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#63: Safety DNA

September 16, 2020 | 1 hour 1 minute 26 seconds

In this episode of the podcast, series host Jill James interviews Dr. Esteban Tristan. Dr. Tristan holds a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology and is a member of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and the American Society of Safety Professionals.

He’s actively involved in applied research and has published articles in professional journals such as the International Journal of selection Assessment, the Journal of Organizational Psychology, the Journal of Safety Research, and EHS today. Listen to Jill and Dr. Tristan talk about safety DNA and much more!

Transcript

Jill:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by the Health and Safety Institute. My name is Jill James, HSI's chief safety officer. Today I'm joined by Dr. Esteban Tristan. Dr. Tristan holds a PhD in industrial and organizational psychology. Dr. Tristan is a member of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and the American Society of Safety Professionals. He's actively involved in applied research and has published articles in professional journals such as the International Journal of selection Assessment, the Journal of Organizational Psychology, the Journal of Safety Research, and EHS today.

Dr. Tristan has been implementing pre-employment systems, conducting job analysis, designing validated assessments and providing various training and coaching solutions for more than 15 years. One of those assessments is called safety DNA, which we'll be hearing about today. Over the past decade, his primary focus has been helping organizations from multiple industries to improve workplace safety through hiring and training systems throughout the United States, Latin America, Europe and Asia Pacific.

Currently, Dr. Tristan is Director of Corporate safety solutions with PSI Services and joins us today from Pennsylvania. Welcome to the program, Dr. Tristan.

Esteban:

Thank you so much for having me, Jill.

Jill:

It's not often, in fact, never, I believe you are the first person with a PhD in industrial and organizational psychology on the show. So, I think maybe that's a good place to start. I have known one other creature like you in my professional career, who was instrumental and a great mentor to me in my career. I know the value of what it is that you do, but perhaps our audience doesn't know any creatures like you either. And so I'm wondering, what is an industrial organizational psychologist?

Esteban:

Yes. It's that other type of psychology that most people don't hear about a whole lot. Typically, a lot of us start out wanting to go into clinical psychology and help people with their problems. It's one that we tend to hear about later on. So, we don't do therapy for buildings or things like that. It's one I've heard a lot.

Jill:

That's funny.

Esteban:

Yeah. Industrial organizational psychology, or IO psychology for short, is really, if you summarize it, psychology applied to the workplace. In other countries, regions, it might be referred to as occupational psychology. Different parts of the types of organizational psychology. But really we concern ourselves, Jill, with measuring and predicting behaviors and outcomes to help organizations perform better. A large part of it, and certainly my focus, but a major part in IO psychology concerns itself with measurement. So testing, assessments, measuring of individual differences in anything knowledge, expertise, capabilities, competencies to be used for decisions about recruitment or pre-employment to see who might be most successful or a good fit in a particular type of job. It might get into training and development, a lot of work surrounds itself with leadership.

And so, that's one part of it, certainly, but it's actually a broad area, like anything. Once you look into it, there's a lot of different things you can kind of specialize in, but really helping companies through data-driven decisions and measurement to have successful outcomes in the business world and organizations.

Jill:

Yeah. How did you come to find that particular practice? You said you start out in psychology and maybe people think that's doing therapy kind of work. Is that what you thought you were going to do? How did you come to this?

Esteban:

Yeah, that's a good question. Going back, I think about it, in undergrad, that's what I was studying to go into clinical psychology. And I did a lot of, I tried to get experience working in group homes and different environments in a clinical setting. And to be honest, this was, dating myself here a little bit, but this was kind of mid 90s. And I remember early mid 90s getting some advice from advisors back them, that the HMOs were actually getting big, and there was concerns about, you'll be struggling to get paid or fighting for reimbursement from insurance companies and things like that. And so I said, wow, I'm going to spend almost 10 years in school to be trying to get paid.

But through that and through some advice, I found out about, why don't you look at something called industrial organizational psychology. As I looked into it more, it just seemed really interesting, and I took a few undergraduate courses in it and kind of went with it. And soon after that, I applied to a PhD program for graduate school. And I was really blessed that I ended up enjoying it and doing well. It worked out for me so far. But like I said, a lot of us start out with other tracks and some of us kind of end up here. We don't learn about it before college age I think unless you know somebody that's done it.

Jill:

Right. Right. Right. Fabulous. Well, so fascinating. So one of the things that I really wanted to talk with you about today, which maybe some people who are listening have heard of this before, I had not prior to meeting you, that one of the assessments you're talking about, developing assessments, one of those assessments that you developed, you have coined safety DNA. And it sounds like such a fascinating name all by itself. Wondering if you can describe what is safety DNA, what isn't it, and how did you come about to developing what is an assessment tool, correct?

Esteban:

Yes, correct. And maybe I could provide a little bit of background on sort of the company that I am at at PSI Services, just a little bit about that we're a global provider of workforce solutions. Very broad, all over the world in terms of pre-employment, leadership development, certification and licensure testing. Any kind of test or assessment you can think of in any industry, and job type.

So I had been working with a predecessor, a company called Select International prior to that. We we joined the PSI Team a couple years ago. And using those assessments for different purposes for selection, and we worked a lot in manufacturing settings and industrial settings. Safety was always something that we looked at. But over the years and through some work abroad and some really high hazard settings like mining and oil and gas, one theme that came up a lot was, it's nice that we have this test that we can hire good productive employees, and even it included something around a small component about working safely. But they said, what we really need is something to help coach people or the people that we have to help make us better, help make us safer with who was already here. At the time, that was not a big focus. And this is going back a little over 10 years.

