The Asparagus Response

I’ve been lucky in the sense that, for the most part, my children like vegetables. Well, “like” may be a strong term. Most vegetables they… permit. Broccoli is, believe it or not, high up on the requested vegetable list. For those of you with children, you know what a rarity that is. The one vegetable that I enjoy is asparagus. Of course, that is the one vegetable the kids hate. That means that it is not one I get to enjoy very often. Sometimes I will try to slip it in there when we open the floor for requests, “How about asparagus tonight? We haven’t had that in a while”, making a feeble attempt to win some enthusiasm for the doomed veggie. My request is met every time with the same response, unanimous eye-rolls followed by a resounding “UGH”.

Earlier this month I was sitting through a site-specific safety orientation that lasted just over four hours. Being a safety professional, not much of the information was new to me but I never let that drive me to complacency. As the class began and I switched into “eager student” mode, the instructor began by introducing himself and provided a brief background. He concluded the intro by informing us all (about 40) in the class that he was, “going to provide information that, if used properly, could potentially save your life”. No sooner had the words left his mouth when the two Gentlemen seated on either side of me rolled their eyes and let out a slightly audible, “UGH”.

It is shocking to me that there are responsible adults in the world that feel the same way about being given tools to avoid injury and death as my five-year-old feels about asparagus. These people are a double hazard because if they have such little regard for their own safety, do you think they are concerned with anyone else’s? Let’s change the parameters a bit. Do you think those two gentlemen would have had the same response if the instructor had announced that after the four-hour class, every attendee would receive one million dollars? I’m willing to bet with that kind of reward, they could extend the class to four days and no one would complain. Is your life not worth a million dollars? I say it’s worth much, much more than that. There is nothing more valuable than your life. If not to you then to the people that love you. My point is this… When someone is providing you safety information that could keep you from harm and potentially save your life, savor every single word. You are worth it. If you are offered asparagus and don’t like it, opt for broccoli… or give it to me. I’ll eat it.

Be safe out there.

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An iPhone in the Amazon

It was a common theme not too long ago… violate a safety rule, get taken to the gate. For those that may not be familiar with “the gate”, it means you were fired. No questions asked, no explanation, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Generally speaking, the rules being broken usually were high level directives. Ones that, if they were not enforced and/or followed would result in serious injury or death. For example, fall protection violations. If you don’t tie off while working at height, you could fall and be killed, therefore, if you are caught not tied off working at height, you are fired. One particular day on a construction project, not too long ago in a galaxy… well, it was this galaxy. I was wandering though a work area on a group safety audit when low and behold, we happened upon an employee working on top of a small structure. He was wearing the required fall protection equipment but was not tied off. A safety representative summoned him to ground level and subsequently had him escorted to the gate. As we stood next to the structure discussing the event (life critical safety violations require quite a bit of paperwork), the employee’s Supervisor walks out to almost the exact same spot on which the employee was standing, also not tied off. Ten minutes later, he too was escorted out of the gate. It bothered me to watch two men, possibly with families, lose their jobs within minutes of each other. As I voiced my disapproval I was told, “They both ignored training. If we let them stay it will eventually end in an incident for the project and we will not have that”. I understood the sentiment but I did not agree.

When my youngest daughter was not even two years old, she was able to pick up her Mother’s iPhone, slide her little finger across the screen to bring up the keypad and enter my Wife’s security code to unlock the device. We were dumbfounded. We had created possibly the smartest child to ever live. The older children may have been sightly offended by this observation. It dawned on us later that, while she is an extremely bright child, it was not necessarily her intelligence level that granted her superior hacking abilities. She lives in a house that had, at the time, three iPhone operators. Now take my Wife’s iPhone then fly, boat and eventually walk deep into the Amazon jungle. There are to this day, small pockets of tribes that have not had exposure to the outside world. One was found as recently as this year. Look it up… they exist. Imagine meeting one of these tribes and handing over my Wife’s phone to one of the village elders. Tell them, “Here, this is a smart phone. You can make calls and check Facebook with it”. I think it is safe to surmise they would have no idea what you handed them, let alone what it does or how to operate it. The entire concept of communicating that way does not even exist to them.

