consequences have little effect on it. And so a a an incident rate is a poor measure of how well somebody is in fact doing their work in a safe manner because you can't see behavior looking at a number on a chart. So we very much focus on what people are actually doing. Are they lifting something the way they're, they've talked to standing away from the line of fire, or, you know, all of these sorts of things are what we wanna see when we go out.

Aubrey Daniels (14m 43s):
And the numbers on a chart will never tell you any of those things, you know, unless the number, unless the number's actually tracking a behavior.

Mark Graban (14m 51s):
Ah, okay. Would, would that include, I don't know, like percentage If you look at wearing, you know, personal protective equipment? I mean, would would that be, is that a practice that you're just looking to observe for or might you measure

Aubrey Daniels (15m 5s):
Absolutely. Yeah. You know, our, you know, the using p p e, you know, when you go out, you know, what, what does it look like? Do people wear their glasses? Do they have proper footwear, you know, headwear, whatever, you know, but those are things that, that we look for actual things that happen.

Mark Graban (15m 21s):
Now, one of the things that people, organizations like to do, and, and, and they would think maybe this is positive reinforcement, is the idea of incentives. And I, I think anyone, any of my listeners that are familiar with the teachings of Dr. Deming would know his stories about, you know, the dysfunctions that come from, you know, having incentives around zero injuries that people started hiding their injuries just so they could Yeah. Catch the bonus. And, and you write about this in your book, can you talk about what some of the problems are with trying to use incentive programs, incentive payments Yeah. For improving safety?

Aubrey Daniels (15m 55s):
Well, see, here's the problem. Money or incentives are, are powerful reinforcers can be, and the problem is because they're so desirable by most people, people will do whatever they have to do to get it. And most systems that we see are designed in such a way that you don't have to do things in the proper way to get the incentive. In other words, you could, you could not wear your personal protective equipment and not have an accident. So If, you, If you put an incentive on not having accidents that particular day, then you would get it.

Aubrey Daniels (16m 38s):
This is the thing, like something like safety bingo, which I, I just, I I don't understand why companies still buy things like this. Safety bingo is, is where, you know, you, you pull a number every day, you don't have that, the company doesn't report an accident. Yeah. You know, you get a B or something, whatever. And, and so you end up giving away money, but it has nothing to do with safety, nothing. Because we're looking at results, not behaviors. And the whole thing about behavior based safety, and a lot of people are calling what they do, behavior based safety, but you have to be looking at behavior, you have to have people looking at behavior. And that's where the incentive would go. I mean, I wouldn't have a problem with people paying people to do things in a safe way, you know, out on the floor.

Aubrey Daniels (17m 21s):
But, but when you, when you pull that back from the actual behavioral content of it, then that's where you begin to have a problem. So it's not that money, money is not something that's desirable or something that could be used, but it's problematic to use it.

Mark Graban (17m 40s):
One of the final things, one of the final things I'd like to touch on here, you know, when we have a few minutes left, is, is something we've talked about on this podcast and on my Blog, is the idea of using checklists Um-huh in healthcare, the practice from aviation Dr. Gawande's book, you know, was pretty popular and this thing a lot of hospitals are experimenting with. Can you, yeah. Can you talk about the idea of the cultural aspects that are required that maybe, you know, just the checklist itself being present in some sort of maybe superficial way isn't enough to really prevent errors?

Aubrey Daniels (18m 15s):
Right. And you know, I wrote a little something about that I think on my Blog, but you know, I think Tyler, somebody like a checklist never saved a life. People save lives and doctors and nurses and, you know, healthcare people are the ones that do that. And I've been around hospitals long enough to know that many of 'em are still very authoritarian. And you know, you don't want to, you don't wanna correct a physician and, and you may put something on a checklist that didn't even happen, you know, because you don't wanna get in trouble yourself. And so it's the culture that goes on around that, that determines how effective those things are. And If, you don't have a positive reinforcement culture, you know, in terms of your interactions with the team that's using the checklist, then it becomes a perfunctory thing and often doesn't reflect reality and that that's the real problem.

Aubrey Daniels (19m 8s):
I think checklists are very helpful in terms of making sure that you didn't miss something or that you followed the proper proper steps. But, but whether you're reinforced or punished for that, those activities, you know, end up determining the value of the checklist. And I, I've just seen too many environments that, and, and many of 'em in the healthcare industry, you know, where the doctor's king and you wouldn't do anything to display, to display concern about what he's doing or she's doing.