And that kind of organically grew both here, and I had spent some time in Australia actually working with a partner company there. But after the economic, the Great Recession, if you will, that became something we're hearing about more and more. And so we set about to really, okay, we are good at developing tests that are predictive of behavior and outcomes at work, and we've measured safety in some small capacity before to help people that are safer along with all the other things, productive and good attitude and problem solvers. But can we build an assessment that specifically takes a deep dive just all of the things that go into influencing safe behavior. And that's really where that grew out of.

Jill:

Yeah, fascinating. Fascinating. So, can you tell us, if we're going to talk about the assessment and what it is and how it works, does it seem to make sense to start there? What is the assessment? I know that you have two tracks for it. Can you talk about that?

Esteban:

Yeah, absolutely. I think it made sense related to your first question, Jill, just talking a little bit about what we even mean by safety DNA. So an assessment is something that an industrial psychologist builds to measure anything you want it to measure. So the most important thing is what that construct is or what that competency is. So, when we say safety DNA, what we really are talking about is a set of traits, individual characteristics. Every person is uniquely different you. We all have different personality traits, experiences, mental abilities, things that come easily versus things that are a little bit more challenging for each person. It's kind of a constellation that's unique to each person. Values, attitudes, that all fits into that as well.

What the research in IO psychology had found was for a good 30 years or longer, there's been studies done that had found that certain traits and abilities, characteristics are predictive of safe behavior or at risk behaviors and injuries and safety incidents. Now, this work kind of was kind of all over the place in different studies by different practitioners, academics. And it looked at maybe one trait at a time, but never really pulled them all together. So what we did was, and there have been some recent, what we call meta-analysis, studies that are, many studies looking at those, and some have been done around safety. And it's shown that these traits, when measured properly and when you look at multiple traits in people, you can actually predict to a statistically significant degree a relationship, people that are more likely to be involved in injuries or incidents. Not saying that's the only cause but that's one contributing factor is the makeup of the individual.

So, that's what we mean by that. When we say safety DNA and what that particular assessment measures is the traits and abilities and characteristics that are universal. Everybody possesses them, but they have shown over time and in different studies, different industries, to be predictive or to show a significant relationship with safety related behaviors and with incidents on the job.

Jill:

What kind of questions are asked in the assessment, and how do you measure them?

Esteban:

Yeah, absolutely. So a good assessment is going to, there's many out there behavioral assessments. So first of all, it's not about knowledge. One thing that people should know that this is actually not at all about, if you are certified safety professional or OSHA knowledge or whatever it might be, HSE technical knowledge, it's not that.

Jill:

It's not a test.

Esteban:

Yeah. We like to say it's an assessment. And it's not a good or a bad result, everybody's different, and it's not a pass or fail, at least the way we use this particular one. It's more of a development kind of self-awareness tool to help you know about yourself and how you respond in different scenarios and situations to help keep you and others around you safe.

Back to your question, the types of questions, there's many, so some of them are personality questions. You might get a question on a scale of one to five, strongly disagree to agree. You might get a question like, if there's a low amount of perceived risk or if I think that there's a low chance of something happening, sometimes I will bend a safety rule. Or maybe it's something like people have told me I do some crazy and somewhat dangerous things. Those are just some examples.

Other questions that we have, I think one of the reasons our assessment's been pretty predictive is that we don't rely on just that kind of question. So we have a what we call work samples. So simulations where it's more of a show me you can do it. So we might show you a picture of a typical, maybe it's a warehouse, or maybe it's a manufacturing plant or something on the road. And we might show you, have you look at the picture, and then take that away, and then ask you to recall what did you just see. Did you see one forklift or two or did you see three workers or one? Were they wearing this type of PPE? What did you see? For example, tell us about your working memory, which has been an important factor in predicting risk likelihood.

And then other questions yet might be to put you in a hypothetical scenario. We've got this going on, this machine's breaking down. This is the situation. Here's some different ways of responding. What do you think about each one of these response options? And so, right there, that's three very different types of questions that we use in that assessment, and they're all kind of tried and true item or or question types, if you will, in assessments that are used in the workplace.

Jill:

Yeah. And full disclosure, I took the assessment myself with Esteban a number of weeks ago along with a coworker of mine. And the scenario that you're setting up describing, observe this scene and then now recall what you saw, that was so hard. I felt like I was on this, am I looking for safety things, am I not looking for safety things? And then the questions come next, I'm like, oh, man, that's not even what I was looking for. And then my coworker and I compared notes. He was looking for absolutely different things than I was. It was really interesting to take that assessment. And maybe we'll be able to talk about my results at some point in our conversation today.

You had talked about your work with leadership. And so you use this assessment to also help identify leadership or leadership styles. How does that work when you're working with leaders?

Esteban:

Great question, Jill-

Jill:

And what does leader mean? We should probably establish that too, with whom you work.

Esteban:

Absolutely, yeah. We do a lot of work with pretty much anybody at any level of the company. But we do particularly focus probably more so even on leadership. And to that question, what do we mean by leader. We mean anybody with supervisory or leadership responsibilities. And that might actually be someone With no direct report. So basically, in a lot of companies, anybody who's a team lead or above, especially first line, supervision, foreman, or a supervisor, all the way up to the C-Suite would constitute as a leader.

And what's really cool about our work is that we work with a lot of companies in different industries with all those levels of leadership. That includes also people from the HSE side, HSE staff, safety professionals who might have formal or informal leadership, they're going to play an important role even if it's informal leadership in terms of safety at that site.

