Organizational Design for Safety: What Works

I was recently in a conversation with a peer in our field who I greatly respect. We were discussing the most effective organizational design in large, multi-site, manufacturing enterprises to maximize the EHS performance. He was considering if the current design may not be capable of the performance aspired to by the organization. After thinking more about the conversation, I thought it might be interesting to others. I have posted a general version of it below.

The question was:

I would like to add your insight and experience to my own on this issue. My employer has EHS teams set up in a decentralized model (each local EHS team reports up to the plant manager for that facility). The risk management team is charged to lead the corporate oversight of EHS, and are responsible for developing EHS strategic initiatives for the sites to implement and execute. My experience has shown that a “center of excellence” model where all EHS reports up to an executive leader with a safety or organizational development background, maintaining operations is a key partner, delivers more consistent results relative to overall organizational expectations. I am considering if having local operations own the safety assurance function creates a potential conflict of interest that could result in poor decisions regarding safety. What are your thoughts/experience?

My response was:

Regarding these two varying models of organizational reporting for safety, I have seen both work.

If the reporting responsibility for safety goes through operations, the success depends on the operations leader who also has safety accountability. If that person is committed to both safety and effective operations, and allows the safety team to function objectively, this can be a very successful organizational structure. This is because operations owns safety and thus the results. They have no other function to place blame on. Reward systems for the ops leadership must be aligned for this to be successful, for example bonus criteria should include safety performance as a key element. The great risk of course with operations is that they will value production at all costs over all other performance concerns.

Conversely, I have seen the structure of having safety come through a center of excellence not function because of a lack of understanding by the leaders of the center of excellence. Also, in that structure it is very easy for operations to blame safety failures on the outside safety organization. Having said that, the center of excellence model strength is that it immerses the safety professionals in an atmosphere of experts, and in my opinion, drives innovation and relieves undo concern by the safety professionals for production outcomes.

So my thoughts are that it really comes down to the individual leaders. Either model will succeed or fail based on the capabilities and commitments of the leaders and the culture of the organization. In fact, as I think about it further, management culture may be the chief determinant of deciding which structure is best for the organization. These are the factors that leaders at our level (enterprise leaders for the EHS Function) must use our knowledge, experience and organizational savvy to determine how to impact the EHS org design for maximum performance.

An additional discussion of centralized vs decentralized organizational design factors impacting EHS performance can be reviewed in the ASSP Journal, Professional Safety, in the article: Organizational Reporting Structure: Its Effect on SH&E Professionals, by Wanda D. Minnick.

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UP Steam Shop Tour: The Beauty and Art of Heavy Industry

Another outgrowth of my model railroad hobby is my life long interest in the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) 4000 class of steam locomotives. These are commonly known as the “Union Pacific Big Boys”. They were created in the American Locomotive Company (Alco) shops in 1941-1944 in a joint effort between the UP railroad technical staff and the Alco team. UP needed the massive locomotives to handle the increased war materiel and other goods travelling east over some of the steepest mountain grades from the west coast to support the European Theater of Operations (ETO) in the Second World War. These locomotives are among the largest ever created in the world and are recognized as the most successful by far. Some quick stats on these superstars of the transportation world:

  • Length: 139 feet, 10 inches
  • Weight: 1.2 million pounds
  • Tractive Effort: 135,375 pounds
  • Horsepower: Over 6,000
  • Top Speed: 80 mph
  • Dates of Operation: 1941 to 1959

The video below really gives you a feel for the size and power of this remarkable example of engineering design and functional excellence. Turn your sound up to get the full effect!

Big Boy Pulling out of Evanston WY in 2019 (Credit: Alexander Seeley)

In 1959 these locomotives were retired from service as the technology of diesel engines overtook steam in terms of cost and efficiency. In 2019 the Union Pacific railroad brought one back to life after over 50 years of retirement. No. 4014 completed a highly successful multi-year restoration and toured the west and mid-west parts of the country as an ambassador for UP.

I ran across this video of the UP Steam Shop where No. 4014 was overhauled and is maintained. The manager of the shop, Ed Dickens, gives a great tour of the shop and explains some of the equipment used to maintain this behemoth of American Industrial Might. You will see many pieces of equipment that are still in common use today in American manufacturing and have been part of my career as a safety professional. I especially appreciate his discussion about the esthetics and functionality of the original design of the Big Boy. He speaks of the art of the craftsmen who built it in 1941 and those that maintain it today. The art of craftsmanship is one of the things that drew me into the industrial safety world; the desire to be around people who can create such functional works of art.