Let’s go back to the two employees that violated the fall protection policy. I said earlier that I did not agree that they should have so quickly been escorted from the project and I stand by that. Do I think no employee should ever be removed for violating a safety directive, especially a life critical one? Absolutely not. Sometimes you can correct and coach until you are out of breath. Sometimes the message just isn’t received. In those rare cases of blatant disregard for safety, yes they need find a work environment better suited to their needs. What I am a firm believer in is opening dialog. We corrected the problem on a project level by eliminating the risk… to us. What we failed to do was determine WHY those men were working without being tied off. In my growing number of years as a safety professional, most of the time the answer to that question is simply a lack of understanding. Ensuring that the employees understand why they  are required to abide by safety directives and also ensuring that information is received will correct unsafe behavior a large portion of the time. Without the proper knowledge, those men will more that likely continue to work unsafe until either corrected properly or an incident occurs.

So how do we ensure communication has been received adequately? I think we can agree that not everyone is alike, right? Just like we cannot communicate to every person the exact same way, we cannot assume every person will receive the given message the exact same way. Think of the telephone game… you start with a line of people and whisper a message the first person in the line, “the payphone is blue and only takes quarters”. The message is then passed from person to person down the line. By the time you get to the last person the message usually has changed. “The pick up truck is red and only takes diesel fuel”. In the essence of time and logistics, especially in a project or turnaround setting where you may be training dozens of people a day, you may not have the luxury of individualized training for each intended audience member. Standardized communication (training) can be provided but we must make sure that the information is received adequately by the employee. An easy way for general info could be a written test or work place evaluation. For more specialized information with higher consequence, a brief one on one with follow ups may be necessary. The thing to remember is to never assume without verifying. When in doubt, remember the iPhone in the Amazon… COMMON SENSE IS NOT COMMON!

If you like what you’ve read, please share and subscribe! If you have something to add or would like to discuss further, please let me know in the comments. I’m still looking for contributors for The Safety Nerd so if you have something to share or a story to tell, I’d love to hear it! As always, be safe out there.

Calling All Safety Nerds!

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Fancy yourself a writer? Want to get your message out there? I’m looking for other safety professionals and people enthusiasts that would like to contribute to The Safety Nerd! Taking submissions now!

(This is a free gig. No pay. I know… you’re thinking, “how is this guy not raking in the cash with such an awesome website?!”)

Welcome to the 21st Century

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A little over a year ago, I was skimming through LinkedIn, perusing articles listing new safety guidelines, which professional certifications are better than others and who was hiring for what project where. All of a sudden, there it was… “Ten Things That Keep Safety Professionals Up at Night”. My eyes widened as my excitement grew. Yes, tell me these ten things so that, if I’m not already, I can be worried about them too! I don’t call this site The Safety Nerd for nothing. I clicked the link and settled back in my chair, prepared to be edified. My excitement quickly dissolved into disappointment when I realized, I had been duped. This was no article at all but an advertisement. I rolled my eyes as I read the opening line, “EHS Software for Sustainable Enterprises”. UGH. This is not what I wanted to… wait, what? As I read on, my excitement returned with a vengeance. Little did I know that a year later, this EHS software system was going to revolutionize my company’s Safety Department and the way I operate as a Safety Manager. This particular software system that would have such a profound effect on the way we operate is known as EHS Insight. So what exactly does EHS Insight do and how did it become such an instrumental tool in the revitalization of our safety program? Like most companies out there, we were relying on paper reports and text / email notifications. It had worked thus far but there had been system failures. Incidents sometimes didn’t get reported in a timely manner (or at all, on occasion). I learned that different sites had various versions of report forms and retrieving historical data was a gamble. Each site was responsible for the storage of safety related documents; reports, behavior based observations, job hazard analysis, safety audits, etc. There was no accountability. Almost immediately after integrating EHS Insight into out safety program, the difference was stunning. You’re probably asking by now, “What’s so great about this futuristic safety game-changer”. Allow me to explain.

  1. Mobile Capability – With the purchase of an EHS Insight subscription, users will have access to the app, which is offered for download in both the Apple and Android stores. Rather than waiting to sit down at a computer or find the proper paperwork, employees can utilize the app filling out forms or researching documents right from their mobile device. There is an added benefit of offline capability. Forms can be stored when working offline and sent when the device reconnects. Place the app on an intrinsically safe device and you now have real time information sharing directly from the field, straight to the corporate office.