Jill:

Sure. influencers.

Esteban:

Yes. And so, what we do with those is similar. We actually have an assessment that's a little bit more comprehensive for them that will look at their safety DNA as well as their leadership style and several important leadership behaviors or competencies. And so, what we found is, based on a lot of previous decades of leadership work and theory, and draws upon some situational leadership theory, but everybody has a different natural leadership style. I like to call it your get out of bed in the morning style.

Some people are more buddy buddy and relational in how they lead. Other people are more transactional. And there's different styles so we'll measure those. And then as well as various other competencies that get into things like communication, adapting to change, feedback and coaching, because there's different personality traits that will help or hinder or make it comfortable or less comfortable for leaders to do those things. They're learnable and coachable, but depending on what, it's important to know their profile to see where they will need to invest a little bit more time in terms of development.

And what we'll do, Jill, the leaders would get their profile and then there's different things. You could do a training or some sort of learning experience to learn about what those things are. And then mixing that with coaching and debrief and explaining that to them and really tying it to safety issues and the team members that they lead from a safety perspective. So basically, how has this profile enabled me to be a better safety leader to reduce risk for that team, to use my strengths, and to also mitigate my blind spots? I like to call them blind spots? It's something that they may not be aware of which we can help them increase awareness of it and work on that.

Jill:

So wondering, could you give maybe some, tell some stories about perhaps some leaders that you've done this with and what some of those strengths are, what some of those blind spots are, so we can kind of wrap our minds around application?

Esteban:

Yeah, absolutely. And there's different pieces. The safety DNA part, I don't know if it's helpful to talk a little bit about what that is as well as the leadership part, maybe taking a step back there. With the safety DNA what we mean by that is basically four broad factors. I talked about what those traits are. So each one there's a lot of small pieces, but one of them is control. So your emotional control under stress, as well as do you believe that you can influence future events through your behaviors and your decisions today. So kind of fatalistic versus do you feel ownership of your future and can you do something about your situation today. Comes from a trait called locus of control, it's been around in psychology for a long time.

Another factor, which is more of an ability is actually awareness. So that's why we have those type of items in the test that you were talking about, Jill. But just some people are able to have a greater natural resting level of attention to detail. They just kind of tend to, without trying a whole lot, notice a little bit more detail or movement or changes in their immediate surroundings and others, whether it's memory or it's noticing things. So that's an important part.

Another trait is their personality as it relates to rules and policies. So if we're honest with each other, some of us like rules or knowing that there's a certain correct way to do something, and that makes us accept rules, it's our happy place, if you will. Other people tend to say, you know what, that's really restrictive, I'd like to use my knowledge and my experience, and I think I can do it faster or better, or do it differently and still safely. So we all view rules differently, and then the fourth factor, we call it caution, and that's kind of probably what a lot of people think of in this discussion. It's basically their level of risk tolerance or risk aversion. Just risk in general. Am I going to take that new job out there and move my family, am I going to make that big purchase or some people check all the facts and other people go with more with their gut and they make quicker decisions.

So again, it's control, awareness, rules and caution are kind of the four factors. And they can influence anybody doing any kind of job. But especially as a leader, you can start thinking about how those four factors are going to influence their decision making. If I'm somebody who is really comfortable with risk, I might say, you know what, we don't need four or five people on that site today on that job. Maybe we can get by with two, the real experienced, or maybe I'm going to hire that contractor who did some risky things before, but boy, they could save us money, and I'm comfortable with the risk that we can manage that.

Now, as a leader, I'm making a decision that might be influenced by my greater comfort level with risk. So, that's just one example from using the safety DNA factors.

Jill:

Right, right. Yeah, I have my results in front of me as you're talking about it looking at the quadrants. I believe I scored basically even in all of them if that makes sense.

Esteban:

Yes, you had a very well balanced profile there, Jill, I believe. No major blind spots.

Jill:

Sort of normal like sitting on the washing machine. Okay. Maybe it's more like my investment portfolio, you want it balanced.

Esteban:

Exactly. I was going to say, sorry, it's interesting because a lot of these traits are kind of, when I explain it to people, it's a bit like a bell curve, where you have the way we measure things and they're distributed in the population is that, let's say risk aversion like we talked about or that caution factor, if we look at it, it's going to be generally by and large distributed like a bell curve, that most people will kind of score around an average or in the middle. And then it's going to be fewer people that are really comfortable with risk or really averse to risk. And so, you kind of scored more with the typical, I hate to say it, but the typical personal score somewhere in that range on some of these.

Jill:

It actually surprised me because I think of myself as being very risk averse. And so I thought I would be on the other end of the bell curve.

Esteban:

Yeah, I hear that a lot, especially from folks in the safety world.

Jill:

I have to show these results to my son because he always calls me worst case scenario mom, which then in my mind lines up with risk aversion. I have to say, look, I'm not that bad.

Esteban:

Yeah, exactly.

Jill:

Yeah. You were talking about the leadership piece. So the safety DNA is an assessment that you would give to anyone, right? Regardless of where they are in a company, this piece of the assessment is something that you do with everyone in an organization potentially?

Esteban:

Yeah, correct. And the safety DNA part of those factors I just mentioned is really one that anybody would get, you can all benefit from it. And by the way, these factors would be, they can help you at home or with your family quite a bit. So next time you're planning a vacation or holidays or obviously on a more serious note, right now with COVID-19 and the situation, which is so challenging, these factors, your caution level, your attention to detail, following rules, it's bringing out a lot of different traits to people. But they're ones that can help you whether you're at work or outside of work.