Watch the tour to appreciate the beauty and art of heavy industry.

Are you hooked on this rail giant now? If so there is much more on the web about the 4014 and the 4000 class. UP made a film titled “Last of the Giants” in the 1950’s about them that has some great footage and information. This continues documenting the incredible industrial organization that UP developed at the height, and twilight, of steam superpower. It is on YouTube:

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Gaining Old School Skills for the EHS Profession

A holiday tradition in my family is the Christmas train layout under the tree. It started with the birth of my son 20 years ago now. Each year we add to the layout. Truth be told though, it’s more about me than my son. I was a model railroader growing up and spent many hours reading, learning and doing what it takes to build and maintain a large layout. So this year I had a lot of work to do to put the rolling stock in order for another year of service.

As I began working on the pieces I started thinking about how much I learned about the mechanical and electrical fields as a young model railroad enthusiast. That is my actual workbench above and I used every one of those tools (and more) during my work on the rolling stock. The locomotives run on direct current electricity, sent to the engine’s electrical motor through the tracks. The DC current is generated from a transformer that converts household line alternating current (120v). The speed (power output) of the locomotive is controlled through a rheostat connected to the transformer that regulates the level of DC current supplied to the rails. The electrical current is converted to mechanical energy by the electric motor via the gear train, in combination with the weight of the locomotive, transferred through the wheels to the rails, to create tractive force.

I have often thought how much of the knowledge I now use as an EHS Professional has it’s roots in my model railroad hobby. Certainly real railroads run on the same principles, as well as many other electro-mechanical systems such as overhead cranes, rolling mills and robotic equipment. The knowledge of the actual how-to work (and trouble shooting) on these real-life systems is built on my hands-on learning with the small scale systems on my layout. A typical model locomotive, such as my new Christmas themed Lionel Berkshire Steam Locomotive (in the picture above), has a large number of simple and complex parts that work together to make the system operate. Modern model trains have sophisticated digital control systems which bring yet another important knowledge set that is directly transferable to the industrial world. The Berkshire loco is actually controlled via a bluetooth connection to my phone! This task level knowledge allows me to easily relate the concepts, factors and people present in the modern workplace.

Below is a picture of the real life 95 ton GE switcher in service at the metals production site I was the Senior Safety Engineer for some years back. It was one of two locos in service with the other being a 70 ton unit that was otherwise identical. I was responsible for the rail safety program at this site along with many other subjects. The plant has roughly 3 miles of internal track that includes a 3 story trestle. Based on our discussion on tractive force above, which locomotive would be used to move cars up and down the trestle? (answer in the comments) (Photo credit:

I wonder though, how did current generations of students moving into our field obtain these basic skills of mechanical and electrical systems? I hear so much about how the younger generations are not interested in these older hobbies that don’t have the same virtual and social component like today’s videogames do. Although I can tell you, I used my imagination to feel immersed in the world I created on my layout and enjoyed sharing it with many of my friends in person. There are other ways to learn about electrical and mechanical systems but I am sure my genuine interest at a young age helped me more easily transition from the academic environment, with little hands-on experience, to the real world where such skills are needed to be credible with the floor personnel you are interfacing with to create a safe environment.

As we know, there is much more to our profession that being a good mechanic or instrument tech. We need to know about areas of knowledge such as industrial hygiene, management systems, regulatory requirements, psychology, human physiology, leadership and adult education, to name a few. These areas of knowledge are not learned with a hobby while growing up. But, I believe these higher-level knowledge sets have overshadowed the need to have the base knowledge of how the workplace equipment actually works. The reality is that the hazards often exist in the electro-mechanical domain. In a 2016 report from the National Association of Environmental Managers (NAEM) report on EHS & Sustainability Career Profiles and Skills for Success, they concluded that “mastering this technical knowledge is critical to developing the competency to do the job well ” (p. 28).

