Dr. Todd Conklin: Do Safety Differently
Sheldon interviews Dr. Todd Conklin about his new book with Dr. Sidney Dekker, "Do Safety Differently." During the conversation, Sheldon and Dr. Todd talk about defining safety differently, the faulty H.W. Heinrich's safety pyramid, possible dangers of wearable safety technology, safety metrics abuse and many other pressing safety topics. "Do Safety Differently" is the right book for the right time in safety.
Keywords: Sheldon Primus, Dr. Todd Conklin, Dr. Sidney Dekker, HOP, BBS, H.W. Heinrich, Safety metrics, Good catch, investigation, pandemic, COVID-19, US Government, OSHA, Compliance, Safety Clutter, VPP, Compliance Assistance, Compliance directives, safety FM, Podcasting, Risk Management, Leadership
[00:00:05] spk_0: this episode is powered
[00:00:07] spk_1: by
[00:00:08] spk_0: safety FM. Welcome to the safety consultant podcast. I am your host, Sheldon Primus. This is the podcast where I teach you the business of being a safety consultant and we also go through many other things like ocean compliance and many other topics related to safety and health. Today, I've got a special episode with a special guest, the one and only Dr Todd Conklin, we're gonna be talking about his new book with Dr Sidney Dekker. The two of them have this book out called do Safety differently. So I have this in my hot little hands and I've been reading this book for a little while, I've been telling my students all about it. So what we're gonna do today is we're actually gonna talk with uh dr Todd about this one and Todd just kinda explains a bunch about the book and um I personally believe that this is the right time for it because of all the changes that we've seen in the safety world. For those of you that are not familiar with Dr Todd. Uh we are both on safety FM. So if you go to safety FM dot com that is going to get you access to both our podcast. But the pre accident investigation podcast is Dr Todd Conklin's and uh we talked about that actually in this interview because he's been around with the podcasting for quite a while. So we even talked about the state of podcasting, but if you're not familiar with Dr Todd, he spent 25 years at Los Alamos Los Alamos, that means not saying it right Los Alamos National Laboratory, he is the senior adviser for organizational and safety culture. So that is something that is embedded in him. He's written several, several books regarding that and he's been working human performance for pretty much the last 15 years of his 25 year career. So he's definitely one of those individuals that knows human performance and organizational behavior. And it shows in this book. So him and Dr Decker together again have created um not created, but at least they are challenging our original safety paradigm and they're calling this book do safety differently. So throughout this um conversation, you're gonna hear me and uh talk about the Heinrich theories and the validity of those. We talk about learning teams and the benefits for learning teams, pandemic podcasting. We talk about the definition of safety, which is one of the things that really drew me to the book, literally trying to define what safety is and the definition is using safety as a capacity for the organization itself to get even better. So we talked about that in the book, get very good examples and and everything in this podcast. So, I really would love to turn your attention to this podcast. I'm gonna stop Fanboy ng as much as I can have a good big fan and I like to thank Doctor Todd for being on the show and him and Dr Decker for the wonderful book and honestly, I tell you guys not only listen to this episode but you do need to get yourself a copy of the book. So without any further ado we're gonna turn this over to my interview and I go right into it on the interview. So you're gonna hear me starting right off the bat and getting this interview in and getting it going with Dr Todd uh at the end of this you're gonna hear just me fading out because I want you to really focus in on the information that you got. So I'm not gonna end with anything else because it's plenty good information coming from Dr Todd. So we're gonna end it that way. So I'm gonna tell you guys for the rest of the week uh go get him the book. I mean do safely differently. That has been like my whole mindset and Safety. I've heard both you and Dr Decker in several of different occasions but together with this book and uh and the way you broke it down, I'm a big fan here, I'm
[00:04:58] spk_2: so glad you like it. What a nice thing to hear. Thank
[00:05:00] spk_0: you. It's been really good. And I've got my my the way that I started was first I ordered it on amazon and then I started reading it when I got it and I put the book down right when the definition of safety chapter one, I step back from your books there.
