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#46: The CEO of Spotlight Safety

January 1, 2020 | 1 hour 3 minutes 33 seconds

In this episode of the Accidental Safety Pro, series host Jill James is joined by Corey Martin, a safety professional and founder and CEO of Spotlight Safety. Jill and Corey have a lot to say in this hour-long episode - they discuss everything from “work at the bench” to the hazards present at a brewery. You won’t want to miss this jam-packed episode!

Transcript

Jill:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and the Health and Safety Institute. Episode number 46. My name is Jill James, Vivid's Chief Safety Officer and today I'm joined by Corey Martin, a safety professional and founder and CEO of Spotlight Safety. And Corey is joining us today from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Corey, welcome to the podcast.st.

Corey:

Thank you for having me.

Jill:

So Corey, I'm so excited to talk with you. I've been reading some of the things that you've been sharing socially, especially on LinkedIn and I know we're going to get into that. But before we get there, I'm really curious to hear... I know you're a scientist, but I'm curious to hear how that all happened and how did a scientist become a safety professional?

Corey:

Yeah, so like a lot of your other guests, I'm a true accidental safety pro. If you had asked me 10 or 15 years ago what I would be doing as a profession, safety would not even be on the list, let alone at the top of the list. I was a scientist. I studied biology and immunology throughout school. I was like most scientists going the doctor route and then about halfway through undergrad I switched to focusing on being a professor and I thought that being a professor at the liberal arts institution would be a good match for my skillset. So I went to grad school, continued to study immunology and about halfway through grad school, I was in a position where I had a couple of medical challenges that required me to take a medical leave and also helped me reassess if being a professor was really what I wanted to do.

Corey:

So I started looking at the job scene and what types of positions were available and it seemed like every time a job was posted, there were numerous really well qualified PhD students with multiple postdocs and other great qualifications all going for the same positions and so I was like, "Okay, do I really want to do multiple postdocs?" I wasn't in love with the work at the bench in terms of the repetition and the lack of variety that comes with a lot of the scientific research today. And so I had a really candid conversation with a former professor of mine at undergrad and just started to evaluate if that was really the career path for me. I'm a teacher at heart. So I was kind of looking at other options.

Jill:

Like what else could be teach, yeah-

Corey:

Right, exactly. And so I found this position, it was going to be a temporary thing. I wasn't even really considering it as a longterm thing, but I became the research safety officer at Dartmouth College, which seemed to match my research background. I knew my way around the labs really well.

Jill:

And that wasn't your university either. You came out of, was it Yale?

Corey:

Yeah, so I was a graduate student at Yale, studying immunology ended up leaving with my masters after finding this position and really liking it. So again, I was going to take one semester off, maybe two just to get my bearings and then return and finish my PhD. But I ended up really loving the safety profession and completely unexpectedly. My role there was as the ultimate generalist. So I was the assistant everything, I like to call it. So I helped the bio safety officer, I helped the chemical hygiene officer, the radiation safety officer. I did some things with laser safety, occupational health and safety. I was one of the hazardous waste coordinators.

Jill:

That sounds very typical of a lot of people in university settings, at least those that I've spoken with. It's like, "Oh, and then it was this and then it was this and then it was that." Because, there really is a large scope of safety in that setting on a campus.

Corey:

Oh yeah. On the campus, I was part of the emergency planning group. It really just kind of extended everywhere, which was great for me from a safety perspective because it was really a two year crash course into everything you could do with safety.

Jill:

Right.

Corey:

It wasn't anything in huge depth but just getting those tendrils out and kind of soaking up as much as I could. It really changed my perspective of what safety was. So, when you're at the bench or you're in academia, it's really safety cop. EHS shows up once a year to do an inspection, you pass, you don't pass. They do your training every year but there's not really a lot of interaction with them and you view them as the safety cop and kind of the person who's going to get you in trouble if there's anything to get in trouble about.

Jill:

Yeah.

Corey:

And then I found myself in that role and I was like, okay, I was doing the inspections, I was interacting with grad students, but I was also the same age as all the grad students and Dartmouth is kind of in an isolated spot for a population. So I was in all of those social networks but also the safety cop for those students. It was really fun for me to kind of navigate that. Because, I would go into their labs for a social visit and it just changed my view of how to help them and also I think changed their perspective of, "Okay, this person's not just looking to catch me in a gotcha moment." And so I think both sides really benefited from that.

It's something that I've kind of applied to my current role and other elements of safety and just being that relationship builder and start the communication element before you get into any changes or findings [inaudible] you got to do.

Jill:

Right. Yeah. So you are using your social capital wisely at that point.

Corey:

Yeah, trying to.

Jill:

Having people be your peers and leveraging it for good. Backing up to a term that you used in case people who are listening aren't familiar of work at the bench, I know what that means, but for people who don't have that background, can you describe what that means for our listeners?

Corey:

Yeah, sure. So, I think there's this really romanticized view of what scientific research is and you get the snapshots, but I think a lot of times a five year PhD research program, you'll get positive data on maybe 20 of those days. And so a lot of the other time that you spend is optimizing protocols and just basically repeating the same experiment over and over and over, while you tweak the variables to get what you're looking for or just to kind of prove the process. So a lot of times it's a lot of monotonous work. I was working with cell culture, growing cells in the bio-safety cabinet and just making sure that they were healthy and ready for my experiments. My particular cell line was very slow growing, so it would take three weeks to do a particular experiment. And it's really just pipeting things back and forth. So, just moving liquids around for many hours at a time, trying to get as many flasks and dishes ready as I could.