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  1. Dash Board – As I run through all of the features of EHS Insight, the dash board is the unsung hero. As information is uploaded from sites across the US, the information is computed in real time and displayed for easy access. TRIR, DART, LTIR, etc. are all readily available and current.
  2. Incident Reporting – Should an incident occur, the responsible party completes an “Incident Notification”, which is automatically sent to all persons that have been pre-loaded into the notification group. You can determine who gets notified based on the severity of the incident as well. The incident report itself operates on a “see it when you need it” type format. What I mean is, the form builds as you answer questions related to the incident. Is it an injury? The form will change to include information regarding the injured person. Asset damage? The form will ask for asset information. The system will only ask you for information pertinent to the incident, which saves time and eliminates confusion. Once completed, the system will notify involved persons as to the progress of the report. Reports are stored and can be recalled whenever needed. Some added features of the incident report function is the communication log, used to track non-electronic communications regarding the incident. There is also the Corrective Action / Preventative Action (CAPA) feature, which I will explain shortly.
  3. Audits & Inspections – Such a simple title for such an invaluable tool. With the Audits & Inspection feature, you can build custom questionnaire forms. So far, I have built and employed a vehicle inspection form, field safety audit, office safety audit and fall protection component inspection forms. Our compliance department is about to start using this feature for their own program. You are only limited by your imagination. As with the incident reporting procedure, these forms are stored electronically and can be recalled at any time in the event of an audit. An Added benefit is the ability to run reports to show which sites have completed their required audits and inspections. In other words, instant accountability. You can create CAPA’s here as well. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget. I’ll get to it.
  4. Training Management – No more paper training files. A training profile can be built for every employee. Training can be requested or assigned through the system and once complete, tracked as well. A report can reveal shortcomings in training from a company level, site level or all the way down to the individual employee. A recently added feature is the ability to create and share computer based training courses.
  5. Mobile Library – Safety manual, safety data sheets, alerts, operating procedures, newsletters and just about any other document you would like your employees to receive instantly and have readily available. Let me give you a scenario. What does HSE Policy 24, section 1.2.1 say? Let me pull out my mobile device and tell you word for word. Did I mention it’s mobile? Yeah. It’s mobile.
  6. Work Observations – Utilizing the mobility and an intrinsically safe device, BBS observations can be performed in real time, electronically. Recorded information can be pooled with other gathered information for sites across the country and tallied to identify and address trends on a much larger scale.
  7. Corrective Action / Preventative Action – Ah… my new best friend, the CAPA. A few years ago I was providing safety oversight for a construction project. During a site audit I had found that an off-road vehicle was being operated without brakes. You read that correctly, no brakes. After some choice language and removal of the vehicle keys, I began my investigation. Come to find out, the employees had performed a daily inspection as they were required to do. They even filled out the paper inspection form. As I poured over days worth of inspection forms I found that they had recorded the lack of brakes for approximately 3 weeks. I found all of these inspection forms in a folder, buried among other folders, on the dashboard of the Supervisor’s truck. The forms were reviewed once they were sent to the field office… once a month. A deficiency that is recorded is only effective if accountability exists. Every form in EHS Insight offers the opportunity to create a CAPA, which is then assigned electronically to a specific person and is added to their task list until it is completed. Even better, CAPA tasks can be escalated, if you want to add extra accountability. You can also assign a review to ensure the CAPA is effective. Keep in mind that just like everything else with this software, it is mobile and the notifications are nearly instant. Accountability achieved.

Towards the end of last year I was invited to a “Deep Dive” audit by one of our clients. The Site Supervisor carried two banker’s boxes of historical paperwork into the audit, I carried my tablet. The client safety representative looked at me like I was a lunatic. By the end of the audit I was told that we had “a very mature safety program for such a small contractor”. I was also asked how they could get in touch with the makers of EHS Insight. My goal for the next Deep Dive audit is to ONLY carry in my tablet. Imagine, all the info you would need right at your finger tips.

