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NSC Live: “A recovering liberal arts student.” with John Dony

October 26, 2018 | 19 minutes 25 seconds

​This episode features John Dony, Director of the Campbell Institute and Director of EH&S at the National Safety Council. He sits down to talk with host and Vivid’s Chief Safety Officer Jill James, live on the Expo floor of the NSC Congress, about the work and research taking place at the Campbell Institute.

Links and Show Notes

Campbell Institute

Transcript

Jill:

Welcome to The Accidental Safety Pro podcast, I'm Jill James, the host of the podcast and we are here for a special edition of the podcast at the National Safety Council Congress and Expo here on the floor. I'm joined today with John Dony with the Campbell Institute, Director of the Institute, who has been gracious enough to agree to speak with us and tell your story.

John:

Great. Hello, welcome. Glad to be here. Welcome to the Congress and Expo.

Jill:

Thank you so much, appreciate it. So the podcast always starts with how did you get into safety? What's your story? What's your winding path that got you here and ultimately led you to the Director of the Campbell Institute?

John:

Yeah, it was a winding path. I used to describe myself as a recovering liberal arts student. I actually have a degree in English and Sociology, and you wouldn't think that either of those had too much to do with safety, but the reality is they're both very good communication and statistical background sorts of skills. Coming out of college, had the normal sorts of post-college odd jobs that one does, but one of them that I landed in was at a paper manufacturer, actually paper advertising integrated firm. I was front office, I was doing marketing and copywriting and things of that nature that suited my skillset. Until one day we got an email that says, "Hey, we've been having all these quality defects, and we're spinning off a team that's going to look at doing an ISO 9001 implementation, and we're going to do a quality management system."

Jill:

And you're like, "What's that?"

John:

Yeah, that's right, "What's that?" I also thought, "Hey, I'm new to this organization. This sounds like a good way to get a leg up and maybe get myself known a bit." I raised my hand and said, "Sure I'll do that. That sounds fun."

Jill:

Being brave.

John:

Right. We had a volunteer group that came together. They were together for a couple weeks, and every week we'd start to meet and do some initial planning, and the group got smaller, and smaller, and smaller as people realize how much work this was actually gonna be.

Jill:

Work and the doldrums of all the details.

John:

Exactly.

Jill:

Yeah.

John:

But it turned out I loved it. I love systems thinking, I was really starting to get a flavor for it, and it ended up being myself and the few people who stuck it out on that team with our quality manager, really began the ISO 9001 implementation. And what we found out very quickly, as we went and solved the quality issues was almost invariably every time there's a quality issue, there's also a safety issue, right? We'd have issues with people getting up on ladders doing stuff they shouldn't be doing, and it would affect the quality of the print run, but it will also be a huge safety issue. And so really began to be the advocate for the safety thinking on that implementation team.

Then, right after that, I found the right place at the right time to find a position with the National Safety Council, so this is going back now about 10 years.

Jill:

Wow, okay.

John:

They were looking for someone at the time to grow what was called the Robert W. Campbell Award, it still is called the Robert W. Campbell Award. It's an award program for systems thinking in EHS, really recognizing organizations that have integrated management systems and blend them well into their operating structure. We'd started that award back in 2004. I came into that process around 2007 with a goal of growing it, maturing the process, learning more about safety certainly through that journey. And, about three years after that, we began to have a run-up into what's now called the Institute. As we gathered more and more organizations who were winners of the award, as well as highly mature thinkers and thought leaders in the space, magnetized and came to us, they said we need to build a bigger platform, we need a way to benchmark and network and share information and push it out.

That was really the genesis of the Institute, and how that all came to be around 2012 or so. And really have just grown with the organization from there, and that's a little bit of a stint, is our director of EHS at the Council, dealing with our own internal EHS management system in there. I got to do a little thread back into that as well. It's been an interesting journey, a lot of stops along the way, but I fell into it backwards is most people seem to do.

Jill:

Of course, of course. Sociologists and English.

John:

Yeah, exactly.

Jill:

Wonderful. The Campbell Institute is a baby yet. It's still sort of in its infancy.

John:

Yeah, in many ways It's about six years in, and the background to probably goes back to maybe 2010. Somebody generously gave us eight years, so we're still in grade school. We've matured quite a bit even since then though, we started with about 18 charter members of the Institute. And to put that in scale, that's against 15,000 members of the National Safety Council, the 18 who are part of the Institute at the outset, we're now at 38 so we've more than doubled in six years, which has been really good.

Jill:

That's fabulous.