[00:05:20] spk_2: Really?
[00:05:21] spk_0: I did because that definition to me just needed me to digest it if you will
[00:05:28] spk_2: a little time you need some time with it.
[00:05:30] spk_0: Yeah, absolutely needed to digest it and I would love for you to just talk to the audience about the capacity part. And and your your definition of you dr Decker decker together came up with that uh if you don't mind, I gotta hear it from you, right?
[00:05:49] spk_2: Yeah, maybe. I mean I don't I hope I hope I meet the test. Well so it's built around the idea that safety is not something you obtain. It's something you do, right? And that makes I mean when you say it out loud, you're like dough of course. But most of the organizations that we work with sea safety as something they will eventually obtain. You know that if they do a really good job and everybody's obedient and they write the best procedure in the world, they will get to zero and 10 they're done and they can work on like salary increases or something,
[00:06:24] spk_0: whatever is next.
[00:06:25] spk_2: That's probably not next. But let's pretend it is because we're making this up right? And so we had to think of a way to help people understand that safety is really a capacity and capacity is a weird word, but I can't think of a better one. Like I'm always open for a better one, but you're you're constantly managing safety and it's always changing because risk is always changing. And so that's kind of the origin of that definition? But I mean, Sydney and I've been hashing this one out for 30
[00:06:57] spk_0: years. It's
[00:06:59] spk_2: just weird to me that it's taken a long time for it to get enough traction that people are starting to talk about it. What's fundamental though, and it really is fundamental is that you will not get better as an organization until you collectively redefine safety. And so that definition of safety part's really important because it's foundational to everything else you do, because if you see safety as an action that you will accomplish, then you measure it differently, You manage it differently, you respond to it differently than you probably should. And and that's kind of the interesting um part of that definition, I think.
[00:07:42] spk_0: Yeah. Well, I I honestly, the way you say it and how I relate is truly the uh the old way of safety relies on these numbers relies on everything that we're seeing because of. Yes, as your book puts it to look at good index and then also the Heinrich pyramid that we're all fixated on. Uh and the debunking of that, which it's been around for a long time, you know? But it's just fascinating to see how programs are still built on on that theory that if you uh well, the the myopic view of risk, but it was truly tainted. So that's what I loved about the book is you guys actually put it out there. So how is that conversation between the two of
[00:08:37] spk_2: you? Well, it's it's it's interesting because everything you said is is it's been so, these are long running conversations we've been having for years, a long time. Um and so everything you said has been really important. It's it's it's it's it was important for both of us and we talked through this to realize that nothing was coming from a place of malice or evil or, or I mean, we've sort of slowly over time become much more what's the word I want? I don't want to say enlightened because that sounds really snotty and pretension. But we've we've kind of, I know what I want to say. We understand better, the work we're trying to do, which makes total sense. I mean, we should always be understanding better, the work we're trying to do, we should always be improving, right? And it starts with this belief that, you know, the Heinrich model, which is almost 100 years old now that that I think the intent for that was was genuine. I think they thought, you know, if you if you mind the little things, the big things will themselves, it's taken us a really long time and it's been really difficult because it's so appealing. It's a seductive model. It's taken us a really long time to think, well, wait a minute. That's probably not true that the things that kill people aren't the same things that hurt people and uh and wow, that was a tough sell because the Heinrich model is so comfortable because it tells companies, if you really, if you just pay attention to ankle sprains and elbow injuries will be fine. Right to me, the big the big thing that both and I think that's the part that um was so important in this story, is that the big shift is how safety thinks about its people. The old view of safety, we did safety to the workforce. So it's really how the organization views the people and I guess it's how the people view the organization too, but that's a different podcast, right? Um if the organization sees the people as the problem, then what happens is they build systems that try to fix the people. But if the organization sees the people as a solution, then they engage those workers in a meaningful way to create improvement throughout the organization's operations.
