The Eight Habits Of A Highly Effective Safety Culture With Rod Courtney | Ep. 261

COGE 261 | Safety Culture


No one is perfect, and everyone is bound to commit mistakes in the workplace. But you’ll see a difference when you have a Safety Cop, securing a safe place to fail. Rod Courtney, a Certified Safety Technician, brings us The 8 Habits of a Highly Effective Safety Culture to guide organizations in establishing a safety culture. In this episode, Rod’s wisdom will help employees to fail safely in the business because failure is inevitable. He also identifies the ten forms of energies that cause death in a work-related fatality. Let’s join Rod in today’s conversation and learn how we can help create a safe space to fail in our job.


The 8 Habits of a Highly Effective Safety Culture: Powerful Lessons in Human Performance:


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The Eight Habits Of A Highly Effective Safety Culture With Rod Courtney

Powerful Lessons In Human Performance

What can you learn from an army combat medic about safety? My guest is Rod Courtney. He served as an army combat medic from 1990 to 1998. He’s been a certified safety technician for many years. He became a certified utility safety professional in 2019. He’s a highly respected safety culture consultant, author, and speaker. He has a book called The 8 Habits of A Highly Effective Safety Culture. That is what we’re going to be talking about here on the show. Let’s dive right in. There are tons of great content here. If you want to transform the safety culture in your organization, you are in the right place on this episode.

Rod, welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

You didn’t start your career in construction. Can you tell us a little bit about your career arc?

I graduated high school. I wasn’t a good enough baseball player to go to college. I decided I had to do something, either go into the military or work at the Shell station. I chose the military. I went in as an army medic. I was a combat medic for the 24th Infantry Division. I was stationed at Fort Stewart. I stayed there for four years. I got out of the military and went into the reserves. During my reserve time, I worked as a correctional officer. Contrary to popular belief, I was not an inmate. I was a correctional officer, I promise, which was honestly the worst job I ever had.

It’s a horrible job, but it gave me a chance to work at the Olympics in Atlanta back in ‘96, which was cool. After the Olympics, I went to the police academy in Savannah, Georgia, and became a patrol officer. I did that for a few years and decided to move back home to Louisiana. I came home with the intention of being a state trooper. I had to wait a few months before I could apply. A buddy of mine said that there was a scaffolding company hiring scaffold builders in Baton Rouge so I could go work some turnarounds.

I went down like any good military guy with a shirt and tie on and a nice fresh copy of my resume and turned it in to be a scaffold builder. They looked at me like I was crazy. He asked me, “What do you know about safety?” I said, “Now that you mentioned it, that’s pretty much all I’ve ever done.” He introduced me to Tommy Graham.

Tell me about your experience as a combat medic and as a law enforcement officer. What are some fundamental principles of safety that apply across a variety of different industries?

At the end of the day, we have to remember one thing, and this is something that I wasn’t taught until many years later. We have to remember no matter what type of safety we’re doing, people are going to make mistakes. Errors are going to occur. It doesn’t matter how much you train somebody, how dedicated they are, or how hard they try. We will never stop that. I didn’t learn that until many years later and started to apply that in a safety capacity.

If you look back at the time I spent in the military, even the time in law enforcement, looking back on that and applying that, knowing that people are going to make errors and mistakes, I see now how we could have done that so much better. If you look at the training that the military goes through nowadays, they use that. It’s called a human performance approach to safety. It’s human and operational organizational performance. The militaries started to use that many years ago. Now, we are using it in a construction thing.

Tell me what you think are the rules and the cause of why people make mistakes.

First of all, we’re human. When I say mistake, I mean an error or something that’s not intentional. We made errors, you and I, all day. I can’t count how many times. When I was preparing to be on your show, I went to plug my headphones in. It’s got a little USB plug on the end of it. When I went to plug it in, it didn’t fit. I had to flip it over and try to do it again. It didn’t fit again. I had to flip it over again and plug it in.