Jill:

Yeah. So when Corey says the bench, it's like whatever you imagine as listeners of what a laboratory looks like with taller workbenches and biological safety cabinets. Like you mentioned you're doing that work in that environment, so it's the work at the literal bench.

Corey:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah. Not the most glamorous of day to day jobs, but-

Corey:

Super important though.

Jill:

Oh yeah. But very interesting and the intellectual side of it, is very rewarding for sure.

Corey:

Yeah. So what happened? What happened next? You said you moved on to something else. What happened next?

Jill:

Yeah, so I was kind of in the state of... As all of my social friends were graduating from their safety programs and getting their PhDs, they would go off and go to other places and leave the Hanover area. So I was kind of looking for what's next as well. Because of the challenges of doing safety and academia, I kind of wanted to get a different flavor of safety.

Corey:

Yeah.

Jill:

So, I basically wanted to try consulting and I didn't really know if that was what I wanted to do long term.

Corey:

Sure. But I was looking for a way to get into the industry side that wasn't, "Okay. I'm going to be a safety manager at X company." I still wanted the variety and consulting seemed to fit that. So I joined a company based in the Boston Cambridge area and leveraged my lab safety background into helping biotechs and pharmaceutical companies set up their programs and worked with many, many pharmaceutical companies over the course of the next two and a half, three years or so. I think that's probably the most rewarding process of my life. Kind of getting into the, how to help advance science without actually doing the bench work and enabling that interaction to happen. Because a lot of times, they're under big time crunches and want to get the production side of the development going, especially on the drug development side.

Jill:

And so you were working for a consulting company, is that what it was? Yeah. Okay.

Corey:

So it was a company of about 50.

Jill:

Okay.

Corey:

With 30 or so consultants and working directly with biotech groups.

Jill:

And pharmaceutical companies. Yeah.

Corey:

So a lot of startup companies, but even to large scale established companies for gap analyses and maybe other side projects that they kind of needed even if they had established EHS programs.

Jill:

Yeah. And so that allowed you that window or that door to see lots of different types.

Corey:

Absolutely.

Jill:

Yeah. Which is what you were interested in.

Corey:

So for me it's all about the variety of work environments. So you can only do bench work for so long before you want or you start valuing the variety of elements. The idea of getting into two or three different groups a day was nice and helping. At any given time I would have between 15 and 20 groups that I was working with.

Jill:

Wow, that's a lot.

Corey:

It just gives you a lot of different projects and problems to solve. It was completely different than anything I had done previously. So, it was so engaging.

Jill:

Yeah. And you get to meet all these different personality types that you're running into while you're doing that. That's one of the reasons that I loved enforcement work with OSHA, because it got me in the door of over 500 workplaces.

Corey:

Right.

Jill:

Where I got to observe and see the ways that humans work in the ways that they interact. And yeah, it's definitely a great education to be able to have that opportunity. Yeah. So, is that still where you're at Corey? Did you move on to something else?

Corey:

Yeah. So Spotlight Safety as a consulting group. I still am involved in the biotech pharmaceutical community and academic laboratories as well. So I would say lab safety is really my specialty. In Chattanooga, the biotech scene isn't quite as strong as the Boston Cambridge area. I don't think many places regionally will ever really rival the Boston Cambridge area. So I was kind of looking for other related markets to get into as well. So, a subset of my business is called Brew Safer and it provides EHS services and workplace safety consulting to breweries and distilleries.

Jill:

Interesting.

Corey:

There are a lot of them popping up, I think a lot of-

Jill:

Yes, there are.

Corey:

Groups are former hobbyists or garage brewers and maybe the workplace safety side of things isn't really on their radar when they're initially scaling up and commercializing. One of the unique things about the brewery setting is it's very analogous to large scale biotech, is it's still just vats of yeast. So, you're making a beer instead of producing vectors or vaccines or whatever you're really doing. And so a lot of the EHS components overlap and it's also a relatively complex industry environment in terms of all the moving parts and high pressure, high temperature, [crosstalk] hazards-

Jill:

Right, exactly. Maybe give a few examples of some of the hazards that you're helping people to mitigate around for. Well, I mean we probably, many of us listening know people who are doing, have a startup brewery, maybe are doing it in their garage of their home or their basement or maybe they have a successful first business started. What are some of those things that you're noticing?

Corey:

Sure. Yeah. So when you're working at the five gallon carboys scale of a brewery production, it's not always apparent what the top hazards are. But certainly once you get up to the multiple barrel vats and tanks and fermentation and moving these liquids around, you can start seeing really the complexity of it. So, you start getting into things like lockout tag out for high voltage equipment, you start seeing permit confined spaces because you can't fit in a five gallon carboy but you can certainly fit into a large fermentation tank.

Jill:

Right.

Corey:

And you need to get in there to clean. So a lot of the groups that I'm talking to have gaps in their policies in terms of maybe they didn't do a full PPE assessment, maybe they don't have a permit confined space policy. Most of those groups, even if they do have a permit, confined space policy are just relying on local first responders to be their rescuers-

Jill:

In case something, yeah.

