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The Health and Safety Plateau with James Pomeroy
The HSE plateau and the effectiveness of safety programs | James Pomeroy (Expert Interview #8)
In this interview, we chat with James Pomeroy, a prominent member of our safety advisory council. James has extensive experience in the field and we discuss the current flatline in the fatality rate as well as the adoption of safety management systems by Millenials and GenZs.
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– [Paul] Hello and welcome to HSE Online. My name is Paul Clark, founder, and CEO of Paul Clark HSE Engagement Services. Today Is a very special day as we launch HSE online, our digital and video content portal, bringing up team members valuable cutting edge leadership content from senior HSE business leaders all over the world.
Every month HSE Online WIll be broadcasting for C-level interviews on topics relevant to help and support you in your field from some of the greatest minds that are shaping the future to help us break through the current health and safety plateau. From North America to India, Australia to the Middle East and South America to Africa, we have the content to help you in your field right at your fingertips.
Paul Clark HSE Engagement Services are currently providing market-leading senior leadership events in the European market, North America, Middle East and right here in the UK where I am now. Where I’m stood in the grounds of the breathtaking Moor Hall Hotel and Spa on what is a beautiful sunny winter morning in the West Midlands, we play host to next month in March to our fourth HSE UK Congress where we’ll be bringing together 50 senior HSE leaders from all over the UK cross-industry to bring the most cutting edge content in the industry witth one of the most star-studded speaker line ups to ever be announced at a physical event to date.
What also makes our events unique is they are driven by their own industry advisory councils. And today, I have a real treat for you as I’m here at Moor Hall to interview the first in a long list of C-level interviews on HSE, firstly, by interviewing each member of our advisory council one by one. So let’s get started.
First up, Mr. James Pomeroy, Group Health Safety Environmental Security Director for Lloyd’s Register. Myself and James take a deep look into fatality rates and how incident rates have flatlined not just in the short term but over nearly six years. We also discuss HSE management systems and the adoption of these processes for millennials and Gen Zs.
HSE the perfect storm and finally we take a deep dark look at vigorously promoted safety programs and how effective are they really or are they just bogus? So let’s get started. Well, James, thank you ever so much for coming and, you know, we’re looking forward to having you join the HSE Congress UK again this year. Welcome to the HSE Online for the first time.
Got a few questions for you that I’d like to ask. So one of the things that come up through a bit of my research was the figures for serious and fatal injuries in the UK, U.S. and other developed economies show a worrying trend, while the rate of minor injuries has fallen by about two thirds in the past 30 years. The number of serious injuries and fatalities has remained consistent in the same period and this has become more profound in the last seven to eight years, where the fatality rate has plateaued.
As professionals or regulator are increasing dedicating their resources to mental health and wellbeing, we have to ask are we doing enough to improve control of serious and fatal injuries? So I guess my question to yourself is how do we as leaders in the HSE recognize this? And secondly, is our current approaches and thinking for serious and fatal injury prevention working or do we need to try something a bit different?
– [James] I think it’s a really insightful question and it really kind of speaks to some of the challenges we’ve got with it as a profession. So for those that don’t know the serious and fatal injuries, you’ve said, the incident rates both in the UK, the U.S. and globally, and you will find the same patterns in most developed countries are not reducing.
Now this is really worrying because serious and fatal injuries are infrequent but very serious for most organizations. We don’t even need to mention things like corporate manslaughter and the impact it can have in terms of morale on organizations. We’ve been focusing on a particular kind of thesis for about 50, 60 years, Heinrich introduced it.
And it was this idea that we focus on the minor and we gradually erode all of the causes of the minor incidents and ultimately that will lead to a reduction in the probability of serious and fatal injuries occurring. But actually the studies and all the research going through now says that’s false, that the kind of things that cause minor incidents are very different to what causes fatal incidents, fatal and serious incidents, I should add.
Fatal and serious incidents tend to be more complex, they tend to involve multicausal factors whereas the things that cause minor incidents generally have no correlation to those that cause the major incidents. Now that’s quite profound because many organizations have been targeting near-miss and safety observations. We could walk into many oil refineries or any type of organization manufacturing and many of them will have targets and they’re all based on the premise that you get more and more of this minor data, you act on it, and eventually, you’ll reduce the seriousness.
But if the theory doesn’t hold, then why are we wasting our time on actually targeting incentivizing people to do things that don’t have any real impact.
– And I think what this speaks to is a perfect storm in terms of safety at the moment, where many of the theories and ideas that we’ve had are really up for debate and really being challenged. So we’re in a situation where many, many areas of safety are really being reviewed and we’re having to think differently about how we approach it and serious and fatal injuries is an example of that.
– Controversial as well, I suppose?
– Yes, it is controversial. It’s a difficult area, serious and fatal injuries for many organizations to face because they are infrequent events. They are also incidents that you can suddenly be surprised from. Classically, people will say, “Well, where did that from?” But actually the precursors were dormant and were there in most organizations. But it also takes us actually into an interesting area of what we target and what we measure.