It’s never too late to learn mechanical and electrical skills. As we have discussed, picking up a hobby, even as an adult, can be a great source of learning. The internet offers ways to learn mechanical and electrical knowledge at low or no cost. As you gain the knowledge, it is important to find a way to accumulate the experience of using it, and as we have discussed, a hobby is a great way to do it. The real message in this post is this: never quit learning. Having a Life Long Learner Mentality is critical in today’s increasingly flexible and dynamic global economy

A final thought on this post is that there may be hope for future generations of hobbyists. I visited a hobby shop to get some parts the other day and was well pleased with the number of young boys and girls in the shop looking at model trains, planes and cars. Many weren’t just window shopping but were actually buying parts and asking the questions of true model enthusiasts. They are going to be a generation with great potential as EHS Pros!

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Sustainability of EHS: Educating the Next Generation of Safety Professionals

BCSP examCore Videos Cropped

I was recently asked by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) to assist them in the creation of video lectures regarding a wide range of subjects related to excellence in the practice of occupational safety and health in America’s workplaces. It is an honor to collaborate with the BCSP regarding this important project for the betterment of my professional colleagues and the effectiveness of the profession overall.  I was impressed with the technical capability (subject matter experts, videographers, and IT professionals) the BCSP has put together to give students a unique and enabling experience as they hone the knowledge and skills to live up the CSP designation they are pursuing.

The new educational system is the BCSP’s examCore™ on-line study aids. The system uses the latest advances in technology assisted learning to streamline the time and effort required to obtain one of the certifications from the BCSP.  It’s a long way from the pencil and paper exam I took to start my journey to the CSP!  Currently, the ASP prep course is in beta testing with the CSP, OHST and CHST in production.  You can learn more about examCore at:

Passing on the hard-won knowledge I have gained across a wide-range of topics related to EHS & Sustainability success is a pursuit I am passionate about.  It is partly why this website exists.  I was fortunate to have great professionals from the generations before me (Babyboomers and The Greatest Generation) who took me under their wings when I was a lowly grad student looking on in awe of their mastery of the profession.  I wanted so bad to be half as good as they were, and they were committed to see that I was twice a good as them!  While I am far from finished with my career, I am stepping in their shoes and working to support the next generation of EHS Pros as they stand on my generations shoulders to achieve greater mastery of the occupational world.   I think this work with the BCSP will be a big contributor.  I have been asked to assist them next with the CHST and OHST examCore™ modules as a subject matter expert and video lecturer. 

Looking forward to the next taping session!

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Business Rediscovers that It’s About More than Maximizing Shareholder Wealth

green-business-best-practices-bottomlineA leading business association just published an updated definition of the purpose of a corporation that represents a paradigm shift in corporate governance.  The Business Roundtable is an association of chief executive officers of America’s leading companies.  For over 30 years the organization has supported the primacy of the shareholder as the focal point of corporations.

“Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity. We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.”

It was drilled into us in business school that the purpose of a business was to increase shareholder value.  It always struck me as wrong headed.  That said, shareholders must remain a critical stakeholder for corporations since they are lending the capital… but not the only stakeholder of concern.  This theory was brought forward in the mid 1970’s from Ivy League business scholars and enthusiastically adopted by business leaders.  In fairness, as originally proposed, the theory posited that the focus on increasing shareholder value should be a long-term strategy (HBR, Reclaiming the Idea of Shareholder Value).  After nearly 30 years working in corporations that have built their strategies around this concept, I can tell you that this has to be one of the most destructive management philosophies. It has been so destructive, particularly in the societal area, because business leaders have practiced it exclusively as a short-term strategy.  American corporate leaders universally equated shareholder value with share price, thus driving nearsighted decisions focused on increasing share prices each quarter at the expense of all other aspects of the business.

The current social, political and natural environmental conditions have finally forced these leaders to accept that the short-term hyper focus on shareholder value is a failed strategy and no longer sustainable (an example from Aviation Week: Are A&D Companies Good Citizens Of The World?) (also see The National Review: Business Roundtable Pretends to Redefine What a Corporation Does.).  This is a pivotal development for our profession as we are uniquely capable of bringing significant value in not only the financial performance of the organization but also it’s impact on the social and natural environments. See my previous post: The Coming of Organizational Transparency: This is the Moment for OSH, for a deeper discussion of OSH’s potential impact.

Below is the full statement from the Business Roundtable.  It is refreshing to see these leaders take an enlightened view and provide inspired stewardship into the 21st century.

The Business Roundtable’s Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation

Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity. We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.