Corey:

Exactly. Which may present problems if someone's actually in distress within the tank. I always point out the fact that it's very difficult for coworkers to stand aside if they see a friend or colleague in distress. So, they usually act in those cases rather than wait the 10, 15 minutes or whatever it takes for the first responders to get there. So those are the kinds of higher level things that I try to help them with. Obviously, once they get into forklift safety and working from Heights ladder safety is one that breweries tend to overlook in terms of working at height and they're always wet environments in breweries, generally.

Jill:

Yeah, [crosstalk 00:15:41].

Corey:

So, they're just a lot of factors and considerations that go into it.

Jill:

Yeah. Interesting. So have you been able to make inroads with that industry, like through an Alliance or organization that many of them are part of or how did that work?

Corey:

Yeah, so it's been a lot of networking. My strategy has been a combination of direct marketing and also partnering with some of the related industries. So, I've talked to a lot of insurance companies that are providing workers' comp and other support-

Jill:

Property, yeah sure.

Corey:

For these groups. Because, we kind of have mutually beneficial goals.

Jill:

You're right.

Corey:

We don't want to have incidents. So, that's been one of my strategies. And also there are a lot of brewers associations and alliances out there, there are guilds in most of the States and those types of things. So formulating those types of conversations to just promote safety as a need in a lot of these cases and identifying groups that may need some help in filling gaps and may not have the resources to dedicate a full time employee to learning and implementing those things.

Jill:

Yeah. Well, this makes complete sense and kudos to you for identifying a risk area. Safety is for everyone, something that we always say. Wherever human being works, safety applies somewhere to various degrees and you've found yet another market that might not necessarily be tapped right now.

Corey:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah. So Corey, I know one of the things that's challenging for all safety professionals when we're trying to get the attention of people to want to make change for safety is how do we measure it? How do we know what success looks like and what are those hard numbers or ROIs or KPIs that can be applied to safety. I'm curious to hear your take on that because you are a scientist. So, this is how your brain works.

Corey:

Yeah. So I'm very drawn to numbers and figures and the underlying components that go into those.

Jill:

Yeah.

Corey:

Yeah, this is definitely something that's been an interest for me and something that I like to partake in on especially in LinkedIn. There are some nice little debates going on right now about the benefits of leading versus lagging indicators and what the best safety metrics are.

Jill:

Yeah.

Corey:

For me it's interesting because the most popular safety metric right now seems to be incident rate and from a kind of process standpoint, kind of looking at the worst case scenario and going back from that can be informative, you certainly should learn from incidents and incident reporting to me is one of the most important things to make sure that it's robust and you're getting 100% of incidents, going through the safety program and you're learning from those followup processes. But incident rate is also pretty misleading and manipulatable from a worker standpoint.

Jill:

Yeah, say more about that.

Corey:

Yeah. As someone who was working at the bench and didn't really understand the concept of robust safety culture and making sure that we're learning from all safety incidents, it would be very easy to have a chemical spill or minor incident in the lab and then not report that. Right? So, if you're only using-

Jill:

Yeah. Like, "Oops, clean that up."

Corey:

Right. Exactly. So, you could just get the spill kit and clean it up and wash your hands and-

Jill:

You're done.

Corey:

Think that you're done. The problem with that obviously is that you're under-reporting your incident rate and if your only metric is incident rate, it encourages employees to under-report in order to get a better incident rate. Because the only direct way that those employees can influence the rate that you're using as a metric is by not reporting incidents. It's certainly something that I've seen upper managers really rely on, mostly. I think there's split consensus from the safety professional standpoint as to how good incident rates are at benchmarking programs. But it's certainly something that the upper managers tend to be drawn to as the quick and easy way to get a sense of are they near the industry average? Are they over the industry average? Are they under it? But it's not really a destination.

Jill:

Right, exactly. And I think, as safety professionals, we can do a better job of informing our management systems as to what those measureables are. What should they be looking at? And sure, incident rates and experience modification rates, the OSHA log reporting metrics, those are kind of the old reliable standards that even if you don't know that much about safety as a management person, everybody seems to know those. They're sort of like the comfortable old shoe.

Corey:

Yeah.

Jill:

Right? And what you're saying is we could do better as a profession to highlight other metrics.

Corey:

Right.

Jill:

So yeah, talk more about what you see those being.

Corey:

Yeah. I think there's this big push for leading indicators and I think it's definitely a good direction to go in. I think it all depends on the strategy that you end up using. So I've seen a push recently in some groups to use near misses and inspections and that kind of thing. But they're only looking at numbers. Again, they're not looking at the actual utility of what they're getting out of those. So they're not promoting the followup process in most cases.

They're just kind of putting a quota on near misses and then saying, "Okay, if we get this number of near misses reported, then we're doing well." Except that kind of turns safety into busy work for employees on the ground. And from a culture perspective, once you put things into the busy work category and you get a lot of lessening morale around it. So, they may be more involved from a they have to do this standpoint, but they're not actually looking at it from a, "How do we mitigate hazards?" They're looking at it as a, "I need to hit my quota."

Jill:

Yeah. And so-

Corey:

Yeah, go ahead. So, it really just changes the priority on their part from a can we identify hazards and mitigate them and in some cases they might even move something. Right? You kind of have to go to the worst case scenario. Are they creating some minor near misses just to hit their quota and save time? Right? So yeah, I think there are a lot of benefits going toward leading indicators, but it depends on how you implement them.

