Fostering a Risk Mindset
Thirty-five years ago, a chemical exposure at a plant where I was working resulted in the death of one of my colleagues.
In the weeks and months that followed, safety became paramount. There was a new focus on educating employees on the dangers of the specific chemical and its impact on the body. The proper use of personal protective equipment now was more important and discussed more often. We were trained to be much more aware of risks, which helped transform the safety culture of the organization.
Why did it take a fatality for this to happen?
Fast forward to today, I’ve spent more than two decades in the Mining & Metals industry helping clients achieve safer workplaces. When it comes to safety and mining, it’s clear we have made a lot of progress. But it’s also clear that we still have a lot of work to do.
The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) member companies reported 43 deaths in 2021, more than half the number of deaths in 2012 (90) and 2013 (91). Not including 2019, when 250 died in the Brumadinho tailings dam collapse, we appear to be hitting a plateau as deaths have been between 43 and 50 each year since 2017.
The same can be said for injuries in the mining industry. While there was a 5 per cent increase in worldwide injuries to 7,355 in 2021, injury totals have been pretty consistent since 2017.
It’s essential that mining companies today, in Canada and beyond, foster a risk mindset: By managing risk rather than managing safety, organizations can become more proactive in their approach, which in turn results in impacts that are far-reaching beyond just safety.
Admittedly, this is a shift in thinking.
Shift your mindset from safety to risk
Safety professionals traditionally used the Heinrich Pyramid as a guide – if you reduce the events at the bottom of the triangle, you will reduce the number of Serious Injury and Fatality (SIF) at the top of the triangle. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more widely accepted that focusing on the bottom of the triangle won’t have a major impact on actual serious injuries and fatalities.
The focus has been on the inherent risk in the work being done. Once the risks are identified, then SIF precursors can be identified, and controls established.
It’s crucial that organizations change their mindset.
One place to start is by shifting from a safety mindset to a risk mindset. While they sound similar, there’s actually a huge difference between managing safety and employing a risk-based mindset.
The chart below illustrates this shift in thinking, with the left side representing the traditional safety mindset and the right side offering a more modern, proactive approach.
Many organizations still manage safety performance by focusing on lagging performance indicators. When those indicators are positive, the organization is lulled into a false sense of security. However, risk is still present, and it continues to evolve due to changes in processes and equipment. New key performance indicators need to be developed and adopted that provide management with a clearer picture of SIF exposure.
Risk reduction in and of itself is continuous. And this should be the goal of management. It’s one thing to encourage employees to work safely; it’s taking things a step further by educating employees to make them aware of risk.
Employee involvement is essential as it’s unrealistic to estimate risks without involving the people who are actually doing the work. But it goes far beyond providing a checklist that covers your critical control management (CCM) program or bombarding new and old employees with safety rules.
Truly engaging your team should be your focus. How do you do it?
Establish open lines of communication to elicit feedback, feelings, suggestions, and ideas. Consider using surveys (including onboarding surveys for new employees) to help educate and capture a more honest and open opinion of how you’re doing. Provide regular updates on (especially successes), action items and areas of improvement; your communication to your team is key.
For Iron Ore Company of Canada, our team became an extension of its team to help with its ‘Courage to Care’ program. We met with its employees actually doing the work – not the supervisors or leaders – and had them map out their work in detail before taking their input to their peers to ensure accuracy and encourage engagement. From there, we trained them on risk identification and prioritization and created a risk matrix specific to them. That led to a focused plan to reduce or eliminate the risk.
Once there was a risk mitigation plan, they took it to leadership, highlighting where improvements could be made quickly (in many instances at no or little cost) and others that were more complex and required more support (in some cases with additional cost). The first step is an open discussion with Leadership about the risk and the proposed solutions. This is being done before an incident has occurred and is a more open discussion than what takes place after an incident. The next step is agreement to support the improvement and to provide regular communication on its implementation. This is in contrast to a more common occurrence when an operations person brings a problem to their supervisor and waits for them to solve it. When it doesn’t get solved the level of employee engagement declines.
Modifying the behavior of supervisors and leadership can be challenging. We made a conscious decision not to include them in the early process so we can encourage a more open environment for employees to share their feelings. We also want the leaders to learn how to support their employees to help solve problems.
Once a program is in place, sustaining that program is critical
The biggest threat is complacency and the belief that all the risks have been identified. Another threat is ignoring new risks, which can damage the very risk awareness culture you’ve started to build. As mentioned, tracking, and celebrating the success and keeping in constant communication about your efforts will go a long way toward keeping your team engaged.
It is important to realize that risk decisions are largely emotional in nature. There is a need to build a personal link with the employee so they realize that if they take an unnecessary risk the outcome can impact them and be more severe than just discipline for not following a safety rule. With this in mind it, is also important that leadership communicates with employees in a way that builds an emotional connection with them.
Remember that engaged employees feel valued. They feel that their voice is heard, which leads to enhanced loyalty and trust. An engaged employee is happy and risk aware.
And when risk is on the line, you will need all the engagement you can get.
About the Author
Ward Metzler is Director, Industry Leader, North America of the mining and metals industry and Canadian operations at dss+, a leading provider of operations management consulting services. An internationally recognized safety professional, Metzler’s expertise includes Project Safety Management (PSM) and Operational Risk Management (ORM) with a focus on the mining and metals and oil and gas industries.
About the Company
dss+ is a leading provider of operations management consulting services with a purpose of saving lives and creating a sustainable future. dss+ enables companies to build organisational and human capabilities, manage risk, improve operations, achieve sustainability goals, and operate more responsibly.
Find out more at www.consultdss.com.