Businesses play a vital role in the economy by creating jobs, fostering innovation and providing essential goods and services. Businesses make and sell consumer products; manufacture equipment and vehicles; support the national defense; grow and produce food; provide health care; generate and deliver energy; and offer financial, communications and other services that underpin economic growth.

While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders. We commit to:

Delivering value to our customers. We will further the tradition of American companies leading the way in meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.

Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers. We are dedicated to serving as good partners to the other companies, large and small, that help us meet our missions.
Supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.

Generating long-term value for shareholders, who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate. We are committed to transparency and effective engagement with shareholders.

Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.

Link to the full Business Roundtable statement: 

These are great words and I am hopeful that they are the beginning of a true shift in the impact big business has on the social fabric of our country and the world.  It is my firm belief that all stakeholders benefit when the impact of an organization creates virtuous cycles across the business and community aspects it touches.   At this point I must comment on the fact that corporations have been quick to offer up such ideals in the past and then work quietly behind the scenes to continue their single-minded focus on share price.  Business author Anand Giridharadas has been a sharp critic of such actions.  His point is that as these corporations, and their leaders, have often made a public donation of note only to use their influence in government and other circles to work in the opposite direction regarding policy that protects their business and personal interests.  Often, Giridharadas asserts the net impact of these conflicting actions is negative for the general public (Fortune: An Insider Takes Aim at Corporate America’s ‘Elite Charade’).

The bottom line is that the Business Roundtable’s statement is a good start, but only a start.  It is up to business leaders to take this to heart and show sustained progress in  improving the poor record their organizations have earned over the last 40 years.  Their resolve for improvement must be strong, the fate of the American economic system just may be hanging in the balance.

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Tried and True: Written Procedures are a Foundation of EHS Success

Apollo 11 Launch Pad

Apollo 11 Launch

I often look to NASA and the Apollo missions for examples of safety methods that were/are successful in the harshest of environments –outer space.  The moon landing missions in particular represent risk management, safety engineering and operational control tools that were highly successful.  Recently I was reading the authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, Commander of the Apollo 11 Lunar Mission and first human being to step on the surface of the Moon.  The title of the book is First Man, by James Hansen.  I ran across a description of the written procedures the astronauts and support crews used to ensure the mission was consistently safe and successful.  It intrigued me that such a high tech (for the time-1969) venture relied extensively on written rules.

“One tool in particular that has been scorned is written procedures.”

Flash forward to today…  Much has been written about new approaches to safety.  The recent focus on Human Error, or Safety Differently (also called the New View), from visionaries such as Sidney Dekker and Todd Conklin have revealed fresh tools  and techniques to continue the improvement in injury prevention outcomes.  I believe these new approaches are vital to the continued vitality and relevancy of the EHS profession far into the 21st century.  That said, I also think it is important to understand there are no “magic bullets” in our field.  We must continue to build on, and evolve, our successful methods and concepts that have already been proven in the workplace.  Our profession is science based and, like all scientific endeavors, it builds a cumulative knowledge base vetted with the experimental method.

One tool in particular that has been scorned in the new view is written procedures.  The criticism is that the act of writing EHS concepts and requirements down does not guarantee compliance.  I agree that simply having written procedures is not the only action required to prevent injures and accidents.  However, written rules are an early step in a complete OSH management process, and they are a critical step.  Below is a list of benefits that are produced by written procedures.

Benefits of Written Rules:

  • Capture important learnings and assumptions
  • Establish a standardized, organized and reproducible, method of conducting work safely
  • Ensure effective transfer of knowledge to new members of the group
  • Require disciplined thinking to formally document thus reducing errors in processes
  • Create a framework for delegation of decision-making
  • Demonstrate the organizations commitment to safety

A 11 Mission Rules PicThe Apollo 11 Flight Mission Rules book is a great example of a thorough set of written procedures that capture all of the benefits identified above.  First conceived for the Mercury program, the mission rules were so successful that every mission after it has it’s own mission rules, with the Apollo program’s being the most sophisticated.  Take a moment to peruse the rules at the links.  Note they are quite detailed covering a wide range of topics in 330 pages.  It is important to understand however that the Mission Commander had the privilege of ignoring or modifying these rules if he felt crew/spacecraft safety would be jeopardized if they were followed in a specific situation.  This is a precedent that still exists today in the regulations that aircraft pilots in command are required to operate by.  See the discussion below about Sidney Dekker’s comments on the flexible application of rules.