Jill:

Right. And so if you were going to record the near misses let's say, and you're saying that there's a next step to that for followup and digging into it, what might that look like in practice?

Corey:

Yeah, so for me, once you go to the near miss category, first of all, you have to make it as easy as possible for employees to report the near miss initially. So, a lot of people will think that implementing this really complex form, gets all the information upfront, but it also puts a burden on the employee. So for me, a text message to the safety person is driving that near miss, right? You identify the hazard, you have somebody else in the loop on it and it's quick. It may not work for every program depending on the size and scope and all that kind of stuff, but just quickly getting it out there and then having the safety professional follow up on that.

I think the followup without anything after it or the initial reporting without anything after it, doesn't really drive culture. Right? It just says, "Okay, I'm doing this to hit this quota or I'm doing this because I was told that it's important, but then nobody really cared about it." And when that happens, you're just reinforcing that safety doesn't really matter. And that is actually worse than just not having the near miss drive in the first place.

Jill:

Sure, sure. Yeah. So, following up with people and saying, "Okay, so this happened, tell me more about that. And then what can we learn here? What are things that we can put in place? Does anything need to be put in place?" Hopefully the result isn't someone checking some sort of box that says human error.

Corey:

Right.

Jill:

Right?

Corey:

And if you get positive feedback from that or you see somebody actually take you seriously and follow through on it, you're much more likely in the future to engage in that communication again.

Jill:

Yeah, right, right. So Corey, you've mentioned culture a number of times as we've been talking so far. I'm interested to get your take on what you think safety culture is and how might someone go about measuring that if we're going to... As long as we're talking about measurements.

Corey:

Yeah, sure. So for me, the most important thing in safety culture in any safety program is communication. Without that information sharing element, you're not really going to be able to identify all of the hazards present and you hear a lot of people talk about you need to get into the field or on the ground and really interact with your at-risk employees. And then it also is important to communicate that to the people who have the financial resources and the ability to make those policy changes. So when I view safety culture and really the ideal role of a safety professional, it's not so much the policy development, it's really just facilitating that communication through all levels of the organization.

I think one of the best leading indicators with that in mind is a safety culture assessment. I think it's a really underutilized tool in most industries because I think it's one of the best ways to get a full scope of feedback and also have it be very targeted to your own operations.

Jill:

So there are lots of safety culture assessments out there and you giant 200 question surveys and organizations you can hire to do that. What in your view is an effective way or tool to use, because I'm not necessarily sold on these 200 questions surveys myself, so I'm curious to hear your take.

Corey:

Yeah, no, there are definitely good ways to do it and bad ways to do it. If you make it into busy work or it takes a long time to get through, it's not going to be nearly as effective. For me, it's very targeted. You have specific outcomes that you're looking for and if you pair them with actionable items. So let's use the example of near misses. If you are wondering if your near miss reporting is effective and people are able to engage it well, one of the questions could be, do you think that near miss reporting is easy to accomplish? Or do you understand the process for near misses? That can give you a very quick assessment as to how your actual employees are viewing this process. And if they say, "No, it's too difficult." Well, then you can make it easier.

One of the things that I like to do for these assessments is to not ask, do you feel comfortable or do you know? Because I feel like most people will overestimate their own ability to complete tasks or their own knowledge and you're not going to get an accurate assessment if you do that. So I like to ask things along the lines of I'm confident that coworkers are trained and prepared to help me in an emergency or I'm confident that if I raised an issue with one of my pieces of equipment that it would be taken care of quickly. Or if I saw a coworker or a supervisor operating in an unsafe manner, I would feel comfortable speaking up and I know that my company would support me in doing so. Those questions really change the focus from what people are doing themselves to what the overall culture is.

Jill:

That makes so much sense Corey, because when you ask those questions about do you this, do you that, it's almost like a quiz, right?

Corey:

Right.

Jill:

And people don't want to fail. And so they don't want to say, "Well, I don't know." Because, that seems like a failure question. Right?

Corey:

Right.

Jill:

And so if you put the onus on them looking at the organization themselves through their lens, I see how that changes the dynamic. That's interesting.

Corey:

Yeah. So, I mean it doesn't have to be a long quiz or assessment. You can get a pretty good sense of the overall safety culture and communication from 10 to 20 questions.

Jill:

Yeah.

Corey:

And there are so many free tools out there now with surveys and you don't need a large group or certainly a third party vendor to make this happen. As long as you're approaching each question and pairing it with a tangible action item that you want to take out of that, you can be very effective with this and not a lot of time.

Jill:

Yeah. And so when you do something like that and you have the results in your hand and you're the safety professional, what should people be doing next? What would be your recommendation, what to do with results?

Corey:

Yes, I'm a big proponent of safety committees. So for me, next step would be to simultaneously report those results to the safety committee and also kind of pick out two or three highlights to bring to the upper management group.

Jill:

Okay.