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In closing I would like to say that I do not receive any compensation or favor from EHS Insight for singing their praises. They employ a tremendously helpful customer and technical support staff. The system is incredibly easy to use and extremely cost effective for the results. I’m just a happy customer and a fan. That being said, there are several companies out there that offer a similar product. Find what works for you and your program. If anyone out there has some input, I always love to hear it. If anyone would like to have more conversation regarding EHS Insight, let me know in the comments!

Be safe out there.

 

Winning of Hearts & Minds

I was on a construction project years back and as I made my way through the unit during a formal safety audit, I began to recognize a pattern. As I walked through a particular area, occupied by a particular contractor group, I realized that all work would cease even before we were in view. I started to keep track and after a few more passes, saw that there was a foreman that would signal to his employees that members of the safety team were approaching. This was usually accomplished by some sort of whistle or chirp. It reminded me of a prison movie I had seen when I was a kid (Screw’s comin!). Once the message was received, his work crew would put down their tools and step away from what they were doing. I won’t lie, my initial reaction was anger. Well, maybe shock THEN anger. Before reacting, I was able to collect myself. I approached the foreman with a smile and an extended hand as I introduced myself.

The foreman was surprisingly friendly. There was no animosity. He knew who I was from site orientation and the numerous safety meetings I had conducted over the life of the project. I made it more personal this time. I asked his name and how long he had been at his craft. We made small talk and joked briefly. Then came the real question. “Why is it every time either myself or a member of the safety team  comes into your work area you signal your employees to stop working?” I got right to the point. Without any though and with a smile on his face he responded, “because I don’t want my guys or me to get fired”. His blunt yet honest response consternated me. I assume my blank stare begged for clarification because he took my silence as excuse to continue. “That’s what the safety man does. You mess up, he gets you fired”. There it was… Because that’s what the safety man does… Ouch. Image result for alcatraz prison guard

Once again, within the span of a few short minutes, my emotions turned immediately to anger. Once again, I was able to suppress the urge to react and composed myself. I will try to relay as best I can to you my response. I have trouble remembering word for word exactly what I said. Over the years it has evolved and grown but the basic idea remains the same to this day. Here goes:

First and foremost, if you are directing your employees to stop work when a safety professional is in the area, you are not helping them. Quite the opposite in fact. You are setting them up for failure. Would you ask your employee to hammer nails and then take away their hammer? No. By not allowing my colleagues and me the ability to observe you and your employees as you work, to view your practices and habits, you are essentially asking your employees to hammer nails with their forehead. The reason we observe work habits and procedures is find deficiencies, not to escort workers to the gate but to correct them to avoid injury!  Yes, it’s that simple! The reason I became a safety profession was due to my time as an emergency medical technician. So many times as I was treating a patient I would think, “this could have easily been avoided”. That turned from wishful thinking to, “if not me, then who?” By allowing my colleagues and me the ability to observe and correct, you are handing your employees another resource. What better way to operate than knowing there is someone behind you that is watching out for your safety. In fact, that is their sole function! The best way to protect your employees is to allow us to do our job. The “safety man” or… the Safety Professional does not fire people. In my years of providing this service, I have never fired someone over an unsafe act. I will educate. I will provide opportunity for the employee to learn and become more aware. THAT is what the safety professional does.

  

I know, unfurl the flag behind me and cue the flute music, right? It may sound canned now but it is important to know that at the time, I was realizing everything I was saying as I was saying it. It dawned on me that the conversation was just as important to me as it was to the foreman. This conversation has become a staple for me in changing the minds of workers and supervisors who may have a negative view of people in our beloved profession. I’ve found it effective with even the most staunch safety opponent (yes, they do exist). It satisfies my soul every time I get to see the proverbial light bulb come on in someones mind because the seeds of safety culture have been planted… and that is how it begins, one person at a time.

Oh… and from that day forward, that same foreman met me at the barricade of his work area and walked me through every time after. He would explain what his employees were doing, provide permits and JSA’s without me even asking. He gave the hammer back to his employees.

Be safe out there.