So many organizations, their primary metric for safety is their lost time incident rate. Now if you and I have a similar accident, chances are there’ll be a different outcome. Mine may result in three or four days from that slip or trip and you may just walk up, dust yourself and then walk off. So if we’re going to measure things based on outcome of whether they’re a lost time incident, it’s a really questionable metric.
What’s more important is organizations start to understand high-potential incidents around serious and fatal injuries. How many times did something happen that resulted in actual serious harm or had the probability to do so? That’s a much more meaningful metric but not many organizations are focusing on
[inaudible] or even reporting them.
– So quick question I want to ask. So I was doing some reading around <i>The Perfect Storm</i> in HSE. What are your thoughts?
– It’s really insightful. You know, we’ve been applying many of the same concepts in safety for about 70 odd years. We really are, and depending on whether your glass is half full or glass is half empty, we are in a greatest opportunity or we’re in a perfect storm. So let me just explain that a bit more. Many of the theories that we’ve been applying safety date back to about 1920 or 1930.
Actually, many of them, as I’ll come to explain, are really up for debate. Many of them are being challenged as being really questionable whether they work, and the most obvious example is Heinrich. The Heinrich has driven behaviors in the safety profession around things like near-miss reporting and focusing on the minor to then reduce the major. So there’s one element of things that are really up for debate.
The second element that we refer to in the perfect storm is what’s going on in major and fatal injuries. So the number of recordable injuries as measured by riddable or first aid injuries has been falling year on year for the most part of about 30 years. But actually the number of fatal and serious injuries is completely flatlining. Globally it’s not reducing.
So that really presents us a challenge and the challenge is, are we doing enough to prevent the worst outcomes? The third element around this perfect storm is a generational shift. So it’s what’s going on with the employees who are joining us now. And that challenge is around actually the expectations and how we communicate with those employees, most obviously things like millennials and Gen Zs, their expectations in terms of how we communicate, their voice, they want to be heard on, and actually how we engage with them is going to have to change.
The fourth element is the most obvious area, it’s about health and welfare. So there’s lots of talk around mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. And we only…I don’t need to talk too much about that. Most practitioners will be familiar with that. And the final element of this perfect storm is the opportunity created by data and digital. So most practitioners have an abundance of data.
It may be lagging indicators such as injury data, ill-health data, or it could be preventative leading indicators around training data, wellbeing, employee demographics. We have a rich pool of data and the opportunity in the digitalization of safety is to operate more efficiently, to use more evidence-based interventions and to see how some of that data correlates.
So we can actually start to measure for once and know actually whether the interventions that we’re having really are impactful. So this is what we refer to as the perfect storm and its really something I’m particularly interested in because when we bring all of that together, the skill sets of practitioners and the challenges that we face as a profession are really going to have to change.
– How if we look at safety systems and processes, okay? So some will say approach is way too bureaucratic and as a result, it’s creating more and more paperwork. Some safety-critical sectors, so we talked earlier about the aviation sector and how they’ve tackled this issue pretty head-on and radically simplified their safety systems. They did this because investigations into a series of aviation accidents demonstrated that safety procedures were a bit too complex, so long and not understood when needed.
What can we learn from the aviation industry and other high-risk sectors? And second to that, how will the next generation, I guess of employees, the millennials, the gen Zs engage with our paper-driven processes?
– Again, I think what you’ve shown in that question is some great insight into some of the challenges that we face and they’re particularly important that we do so because many organizations are transitioning from 18,000 to ISO 45,000 to run. So it’s a big change that many organizations are doing with their safety management system.
What we need to do is we need to look at the style of the structure of our safety management systems and think about who they’re written for and are we really writing for the audience? It’s probably more important to actually write in a simpler, more concise manner so that the user can actually understand. If I give you, for example, a 13-page work in a
[inaudible] procedure, the chances are you’re not going to read it. But if we try and learn some elements from psychology where I’ll give you five things and I say, I want you to remember these five things, get these five things right, then it’s more than likely that you’re going to follow them, you’re going to comply with them. So the first thing to say is let’s keep things simple because we know that we have a higher chance that people will understand it and then we have a higher chance that they will in turn then comply with it.
The second element of your question is particularly important, so the generational shift. So many people will be familiar with the generational shift by having millennials and the children of the millennials, what we call Gen Zs. Now these kinds of individuals coming through the employment market now, they expect different, they expect to be more consulted, they’re not used to actually in-depth elements of paperwork, so we need to actually write things.
They’re used to learning visually, they’re been brought up in an environment where they’re learning visually through YouTube and for other forms of e-learning. And they’re not used to that kind of the drudgery of 13, 14, 50-page procedures and documentation. So we need to actually write things. And it’s brought home to me by my kids who often use the abbreviation TLDR, too long, didn’t read, give them any piece of documentation over a page or so.
