Safety’s Top 21 for 2021
By Dr. Josh Williams & Eric Michrowski
Recently, on the Safety Guru Podcast, we identified our Top 21 predictions on what to look out for in Safety in 2021. Our list is based on emerging themes in all our interactions with senior leaders. We’ve republished the high-level themes regarding Safety’s Top 21 for 2021 in this article, and encourage you to listen to our podcast for more details.
Safety’s Top 21 for 2021
1. Mergers and Acquisitions:
As the pace of mergers and acquisitions is likely to pick up in 2021, there will be increased attention on integrating Safety Cultures and conducting Safety Culture due diligence, something that isn’t sufficiently front row center today. Doing this well on the front end will help prevent unforeseen cultural challenges for years following the M&A.
2. SIFs and SIF Potential:
When you track macro data you can see the significant progress that has been made in reducing injuries over the past 10 years and unfortunately the insufficient progress around SIFs. More and more organizations are starting to realize that actions to reduce SIFs and Potential SIFs are often different. Based on our leadership interactions, we think that 2021 will see more attention being placed in reducing SIFs and Potential SIFs.
3. BeHop – Combining the Best of Behavioral Safety and Human Performance (HOP):
Rather than finding ways of integrating new ideas, organizations too often abandon what was working before. That’s the case with Behavioral Safety and HOP – we’ve seen some great ways to integrate the best of both worlds to increase impact and we are seeing more organizations trying to integrate the best of both worlds. For example, instead of checking hardhats, observations can be focused on checking themes such as “are you OK?”, “what would help you do the job better?” and focusing more on the conversation, not the cards.
4. Virtual & Flex Work:
Whether you like it or not, it’s here to stay in some shape. Based on a lot of current research, employers who don’t embrace it could face significant retention risks. This shift brings a lot of positive opportunities when properly embraced. Safety teams need to think about how to better adapt to this new reality – from observations, to conversations and personalization of messages.
5. Mental Health:
Particularly with COVID-19, studies have shown a significant increase in the rates of depression and anxiety, particularly for those 30 and younger. People are feeling isolated and alone. So mental health is becoming a more common area of focus for safety teams. Both the mental and physical side of safety are so critical going into 2021.
You can’t turn a page in the newspaper without reading about new apps, tools, technology, robotics… This brings a lot of new opportunities for safety leaders from data to process improvements that reduce hazards and we think the pace of change will continue to increase significantly in 2021.
A greater focus on removing the hazard. That’s ultimately the best way to impact SIFs. For example, can we send a robot into a confined space or can the work at heights be performed by a drone? With advances in the IoT (Internet of Things), robotics, we are expecting greater advances.
8. Big Brother:
With these technological advances (i.e. cameras on job sites, sensors…), there likely will be an increased perception of Big Brother watching. While some of these advances are very positive, organizational change considerations will need to be front row center otherwise we risk seeing people dialing down on their safety ownership.
9. Ownership and No Blame:
One of the most positive attributes of Human Performance (HOP) has been the focus on removing the focus on blaming the employee and focusing more on how the system failed. There is a need to combine that with elements of cognitive psychology to increase safety ownership.
10. Rethinking Safety Training:
2021 will continue to see a large generational shift in most workplaces. With that shift there is a need to rethink safety training and safety leadership training: bringing new technologies and micro learnings and moving away from the old classroom approach. We are talking about generations that grew up with iPads and technology day in and day out – there is a greater expectation on more interactive and real time training.
11. Big Data & Predictive Analytics:
With advances in technology, Big Data and Predictive Analytics are increasingly becoming incredibly helpful tools to understand where our hazards are located. This can be used to analyze observations or even in some organizations the hazardous jobs that will take place. But at the end of the data, someone still needs to take action which is where Safety Ownership is so critical.
12. Generational shifts in the workplace:
As we mentioned in #10, we can expect a greater generational shift in the workplace. This will bring issues and challenges around knowledge transfer and knowledge management. That will need to be a significant area of focus in 2021.
13. Too Much “Lean and Mean”:
With more organizations having to reduce operating costs, we are seeing an increase in themes around “not having enough people or resources”, “burnout”, “scheduling challenges”, resulting in an increase in production pressure. Balancing Safe Production messaging and finding the right balance of “lean and mean” will be essential to safety in 2021.
14. Developing Safety Leaders Beyond the Classroom:
While leaders often want to have the right impact on Safety, they don’t always have the insights needed to drive higher impact. 360s have provided too little insights as they don’t tie the impact of leaders to front line workers. We see greater use of better 4D insights increasingly being able to help leaders and leadership teams understand how to improve their leadership skills and impact together with Safety Leadership Coaching.
15. Increasing Safety Leadership Commitment:
Too often organizations rely solely on training as the lever to improve Safety Leadership and Commitment. While it’s definitely a great tool to leverage, sometimes what’s needed is simply to bring existing safety leadership knowledge to life every day. We’ve seen great success focusing on building commitments, habits, and even micro habits to make safety real. In lean times, this can be a great lever to drive rapid impact.
16. Safety Supervision:
Often Supervisors have the greatest ability to influence the Safety Ownership of frontline team member. Yet it’s often the level of leadership that receives the least investment. In lean times, this can be the best area of investment – to increase safety coaching and influence skills.
17. Safety Implications of Returning to Work:
We’ve got a large portion of the workforce that hasn’t gone into an office for over a year. As they return to work, there will be lots of safety hazards that they will need to be re-accustomed to. That will require focus for safety leaders to draw back attention to the hazards that exist.
18. Psychological Safety:
To drive Safety impact, team members need to feel Psychologically Safe to speak up and to feel comfortable calling out unsafe work, stopping work or escalating issues. We’re seeing more and more organizations drive the right emphasis and drive meaningful change and set up systems to get input from people that are on the job, doing the job.
19. Learning Environment:
We’re hearing more and more about learning environment. That’s a good trend, we’re going to see more of it in 2021. From safety suggestions, to close calls, to learning from incidents. Additionally, the more involvement and participation from team members, the more the learnings will stick. In a NIOSH study, the participants that were involved in designing their own observation card were 7X more likely to use it than those that were given a great card designed by another group.
20. Emphasis on Brain Science:
We’re learning more and more about how the brain works. We know about our capacity to process seven units of information at a time. We’re learning about some biases that get us in trouble like the fundamental attribution error (if I make a mistake, I blame the environment; if someone else makes one, I blame them). That’s problematic with injuries because if I get hurt, I’m more likely to look elsewhere for blame and if I am a leader, I’m more likely to blame the employee. Another example is Confirmation Bias, which can get us into trouble because we’re not always open to new ideas and new thinking. Focusing on an understanding of how our brain works allows us to get rid of some of those biases and increase impact.
21. Health & Safety is More Important than Ever – Make it Count:
In 2020, Safety Leaders became essential to help keep businesses open. In most organizations, Safety has gained significantly in terms of executive access. It’s a unique opportunity to capitalize and influence the strategy for the years to come – presenting a balanced view of improving Safe Production.