Corey:

Hopefully your safety committee is involving all levels of the organization. You should have some at-risk employees there at the entry level positions. You should also have somebody from higher up who can make some financial decisions and put in place any of the policies or be advocates for the policies that you're discussing. So, it shouldn't just fall on the safety professional to be driving those. But the next step for me is really, of the questions that didn't score quite as well, which ones will influence the most change in a positive manner, the quickest. So I think one of the challenges for safety professionals is change is hard and sometimes you fall into a trap of trying to do too much change too quickly rather than kind of prioritizing the low hanging fruit and saying, "Okay, what can I start building momentum with and getting baby steps toward the goal that I want?"

Jill:

Yeah. And you're recommending that be done at the safety committee level and start with triaging the results of an assessment from there and moving.

Corey:

Yeah. So as a safety professional, my general stance is to not be the unilateral decision maker.

Jill:

Yeah.

Corey:

And the more you can share in even just hazard identification but also mitigation and controls, the more other people will take ownership of the program as well and not just constantly look to you for answers. Sometimes safety pros will just be the only source of guidance or decision making and it really creates an us versus them kind of mentality. Whereas if you involve more people from the organization, it's more of group think kind of thing and you'll get much more appropriate information and more actionable data because you're involving people who are actually performing those operations and able to see kind of gaps that you may not have anticipated based on the actual risk assessment.

Jill:

Yeah. More ideas, more ideas too. I want to mention to our audience for anyone listening, when Corey brought up safety committees, if people are thinking, "I don't have one here, how might I get that started? Or do you have to have a safety committee?" I would encourage everyone to check with the state where they live to see if there is a law in place that requires safety committees for workplaces. There are some States, when it comes to just OSHA compliance, if you're operating a business in a state run OSHA area, there are some state laws that require employers to have safety committees. And so you might want to check into that just from a compliance piece or if you need a little leverage to get one started and you have that law that might be good for you to check into.

Corey:

Yeah. It's also worth noting that some States are employee number driven. So you may have started your company without the requirement in place, but once you hit a certain number of employees that may trigger the need for a safety committee.

Jill:

Yeah. Good point. Yeah. And some of them are very specific about what the makeup of the committee needs to be in terms of equal numbers of labor and management as well.

Corey:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah. So, Corey, I think you've been talking, it seems like about how to start molding that safety culture in a company. And so for someone who's thinking, "Maybe this is something I could get started and maybe I want to start with one of these assessments." Like you're talking about. What would you recommend people kind of start with to try to build that leadership support?

Corey:

Sure. Yeah, I mean you hear a lot of people talking about the importance of top down safety culture and it has to come from the top. That's certainly true. If you don't have buy in from everyone in the company, I think it's difficult to start to enact the kind of safety culture changes that you're looking for. So certainly company leadership is really important. The way that that actually looks is going to vary from organization to organization. A large organization that has a CEO that's not visible at any of the sites or facilities may not be the best form of company leadership, whereas a 20 employee group that may be the right way to address it. But you really need to have somebody in a position of authority advocating for the safety program.

Corey:

It can be small to start. You could have them first of all attend the safety trainings, is a good start. Alongside all the other employees, I think that's a good look. But I've had some groups have success by sending out memos or updates or little safety newsletters that are coming from not just the safety team but also from other company officials and making some safety statements as well. So at the beginning of that training, if you have supervisor or other company official there, make a quick note about the commitment to safety. It doesn't have to be big, it doesn't have to be anything formal. But the more consistently you have those engagement opportunities, the better. Because it really all comes down to communication and inclusion and getting buy in throughout the organization.

Jill:

Yeah. And maybe identifying who is that internal leader who has for lack of a better term, more FaceTime with employees, the person that's visible, might be a place to start versus maybe starting at the top. Particularly if that person is invisible to people in their day-to-day jobs.

Corey:

Yeah. Even if it's just really well seasoned employee on the ground, if that's the person that everyone looks to engaging and building that relationship with that individual, they might be your most resistant to change employee, which makes it even better because then you can kind of use them as a resource to learn why they're having difficulty or changing or why they've always done it this way, which I think is a pretty common response. But the more you can do to build those relationships, the more success you'll have in kind of molding the culture.

Jill:

Yeah. Right. So, let's say you wanted maybe for our safety professionals who are listening, if they do want to start at the top of their organization and really working to try to inform their leadership as to what this whole safety thing even is. Because I believe there are still many leaders that safety seems like a foreign language.

Corey:

Yeah.

Jill:

What is it? How do we define it? How do we measure it? I think it's that thing where people have to wear PPE or that sounds like the cop role or whatever. How do you go about demystifying this whole safety thing and I think you might have a resource to share that you might want to talk about with that.

Corey:

Yeah. So I will take that segue and run with it. So I recently wrote a pseudo white paper, called The Safety Climb.

Jill:

Okay.

Corey:

And my motivation for doing so was really in the fact that with my clients, the fact I've worked with several organizations at this point, one of the key problems that a lot of safety professionals have is communicating the need of safety beyond regulatory compliance. One of the things that I think organizations get tripped up on is they view regulatory compliance as the end of the safety journey and, or they view that KPI. So if they get to below two percent incident rate, they're at the industry average, now we can stop, right?

Jill:

Right. We're done. Okay.

Corey:

We can focus on other things. We don't have to put quite as many resources into the safety program as long as we maintain that. And I think as most safety professionals have viewed, that's not the end of the journey. You still have a large gap between compliance and safety and an even larger gap in some cases between safety and proactivity and that true safety culture that's fully engaging in the communication element. You're looking at policies or things that are coming up in advance, you're really taking the time to at each level of the organization discuss it and contribute and you've really reached that peak.