As minor as that sounds, that’s an error. The truth is errors are predictable. We can calculate how many errors a given job or profession will make in an hour. We have to understand we’re never going to stop them. Errors are predictable, but we have to know that as long as we deal with human beings, errors will always occur. The idea now in safety is we can build an environment around them where it’s okay to make errors. It’s okay to fail as long as we send you home at the end of the day and you fail safely, then that’s building capacity. That’s the direction we want.

Errors are predictable. We should know that errors will always occur as long as we deal with humans. Click To Tweet

Tell me this idea of the human performance approach to find that address a little bit. Give us some more information insights there, please.

For many years since I started in safety, even in the military, we were doing what was called a behavior-based approach to safety. Behavior-based safety is based on a study done by a gentleman named HW Heinrich. He did it back in the early ‘30s. He was an insurance investigator for travelers insurance and he went around the country. He took 12,000 clothes accident cases. He went around interviewing people.

At the end of his study, he published that 88% of all accidents are due to unsafe acts or behaviors. If we were to focus on those unsafe behaviors, we could ultimately stop the significant injuries and fatalities. The data itself is flawed. This was under the ‘30s. There was a very tough time for our country. We’re in the middle of the Great Depression. Jobs are hard to come by. If you have a job and you’re providing for your family, you don’t want to lose that job. Here I come, an insurance investigator, and I say, “I need you to come to the office and talk to me.”

They send you to the office and sit you down. I say, “I’m a traveler’s insurance. I understand you had an employee who was injured a few months back. Can you tell me about it?” You run through it and, ultimately, I’m going to ask you, “Whose fault was it? Why did that happen? What do you think you’re going to tell me?” Are you going to say, “We probably should have provided more training. We should have done this.” You wouldn’t have got that whole sentence out of your mouth before they fired you.

They told him, “It’s the employees’ fault. It’s not our fault. They did something wrong. They weren’t paying attention to their surroundings.” Ultimately, 88% said it was the employee’s fault. That’s how the data was originally collected. That was 100 years ago. That data has never been able to be duplicated, but here we start now in the early ‘90s when Ford Motor Company was the first company to start a behavior-based program.

The Heinrich Triangle

After that, DuPont was the first one to sell a behavior-based program called the DuPont Stop Program. I’m not saying there’s in there was anything bad or bad intentions. It was just bad information. They implemented that and we’ve been doing behavior-based type safety ever since. We go out onto the job sites and try to find employees doing things wrong. They’re in the wrong body position. They have their hands in pinch points. They’re not wearing the PPE or whatever it is. We’re trying to find a person doing something wrong. That is a behavior-based approach.

A human performance approach is where we find SIF or Significant Injury and Fatalities. There are precursors to those. There are quite a few of them, but instead of me going out with your employees and trying to find them not wearing their protective equipment or standing in an awkward position, I’m going to go out and look for these significant injury and fatality precursors. They’re very in-depth, but you go out and look for these things. When you can identify the precursors to a significant injury, now you can take that information. As long as you’re tracking and trending things properly, you can create an environment where your employees can fail safely.

Think about stock car racing. It’s a great example. Many years ago, there was a very famous race car driver who was coming around a turn at Daytona. He hit the wall and died. Most people know who that was. That was Dale Earnhardt Senior. He was very famous and it was a very hard time for the sport, but I asked this question all over the country, “Can you tell me who the last person was to die in a stock car race?”

People are usually looking around at each other, and the fact is it was Dale Earnhardt Senior many years ago. In many years, do you think that sports have gotten more or less dangerous? Obviously, it’s more dangerous. Those cars are faster for sure, but what NASCAR has figured out is that their employees or drivers will make errors. They wreck every single week, but they allow them to wreck. They’ve created environments around them where it’s okay for them to wreck because they’re going to wreck and wreck safely. They’re going to still walk away from it. If we can take that same mentality and create an environment in a construction world where our employees can do the same thing, we will still have incidents, but they go home at the end of the day. They don’t have a significant injury or fatality. That’s the human performance approach versus the behavior-based approach.

Based on your experience in the industry, you’ve developed called The 8 Habits of A Highly Effective Safety and you’ve published a book on that. I’d like to spend some time diving into those habits. Your first one is, “Stop making safety a priority. It should be a value.” Can you explain how shifting from safety as a priority to safety as a value can fundamentally change an organization’s approach to safety management?