[00:11:16] spk_0: And that's truly the the idea is the learning team side, right? So getting getting you to understand the workers by proactively getting them to to help you there. The answer.
[00:11:31] spk_2: Right? Well, they are the answer, right? Because if you want to know how work is done, who do you talk
[00:11:35] spk_0: to you? Yeah,
[00:11:36] spk_2: it's certainly not the leadership team because they haven't done the job in a long time and the job changes all the time and it's changing more now just because we've, I mean, we've been through this amazing, it's tragic, but amazing event in the last three years. I mean, think about how the world we live in Sheldon has changed, I mean, dramatically changed. I mean, it's just it's a different world, and that means work has changed, and so leadership has to change, and they have to understand that the the expertise for how the work is done is with the workers.
[00:12:15] spk_0: And I'm really curious, just I just know from uh peripherally speaking and just seeing relationships between you and dr Decker, and just knowing that uh you guys have been transitioned into two speaking roles and doing a lot of that. I don't know much about your consulting side. Um how has that changed your understanding with this book, and then the pandemic and coming out of that, uh have you, have you seen a shift in the consultancy side in safety, or we still in the same old paradigm,
[00:12:56] spk_2: man, Sheldon, that is a great question. So, I would say I would answer this in kind of two levels. One is that you're right, the world is changing in safety and the dialogue is changing, and some of the philosophies are changing, so it's a pretty big change. The second level, I would say, is that I have not seen consultancy fees keep up with it at the same rate as changes happening, which probably makes sense because change happens pretty quickly and changes happening to us. Um So it's kind of rolling down and we're sort of dealing with it the best way we can. I do think some consultants have um kind of a lot of vested interest in not changing because their program is based upon what they've done traditionally over years and they've seen things improve. Remember their intent isn't bad, they're not doing something evil, they're actually doing God's work, they're trying hard to make things happen and because they're so invested in the old way, it's sometimes hard to change. And so sometimes you'll see real, real hesitance to go back and rework the problem. And for some guys, it's a big deal. I shouldn't say guys. For some people it's a big deal because they may have a lot of things already printed. They may have some, you know, some some stuff that they they deliver, it's not just rewriting your slides, it's rethinking the entire program. And so that's been an interesting journey. Um And I think it's a challenge for people for sure.
[00:14:35] spk_0: I like the way that your book says it. And when you get to the later chapters, everyone as you go to your amazon store wherever you are, you're looking for do safety differently dr Todd Conklin and dr Sidney Dekker together. The two of them, they're they're truly walking you through this path and in the back dr Todd, you're saying that uh don't throw away the baby with the Bathwater. You guys spend a lot of energy effort and everything else too to do this thing, whatever your your current situation is, don't throw that away. Let's incorporate the learning team model. And let's incorporate some of the things where you're even losing safety culture and you're getting organizational culture as opposed to having the to oppose the two sides. Let's make it all one. I like that portion of the book that you're showing everyone how to take these baby steps.
[00:15:30] spk_2: Well, you don't want to throw away everything that got you to where you got, right, But we have to change some things. You know, there's a, there's an over, uh, over commitment to compliance. There's kind of an over reliance. I keep having to edit myself were really well, I think the belief is that if we're in compliance, we're safe,
[00:15:54] spk_0: That's also part of the belief is if you're in compliance, you're not going to get yourself a fine.
[00:15:59] spk_2: Right. Right. Exactly. Right. And so there's not a person that's listening to your podcast that doesn't know exactly what we're talking about. So it's not like it's a secret code. They get it. But the organization itself doesn't know what to do. And, and then you get into the trouble kind of as well, if there's a new way to think about it, then how do we measure it? Because obviously if we're thinking about it differently. The old measurements aren't going to be good enough or effective enough or accurate enough or meaningful enough and they aren't, none of the things we measure are really that good. I mean we measure stupid stuff. We measure a company's success by counting the number of people they hurt you. Really don't have too much more than that.