If it's a leader, like I said, we have an assessment that would then look at those things so that they know their safety DNA profile, but then also their leader style in some of those competencies I talked about. I think you had asked, just to mention an example, one of the leader styles we look at, which is a kind of traditional, is what we call a transactor. So a transactor is pretty much by the book from leadership perspective. They are very comfortable, this is the rules, this is what the expectation is. I'm not here to handhold you a whole lot. You've been trained. Doesn't feel the need to really be personable or very friendly or I should say maybe close with the employees. They're the boss, they let you know that. If it's a real strong transactor, it'll be this my way or the highway. It's all about balancing.

It's great because they can provide, especially around safety, they'll let people know, hey, this is not acceptable, breaking this rule or not wearing PPE and they're going to hold people accountable.

Jill:

More back and white.

Esteban:

Exactly, very black and white in terms of what's expected, and they're very clear, they tend to be clear, they like to plan things out and set milestones. So that's great for safety. The challenge can be with somebody that overuses that style is that they can seem a little bit less sensitive. They don't have those close relationships. At it's worse, if somebody's really overusing that style, can really not be approachable at times. And so, that's always a concern for a safety leader. We want to be approachable so that if somebody has a concern, has a suggestion or hey, I just made a mistake, an honest mistake out there that's going to cost us some money or some of this. If my boss is an extreme transactor and I know they're not going to listen to me, they're just going to write me up and discipline me, I'm less likely to be forthright or go to them or approach. So it's about just being relatable and approachable.

So, I remember years ago in a food manufacturing site, we had an employee, he must have been, Jill, seemed like he was eight feet tall, he was very tall. He had to be 6'7 or something like that. A big tall guy, deep voice. He came across and he said, "Look, I'm intimidating to people. They see me coming a mile away." And it was funny, they would have seasonal employees that came up largely from different countries or Latin America, and so, they had very limited English. But they were great workers and they would come up and work during the summer season. If you throw that in with his lack of approachability along with some of the language barriers there, they basically said, they don't say anything to me. I try with my safety meetings in the mornings, I ask them if they have concerns or if they know anything, and I never hear anything.

Jill:

[inaudible 00:26:13]

Esteban:

Yeah, yeah, Even though the folks that were right there that have grown up in a town, they say nobody ever says anything to me. But especially with the seasonal employees because they were having submitted incidents there, as you can imagine that would come up. And so, it was interesting. His transactor leader style was interfacing with other things and it created this dynamic of I'm not going to say anything to this guy. If somebody slipped and fell or if I had a concern about something, they weren't going to bring something to his attention. So when we talked about that, and sure enough, on the assessment, he came up on his leader style as a strong transactor. And we talked about that. And one of the things we do is we do kind of a workshop to learn about these things, and then a one on one coaching session. We feel it's really important to get personal with somebody one on one. Show them and go over that report and make it come alive and try to understand their situation and how it's relevant to their job as a safety leader and what they have going on.

Esteban:

And so, as an action plan of, hey, how can I get better, one of the most fun ones that I remember was this individual. And so, his action plan was he was going to eat lunch, sit down in the cafeteria and eat lunch a minimum of three times a week with the seasonal employees. And I said, okay, do you think this will help? He's like, well, maybe that'll [inaudible 00:27:34] get to know these guys a little bit more. And so we talked about, hey, ask him about, hey, how's your family or how's your kids.

Jill:

Yeah, what kind of questions. True.

Esteban:

So we armed him with some arsenal of good little icebreakers at the table and work on his Spanish a little bit. And it was really cool, I have to say about, I remember coming back, we would come back quarterly. But about six months into it, came back and just did a follow up session, and we said, "Hey, how's everything going?" He said, "Esteban, I got to tell you. I've been in this job for about 15 years, 15, 16 years or something, and I have not once ever had a seasonal employee say anything to me or give me feedback on my safety." He said, "I know I'm not perfect. I know sometimes I walk out without my PPE or whatever, but they would never think of saying anything to me."

He's like, "Wouldn't you know that a couple weeks ago, I was out on a golf car, sitting in the back," small truck and driving from one part of the plant to the other, which was a big no no. You're supposed to be in the front with a seatbelt on. And he said, "I couldn't believe it. We had one of our seasonal workers come up and he said," say his name was Greg. "Greg, do you think you should be sitting in the back of that truck with no seatbelt on?"

And at that point, let's say Greg, blushed red, and he said, "You know what, Raul, I shouldn't be. I appreciate You saying something to me, you're absolutely right. I tell you guys not to do this and I broke the rule today. Thank you for saying something." He's like, "In 15 years, none of them had ever said something to me." The action plan worked, right? Getting to know these people, they were more comfortable. And now I'm comfortable bringing something. Even though he's the boss and he's six foot six or whatever, I now feel like I can approach you and you're kind of doing something that you told us not to do.

Jill:

And they probably were caring about him as well because they had established a rapport and a relationship through all those lunches.

Esteban:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Those lunches paid off. That's actually one of the things we talked about a lot with development for safety leaders, sometimes, you know how it is, Jill, you can get so caught up with whether it's in the office or putting out fires on the floor and running around. It's hard to lead and it's hard to do the little things like stopping and hey, how are you doing at your workstation? Any concerns? What can I do to help you. It's just the being visible.