So the safety climb is built on this theoretical hike up a mountain and it outlines different milestones and kind of walks people through the process of, okay, now you've achieved awareness, you know all of your liabilities. Now how do you fill those gaps? And you've achieved compliance, what do you do next? Gives you a more step-by-step approach rather than relying on one key metric or other things. It kind of broadens the scope. I also wrote it in a way that doesn't use a lot of technical language with the idea of this could be a document that a safety professional could hand to upper management and uses an icebreaker to start that communication process.

Jill:

Right. How many milestones are on the client?

Corey:

There are five milestones.

Jill:

Okay.

Corey:

So milestone one is basically this is the starting point. We don't have a safety program yet and milestone two is the awareness piece. So, we've done all of our due diligence. We're now aware of all of the elements of the safety program that we need to implement. Milestone three is compliance. So kind of the pseudo peak, I think we're done, but we're not quite done yet. Portion four is safety and then five is proactivity and forward thinking. Within each of those milestones there's a paragraph on the transition points, how to get from one milestone to the next, some of the tripping points that a lot of groups face and really how to pitch those transition points and the importance of moving toward the goal of productivity rather than the goal of compliance.

Jill:

To your management system. Yeah. I've read your paper, the safety climate. I have to say I loved it and I loved the visual and we'll share it in the show notes. So, for anyone who's listening, you'll be able to see and read what Corey is talking about right here. But just for the visual aspect of it, if you can picture a climb, like Corey is talking about, a climb up a mountain is what it looks like. And you've got all these sort of flags, these milestones that Corey is talking about. When you reach that, "We're compliant. We've checked all the boxes for compliance." It shows a little tiny plateau. Like, "Oh, this is a comfortable place. We could just kind of stand and hang out here forever. Might even pitch a tent." But you're not at the top yet. And so it's really beautiful.

What I loved about the visual aspect of it is if I were using it to present to them a leadership team, I would describe these milestones in little as short as I could vignettes and ask people, "Where do you think we are?" So you can kind of see and assess then, "Oh, we're at the bottom." Or, "No, we're halfway up." Or, "Oh, we're here." So that you can really take them on a journey as to what you're trying to get to. And I think it's just beautiful Corey.

Corey:

Thank you.

Jill:

Yeah.

Corey:

Yeah. So part of the motivation for using the mountain theme was because, as a business leader, I don't think many want to be at the milestone two or three stage and stay there. I think there's a kind of ego element of it where we want to be at the top of the mountain. If you're only looking at a number or a metric or compliance as the key, it's really easy to achieve what you're looking for without really striving for the, "We're proactive and we're safe." So you can get stuck in these lower levels of the climb without actually making it to the top. Part of the reason why I wanted to use the mountain was that there's always more you can do to continue your climb and reassess your safety culture and build it.

Jill:

Yeah. I mean, and we are competitive as a society, right?

Corey:

Absolutely.

Jill:

And so to be able to use that kind of visual is very useful. It's not necessarily different than the competitive nature of an incident rate. Right?

Corey:

Right.

Jill:

I mean, people are wanting to aspire to be this or that and you're taking this to a different point. I've done similar things with training technology and inviting safety professionals and their leadership teams into like, how are you doing training now? What sort of 21st century practices are you using to get training across, to make sure knowledge transfer is happening, and then actually ask people to plot themselves on, are you over here in this century with the VHS tape? Or where are you? And people will do that and they'll be like, "Oh man. Yeah, we're in this century." But we're doing these other things in our industry in this century, how do we bring these things together? And yeah, so I think these visuals are just powerful. I love the climb idea because it's not necessarily that you'll always stay at the top. Right?

Corey:

Oh yeah. Yeah. You can definitely fall back down if you're not proactive about it and maintaining the program to the level that you should be. Yeah, I think a lot of times, and I see this a lot in consulting, you can have a very well established safety program on paper and then... So you start off really well, but then maybe the former professional leaves or you get a lot of turnover and things start getting neglected and you might have areas open up as gaps that you weren't expecting because we just weren't maintaining the program appropriately.

Jill:

Yeah. I can see this visual Corey being used, in a wider aspect within a company to even show employees like, "Here's where we're at. We asked you to do this assessment and these are some of the things we've learned and we're also gathering this and we think we're right here at this milestone, but we want you to know that the next one we're working on is here and this is what it's going to take." Whether that's motivation within your safety committee and or within departments that everybody knows, "We're on this journey together and here's the goal. This is where we're moving."

Corey:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah. Really love that.

Corey:

Thank you.

Jill:

Love it. Yeah. So Corey, what else do you love about this profession? What are some of your favorite things or accomplishments that you like to talk about?

Corey:

Sure. So, I mean, I am very pro-relationship building and the soft skill side of it. So I always like to take on the challenges that maybe other people are avoiding. What I mean by that is every organization that I've interacted with has one person who's kind of the, "Okay safety, I understand it, but I don't really want to participate in it." Trait. Some of that comes from previous experiences with safety or in some cases and this comes up a lot in the lab environment, they are doing something now that is not even in the same league of hazard that they were trained in or have formally worked in.