“Safety comes from people being skillful at judging when and how procedures apply.”

One of the innovations in the Apollo 11 Rules I would like to take a moment to understand is the use of Go/No Go procedures.  These are particularly useful for complex, high hazard, operations.  With these rule an operator must meet a set of predetermined objectively measurable criteria to proceed to the next step of processes operations.  I have seen Go/No Go rules used quite successfully in checklist form for combustible dust milling operations (follow this link for more discussion of Go/No Go in dust explosion prevention, Pgs 9 & 15 of the document).  As a pilot I pay particular attention to the use of tools to assist operators in maintaining control of complex systems.  The checklist is a common and highly effective tool used by pilots in the full range of ground and flight operations.  I ran across the Apollo 11 Lunar Modules checklist.  It is also very interesting to review.  Recall that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had to bypass the planned landing target for the lunar lander and use more fuel to locate a suitable area, resulting in a closer call with fuel exhaustion than was comfortable.  I am sure the use of the written procedures and the checklists played a role in the successful completion of the phase of the mission that had the most risk based on the flight planning.

In First Man it is discussed that the Mission Rules were constantly undergoing revisions (including write-ins) and additions based on new insights from practice right up to the time of launch.  This is one of the keys to the proper use of written procedures.  Many of the rules were conceived via discussions among experts and this tested in the simulators that astronauts continuously trained in, ensuring they were the best actions.  In his excellent book The Field Guide to Understanding Human Error, which frames the “New View of Human Error“, Sidney Dekker still sees a place for written procedures.  He acknowledges the need for a procedural context for work but offers some excellent refinements on how procedures should be used.  Two of his suggestions are particularly insightful (p. 157):

  • “Safety comes from people being skillful at judging when and how procedures apply.”
  • “Safety improvements come from organizations monitoring and understanding the gap between procedures and practice.”

Based on my many years of practice in industrial safety, experience as an instrument rated pilot and blending the best of the “New View”, I offer the following advice on using written procedures as a component of EHS excellence.

Keys to Successful Use of Written Procedures:

  • They must be evergreen and continually updated to match evolving practices
  • The organization must have the discipline to follow them consistently
  • They must be readily available to those expected to follow them
  • Continuous effort must be made to detect deviations from the rules and address the contextual reasons for deviation (reference the first bullet above)
  • Consistent refreshers must occur for those expected to follow the rules
  • Employees must exercise their knowledge of the procedures adequately to remain proficient in their use.

Without all of the above being in place, the rules are simply a paper exercise that has minimal, if any, impact on the safety of the organization.  If properly implemented, maintained and utilized however, the organization has a stable operational platform to build even more effective and aspiring execution on.  There is no substitute for effective rules and procedures.  History has shown us that ignoring this step puts you and your organization in peril.


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Safety in Aviation and Beyond

KingAirIn the Fall of each year the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) publishes a pair of reports on accident trends and safety in aviation.  The reports are published though AOPA’s Air Safety Institute.  The reports are the Joseph T. Null Report and the GA Accident Score Card.  I was reviewing both today and glad to see that the aviation industry continues to the safest levels of operations in history.

AOPA Chart

Source: AOPA 2016-2017 GA Accident Scorecard

I have previously considered how these results are being achieved.  Obviously the success of the aviation and aerospace community is important for pilots and flying public.  The actions I believe are driving these results are:

  • Equipment Design Safety and Approval
  • Rigorous regulator Oversight
  • Extensive Training Programs (including currency)
  • Aviation Risk Management
  • A Focus on Human Error Avoidance
  • Safety Culture of Aviation

My experience as an OSH Professional, and a private pilot, allow me to have a unique and wide view of the potential impact of safety producing methods in aviation.  I believe that these methods can be applied to other settings such as manufacturing.  How can this be done?  Leaders at sites and businesses outside of aviation that are committed to improving are encouraged to:

  • Demand a higher standard of performance
  • Be preoccupied with failure and preventing it
  • Frequently train in the classroom, require
    demonstration and conduct refresher training
  • Maximize pre-job planning
  • Engineer in extra reliability
  • Focus on human performance/human error
  • Maximize organizational discipline

Take a look at this presentation for more detail: Lessons Learned from Aviation’s Safety Record: What can We Apply to the Occupational Setting?  I used these slides for a presentation to the Central Indiana Chapter of the ASSP in the Spring.  The Chapter met at my home airport of Indianapolis Executive (KTYQ).  It was pretty fun to do it in the hanger with all those fast birds sitting around!