A lot of companies, I think that's not a new topic being visible on the floor, but what is unique is, did you know that your personality type is such that being visible is not comfortable, it's not the first thing you think of doing to go out and spend five minutes and ask people how they're doing, if they have questions, any concerns. Are you comfortable with running the new machine that you just started running on Monday? Little things like that.

And so, when we work with these leaders that have that more kind of added distance type of leader style or combined with some other safety DNA traits, that's really powerful for them to be able to, I need to invest time and energy in that.

Jill:

Yeah, right. And thank you for explaining, you talked about, you help people shine a light on their strengths, but also on their blind spots, which is where this coaching comes in, and it sounds just so, it sounds like it can definitely be transformative.

I took this part of the assessment as well in terms of my leadership style, and I came up as a relator. And so would that be almost the polar opposite of what you were describing with a transactor?

Esteban:

In a simple way, yes, it would be. So in a relator, it's interesting to get your feedback on that Jill, and those that know you well. But relator tends to be, see there's two dimensions that we can put you on. One is your focus on people and relationships and then your process focus in terms of your main objectives and deadlines and the core part of your work. And both are necessary to succeed. Certain traits relate to one and the other.

A relator, the strengths there tend to be very personable. Their first thought is not that they don't do process or have the deliverables in mind. It's just that, they will more often prioritize or make sure that they cover the personal side. How does this person feel about this that I'm about to tell them? How are they going to take that? Am I going to inconvenience them or will this upset them? What are their needs? They will value that in their decision making a little bit more quickly or readily or often than somebody who's a transactor. It's not that the transactor isn't friendly or whatever, it's that they're going to prioritize on average those other, we got to get this done, and then let's talk about how you're doing.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah. And that is very accurate. I do lead always with people in mind first. [inaudible 00:32:39] finished as a leadership team reaching out to all of our employees across the company and checking in with everyone as we're all working distant not in offices right now. And so, as a leadership team, we committed to talking with all of our employees. And so, each of us were making phone calls for the last couple of weeks and talking with people, and we got together as a group, and we're sharing what our employees were telling us was happening with them. And one of the people on our team said, Jill, how did you get all those stories out of people? I talked to people but I didn't learn all the things that you learned. And I think it was because of this leadership style as a relator like you had pointed out. But that means I have some different blind spots as you were saying with process.

Esteban:

It's interesting, and I've met some of them. Sometimes we don't see it as often in certain industries like manufacturing. So, first of all, great strengths. I think so many safety leaders, we wish we saw more of that relation, we try to develop it through being visible, being approachable. Just get out on the floor and talk to people, ask them about how they're doing or how's the ballgame this weekend, or how's your wife or your husband doing, that sort of stuff can really help.

Now, for you or someone like you, that would come easily. But the downside sometimes is that people as you can imagine, if I'm really the other way and I'm super friendly, super approachable, and everything is like, yep, I'm more of a friend than a boss, is that in some cases, with some employees, they can take advantage of that. And they might say, oh, Jill's work in the shift today. It's okay if I don't have my hard hat on. She's not going to say something. Whatever it might be. She might not hold me accountable, or the relator might not be willing to have a difficult conversation or say, hey, I notice that this is not up to par. And we've seen that, it's interesting, I remember asking just a couple years ago, the company was a fairly middle to high level manager. And we're talking metals industry, we've got molten metal and manufacturing. Very crane work, dangerous types of operations.

And they had a strong safety culture, and by all aspects, were doing pretty well and safety was valued. But I asked him, as I often do in a coaching session, he was a relator, and I said, so if you saw someone on the floor not wearing their PPE, how would you approach that? Would you give them feedback or say something? And now, Jill, I fully expected a canned quick, absolutely, I'm going to tell them, yup. And what was interesting was he paused, he kind of looked around, looked at me and said, "Well, Esteban, that depends. It really depends on who it is." I found that very interesting. And he said, "I don't know that I would tell that to the plant manager or somebody from corporate or the CEO."

Absolutely, there's going to be cultural and organizational level factors there, I understand that, but it's interesting that's a classic kind of relational leader thing is that I may not be comfortable having a difficult discussion, especially if it's somebody higher level. I'm going to hold off and pretend I maybe didn't see that. And that could be a problem, obviously.

Jill:

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Yeah. That particular one didn't stick with me, I can do that. But I think maybe it comes from my training as being an OSHA investigator for over 10 years. I found my voice because people's lives were on the line. And so you didn't have a choice. And so that has always translated and stuck with me. Some of the other things that you talked about with blind spots certainly stuck. What an incredible and interesting tool. You had alluded earlier to, you said the example that you're giving before with a transactional, was that what you said-

Esteban:

Yeah, transactional or ...

Jill:

Yeah. You had alluded to going back and doing follow ups. And so, taking these assessments isn't the beginning and the end of this work. What's sort of the process after people learn these things about themselves? What are you working with people on?

Esteban:

Yeah, great question, Jill. So, it's important to note that the way we use these tools and the way I would recommend in my experiences, if we're trying to do development and training and just help us improve as a leadership team, it can be a real limited use to just give someone, do the assessment, and then here's your report and figure it out. You can write a great report that's insightful, but that's not going to produce a lot, maybe with a few folks that are very diligent and always trying to get better. But the vast majority are going to say, okay, that's great, that was interesting, and then go about their business.