Toolbox Balk

Ah, the dreaded toolbox talk. Its goal is to inform work crews of safety related issues or events pertaining to the job site. More importantly, it is designed to start the employees’ day with a focus on safety. Occasionally, it only seems to succeed in causing anxiety and heartburn for field safety and site supervision. The common complaint is that, when performed daily, toolbox talks can become stale. During my last field safety role, I (like so many others) had to present a prepared toolbox talk six days a week. About three weeks in, I felt myself slipping into that mindset of, “my topics are getting stale”, “the guys don’t want to hear me drone on every morning” and “there just isn’t enough safety topics to keep things fresh”. Even to the seasoned safety veteran, it can be a daunting task. Fear not fellow Safety Nerds… I am here to put you back on the path.

“My Topics Are Getting Stale” – No they aren’t. Topics generally don’t change and they don’t get stale. They don’t begin interesting then grow boring. What gets stale is the delivery. HOW are we delivering the information? So we’ve figured out that it’s not the topic that is boring, it’s me. Great, thanks for the ego boost… So how do I spice it up?

  1. Retain your passion. Remember why you do what you do. Your goal is to keep employees safe. Get excited and stay excited. Your excitement will affect your employees.
  2. Find new things to discuss. There is a wealth of information on the internet (www.toolboxtalks.com is a great one) as well as all around you (There’s that Safety Nerd site I’ve been hearing great things about as well). Try to discuss topics that don’t get discussed quite as often. For example, reminding employees about safety on the way to and from work is equally as important to them as on the job safety. Talk to other contractors or crafts. See what they are discussing. Share your knowledge with them. There is a world of topics out there that are as relevant as you make them. Expand your horizons.
  3. Keep your poker face. Sometimes we have to discuss topics that we as safety professionals might not find interesting. That cannot show. If you present a topic peppered with eye rolls and heavy sighs, the employees will mirror you. Deliver every safety topic with the same level of interest and enthusiasm. It’s all or nothing.

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“The Guys Don’t Want to Hear Me Drone On Every Morning” – You’re right, they don’t. No one wants to hear anyone drone on about anything. “Droning on” is usually the result of three things; a lack of enthusiasm, a lack of knowledge or a lack of confidence. Sometimes one of the three can cause the other two. It falls back on the presenter, not the information being presented.

  1. Know what you are discussing. I’m not suggesting you need to get a doctorate in every subject you discuss or that you shouldn’t talk about things of which you may not be a subject matter expert. I am saying, do your homework. If you are opting to discuss a subject that might be a little unfamiliar, read up a few nights prior. Knowledge builds confidence and confidence commands attention.
  2. Put it on them. There is no rule that states you must be the one to talk for the entire briefing. Spread the wealth. Ask the crew each day what they did the previous day to stay safe. Have an incident or a near miss? If the involved employee is willing, have them discuss it with the group. Interaction and participation is one of the best ways to keep people involved and interested.

“There Just Isn’t Enough Safety Topics To Keep Things Fresh” – During my time as a Project Safety Coordinator on a large rebuild project, I would find myself running out of presentation topics but hesitant to re-use a topic that I had gone over as little as three months prior. What I didn’t realize in my struggle to keep things fresh, was that the project had so much turn over in three months that there were a large number of personnel that had not heard my safety briefings the first time around. I wouldn’t recommend discussing the same five topics every week but there is large value to the employees in repetition. Space is out but definitely cover it more than once. As far as topics go, if you need new material, get out there and find it!

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Hopefully I’ve provided a little bit of ammunition for you front line safety soldiers out there. As always, if you’d like to discuss any of what was covered further or have questions, let me know in the comments. And don’t forget to subscribe, like and share if you haven’t already!

Be safe out there.

 

Report Writing 101

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Let’s be honest, no one likes to write a report. It is something we all dread, starting as early as grade school. Report writing is probably one of the most hated, yet most important aspects of many different professions. In the world of health, safety and environmental, from relaying the events of a safety incident to expressing risk concerns, effective report writing is critical. Below are a few tips and training tools to simplify the report writing process for you or your team while increasing the quality of your incident reports.

  • KEEPING THE BASICS… BASIC

A report, at its most basic function, is to inform. Ultimately the report writer is responsible for gathering the pertinent information and composing it in such a way that it can be conveyed to the reader who may or may not have any other way of getting incident related information. Depending on the incident event, this can seem like an overwhelming task. There can be many details involved and all of these details must be recorded. So how do we sort through the info and know what to send? We stick to the 5 reporting questions; WHEN, WHERE, WHO, WHAT and HOW.