Presentation at Indy Exec

Even with all this success there is more work to be done for sure!  Take the recent loss of a state of the art Boeing 737 flown by Lion Air (Flight 610) as an example of the challenges in safely operating in the aerospace environment.  But, each year important gains are made, and these to will help raise the state of the art in safety of other industries.

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Successful Job Transitions for HSE Pros

Author’s Note:  A version of this post originally appeared on my LinkedIn account as an announcement for the BLR webinar I lead on this topic.  I wanted to capture the knowledge here for my blog readers.  I have posted a summary of the slides I created for the webinar below.

shutterstock_78224647 compressedI have transitioned to new roles 6 times in my nearly 30 year career. For younger professionals, that number will increase. The risk of failure becomes greater with each new organizational level you transition to.



Hope is not a plan…

Do you know how to make a successful transition? Unless you have been through it a few times, and perhaps had a mentor to guide you, you probably are going to wing it and hope for the best! Hope is not a plan…

Article in Professional Safety

Seasoned professionals know that there is a method to the madness of a transition into a new role. Young professionals however are frequently not aware of the tried and true principles that their more experienced colleagues are utilizing to generate success and stability. I have recently had the honor of sharing my view on many of these techniques in an article for the American Society of Safety Professionals in their Professional Safety journal The title of the article is: Essential Mistakes for OSH Managers to Avoid, and it appeared in the July 2018 edition. I hope you find the article helpful.

Seasoned professionals know there is a method to the madness of transitioning into a new role.

Deep Dive in BLR Webinar

If you are interested in learning more about successful transition strategies for HSE Professionals, I have again teamed up with BLR to present these concepts in a 90 minute webinar: New Safety Managers: Essential Mistakes to Avoid Concerning Training, Investigations, Recordkeeping, and More. The webinar was recorded and is available at the link above.  I have posted a summary of my slides here.

Brief Overview of the Methods

I wanted to give the reader of this post a quick view of the methods I have found useful in transitions.  I have based much of this method on the ideas in the book The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins.  The article and presentation summary above provides more detail but below is an overview.

Start by understanding your situation.  Pilots call this situational awareness and it involves quickly comprehending information to assemble an accurate mental picture of the situation.

Methods of collecting information:

  • Conversation
  • Observation
  • Documentation

Next you must take action in a timely and decisive manner to maximize your success early.  The typical window to start showing strong progress is within 90 days.  After that, you are fighting and uphill battle with the odds slipping out of your favor more each day.  Successful leaders start strong with a plan and execute it!

Methods to assemble and act on your mental picture:

  • Promote yourself to the job
  • Accelerate your learning
  • Match Strategy to situation
  • Secure early wins
  • Negotiate success
  • Achieve alignment
  • Build your team
  • Create coalitions
  • Keep your balance
  • Expedite every one


I enjoy sharing what I have learned in my many years of professional practice with young EHS professionals.  I hope you found this post and related materials useful in furthering your career.

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The Coming of Organizational Transparency: This is the Moment for OSH

Sust ProfitsI was recently asked to provide my thoughts on the future of occupational safety and health.  I have been considering this topic for some time and came up with 5 major themes that I think will be of significant impact to our field in the future.  Those will be published in an upcoming addition of a popular safety periodical.  More to follow on that…

One trend I identified is that of the coming increase in organizational transparency enabled by the internet and the use of artificial intelligence to crunch big data into never before seen levels of useful information for all.  Since writing that article a few days ago, I received the latest addition of Fortune Magazine with the theme of: how to profit while fixing the planet.  One article really caught my eye. It is titled: Good Behavior, Heavenly Returns and it closely describes the dramatic increase in the transparency of organizations and it enables investors and other stakeholders to significantly increase their focus on environmental, social and governance factors (ESG).  From the article:

“Today there’s a growing body of evidence showing that companies that put social responsibility first can also finish first in the market. The question is no longer whether you can do well while doing good, but how best to distinguish the do-gooders from the also-rans.”