And it’s not saying anything about my kids, it’s just that’s the generational shift. Clickbait and all of that, the idea of actually I’m only going to read the first paragraph and then I’m bored. So we have to kind of embrace that and think how do we write things and communicate, and I say write things, maybe when we move away from written procedures towards video in some way.
But it goes deeper than just how we communicate in terms of how we consult and engage people because the expectations of Gen Z and millennial are very different.
– Well, they expect digital processes, don’t they, because that was how they were brought up and that’s how people are brought up now.
– Well, you and I were brought up in an environment where the teacher would stand at the front of the class and teach at us. The kids coming through now and in the last 10 years, they’ve been brought up in an environment to challenge, they’ve been taught to challenge. So if we’re going to give them that procedure about, I don’t know, forklift safety or driving safety or confined space, don’t be surprised if they don’t come back and challenge it and they’re comfortable doing so and they’re right to do so.
– There’s nothing wrong with that.
– No, you know.
– Great. Thank you. All safety professionals that we talk to, you mentioned earlier, Herbert Heinrich applied his ideas, you know, such as the, you know, famous Heinrich triangle, that amongst other current safety programs that we come across all the time, you know, behavior-based safety, zero harm, zero anything and so forth which are vigorously promoted by consultancies and adopted by firms and safety professionals.
But my question to you, James, is are these theories bogus with all due respect.
– So organizations need to decide what’s appropriate for them now. For some organizations, a behavioral-based approach is exactly right for them. They need a high level of engagement and consensus. For others, they may decide they want a more systems-based approach. For some organizations the idea around actually setting a target or an aspiration for zero, whatever you decide is appropriate is in itself unsuitable, but for others, that is exactly what they need something visionary.
So I think the first thing is think independently as an organization, as you say, look at the evidence. Where are people being injured or harmed? Where’s their health being affected and what feedback are they giving you? Then look and kind of attend conferences, attend venues and go out and look on the market what other people are doing.
But I think the final piece in your question is around digitalization because this is an area I’m particularly keen to see, so safety professionals and health and welfare specialists as well have a vast array of data within their portfolio. They have apps in the stage, they have employee demographic data, we have accident data, near-miss safety data, let alone the environment data.
Put that alongside the training data, and then you have a vast arsenal of data but we’re using very little of it, right? So the opportunity in the concept of big data and the idea about digitalization, it really is actually looking, what can we learn from the data? What is the data telling us and actually do we need to introduce some new specialisms within safety, for example, where we start to say let’s have a data analyst on the safety team, someone who really understands how to mine data and can correlate that data.
Because we have a treasure trove of information at our fingertips but we’re not using it enough.
– Absolutely. I mean. And funny enough, I had a conversation with another interviewee around data adoption and the biggest challenge is, you know, HSE professionals and not even the greatest data analysts struggle to turn data into actionable insight. And you have to think that the armory of the HSE profession has never been built around understanding copious amounts of data.
And so where can we support and, you know, have to think perhaps building into a digital EHS, IT roadmap, like perhaps might be able to support especially with all the technologies being implemented, wearables, VR, drones now as well. It’s all quite an armory but it’s just being able to take that and turn it into insight that’s going to help them capture and make sense and hopefully be able to reduce the number of incidences.
– I think that there are real opportunities in the world of digitalization, so you mentioned things like wearables. Of course, there’s the whole issue of GDPR and whose data that is, and we’ve learned from the news stories that we need to be very careful about that and make sure it’s compliant and [inaudible] On the data side, equally, I think the insights and the learnings of that are probably not going to come from safety, so the sectors that have done particularly well at this are customer research, particularly in retail.
If we roll back 20 or 30 years, the big retailers got very early on in big data and started to understand through loyalty programs. Now you might think that’s completely left-field, why am I talking about that because that’s where the specialism, it then moved into finance and banking and insurance. And so we now need to look and say, well we have this big what we term data lake, where have various kinds of segments of data in there, how can we actually bring some insight into that?
And it probably won’t happen through safety professionals, it’s going to happen through us partnering with some digital and data organizations to bring them in to actually say, well, here’s what we have in terms of data.
– Interesting. How is the relationship between an EHS professional and an IT specialist within an organization? Does that work quite well? Are you able to knock on the door to get support or?
– At Lloyd’s, we have a lot. We have a dedicated set of data team. I don’t think it’s necessary, you have to have the insight to be able to see that and see the opportunity. So we got very early on in this, and we looked probably about two years ago and hired in a series of data analysts to look at our safety data. But the first thing is you have to be curious, and you have to be inquisitive to say, “We think there’s opportunity there.”
And you have to also see the potential in the range of data that you have within an organization. The average rig chemical plant or large manufacturing organization will probably have up to about 30 to 40 separate pieces of data that will be siloed. They won’t be looking to see whether there are links or correlations between them let alone thinking about the opportunity.
So it’s really actually seeing the opportunity and then being prepared to invest because it does take time.
– James, thank you ever so much for coming in. Appreciate your time and thank you very much and we look forward to seeing you again.
– Thank you.