First of all, I hear all the time, “That’s just a play on the word,” because I asked the question, “Everybody, is safety a priority with your company?” They all, more times than not, say, “Absolutely.” I tell them, “Stop making it a priority. We need to make it a value.” Inevitably, they look at me like, “That’s what I meant.” The first habit is very simple, but that’s part of it. You have to understand that this is a process. It’s a system.

The First Habit

It’s a systematic process to change a culture. The first step or habit is to stop making referring to or treating safety a priority. Let’s start referring to it as a value. Here’s the difference. My office is 50 miles from my house. It takes me one hour to get to work. If I have to be there at 7:00 AM, my alarm goes off here at 4:45 in the morning. That’s 2 hours and 45 minutes to make that drive. I have plenty of time built in there to do things like brush my teeth, take a shower, eat breakfast, drink coffee, or whatever it is I want to do.

Everybody has that. You do it. Readers do it as well. They have time built in for their priorities, but the thing is, if tomorrow I wake up late, and we’ve all done that, I have to get to work. It’s important I’d be there on time. I’m going to adjust my priorities. I’m not going to take a shower, eat breakfast, sit and have coffee, or whatever it is. I’m going to do what I have to do, get out of this house, get in my vehicle, and start driving.

The truth is even people like me, I’m a dedicated safety professional, but I’m probably going to break a few safety rules on the drive-in. The speed limit says, “It’s 70, but I got places to be. This is important. I got to hurry up.” I’m going to break that speed limit. I’m going to break the rules in order to get there because my priorities are to do that. There’s one thing that we’ve all had the same answer for it. It’s, “What will you never leave your house before you do?”

Usually, when I ask that, people start looking up at the ceiling and asking, “I don’t know what.” It’s getting dressed. When you think about it, that’s funny. I’ve never been late for something that I showed up naked. I hope you haven’t either. Maybe in a bad dream, but the truth is getting dressed is not a priority. Getting dressed is a value. The fact is values don’t change. When we start talking about safety as a value, it’s purposely a simple first step. We change the terminology. We start referring to it and treating it as a value versus a priority. It makes it a simple transition from the old way we used to do things to, “We’re about to start doing things differently.”

COGE 261 | Safety Culture
Safety Culture: Values don’t change. Safety is a value. It’s purposely a simple first step.


Second Habit

That’s a good illustration of getting dressed before you go out of the house and the difference between a priority and a value. Your second habit is to make it safe to raise concerns. Some people might say, “If I’m allowing my employees to raise concerns all the time, it’s going to slow down processes and lead to inefficiencies.” How do you address that?

As a matter of fact, it is the opposite of, “Stop work every time something minor occurs, every near-miss happens, or every good catch occurs.” You’ve been in construction for many years. I’ve been doing this for quite a few years and a lot of your readers have as well. How many times have any of us stood up in front of a group of people and said, “I don’t want you to report everything now.” We never say that. As long as I’ve been doing this, I’ve always said to the masses anyway, “We want you to report everything. Let us know about everything, every plant orientation you go to and every job site orientation. That’s part of it. Stop work authority. If you see something, say something,” and all that stuff.

We’ve been preaching it for years. The problem is the employees don’t believe that’s really what we mean. Their perception because of how they’ve been conditioned is they have to say that in these meetings, but when we get out there, it’s different. We’re not going to report the minor stuff. We’re only going to report the things that absolutely have to be reported, the significant injuries, fatalities, major property damages, and that stuff.

Honestly, this is out of all habits. This is the hardest one to accomplish. It does take the longest because we literally have to change the perceptions that our employees have and let them know we truly want everything reported. Something minor occurs. Let’s say it’s a slip on a ladder. Nobody’s hurt, but it occurred. Does that mean you stop the job and go start reporting it now? Absolutely not. That’s not what I’m suggesting at all.

What I’m saying is that we need to make sure we let someone know that happens. There’s a lot of technology out there we can use that you could report it instantly. There’s everything from artificial intelligence to wearables to all that, but let’s say you don’t have that. Wait until your next break and let somebody know that it happened. If it’s significant, there’s property damage, or there’s something more than a near-miss, we would have stopped that anyway. You still stop that and report it.