It's important to couple that and what we typically just couple with an engaging learning experience, whether that's a workshop, an on-site or something delivered online, or some type of blended learning. Okay, what does this mean? Am I understanding this correctly? Why is it important for safety? And then the other piece that I mentioned is very important is that some sort of one on one point, debriefing and coaching kind of on a one on one point is really important to make it come alive for the person and say, because they may have questions or a certain score, may not make sense to them. And so we got to bring that out and talk about, and maybe it isn't that much of a relevant point. But then making it connect the dots to my team, where I work, the issues that are real to me. So, that's important.

And then as you said that, but even that's not all of it. I think what's important from a leader development standpoint, and this is, in general, not outside of safety, but touchpoints to have continuity and sustainability. I think technology is improving in this area, but whether it's using micro-learning and refreshers to kind of remind people about what they learned or ask them to reflect on how they're using, whether they're implementing their action plan, that's one piece of it too is an action plan that is followed up on. But then how are things going. We will often do follow up sessions, like I said, that individually, that was a result of us coming back. And every time they master something or doing well, then we say, great, that's a milestone achievement. What else can we do? What other area can we improve in or maybe leverage another strength that you have?

That and then I think coupling with integrating with different parts of their safety management system. Some of the things we've done is like linking it to things like SIF or serious injury and fatality prevention programs or initiatives like their fall prevention training or stop work authority. So if you integrate it with something that's going on and relevant at the company outside of the safety DNA, it could really hopefully become something that that helps them do those things better.

Jill:

Yeah. It sounds definitely like an opportunity for individuals to be proactive in their work activity versus reactive. And you had just mentioned how you integrate with the company safety management system and you quickly mentioned an example of fall protection. Can you maybe walk through what that might look like, when someone knows more about themselves, or a manager knows more about their employees?

Esteban:

Sure. For so for an action plan, for example, it might be, one of the things we want to see a lot is the leader style that's very hands off or not really on the floor a lot. Might be making time each day or certain points during the week to go out and talk to people specifically. I have a minimum, I talk to at least one person per day, or giving specific feedback or positive feedback on safety behavior. A lot of times as you know, people go out and it's easy to point out the negative, what people screwed up and didn't do right. But going out and catching somebody doing something safe or something right. And so, sometimes we have a lot of extra plans there.

That's an example of one, I'm going to once a day go out on the floor with the purpose of saying at least one thing that I'm giving positive feedback on that. And then if it's tied to, if we have something around fall protection, an easy way to tie that in is, I'm going to look for specific behaviors that demonstrate good safe behavior around fall protection. Maybe it's an employee checking their anchor point or inspecting their harness ahead of time. Maybe it's somebody providing an employee, a coworker with coaching. And if a leader makes a little mental checklist of things to know and look for, they're more likely to spot those behaviors, and then positively reinforce them when they're out on the floor or in meetings.

Jill:

Yeah. And as a way to, well, I guess it's maybe a lead indicator, if they're noticing these things, sometimes there are people collecting data on this as well.

Esteban:

Yeah. You mentioned a moment ago proactive versus reactive. I think that that's a good term to discus because for years now, OSHA has been saying for years, it's important to try to look at lead indicators and not just lag indicators of safety. And what's kind of neat about this type of process or this type of tool is that can be definitely a lead indicator or almost a more proactive a lead indicator. When you're getting at somebody's mind and their thoughts and decision making that the traits that guide their decision making behaviors. And since you're getting one step earlier, one step before the behaviors take place, and a lot of times, whether it's an audit, data from an audit, or checklist, or let's say training completed, all your typical types of lead indicators.

The things we're talking about here in terms of traits will be precursors to those behaviors that will show up on typical lead indicator's checklist. So in a sense, you've been very proactive in that sense. And if used along with all your other typical components of a safety management system, it can help make it more comprehensive, more holistic, I think more proactive.

Jill:

Yeah. Esteban, how is this different than what some people know as behavior-based safety? Assuming this is very different, but just to dispel any myths around that, how is this different?

Esteban:

Yeah, boy, that could be a whole other conversation [inaudible 00:43:36], BBS, behavior based safety. It is different and I think all approaches out there, there's a lot of good things out there, behavior-based safety has a great history. I know it's going to be controversial in some areas. But it is different than that. We're not doing behavioral-based safety, BBS in that sense. BBS we know deals a lot with identifying critical behaviors and safe and at risk or unsafe behaviors. And then that checklist. And then that key component that everybody seems to focus on, those observations, which should be performed. It could be tricky. There's just a lot of things that you've got to do really well and mindfully, or else as we all know, it won't go well. A lot of times we hear, BBS, if done correctly, it works well. We need to it correctly.

Where this is different is we really focus on different things. I think we're a little bit more earlier in the process. Again, we're focusing on traits characteristics that make up a person, whether it's personality, it's abilities, or attitudes that influence and shape the behavior. Again, we're not measuring behavior and our personality trait is not the only thing that shapes behavior. Many other things do. External factors, environment, culture, and things like that. But with BBS, they're really focusing on that observable behavior so they try to be objective. We're understandably getting a little bit early in that process in those traits that will influence the behavior. So I think that's a key difference. And naturally, that is going to be a little bit subjective because for each person, those traits and those behaviors look different.

We don't do anything having to do with observations. We have certainly worked with companies that had BBS and safety DNA or safety DNA for leaders was a useful tool to help them do their BBS and various other things.

Jill:

Complement, sure.

