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Stop and Think

August 22, 2022
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Creating an action-based culture of safety

In 2020, when Morris Ettinger, OHSE manager, took a closer look at SMS Equipment’s safety statistics, there were recurring incidents—even though a thorough safety program was in place.

“A common thread in the investigations was the failure to identify the hazard,” says Ettinger.

For instance, some Field Level Risk Assessment (FLRA) cards were generic in nature and not specific. Certain catch phrases were common, like “pinch point” or “line of fire.” But none of those specified the actual hazard; one may be identified and controlled but others may be overlooked.

“It was time to take a few steps back and get to the root cause—what exactly are we looking for when it comes to the hazard identification process?” he says.

Ettinger and Morgan Campbell, service performance manager in Acheson, were passionate players in the working group leading the charge to develop SMS Equipment’s new hazard ID card. Made up of key stakeholders from Operations across the region, the working group has been actively involved start to finish—fully trialling the new program before its company-wide adoption. The premise, action, and commitment all come back to one bold mantra: Stop and Think, or SAT.

According to Ettinger, the program simply focuses on three aspects. First, it’s about knowing your “why.” Employees will ask themselves, “What’s MY reason for working safely?” Then they can ask, “What’s my daily safety commitment so that I can fulfill my why?” Thirdly, “What can seriously injure me today?”

The core of SAT is something that was previously overlooked—the big why. “Before, we were missing that personal or emotional connection,” says Ettinger. “When we were developing SAT, we wanted to make sure this tool has everyone focusing on what can seriously hurt them, and why this matters so much.”

With the serious incident review, feedback forums, and hours poured into additional research and development, the biggest challenge was making hazard identification simple. “We could have 32 different categories of hazards—not practical!” says Ettinger. Instead, the working group scaled it down to four Primary Hazard categories.

When SAT was introduced, the change was initially a stumbling block for some employees who liked the routine of the old card. “We had to explain that the old card was tired and had become a routine exercise—not necessarily a process that would make us stop and think, or actually identify a specific hazard” says Ettinger.

“It’s a big change, and it’s going to take time and mentoring, but we’ve already seen so much progress in only a few months,” adds Campbell. “We now see people focusing on the task and what can seriously hurt them, and not the document itself.”

Campbell, who has been with SMS Equipment for 38 years, has seen the evolution of safety with the company. “We always had safety committees and processes that we took very seriously. As we’ve grown and changed over the years, we’ve focused on feedback from our teams, listening to the people out on the floor and learning from our clients,” says Campbell. “This time around, we are working with employees to make a difference—not dictating the difference.”

This personal approach has been critical in getting employees to understand “the reason why.”

“Historically, we’d give them ‘the what’ and ‘the how,’ and only if someone asks, we’d give them ‘the why,’” says Ettinger. “Our whole intent with SAT was to start with ‘the why.’ That’s what builds ownership, and ultimately, results.”

“This is personal,” says Campbell. “It changes the employee’s commitment. Who are they doing this for? Themselves or the company? If they’re doing it for someone or something they dearly care about, that’s a reason to commit to it. That’s the whole idea—it’s THEIR why. It’s not my why. It’s not Morris’ why. It’s their why for working safely today. It’s not just ‘my daughter’—it’s ‘my daughter Sara.’ I cannot express enough how this is theirs.”

Status quo has no place at SMS Equipment, especially when it comes to safety. “We no longer accept generic hazards,” says Ettinger. “All of us can be specific, paint a clear picture, and remember the reason why we want to work safely. Another key component of SAT is the conversation that it drives. It creates an opportunity for leadership to discuss hazards and controls with the team members. It opens the lines of communication regardless if the team members are working together or remotely. This is engagement.”

Adds Campbell: “There’s no need to rush—it’s about doing it right. Stop and Think is about taking that moment to be sure you’re ready to proceed. That’s the behaviour we want to drive.”

Afterall, Ettinger reminds us that the longstanding mantra at SMS Equipment is safe by choice, not by accident. “If all of us can look at every aspect of our business with this same level of engagement, we can tackle absolutely any problem that comes our way.”