[00:16:41] spk_0: But more than that though. Now we're measuring that with precision because there's where there's technology and I am full disclosure. I interviewed two companies that they weren't actually sponsored is just my curiosity. So I interviewed these two companies and they got the wearable technology. And my question to both of them was do you foresee this being used as evil somehow? You get these numbers and now you've given someone, you know, you sharpen the nice weapons for them to wave at somebody or is this going to be the future where you take this numbers objectively. And then now this could proceed to giving you the other set of numbers that you need to show for your worker's comp rates and everything else like that. So am I getting this right or what's your view on that?
[00:17:32] spk_2: You're exactly right. All of those metrics will eventually become weaponized because all of those metrics eventually get tied to some kind of incentive program. So if you think about metrics, metrics themselves, I guess are kind of agnostic. They're just measurements, their historic reference to what's happened. But it's the way we use the metrics and the way we tie. So if we tie these wearables to uh promotions or or or salary increases or bonuses or Pizza Day or whatever, it will incentivize it somehow. Then it becomes naturally sort of weaponized. And once it's weaponized like that, then it sort of loses its ability. Well, every every metric will eventually become lagging.
[00:18:15] spk_0: That's true because you you see that precipice when you're thinking about good catches versus those where you see an unsafe condition and as soon as you see the unsafe condition and you you formalize it into a good catch because you nearly got hurt at that point. That seems like the precipice between the two. It's it seems like what you're describing is similar, similar event.
[00:18:39] spk_2: Yeah. So one of the things about that that I think so interesting is you can use like a good catch program but think about what you incentivize and think about what you want to learn. So you can say a good catch program is is always valuable because it is a near miss program is like the accident without the mess, right? So you get all the benefits of the accident except for the injury. The accident doesn't happen. So that's a good thing. It's a gift. For sure. Right? The crazy thing is is that not all near misses? Not all good catches are the same. And so now what you wanna do is actually change the dialogue, not the metric, not the amount, but change the dialogue around the good catch. And so what I do always is I ask people if they come and bring a good catch, you know this happened, then I'll ask them, okay, was it a good catch good or was it a good catch lucky?
[00:19:32] spk_0: Right.
[00:19:32] spk_2: So if it's a good catch good, that means our systems worked, our controls worked and it failed, but it failed in such a way that we had predicted the failure will happen and it put controls in the system to mitigate the consequences. So, you know, we dropped the load but it fell within the barricade. Right? So
[00:19:51] spk_0: address that as saying good catch lucky.
[00:19:55] spk_2: Well that's a good catch. Good.
[00:19:56] spk_0: Oh, but no, no. Do anyone ever like, like tell you, hey, Yeah, I think it's a good catch lucky Or do they always want to go towards the good?
[00:20:06] spk_2: Oh no. They, so when you emphasize the good and lucky, it takes away the sort of the individual, it makes it less weaponized and yeah, they'll say good catch lucky a lot. In fact, you'll hear a good catch lucky a lot. And good catch lucky is good too because good catch Lucky tells you that you just identified relatively significant operation in which you have no controls. I mean you didn't have controls for that failure. So now you learned and you can put controls in that failure to make it happen?
[00:20:38] spk_0: Isn't that more freeing as a safety professional, You know, where you could uh, you could know that there is luck. Everyone knows that this variance, but we don't want to admit it in our industry because
[00:20:50] spk_2: only because we don't want to admit that we don't have control. I mean, the bottom line is, of course, of course, the world is filled with variation. There's always variability. I don't know if you want to call it luck or not. I mean it's in spanish, we call it fortunata, but but it depends on sort of how you think about it. I do think that it's realistic to say things happen in a highly complex world with lots of variables, things happen and when things happen, the question is, is were we ready for it? That's that capacity question.