John:

Yeah. The maturity comes with getting different industry perspective in the mix, different thinkers into the mix and we're really cross-industry. We have about 20 industry sectors in the Institute across those companies, so we're young, but yeah, we're growing.

Jill:

Of your membership, of the 38 that you have now, what is their responsibility to the Institute? What are you looking for by way of the ideal profile that you want to be part of it?

John:

Well, we're certainly looking for organizations that are mature and better than the average organization or industry. But we really, at the end of the day, want organizations who have something to put on the table for other members to gain from, and something to take off the table. We want organizations who will use what they learn to mature on their own journey and get better. It's all in the service of the NSC ultimate vision of eliminating preventable death. We hope that organizations that join our group will really be ones who roll up their sleeves, and get down to the problem solving that we need to do, to help even those who are at the highest end of the maturity curve take that higher hanging fruit.

Jill:

You're actively recruiting from members at the Congress?

John:

Well, it kind of comes and so it's a little bit self-selecting. What we do here is really, this is the biggest forum we have to share all the learning that we're generating. We do research papers about twice to three times a year, webinars, benchmarking, all sorts of events. We come here to share what our members are doing and learning, so that others can kind of pick up on it and hopefully take something home.

By virtue of doing that, which is in service of the mission, we find organizations who come up to us and say, "This sounds really interesting. I'd really like to get to be a part of this." And then they get involved in the application process that we have and become a member. We actually vet every member coming in, you can't just sign up and join.

Jill:

Right.

John:

Yeah, it's a little bit of that. We do do some sort of soft recruiting, I guess. We look for organizations who we maybe don't have representation from-

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Maybe just [crosstalk 00:06:28].

John:

Exactly. Yeah, we don't have a whole lot of representation in say, pharmaceuticals or retail, so we're definitely on the hunt for organizations out there who are interested and want to mature.

Jill:

Good to know.

John:

Right, Absolutely.

Jill:

Yeah. And so at the Congress and on the Expo floor, you have a whole display, an experience really, on visual literacy. I went through it yesterday, it was such an interesting concept that it just made so much sense in my mind. Can you explain to our audience what is visual literacy in the confines of The Campbell Institute, and what have you discovered?

John:

Yeah, well, I'll go back to a few years ago, we were at the end of one of our events that we do every year called The Campbell Institute Symposium. It happens every February. We were sitting around the fire pit in the hotel at the end of the event-

Jill:

We have all have good ideas.

John:

Exactly, exactly. And the bad ones too, but this happened to be a good one. We were sitting around talking to our Chair at the time, of the Institute, Doug Pontsler, he was VP of EHS at Owens Corning, one of our member companies and he said, "You know, I've got a bit of a weird idea," and then we all said, "Okay Doug, we've been there before," and he said, "We're working with this art museum in Toledo," where you wouldn't think there might be a great art museum, but if not there's an art museum that's on par with the Met. It's a fantastic, fantastic facility And he said, "We're starting to look at how some of the things they're doing might interact with hazard recognition or incident investigation." I said-

Jill:

And you're all like, "What?"

John:

I said, "Okay, so it's plain." He points to a mug that sitting on the table and says, "You know, your brain is looking at that and you're registering maybe 10% of what's actually, right? You've seen so many coffee mugs before that you glance at it and you say, "That's a mug." If you turn back around and say, "What did it look like? What color was it? What shape was it? You probably don't remember. Your brand just says coffee." You jump from that to say, "Okay, there's actually a science and a structure behind how we see, and how we learn to train our brain to see better." This is something that the [inaudible 00:08:27] has been doing for thousands of years, and it's related to the primary skillset of art historians, and the people who work in that space.

Well, seeing things in the context of safety is also pretty darn important. I mean, we've seen studies that say potentially up to a quarter of all incidents within an organization might have some sort of visual acuity issue that caused them to happen. We took that seed idea that we were kind of discussing around the fire pit, and said, "Let's see if maybe we could fit this into an event we're going to do, and get those folks out here and talk about why this is important." And as we did that and saw the idea for the first time and really, really lived through it, we said, "Okay, this is interesting, this has something that we should go after.:

And we actually devoted some research space to going in and saying, "Is anyone else doing this? What does this look like? Let's tease out the concept." So our angle on this has been, we're looking at this from a research perspective. We think this is potentially valuable practice to bring the people, so let's push that out. And we're now involved in, in a multi-year research study where our members are going out and piloting a visual literacy implementation in their facilities, and seeing what does that look like? What is the efficacy of this approach? Cummins, Owens Corning, and some others are doing these studies and we're right alongside them saying, what's actually happening in the field and helping others better. That's a bit about how it came to be, and it's one of those great ideas that, as you said, until you see it you wonder how could no one have ever thought of this before? It's so immediately obvious once you've gone through it, but it just takes that leap of faith.