  1. WHEN – When did the event occur? Provide the time and date. Also record when the incident was reported, when outside assistance was requested, when assistance arrived. Remember to put a time stamp to every step of the incident. This will make creating a time line during the formal investigation much easier.
  2. WHERE – Where did the event occur? Be as specific as possible! Remember to list items such as cross streets or floor level.
  3. WHO – Who was involved? There may be more people involved than just the person affected by the incident. Who responded? Who escorted? Who provided assistance?
  4. WHAT – What happened? This is generally known as the narrative. Be as detailed as possible. If the information is pertinent to the incident, you can never have too much. Don’t forget to include information regarding what transpired after the incident.
  5. HOW – How did the incident occur? This is not to be confused with WHY. The why will be determined during the investigation. The HOW refers to the conditions or events that led up to the incident occurring.
  • (Don’t) SHOCK AND AWE

Early on in my Health, Safety & Environmental career I received a preliminary incident notification from a field safety representative written with these exact words, “Employee had finger crushed when smashed between two pipes”. That was it. Re-read that sentence then try to imagine the scenario based on the information given. It is still amazing to me how such a short and under detailed statement can conjure such vivid mental images. I envisioned parts missing, surgery, lost time, etc. After racing to the scene of the injury, it was found that the employee had sustained a quarter-inch abrasion on his little finger when he brushed against a two-inch pipe. As I mentioned earlier, it is important to remember when filling out an incident report or notification that the person receiving it may not have access to information other than what you are sending. Do not use “shock” words like SMASH and CRUSH. Get familiar with and start using non-startling words. Try replacing words like smashed with contacted. Instead of crushed, try caught between.

  • YOU TALKIN TO ME?

Talking in third person probably won’t help you on a first date but it can be a report writer’s best friend. When constructing your narrative always use the name and function / role of personnel involved. Be sure to refrain from using words like; him, they, we, I, hers, etc. as those terms may become confusing as more players are introduced into the report. Instead use terms like; Employee Jones, Truck Driver Smith, Supervisor West, Employee Jones’ Equipment, Etc.

  • WOULDA, SHOULDA, COULDA.

Don’t speculate… ever. You may have an opinion of what caused the inci
dent and you are entitled to it but keep it to yourself. Opinion, speculation and guess-work have no place in a professionally written incident report. Like Joe Friday used to say, “just the facts, Ma’am”. I think I just dated myself with that Dragnet reference.Image result for joe friday

  • DON’T PANIC

Like I mentioned earlier, there may be volumes worth of information to report. You are human and you will forget things. That’s okay! Reports are made to be amended. Stick to the basics and you will be alright. Depending on the severity of the incident, the report may be continuously evolving. New information may come to light through interviews and investigations that may even contradict earlier reported information. That’s okay as well.  Once the information is on the report and the report has been transmitted, leave it alone. If you need to add to it or revise previously reported information, add a new line at the bottom of the narrative and be sure to include the date you are making the additions or revisions. This prevents different “versions” of the report being transmitted to various recipients.

  • TRAIN LIKE YOU FIGHT… FIGHT LIKE YOU TRAIN

As with anything in life, practice makes perfect. The more reports you write,  the easier the process becomes. It is my humble opinion that scenario based training is some of the best you can get. Below is a training exercise I have tested with my team and have gotten excellent results. I’ll provide them with a scenario… or if you want to make it challenging, provide a picture.

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Front end of vehicle 1 contacted rear end of vehicle 2. Weather conditions were sunny and road appears to be dry.

Have your team members write an incident notification or “First Report” based on what they see. Then move into the fact-finding and incident report writing. Allow them to ask questions to help clarify the scenario but speculation must be discouraged. Start simple and you can build the story from there, directing the narrative you hope to achieve from your team members. Once completed either review as a group or have your team members critique each others reports. If choosing the latter approach, make sure the critiques are kept supportive. We want to encourage growth and improvement, not bruise egos. Training can be done as a group or as a “homework” assignment. Be sure that when you are training, use whatever platform your company uses for an actual incident report. Like the header says, “train like you fight and you will fight like you train”.

For more information, feel free to contact me. Always remember, credibility as a professional is key and when it comes to the world of safety, quality reporting can make or break you.