What started as a movement of sustainable investing has already matured into a global investing force. The addition of ESG as a data analysis tool for sustainability adds fuel to the fire.  According to a recent Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing white paper titled Sustainable Signals: Asset Owners Embrace Sustainability, 1 in 4 dollars ($22.8 trillion!) invested globally under professional management are now in sustainable funds and organizations.  They go on to identify that:  “…among institutional asset owners, sustainable investing is increasingly pursued for its potential to manage risk and drive returns”.  Currently there are over 250 mutual funds focusing on ESG factors with more being added every quarter (Schwab, 2018).

“OSH Professionals can’t miss the boat here.  Our profession is in a unique position to drive future value for our organizations, their investors and the world by being leaders in managing the performance of matters that create sustainable organizations!”

So, why am I hitting you with these econ geek factoids? 

Because our profession is in a unique position to drive value for our organizations, their investors and the world by being leaders in managing the performance of matters that create sustainable organizations!  We can’t miss this boat if we want our profession to be relevant in the 21st century and beyond.  Our methods and tools can contribute greatly to all 3 of the major focus areas of ESG.  We just have to understand how our methods impact the relevant ESG performance measures and then effectively communicate that to the c-suite.

But how are organizations measured on ESG performance? 

From the Fortune article mentioned above, let’s focus on the ESG Asset Management startup Arabesque (  Again from the article: “Arabesque manages a database that covers 7,000 companies, with information drawn from 50,000 news sources and 8,000 NGOs, among other resources.”  Arabesque and other “ESG Quant” companies take big data from thousands of internet sources and use artificial intelligence along with other algorithmic methods to score organizations on their ESG performance. The purpose is to quantitatively identify high performing organizations for ESG and Sustainability minded investors.  As the field grows, it continues to build the case that profitability in general is more connected to sustainability than many other previously utilized investment evaluation measures.  ESG Quants aggregate and analyze data from such sources as:

I don’t have the space to delve deeply into these on this post.  Take a look at the links to learn more and read below about where to start.

So what do we as the OSH profession do this this opportunity?

First we have to recognize that the society is changing and that is changing the environment our organizations are doing business in.  We have to see this as an opportunity.  OSH’s exiting tools, concepts and methods are a great fit for the transparent world of the future (it’s already here!).  Those tools and methods firmly touch each piece of ESG activities in an organization. We need to apply them and build more to maximize our impact on ESG and Sustainability measures.

Doing the work to impact the activities of focus for ESG  & Sustainability is only half the battle though.  Next we have to learn how to ensure the success our firms have in these areas are picked up and included in the analysis and scoring of our companies in systems used by investors to make investing decisions.  Take a look at Arabesque’s analysis rating tool S-Ray (Sustainability-Ray –cool name!) as an example.  Below is distribution plot of thousands of companies.  Those scoring to the upper left are most attractive to 1 in 4 investors globally.  Those in the bottom left quadrant are going to starve for resources.

S-Ray Pic

Homepage for Arabesque’s S-Ray ESG Reporting and Scoring Tool

A great place to start is with the Global Reporting Initiative mentioned above.  Their reporting framework represents a comprehensive collection of measures used for ESG & Sustainability reporting.  By Learning how to maximize your firm’s score in the GRI report, you are gaining important insight into how your firm’s activities and reporting are turned into high ESG scores.  In the process, you and your firm are literally changing the world!  The key is to get started today influencing your organization’s leaders, determining where you are on the scoring results and what you can have an impact on in the short and longterm to maximize your firm’s score.

Another useful resource to get started is the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability (  The purpose of this organization is to provide occupational safety and health professionals around the world with a stronger voice in shaping sustainability policies.  It offers many additional resources specifically for the implementation and execution of sustainability principles in organizations.

The time is here for occupational safety and health professionals to take our seat at the table of corporate governance and transparency is our path.

The evidence is clear that “Virtuous stocks win over time” (Fortune, 2018).  Our OSH profession is in the driver’s seat to help our firm’s live up to the commitment of a sustainable future for our children and financial success today for their stakeholders.  The time is here for us to take our seat at the table of corporate governance and this is our path.


Fortune (2018).  Good Behavior, Heavenly Returns.  Retrieved on 9/3/2018 at:

Schwab (2018).  Socially Conscious Funds List.  Retrieved on 9/3/2018 at:

Photo credit: Shutter Stock, used with permission.