So their view of safety in that context is kind of nonchalant, maybe a little cavalier and it comes across as arrogance and maybe hardheadedness. But until you actually communicate with them and build that relationship with them, you don't understand truly where it's coming from. So, a good example of this is, I was working with a group and they had really high risk chemistry, at least from what I was experiencing. Right? So, being someone who was on the outside looking in, I viewed it as pretty high risk. Certainly there was a personal safety element there that people just weren't taking seriously. It wasn't until after I had a really good conversation with that particular chemist that I understood why the view was the way it was.

It was really because the way he was trained was in an insanely hazardous environment where they were constantly faced with life or death situations and it wasn't in the US so they weren't nearly the safety standards and practices involved where he was trained. So that just completely put it in perspective with me, to me why he was having a hard time viewing the hazards that I was saying were really high as being really high. Right?

Jill:

Because he was like, "Yeah, this is nothing."

Corey:

Yeah, exactly.

Jill:

"Compared to what I've seen."

Corey:

So there's this element of, if you overstate the hazard in their context, they may not take you seriously. So what I was pitching as a particular high hazard situation, he couldn't interpret that in the same way. Until I realized that it was difficult to communicate with him because there were things that he was doing kind of day-to-day basis that weren't safe and-

Jill:

Yeah. Your understanding of risk was two different things.

Corey:

Exactly. And I was doing too much to overstate the risk in his mind because of his past experiences. That was a really eye opening thing for me because now anytime I have those conversations, I always start with what's your experience? If you start and you show them, they could have 35 years experience doing something and obviously that gives them a lot more intimate knowledge with their overall process than what you have as a safety professional, even if you've done your research and you're really committed to understanding what they're going through, they're always going to know more than you, right?

Corey:

So if you project yourself as the expert and you know everything and they need to kind of comply with the way you're teaching them to do things, it misses a really valuable opportunity to learn from them and help them understand where you're coming from.

Jill:

Yeah. So what did you do in that case? Were you able to come to an agreement?

Corey:

Yeah. So it took a long time, but over the course of many interactions and actually talking about things that weren't safety-related. So one of the things that I like to do is if I'm having a lot of conversations that aren't being productive, I'll start coming up with other ways to interact with them that aren't problematic-

Jill:

Sure, yeah. Or controversial or, yeah.

Corey:

So we started talking about things that were completely unrelated to the workplace environments, what you did on the weekends. Really showing those types of interactions, which allowed me to be in proximity to the work without overseeing it. So we could have informal conversations where I could see if there were any progress, if there's any progress being made but not actively feel or not have him actively feel like there were any things that I was doing to really check in on him or anything like that. Because we had those interactions, it got to the point where we started having this mutual respect and I was learning from him.

He was starting to take some of the things I was saying seriously and we got to the point where toward the end of it, he was helping me with things like chemical inventory reduction, which if you haven't done academic research or safety may seem like a small thing, but sometimes getting them to throw away a 20 year old bottle of something that's reactive is actually difficult.

Jill:

Oh yes. It's a hoarder in a different realm.

Corey:

Yeah. So, once I started getting some of those small wins with them coming to me, with, "I think we can get rid of this." Or, "I think we can do this a little bit differently. What do you think?" That's really when you start breaking through and getting progress.

Jill:

Yeah. So you really worked on building trust.

Corey:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah. I really liked that. Being in the proximity of the work. You could still be using your eyes to assess things, but you weren't there for that specific purpose.

Corey:

Yeah.

Jill:

You were working on building trust.

Corey:

Yeah, I've really changed the language that I use with at-risk employees quite a bit. And so I feel like-

Jill:

Yeah, say more about that.

Corey:

Yeah, so once you say you're going to perform a risk assessment or you're going to do a job safety analysis, all the flags go up and you don't get a true sense of what they're doing. So, I like having conversations about completely unrelated things. Obviously not to the point of distraction or anything, but anything that allows you to be around the work without raising those flags and causing people to tense up and maybe not do things the way they would normally do it just because you're there. I think a lot of that was learned in the academic setting where the safety professionals coming around like, let's evacuate the lab and let them do their inspection with nobody here, because then we can't get any violations.

Jill:

Right.

Corey:

Which isn't productive. Right? That doesn't help anybody. So, really formulating those relationships and being present and approachable and familiar, I think are really important elements.

Jill:

Yeah, that's beautiful. You want to reduce that. That pressure that sometimes is even performance pressure. Right? I think about when... For anyone who follows some of my work, you may know that I get in front of a camera sort of often in industries to shoot something called Supervisor Safety Tips where I'm going into work environments with their permission, of course, invited in to be able to film and teach one hazard recognition skill at a time in these small vignettes. And so come in with a camera crew and we're filming employees work sometimes.

I've learned that I've needed to have conversations with people, because it brings us performance pressure. So whether it's you as a safety professional or somebody with a camera or somebody with a different colored hardhat who's coming in with an eye of maybe authority or judgmentship, people work differently. I've seen that with a camera too, where it's like the safety professional I'm with might be like, "What is my employee doing? They're working so fast." Or, "They changed their posture." Or, "What's going on here?" That's what you're talking about. If you come in, without that trust, but with what people perceive as an eye of judgment, you're not going to get a true picture.

Corey:

Right. Yeah. My goal is to make my presence comfortable, not anxiety inducing.