Esteban:

Yeah. Do it well or complement it. Just to add to this, I think I said this earlier, but I think the key thing about our approach, what we try to do is, it's from this premise that everybody is unique. All individuals are at least somewhat unique and different. We're not all the same. And that's a good thing. Bringing diversity to the table, diversity in thinking. Coming at it from different perspectives and valuing each other. And understanding at the same time that people are fallible, everybody has lots of strengths they bring to the table. Everybody has potential blind spots or things that they may need to develop or that could put them at risk depending on the situation. Whereas, again, it's not better or worse but I think that that's a different premise or pillar than BBS is coming from.

Jill:

Thus the DNA piece of what you're doing because you are looking at each individual.

Esteban:

Correct, correct. Yeah.

Jill:

And no two DNAs are the same.

Esteban:

Yeah. On that note, Jill, I did want to say one thing earlier too as we talk about, when you hear the term DNA or safety DNA also, obviously is something that was kind of catchy and we thought got at the concept we were talking about, but I want to make it very clear to the audience, we are not saying, and I'm not saying that safety DNA is something that you're completely born with and that never ever changes. In the nature versus nurture debate, it's not all nature. Absolutely your upbringing, your experiences, especially childhood, early adulthood, even working, if you've worked at one company with a strong culture and way of doing things for a long time in your career, all of that will definitely shape your DNA.

So yes, we know from psychology research that these traits are fairly stable over time, they do move a little bit. Over time, it's been shown, thank goodness, we learn from our mistakes, and we tend to be a little bit more risk averse as we get into our 30s, 40s, 50s later in life. But overall, the individual differences between you, myself, others are still there years later. But my point is, it is something you can, your experience and things around your environment helps shape your safety DNA along with traits that are fairly stable that you were to some extent born with. But it is a mixture of both.

The other important point that I'll note is that just because you have a certain profile like yours, Jill, that is a good starting point, but it does not equal behavior, you're not a slave to that profile. We're not saying that you're going to always behave in a way that's linked to that profile. It's a data point, it influences your behavior and your choices. But the whole point of our process, how we work with companies is to tell them look, you can make decisions and behaviors and actions that are different from your profile. But in order to get better, you need to know a starting point or what your default tendencies are so that you could be better aware and change that. So I think that's just a really important point, safety DNA I not something about I'm that way and I can never-

Jill:

I can't help it. Right. There's no Budging.

Esteban:

Exactly.

Jill:

Makes sense, makes sense. Esteban, from your background and training, professionally, curious how in your mind, you're applying what you know or thinking and assessing about what you know as we watch our whole human body, our whole collective right now as well the globe is battling this pandemic, and decisions that people are making around the virus and protecting themselves or not. Is this a very curious time for you and are you thinking about, I mean, it seems like it would be an interesting study in humanity for someone in your position right now.

Esteban:

It certainly has been. I would be lying if I said that that wasn't something that we think about a lot or that there's not a lot of applications there, for sure. First and foremost, let me say, this is a challenging time for everybody. Your heart goes out to a lot of people who this has been tough, whether it's family, with deaths and illnesses or just with loss of jobs and so forth. I know a lot of people who have been impacted.

Thinking about these factors, yeah, there's a lot of connections, when this started really impacting people around late March. We're here in Pennsylvania but different states have had different levels of restrictions. When we go through situations like this, especially when, wearing a mask is a great example of going to stores or restaurants or what have you, is a great example, especially in the early days of COVID-19. So, you think of late March, April, when it was really, how enforceable really is it? A lot of places I know, I don't know about you, but where I was, there were supermarkets that were slow to adapt to that and people were walking with masks and not wearing them and so forth.

When there is not a strong rule in place or definite consequences, when there's a little bit of what I call a gray area, people's safety DNA and their traits are going to be allowed to kind of flourish more, and come out more, it's going to drive behavior. And so, I think with something for example like rules or caution, somebody who is, and I've known them personally, I'm sure you know some, but some from day one were careful to wear a mask and gloves and have hand sanitizer around them 24/7 in the car, at home, everywhere they went.

Jill:

You're talking to her. Actually, except I haven't really gone anywhere at all because of my apparent risk aversion though I'm in the middle ...

Esteban:

Yeah. Well, you must be in the high middle of the ...

Jill:

Yeah.

Esteban:

But it's an interesting one. So what level of risk is acceptable to you and now you're comfortable with? Especially when it's not super well defined, it was early, it's a pandemic that's unique to, it's new for everyone globally. For someone like you and someone who was very risk averse, all those behaviors come in without necessarily somebody forcing you or making you do that? And certainly with masks where it becomes about a sign. To enter this store, you must wear a mask, and you get a lot of people that wear them. Early on, a lot of people didn't even know they were well aware and we all saw videos of things that got really contentious with somebody who was asked to wear a mask and unfortunately, violent events and things like that.

But again, what is it about the simple act of wearing a mask that's so upsetting to some of those individuals? I would have to say that's where, again, that inner trait, that part of their personality of, I don't like to have to follow a certain rule. I find it restrictive, I don't see the risk here. And I'm not even passing judgment. They might have good reasons to do that. This is from an objective third party. It's interesting to see those individual differences with some people quickly, all the PPE and staying six feet away. And then other people who that just wasn't as important or as urgent to them to wear masks or to social distance.

And then you've got even other things too. So like awareness. I know for me, a very different one than you might not think of is just your natural level of awareness and memory and remembering things and noticing things. So, for me personally, I admit that's not one of my strongest points. Sometimes I have my blind spot is literally just around awareness. And I a few times, I put myself in a position which was at risk or I had to go back home because I did not have a mask. And the temptation was there to maybe try to go in without a mask. Why? It wasn't because I didn't want to follow the rule. I saw the level of risk. For me, it was pretty simple. I forgot to get a mask. I just forgot it at home and we've got different vehicles and I didn't put one in that vehicle I wasn't good about organizing my stuff.