Posted in Career Skills, ESG Investing, Ethics, Sustainability Leadership, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Technology Designers Must Begin the Journey to Safety

shutterstock_340437857Uber self driving car accidents and the facebook data scraping scandal are the most recent indications of a significant risk in the technology industry: the lack of mature safety processes.  The icons of the “hot industry” of the 21 century have yet to learn how to make safety.  They still don’t get that they, like all leaders of human endeavors, are responsible for the safety of the work they do.

“Safety and ethics are still elective, rather than foundational, to software design”.

I have found Quartz News Outlet to be a source for thought provoking articles about current themes such as technology.  This morning I read an editorial piece in Quartz’s Weekend Edition commenting on the lack of oversight in software design.  The timing is good because of the events mentioned above, I have been contemplating the march of technology into the realm of autonomous equipment in general society.  The recent fatality in Phoenix involving and Uber self driving vehicle and a pedestrian (NY Times: Self-Driving Uber Car Kills Pedestrian in Arizona, 3/17/2018) has returned my thoughts to the issue of safety in tech innovations and why it is so lacking.

I have extensive professional experience ensuring safety of automated industrial systems, which gives me unique insight into the challenges such efforts create.  I  have watched with interest as software and hardware designers have begun to introduce autonomous designs into the public space– a space with much less certainty that the industrial environment.  Yet the safety processes around technological innovation are far more rigorous in the industrial enviroment.  Even with these controls, accidents are not uncommon.  So, the relative lack of safety processes around the public space is sure to create increased risk and accidents.

The Quartz editorial (provided below) sums up well the fact that software design is still an immature field without adequate controls for avoiding harm to society.  Other fields have had to go through similar maturation processes that usually include an “A-Bomb Moment” (see below) that crystallizes the resolve to establish controls.  I think we are yet to have this moment in the tech sector but we (society) can see it coming.  Let’s hope it is not an extinction level event like the real A-Bomb…

“The stakes couldn’t be higher. Technology mediates almost every aspect of our lives”.

I propose several areas that the tech industry should put in the forefront of efforts to improve.  these are:

I don’t want to make this a longer post by expanding on these topics but I have included some highly relevant links above.  I would like to point out a particularly important industry group with a great history regarding safety in technology.  The organization is the IEEE.  Every tech company should be involved with this group and be informed of their work.  I also direct the Tech Leaders to the Robotics Industries Association’s robotic equipment safety standard (ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012) as a rare example of strong safety processes in technology.

I hope that leaders in the Tech Industry will take heed of the suggestions above and initiate efforts to improve the processes that create and ensure safety in their operations and products.

From Quartz News Outlet:

“As Robert Oppenheimer watched a mushroom cloud from the first nuclear detonation bloom over a New Mexico test site, he repeated a line from the Hindu epic Bhagavad-Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” The scientist who helped build the world’s most lethal weapon saw how physicists would forever confront the consequences of their discoveries.

Today, computer scientists are contemplating their own “A-bomb moment.” Facebook’s carelessness with user data, and the attacks the company has enabled against western democracies, are on software engineers’ consciences.

“Computer science is a field which hasn’t yet encountered consequences,” writes Yonatan Zunger, a former security and privacy engineer at Google, who has compared the power in the hands of software engineers to “kids in a toy shop full of loaded AK-47’s.” Safety and ethics are still elective, rather than foundational, to software design.

Other fields have already had to reckon with such ethics. Chemistry’s discovery of dynamite and chemical weapons, and biology’s rationale for eugenics, prompted the creation of institutional review boards, mid-career certification, and professional codes of conduct. But software engineering is different. Coders are neither a profession nor a society in the traditional sense. Many are self-taught, and many have a healthy skepticism of any effort to corral the profession toward consensus.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Technology mediates almost every aspect of our lives. Machines recognize speech and written text. Algorithms can recognize your face, as well as infer from data (with increasing accuracy) your gender, income, creditworthiness, mental health, and personality.

Tech companies already obsess over reliability—gaming out the “what-ifs” to prevent computer systems from crashing. Zunger says they need to apply the same planning to human consequences. “If you can do it without wanting to hide under a table, you’re not thinking hard enough,” he writes. “There are worse failure modes, and they’re coming for you.”—Michael J. Coren”

Image credit: Shutterstock.  Used with permission.
Posted in Design for Safety, Ethics, Innovation | Tagged , | 1 Comment