[00:21:24] spk_0: Yeah. And that's that's the question that also will bring up another part of the book. And that other part of the book was the safety clutter addressing that. I've seen safety clutter in like the most ridiculous ways where you're seeing triplicate of some forms that make no sense. And then you're seeing forms that should be more intricate. But the only thing they're looking at is compliance and I'm like, hold on. When I get these things, I'm like, yes, you're okay with compliance. And, and I boil disclosure. I'm old school safety consultant. So I know compliance drives my business. So in some ways I have to be honest with myself I have to be honest that there's some compliance that feeds the family. You know? So now, how do I get that to say? I need to think past that. And now stage one, get everyone in compliance. Stage two, let's get past safety culture and get to organizational stuff. I
[00:22:23] spk_2: think you have to look at compliance as a foundation, but compliance doesn't really sustain,
[00:22:31] spk_0: so
[00:22:32] spk_2: you have to have compliance because well one, the law requires it and two is, it's kind of a foundation. It's the baseline. It's the expectation, right? And so compliance is really important. The problem is, is that it doesn't have the ability to sustain itself and that's really based upon one really simple idea and that's the idea that more rules don't create more safety.
[00:22:53] spk_0: So
[00:22:53] spk_2: 11 rule is good. It sets the stage four rules to say the same thing and four different documents on four different posters. Isn't four times is better. I mean it's not four times as strong. So what happens is is that we get into a position where we assume more rules make more safety, but we know that's not true because it's not true.
[00:23:18] spk_0: Yeah.
[00:23:18] spk_2: And everyone that listens knows it's not true. That is not
[00:23:21] spk_0: true. Yeah. Well I've always said my intro to Ocean Day, whenever we do the intro to OSHA, I always point out to my students says, hey, look at this actual chart every year we get the data and it shows us that we've leveled out in fatalities. We've gotten better in safety in some ways with more data or accumulating, we could really analyze the data. But why isn't this going to zero? But yet we're expecting that for every workplace that the math doesn't add up, right.
[00:23:54] spk_2: You're exactly right. Right. And, and, and so that's, that's part of the change that's happening. I mean, it's hard to, it's hard to put my finger on it. But one of the things that's happening is that it really goes back to that idea that we see safety as a capacity. And when you start seeing safety as a capacity, you manage it like a capacity. So it's, it's, it's when you're doing high risk critical work, high risk critical operations, you have more safety because it's high risk critical. It's like if a company is going to do a big move, they're gonna move some, you don't put safety aside so they're gonna put in a new, I don't know, Gizmo, big giant Gizmo like a generator or something and they've had to knock a hole in the side of the building and they have two cranes and the the company had the company that made the machine had to come with representatives and they got special electricians there because this is really advanced. It's a pretty good bet they're going to do that activity perfectly. I want to know why because it's a special activity. They've prepared for it. They've prepped for it, they start when they're ready,
[00:25:01] spk_0: they
[00:25:02] spk_2: have all the right people, they even wait for the weather. We can't do it. It's too windy today, but tomorrow we can't do it on the weekend. You know, fred's gone on Tuesday. So let's do it on thursday. And so they manage all the capacity. They can possibly manage to ensure that installation will be successful and it's almost always successful. So the question I would ask is, okay, let's go back and look at, well, how come? Well, because we actually prepared so much capacity. We had so many Plan B's. You know, we had, we really, we waited until the time was right and then we did the work. That's really an important part of understanding capacity. The problem is that doesn't translate to normal everyday stinking work and normal everyday stinking work. Well, that's the, that's the issue that we want to try to understand better. So it's always a good idea. It's, it's fun to watch and it's fun to be a part of this change. I mean, it's, I think this is great. It's every day is kind of exciting. I accidentally got old and, and I remember when I used to be like the youngest person at a meeting now, I'm not,
[00:26:15] spk_0: my gauge has always been been sports players. So whenever I see, you know, for me, I always had in my mind that whenever the sports player was an age of someone that was like a child to me then I'm old and now now we're, they're
[00:26:37] spk_2: depressing.