But then that put me in a position later on 20 minute drive later where, oh, geez, I don't have a mask. I don't want to go all the way back home. I don't have time. But very different starting point. It was from a lack of remembering or making a checklist or get a mask in the car and at home. Whereas for other people, they may have the means to use it but you know what, I don't feel like wearing one. I think this is silly. If there's hardly any people in here and the risk level to me is low, so I'm not going to wear one. So same behavior potentially but different reasons from safety DNA standpoint, from a personality standpoint.

Jill:

Yeah, fascinating. Fascinating. I mean, some of those things hadn't occurred to me, just simple forgetfulness because like you said, it's one of your blind spots. Yeah. Interesting. One of the things that you said early on is in reference to pre-employment. Do you use these assessments with employers for pre-employment screenings as well or how does that work?

Esteban:

Yeah, just to be clear on that, we have a lot of different assessments. We use similar assessments in pre-employment, but typically, and what I recommend is that when you're making a pre-employment decision, whether it's a factory worker employee or somebody at a retail store, an engineer, whatever, there's a lot of things you need to consider that are actually outside of safety or safety DNA. So even just, are you a good team?collaborative or a team player. Are you conscientious and dependable and do you have a good work ethic? Are you a good problem solver? Can you learn quickly? Whatever it might be based on the job requirement.

So safety is critical. But these assessments, we're talking about a deep, deep dive into safety, but they're not as wide in the sense of they're not looking at those other things like just problem solving or teamwork or things like that. So usually, companies will use an assessment that measures all those other things and takes a shorter, more concise look at safety, but not such a deep dive as the things we're talking about here.

So when we're talking about more training, development and self-awareness and team building and culture, then we'll focus on the safety DNA assessment, one that does a deep dive into safety. But like I said, most of our clients typically would look at an assessment that has a much shorter piece on safety, enough to cover it so that we don't hire somebody who's a super high risk, but also not such a deep dive into safety that we don't have enough time in the test to look at those other important components.

Jill:

Interesting. Esteban, as we wrap up our time today, curious to ask you, is a great case scenario, if you can imagine the future for an employer who has worked on these assessments and implemented actions that you were talking about and working with you on leadership styles, what's kind of the ultimate result?

Esteban:

I think that there's a lot of exciting things to look at in the horizon in terms of the future and even the technology that's already here that hopefully we can leverage and harness more and more. As psychometric assessments, these type of assessments and surveys become more prevalent and better understood, I think that they can be leveraged in a lot of different ways. But I kind of envision a future where really, again, more holistic and more comprehensive where the safety leadership is more, it's a journey, it's a path that goes on and it bends and turns and keeps going as opposed to one time events. [crosstalk 00:57:36]. I did a training and that was great.

Again, we know that that has limited effectiveness. But some of the things that are out there, again, these type of assessments, especially right now, online learning and micro-learning. But providing people with short snippets of digestible information, yup, that was super helpful, I got it. That's about what I can hold in my mind for now. I go back to my day and I can apply it as opposed to I'm going to do a two, three hour training online or in person.

But beyond that, I think with the exciting advent of things like AI, which is really transforming our world in so many ways across industries, being able to use imagine, for example, a line worker in the utilities industry about to go to a job where they have to dig, there's a lot of safety risks there, and being able to arrive at this location, and being able to access, okay, here's my safety DNA profile, but that's tied to some quick coaching tips that maybe my coach or my trainer taught me, and what my action plan was. And then readily available on a mobile device or whatever based on location and the job they're doing. Wow, I can bring up information about how my level of awareness or I typically forget or might miss a detail around XYZ on this job. And so here's a reminder specifically to not forget that or to double check this piece of equipment, along with tips about that site and that equipment and that customer. All in one place, and so that it's fluid, available, kind of just in time.

Again, these are not new things, but I think it's a lot of companies, a lot of areas of the workforce, putting that all in one kind of comprehensive solution could be very exciting and very useful and maybe help take safety to the next stage for a lot of people.

Jill:

Yeah, and customized for that individual.

Esteban:

Exactly.

Jill:

Yeah. Fascinating. Yeah, fascinating. We'll be sure for our listeners to include in the show notes some avenues for people to learn more about safety DNA and what it is that you do, Esteban. And so listeners, be sure to check out the show notes to be able to get those if you'd like to know more about this. As we come to a close today, is there anything else that you'd like to share with safety health professionals who are listening today?

Esteban:

Not a whole lot. I really appreciated the time. I guess I would say, stick with it, and during these tough times of COVID, I think the safety and health professional arena is so important, and to just keep doing what you're doing. I think better times are coming soon. Just stick with it.

Jill:

Thank you so, Esteban, I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for your generous time today.

Esteban:

Yeah, thank you so much, Jill, I really appreciated the chance to be on the show today.

Jill:

And thank you all for spending your time with us. 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 episode, join the Accidental Safety Pro Community group on Facebook. If you aren't subscribed, you can subscribe in Apple Apps, Google Play or any other podcast player that you'd like. You can also find us on YouTube. All the episodes with transcriptions can be found at vividlearningsystems.com/podcast. We'd love it if you could leave a rating and review us on iTunes. It helps us connect the show with more and more safety and health professionals like you and I. Special thanks to Will Moss, our podcast producer. And until next time, thanks for listening.