Jill:

Right? And so for our audience, we don't have the visuals to be able to share with them right here. Do you have some of that on your website? A little bit of that?

John:

Yes, we do, absolutely.

Jill:

Okay.

John:

If you go to You go to theCampbellinstitute.org/research, you'll actually find both of our visual literacy papers, and you can download those for free. You can also go to COVE's website. COVE is actually the part of the Toledo Museum of Art that's known as the Center of Visual Expertise, that is our direct partner in bringing this to life. Their website is covectr.com.

Jill:

Okay.

John:

You can go there and get a whole ton of resources.

Jill:

Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, it's hard to draw a picture on it, but what struck me, and you're taking on this experience where you're looking at art and you're invited to look at was it lines, shapes and colors-

John:

Textures, space, there's all sorts of these elements of art, right?

Jill:

And so you're looking at this art and you're seeing it, and then you turn and you look at an industrial setting and you ask your brain to identify lines and shapes and sizes and textures, and then it becomes apparent what's missing-

John:

Exactly.

Jill:

... or what's there.

John:

It gives you a framework by which you can just quickly, all of a sudden you're seeing all these things, analyzing them and understanding them in a way you wouldn't have been able to five minutes before.

Jill:

I just think it's so ... People ask all the time, "How can I teach hazard recognition skills? How can I learn hazard recognition skills?" And I've been in my field of practice for 23 years, spent 10 years with OSHA where you walk into a facility, and my eye has to figure out I'm going to move through the facility, how am I going to try to see everything?

And I thought, "Gosh, if I would've had that, I would've been so much more efficient than deciding, okay. I'm going to do perimeter here, I'm going to go here and I'm going to look for this in this space. And you don't have to have the professional acuity of your eye of knowing the regulations-

That's right.

Jill:

... if you just know what to see, what's missing, or what's there.

That's right, and certainly both aspects of that are [crosstalk 00:11:51]. You won't necessarily go in with no training and be able to see everything, but it certainly gives you a leg up. And the other thing is, is it also applies really well to how you describe things. If you do the drawing exercise that COVE does after you go through that, you're ... To just describe it a little bit, one person is sitting there with a pen and paper with their back to someone else. That person is describing an object that they can't see, and the other person is just drawing whatever they hear, and trying to make sense of it. Well, you go through that and after you do it a few times, you realize, "I've gotten a lot better at both describing something and being able to draw it in space."

Then, if you apply that to the next time I look at an incident report, or write a JSA, or go out there and do something, my language skills, my descriptive skills just a lot better, even on the back of 10 minutes of practice. Organizations are seeing that when they look at the data that they're collecting, and they look at the qualitative side of their incident reports, they're seeing all these language pieces that they've never seen before, that are a common currency for people to use to describe something.

Jill:

They're measurable.

John:

Right. It gives them so much more validity, so much more ability to actually accurately describe root cause. It's a fantastic tool there.

Jill:

And it takes a lot of the, "They didn't do X," right out of the equation.

John:

Exactly. Exactly. And then if you even extrapolate it further and you think about when you're doing incident investigation, one of the other exercises that COVE has done is taking a piece of art, for instance, and giving everyone a little piece of that puzzle, and then asking them to describe what they think they see. Then, as you bring those pieces together, you start to see a clear picture. Well, an incident investigation, very often, the first person to look at the investigation is going to have a point of view on what happened, and they're going to maybe make some assumptions that become the story about what happened-

Jill:

Based on their own experience. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John:

Exactly. And so it really helps you be patient in an incident investigation, and teaches some of those skills are necessary to really get to systemically falls. It's just fascinating how something in an art museum has been doing for thousands of years, translates so directly to an industrial application. You're going to need to take a little bit of a leap of faith, but I think once you're done that-

Jill:

It still fits. It's just amazing.

John:

Absolutely.

Jill:

Have you heard from the people who are working in that experience this week?

John:

Yes, yeah.

Jill:

What are people saying who are experiencing it?