[00:26:39] spk_0: Yeah. Oh, I know. Well I got you. I have to ask you because most people don't know you're old school podcast for safety and not too many people were doing this when you were, uh, so what, what do you feel is next for the industry and, and how do you rate it right now with, with all the safety podcasts out there? I know there's two questions I threw in there, but,
[00:27:02] spk_2: but yeah,
[00:27:04] spk_0: yeah, two for. So
[00:27:06] spk_2: it seems like, and you have to tell me Sheldon because you're probably a little closer to the ground that I'm on this one. Um, because now that I don't travel very much, I don't listen to very many podcasts because that's what I did on planes and in airports and stuff. And I'm really happy to tell you that I have less time on planes and in airports. And so that means I have less time to listen to podcasts, but so you'll have to sort of edit this in and see what you think. It seems like we went there a period of time where everybody had a podcast, like everybody had one, there were hundreds of them and they were all sort of the safety podcast and they were all kind of, uh, you know, I'm sure they were good. I didn't listen to very many of them. So I don't, I can't really judge them, but everyone had a podcast and I thought, I wonder what this means. And then I thought it's a lot of work having a podcast, A lot of the podcasts that were out there have gone away and they and they go away because it's this is a commitment. I mean the thing that makes a podcast about a podcast the same time every time and that you really think about and value the content. So it has meaning, it's a good thing to listen to. You know, people get value out of it. And so it's been kind of fun because there were sort of back to not as many podcasts as there once were. Um it's it's it's righted itself, just like the market always will I guess. Um and it's been really interesting now. Well, I think the future is bright. I think it'll be more interactive, more, probably video based then audio based and that'll be interesting to see. But who knows, we still live in a world where most of the people that listen to our podcasts are driving from job site to job site or you know, they're they're in the vehicle. So audio is probably always going to be a pretty powerful force for us and I'm fine with it. I'm not that interested in doing video, don't want makeup, no makeup for me.
[00:29:16] spk_0: Oh dr todd Conklin, The new book is due safety differently everybody and I you don't have to go my route. But I'm telling you, I started first, I got it online on amazon and I got stuck on chapter one because I'm trying to think of capacities and then it hit me when I'm getting in chapter one, it's like, you don't have to say anymore that you can work yourself out of a job if you do see safety right? That's not a thing. What you're doing now is you're focusing on what makes the business do well. And then you're helping those capacities keep doing well those things by adding support to them. And now you don't need the safety department moniker anymore. You're now support Operation Support and you're doing it in a technic way too. It's not just slapping paint on the wall, You're doing this technical too. And and Dr DR Decker bringing you through that. So that's the, that's the book. And then the other way I did it is I actually started listening to it in my travels. It's a full time RV or so, two different ways you can get the book and then you can also listening to the audiobook, but you guys need to do this. I've been telling everybody in my classes that you got to do it and I'm telling you guys now as listeners, you need a copy of this book. Dr Todd pump anything that you want to put anything out there, listen to your podcast, whatever you want sir, you tell my folks to go, No
[00:30:46] spk_2: man, I would just say thank you for your time. They could, everybody's so busy. They'll just have to kind of just enjoy life.
[00:30:54] spk_0: Nice, slow
[00:30:55] spk_2: down and smell the roses, baby.
[00:30:58] spk_0: That's what I said,
[00:30:59] spk_2: Sheldon. This was fun.
[00:31:00] spk_0: It was awesome. Thank you so much. Have a great rest of your day.
[00:31:04] spk_2: See you later, man. Bye bye
[00:31:05] spk_0: bye. This episode has been powered by safety.
[00:31:12] spk_1: FM. The views and opinions expressed on this podcast or broadcast are those of the host and its guests and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the company. Examples of analysis discussed within the past hour are only examples. They should not be utilized in the real world as the only solution available as they are based on very limited and dated open source information, assumptions made within this analysis are not reflective of the position of the company. No part of this podcast or broadcast may be reproduced, stored within a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means mechanical, electronic recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the creator of the podcast or broadcast. Sheldon grimace.