If anybody out there believes that every near-miss and every good catch is getting reported, you’re wrong. I used to do that. I’ve had minor incidents on jobs before. As a safety professional, I didn’t tell anybody about it. If we talk about the elephant in the room for a minute, take the blinders off, your employees are not reporting everything, but we want them to. We tell them to, but we put blinders on and they don’t.

If you have zero incidents for the week, month, or year, “We’ll give everybody a reward.” Instead of doing that because all you’re doing is creating a culture where people want to hide things, how about doing the same thing but do it because people have reported these small things to you? Later on in the book, we’re going to talk about focusing left of zero, and when you have that information, when I have true unbiased data, all the data though, not just the serious stuff but everything, when I put that into a system, I can see an accident that happens.

Can you share a success story of a company that excelled in creating an environment where employees feel safe to raise safety concerns?

Back in 2019, I had been running my own company for a while. A company called Ampirical called me and asked if I’d be interested in interviewing for their HSC manager at the time. I went and interviewed. I came to find out that they didn’t have anything. They were a relatively good-sized company. You’re looking at 280 or so people in this company by then. They literally had a three-ring binder that was their whole safety program and nobody even implemented it.

They gave me carte blanche. The way it was given to me was I went and sat down in the president’s office. His name is Matthew Saacks. Matthew takes this three-ring binder off the shelf behind him. He sits on the desk. I always joke with him and I say, “When you set it down, there was a big dust plume that came up.” He said, “What do you think about our safety program?” I said, “To be honest, that’s a safety manual. It’s not a program, but I have read through it and you’re compliant.” He said, “We bought it off the internet. We bought it in order to be compliant.”

This was his statement to me, “I’m tired of being compliant. I want to be excellent. Can you do that for us?” I said, “I’m not saying we’re going to go spend a whole bunch of money. What I’m saying is with your support, I think I can do it.” We started with Habit 1. When we got to Habit 2, what we did was start rewarding people for near-miss reporting. When you first tell your employees, “We’re changing things up and we mean it this time,” they’re not going to buy into it. It takes some time.

Start rewarding people for near-miss reporting. Click To Tweet

What’s going to happen is someone’s going to report a near-miss to you. Eventually, it will happen. Instead of doing the old way of what we call now naming, blaming, shaming, and retraining, we did that for years for a near-miss report. I was trained to treat that just like it was an accident, “Let’s do that. Let’s stop the job, get everybody together, get statements, start these internet reports, do root calls analysis, and all the stuff that we would have done had an accident occurred. Tomorrow, we’re having a stand down with all the employees.”

“This knucklehead over here that slipped on the ladder, I’m calling him up in front of everybody. Tell everybody what a knucklehead you are. Tell them how you slipped on the ladder. Mr. Foreman, you need to tell everybody what we’re going to do differently so that that doesn’t happen again, and then I’m sending the whole lot of you back to ladder retraining.” That doesn’t work. That’s naming, blaming, shaming, and retraining.

With Ampirical, what we did was we had a big meeting at every single job site. I went around to all of them we had this meeting, “We’re going to try something different. We’re going to try this new human performance approach. I mean it. I want you to do it.” Eventually, somebody’s going to report one. You have to remember that how you respond to failure matters. If you respond to that the way we’ve always responded to it, they’re only going to report that one. They’ll never report another one because they’ve been named, blamed, shamed, and retrained. You still investigated, but you can do that quietly for a near-miss. There’s no reason to make a big deal out of all that. Get the information you need. Put it in your system, track and trend it the way that you’re supposed to do it.

You have to remember how you respond to failure matters. Click To Tweet

What we did in Ampirical was the first person did report something, and it has been long ago now. I don’t remember what it was. In this particular person, we knew he did not like to talk in front of people. We made sure that all we did was say, “John Smith reported a near-miss yesterday. After the safety meeting, stop by my office. I’ve got a $25 gift card I’m going to give you.” That did a couple of things. One, it’s a fact that the sweetest word to any human ear is their own given name. We set his name in front of his peers. He doesn’t like to talk in front of people, but saying his name in front of people, he likes that. Everybody does.