John:

We've heard so many great things, so they already know. I think there's a skepticism going in and then immediately coming out saying, "We need to do something with this." Right? And the great thing is there's actually a tangible applied action you can go and do right after. Yeah, we've been hearing so much great feedback. I think the early numbers, and I'm not sure if I should be quoted on this yet, but there's been more folks through the NSC Resource Center this year in just on Monday, than there was in the entire year last year. So the experience of seeing that has really got some great benefits, and giving people something to come and do while they're in the Congress in Mexico, on the floor, and send something to engage in.

Jill:

Is part of visual literacy, has the group at all look at how it can transfer between languages and where there's language barriers as well? Are you seeing some benefit to that?

John:

Yeah, we did, we've been doing it. There's a few different languages they've been working in, Spanish is being one of them. But I think what they found is, that you're teaching a methodology and a framework and although the words may be different, the idea crosses languages, it crosses cultures to some degree.

Jill:

Yeah, it seems agnostic in a way. If you learn the practice-

John:

And we've actually talked about that perspective of what about for folks who may have color blindness or visual impairment? There's still differentiation there, and it still works regardless. That's the beauty of it is, it's very much something that you don't need to do anything to sand off the edges. It fits just about any purpose. It's one of those concepts I'm really glad where we were in the kind of the right place at the right time to bring that to the table. And I see more and more this coming up in the next five years or so, as people get more embedded in the technology side. It's really important to remember that those human skills that we have, seeing and feeling and sensing, are still just as important. I think that gives all of the safety professionals out there a bit of confidence that we're not going anywhere anytime soon.

Jill:

Yes.

John:

This is something that really speaks to the human value and the human experience.

Jill:

Yeah, right. I can see safety professionals once they learn the method, to be able to teach their supervisors, their managers, their safety committees to arm more eyes-

John:

Right-

Jill:

... to see more.

John:

... and you don't need to do too much. These are tools that fit into your existing tool box.

Jill:

Doesn't take anything special, mm-hmm (affirmative).

John:

You bring two or five minutes into your daily huddle in the morning, or you do it as a refresher training. And the other thing is it's fun, it's engaging, it's interactive and there's not a whole lot of safety training out there, that I think everyone would say, "Yup, we think that's fine." Yeah, there's a morale component there as well, so it's just fantastic.

Jill:

Oh, that's so great. That's so great.

John:

As a recovering liberal arts students, I'm really happy to see the value of arts, and the value of the soft sciences and skills, really come before-

Jill:

To pull it together.

John:

Yeah.

Jill:

That's right. Oh, that's so fun. What else is happening here at the Expo for The Campbell Institute?

John:

Yeah. Well, we have a presence in the broader NSC booth as well, so as usual we bring many of our services and products to the table for the NSC Resource Center.

Jill:

Okay.

John:

But our bigger involvement is probably through the educational sessions and technical sessions that we do in the convention center, into the hotel surrounding. Just yesterday we ran two major events. They are, our Executive Forum and Summit, which focused on, one of them was Industry 4.0, the other was Leadership in Transition. Covering the gambit of the different topics, and we're doing two workshops that are digging into the technology side as well, so we do a lot on the educational, pushing our research and knowledge, more members down to the audience here.

Jill:

Yeah, an application of 21st century technology practices and how do we blend it into safety?

John:

Exactly, for sure.

Jill:

It's challenge.

John:

Yeah, it absolutely is, and so many organizations are of wondering, "If I go and invest in this, how do I know it's going to work? Who's been there and done it? And we are the early adopters. We need those case studies and those examples to show the efficacy of these efforts, because it's a big leap as well.

Jill:

Yeah, it is. And then teach safety professionals to sell it to their organization, so that's part of it too.

John:

That's right. And you need to not get distracted by the shiny object. There's so much out there, having a strategy for the digitalization and the technology is so, so important, and organizations are just kind of starting to come to terms with that. In safety, if we don't get a seat at the table now, it's operations and engineers who are going to drive that, and we're gonna need to plug in after and that's a whole lot tougher than being there.

Jill:

Yeah. It's so important to learn how to ask for that seat at the table-

John:

Absolutely.

Jill:

... and be part of it. Well, and visual literacy, definitely transferrable to all of those areas for people to join in on.

Thank you so much for talking with us and sharing your story today about visual literacy and The Campbell Institute, and the resources too. Yeah, thank you so much.

John:

Thank you. Okay.

Jill:

Thank you everyone for joining in this special edition of The Accidental Safety Pro podcast. If you'd like to follow the podcast, you can find us in any podcast player of your choosing. If you'd like to send us an email, you certainly can do that at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Thank you for the work that you do to send your employees home safely every day, and thanks for joining. Until next time.