Mark Graban (19m 47s):

Aubrey Daniels (19m 47s):
And so you, and there was a checklist if If you, If, you see the doctor doing something wrong, you're supposed to say, doctor, wait, you know, and I just, I I know a lot of places, but that wouldn't happen. That just wouldn't happen. Yeah. And so if the doctor or the, the the head of the team does not understand positive reinforcement more than just some superficial kind of an activity, then I think you don't get the value out of those things that you could.

Mark Graban (20m 12s):
I, I, I'm certainly not an expert on the aviation safety piece. I have a, a friend here in Texas who's a pilot and, and does some of this training with hospitals. And I, I know from talking to him, they put quite a bit of emphasis as, as they had in the av industry, aviation industry of trying to break down some of that extremely hierarchical environment that, that people could speak up.

Aubrey Daniels (20m 32s):
Yes. Well, you know, it exists in their, in the airline industry too. You know, the captain is, the captain is the, is the person. And you get a, a junior officer in there, they're unlikely to sometimes to question him as well. And so it's not, not just in the healthcare industry that you have this, I, we write in the book a little bit about some airline problems with that.

Mark Graban (20m 56s):
So you think that mindset is still, I mean, it is probably impossible to completely drum that out of an industry. I mean, this is, you know, you've got people involved, And, we're complex creatures, right? There's, there's still some of that that exists you think?

Aubrey Daniels (21m 9s):
I, I, I think, I think it's changing I think you, the world is changing in that regard. I think the world, you know, if I can speak of the world is, you know, seeing that it is just not a good way to manage any activity in a, a way that'll keep everybody competitive and that that negative consequences, you know, really don't add much to the way the business runs. You know, sort of like in some industries we've talked about, well, in order for things to change, somebody's gonna have to die. And I think that a lot of old line pilots or, or doctors or that they're gonna have to, you know, before totally eliminated, you know, they're gonna have to retire.

Mark Graban (21m 47s):
Now, when you talk about positive reinforcement, I I know you've written previous books on that topic, and so maybe back just one final thing on, on the checklists, when you talk about focusing on process, reinforcing when you see people doing the, the, the right thing. I I, I would presume, or maybe you can fill in some more detail around this, that if your hospital was using the checklist in the, or the worst thing you could do would be to just react after the fact when there was some sort of error because somebody wasn't following the checklist. Right. That, how, how would you apply those principles of positive reinforcement to a setting like that?

Aubrey Daniels (22m 23s):
Well, certainly one thing would be that the team would acknowledge how they're doing it, right? You know, it's, it's, it's not unlike, it's not foreign to us, you know, to think about, you know, and you see, you see athletes all the time, you know, giving people high fives when they've completed a move or, or done something. Well, and it's not unlike that in a, in a, in the or you would expect that people would acknowledge that, hey, that was right on. It was just on time. It was done exactly the right way. And then the other way is just to track the results of the checklist. In other words, let's see if we can, you know, get this to a hundred percent, let's see how long we can keep it at a hundred percent And. we can have an opportunity to celebrate, you know, these kind of accomplishments.

Aubrey Daniels (23m 4s):
But they're all tied directly to people doing the right things in the right way at the right time.

Mark Graban (23m 10s):
Well, Aubrey that, that's great stuff. And I, and I've certainly appreciated having the chance to read your book Safe by Accident. I certainly encourage the listeners to go find that on Amazon or their favorite bookstore. And your website, Aubrey, it's Aubrey Daniels dot com, is that right?

Aubrey Daniels (23m 25s):
That that's it, it's real easy. Yeah. Aubrey Daniels dot com and I, I have, i I have a Blog Aubrey Daniels Blog dot com If, you wanna come to the reads on my nonsense. That'd be good too.

Mark Graban (23m 36s):
Okay, well good. I'll encourage everyone to check that out and take a look at what you and your consulting group are doing over there. So, Aubrey, I want to Thank you. It was a pleasure to talk to you and wanna Thank you for writing this book and sharing a little bit about that book with us today.

Aubrey Daniels (23m 51s):
I certainly appreciate you and I, I I enjoyed talking to you very much.

Mark Graban (23m 54s):
Thank you,

Aubrey Daniels (23m 55s):
Thank you.

Announcer (23m 57s):
Thanks for listening. This has been the Leanblog podcast for Lean news and commentary updated daily visit www.Leanblog.Org.

Mark Graban (24m 24s):
Hey podcast listeners, I'm excited to announce the release of the audiobook version of my new book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. Listen and dive in the powerful insights on fostering growth through Mistakes. Whether you're a leader, entrepreneur, or just trying to get better at learning from Mistakes, this audio book is for you. Get it now on Audible, Amazon and Apple books. Visit Mistakesbook.com for more info.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.



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