We allowed him not to worry about coming up in front of people, but come over to the side and we’re going to give him this gift card. We told everybody out there, “He did something that we’ve asked you to do that you’re not used to doing and we’re going to reward you for it.” It wasn’t long and we were getting 2, 3 or 4 reports a day. Ultimately, we had to lower it to $15 gift cards because it got to be a lot. Fair enough, some of them we realized were fake because everybody wants a $15 gas card. We had to weed those out, but the real ones, we continued to reward them.

I don’t mean this to sound wrong, but it’s like when you’re training a puppy. When you reward them enough, you’re going to get the behavior that you want. Once that behavior has changed, it’s become part of the culture. You don’t have to give them gift cards for the rest of their life. It’s just to show them that we mean this. What do you do with that information and how do you respond to the failure is going to determine if they are going to continue to report it or not.

Ampirical did exactly that. I started. We had a business review meeting with our biggest client, where I got called up in front of the room to go through all the safety slides for this meeting. One of the slides had all of our data on it, how many incidents, and so on. One of them was a near-miss. I remember this like it was yesterday. There were three near-misses for that quarter. I appointed it out on the slide if we had three near-miss for the quarter. Somebody in the crowd makes a noise.

I turned around and asked him to turn the light on in the room. When the lights came on, you could see the five owners of my company sitting there looking at me going, “What is he about to do?” I told our biggest client, “If you think three is bad, you’re going to be shot next quarter because that’s about to go way up.” Their initial response was, “Near-misses are going to go up?” “No, they’re already happening. Near-miss reporting is going to go up.”

When near-miss reporting goes up, I can track and trend that information and I showed them how I can see an accident before it happens if I get this data. They have sent, along with numerous other large utilities across the country, PG&E all the way to Florida Power & Light, have change the way that they do near-misses and near-miss reporting because of the human performance approach to safety. We get one a day near-misses across all of our jobs and all of the country. To be honest, there’s more than that.

Making Safety Of Responsibility

Habit 3 is making the safety of responsibility operations. Some people believe that safety should be the sole responsibility of a dedicated safety department. Why are you making the shift specifically into operations there?

There are two sides to that. The main part of it is if you or I walk out to a construction site now and we’re wearing our shining white heart hat, our nice shirts, and our shiny steel-toe boots, when we show up, they are already doing things differently than before they knew we were coming. Sometimes, I would walk up to job sites and I would see an employee is in a bucket and he’s not tied off.

“You’ve got a foreman, a supervisor, and three other employees here on the ground that sell that long before I did. Why is it there waiting for me, the safety professional, to come out to correct it?” What that does is it turns me into a safety cup. If I’m the one enforcing the rules, I become the bad guy. My job is to build relationships with people so they feel safe reporting things to me. If I have to be a safety cop and enforce your rules for you, you’re making my job impossible.

COGE 261 | Safety Culture
Safety Culture: To be a safety cop, build relationships with people so they feel safe reporting things.


The first part of its operation is its own safety because the safety procedures are yours, like every other procedure. You own them, you enforce them. Don’t get me wrong. We all have that same stop work authority that if you see an immediately dangerous to life for health and ideal condition, we all should stop that. My authority is no different than anyone else’s. Why is it that when I go to a job, these other people are standing around looking? They should have corrected that a long time ago. We change the focus.

It’s not my responsibility to come out and correct people on your jobs, number one. It keeps me from being a safety cup. The second part is when I started this, there were very few people who had ever been educated on being a safety professional. Back then, it was usually the oldest person in the company or it was someone who had been hurt. They’ve been injured, and now they’re in charge of safety.

Over time, we find that there’s a lot of psychological safety involved. There are a lot of other things involved. We’re not just there to enforce rules. We’re there to create safe environments. In order to do that, we monitor, audit, review, and advise. That’s the four main things that a safety professional should be out doing. Does that I can’t help by making sure that, “I have some extra gloves or safety glasses in my truck. If anybody needs them, there they are.” No.