Jill:

Yeah. That's a skill and a craft for all of us to work on. Yeah. It's deescalation sort of in a different realm I guess.

Corey:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah. I dealt with that a lot when I carried a badge and really trying to figure out quickly how to make people stop panicking. The second they see that badge, I'd see people's neck start to flush.

Corey:

Instant intimidation.

Jill:

Skin started to change. Yeah. Right? And so really work hard at how can I make this feel as comfortable as possible in this moment? So people can stop and breathe and be real and not artificial. Yeah. Wonderful. So Corey, one thing I want to make sure I share with our audience, and it's sort of a selfish plug I think on my part because I've really fallen in love with something else that you have going on. I love podcasts. Corey, you and your wife have started a podcast called So I Married a Scientist. And I have to say, I just love it.

Corey:

Thank you.

Jill:

And maybe it's the big nerd in me or maybe I just insulted you. I'm sorry.

Corey:

No, I will wear the nerd badge very honorably.

Jill:

So their podcast is... I might not articulate this appropriately, but in my view, your wife who's not a scientist is asking you the scientists all kinds of questions about a particular topic of science and you're explaining in a way that people who might not have a sciencey mind can understand, but then as soon as you go a little too high minded, your wife takes it back down and goes, "Now, what did that mean again?" And goes through it. And so I've been having so much fun listening and learning from you both. It's been really fun to listen to.

Corey:

Yeah. So we're having a ton of fun with that podcast and it really derived from a lot of conversations we have on a daily basis. So it was just something that we had a 20 hour drive to New England from Tennessee where I'm from originally and we were just talking about random things and why are the trees changing color and all these things. And we really just learned that we liked having those conversations. I mentioned that I have a kind of teachers' mindset and wanted to be a professor. So it's a really cool way to be involved in the science literacy element and maybe give back a little bit of... I think one of the problems with the scientific community is that we're a little isolated and don't really communicate the advances or the actual underlying data very well.

Jill:

Or that science can be cool and it really is informative and changes the way we do things.

Corey:

I think everyone starts with a lot of curiosity and affinity for science, but then once it gets to higher level classes, maybe if they don't have an immediate affinity for it, it's not something they want to pursue. And then it just becomes something that's there but they're not really interested in. And that's something that I've learned a lot from Melody, because she asks these questions and I'm like, "That's a really good question." We're able to carry out these conversations that are both really fun but also pretty informative.

Jill:

Yeah. And practical as well. You're talking about things that are practical, whether... I listened to an episode you did on influenza vaccine, something you did on GMOs and something about buoyancy. I was listening, doing my dishes one night to the buoyancy one and my 17 year old walks in the kitchen, he goes, "Mom, why are you trying to learn about buoyancy?" I'm like, "Because it's interesting." And so it's gotten my attention, it's gotten my child's attention. I shared it with a friend of mine yesterday who said, "Oh, I'm going to play this in the car for my two college aged kids when we're driving to a Christmas thing." She's like, "This is going to be great. We're going to be learning and talking about science." And of course safety is one of the sciences too.

Corey:

Yeah, absolutely.

Jill:

So, I'm curious when and if safety ever bleeds into any of your podcast episodes, I'll be listening for that chorus, see if it just sort of spills over.

Corey:

Sure.

Jill:

Since it's part of the safety practice. So, it's called So I Married A Scientist. Shameless plug for Corey.

Corey:

Yeah. I appreciate it.

Jill:

It's just because you know what, love science, safety is one of the STEM initiatives too. And why not share some interesting information and teach us all. So Corey going forward yeah, what's next for you? What do you see happening and what are you going to keep working on?

Corey:

Yeah. So really want to keep building upon this safety climb process and message and kind of shifting the overall focus of the industry away from maybe metrics that again can be manipulated and maybe not getting the full story and really just helping safety professionalls expand their approach to working with upper management and kind of engaging those changes that they're hopeful to engage and maybe giving them more tools to use, to enact that change. I think one of the things that people fall into trouble with is, again, just making too big a change is too quickly before they've really laid the foundation of that relationship and trust. The more I can do to help move that narrative, the better.

Jill:

Wonderful. What I love about the safety climate, what you've put together is that it's transferable to any kind of industry environment. Whether it's academia or construction or a factory or healthcare, I really see it transferable to all workplace settings. And so I really appreciate that. I'm going to definitely keep following your work, Corey and keep moving forward. I think you have a lot to share, a lot to share with us as safety professionals. So, thank you.

Corey:

I appreciate that. Thank you.

Jill:

Yeah, and thank you all for spending your time listening today and more importantly, thank you for your contribution, making sure your workers, including your temporary workers, make it home safe every day.

If you'd like to join the conversation about this podcast episode or any of our previous episodes, you can follow our page and join the Accidental Safety Pro community group on Facebook. And if you're not subscribed and want to hear past and future episodes, you can subscribe in iTunes, the Apple podcast app or any podcast player that you'd like. You can also find all of our episodes at vividlearningsystems.com/podcast. We'd love it if you could leave a rating and review us on iTunes. It really helps us connect the show with more and more safety professionals like you and I.

If you have a suggestion for a guest, including if it's you, you can go ahead and contact me at social at vividlearning systems.com. Special thanks to Will Moss, our podcast producer. Until next time, thanks for listening.