What I’m saying is that when you put the ordering, storage, and distribution of personal protective equipment as the safety person’s responsibility, you’re taking away from the things that they’re supposed to be doing. Honestly, it would be much easier for either the tool guy, the foreman, or someone else to have that as a responsibility, and that’s only the operation side. Let operations do operations and let safety do safety. We have to define what that is. Smaller companies? The safety guy keeps the safety glasses, not a problem. The larger the company gets, the more people they have, and the harder that becomes, so you give that to someone else to do and let the safety professional be an actual safety professional.

Let operations do operations and let safety do safety. Click To Tweet

You’re going to have to explain this to us a little bit, “Focus left of zero.” What does that mean?

At the end of the day, it means focusing on leading indicators, not lagging. I do it left of zero because it’s easy to visualize if you picture a timeline, it has zero right in the middle. On the right side of zero are all the things that have already happened. You have no control over those things. The incident, environmental concern, and whatever has already occurred, the safety violation even, you can’t stop that. You can’t go back and change that. It’s already happened. Do you need to track and trend some of that information? Absolutely.

Near Miss Reporting

If you focus on those things that have already happened, you’re never going to get better. Focus your attention on the things that you can control like near-miss reporting, proper job safety analysis, proper hazard risk identifications, and things like that. I’ve asked this. I can’t tell you how many times I grew up in safety in the late ‘90 when I started getting into managerial-type positions and people would always tell me, “I want you to focus on the leading indicators and not the lagging indicators.”

What I tell them is, “I got you. No problem.” I had no clue what they meant. To be honest, if we’re all dishonest with each other, most people have no idea what that means. It sounds good. It’s very sexy. The upper echelons of companies love to hear that kind of stuff, “We focus on leading indicators not lagging indicators.” It’s funny how you do that to me now and not many people can.

What are some key indicators from a safety perspective?

Those precursors I was talking to you about earlier, the human performance or SIF piece of precursors, are leading indicators. You go out and you see these things and you’re asking questions and you’re looking for things that haven’t happened yet. You’re not looking for people that aren’t wearing PPE or things that are already occurring. You’re looking for things that haven’t happened yet. Good quality job safety analysis. We call them a JSA. Some call them JHA. You call it TSTI or whatever. It’s the analysis you do before you start work in the construction world. Everybody in construction knows what that is.

When you audit those, that is a leading indicator. You can look at the quality of that JSA and determine what the safety culture on that site is. I can hold two JSAs up in front of you and you can look at them. I promise you, anyone can look at it and say, “This crew over here is safer than that crew because of the quality of the safety analysis was done leading indicator.”

A near-miss occurring is a lagging indicator. The near-miss reporting is a leading indicator. The more near-misses you have reported are good leading indicators. You can take that information, put it into a system and you can see things from it. Good quality safety meetings. How many times has the construction manager or all the way up to the president of the company, depending on the size of the company, attended safety meetings?

That’s a leading indicator. If your construction manager never comes out of his office and never attends a safety meeting, that’s the information I need to know. That’s a leading indicator that tells me right there that safety is not a very important thing to him, at least during that period of time. Maybe we need to change the time of the safety meeting or the way he views safety. One way or another, that’s one of the leading indicators.

Habit 5, stop managing people. Some people might argue that managing people is essential for maintaining discipline and order. How do you reconcile that with the idea of stopping managing people?

You Don’t Manage People

Let me say it like this. You had a gentleman on a while back who I’ve since become friends with. In the Navy SEALs, Jeremy Beal and his company Radix Services on a while back, the one thing that you have to understand from all levels of leadership when you get into the super high performing trades like the SEALs or the clerk at the local grocery store, you cannot manage a person. You don’t manage people. You manage processes and procedures. You can even manage outcomes. You lead people.

You manage things and you lead people. If you’re trying to manage someone, you’re not going to be successful. You have to learn the skill of leadership, which is a skill. No ifs and or buts about it. I can’t tell you how many resumes I get that tell on the resume, “I’m a natural born leader.” You’re not there. That would be like me telling you, “I’m a natural-born helicopter pilot.” That makes zero sense. It takes a certain skill, something you’ve learned to fly a helicopter.

If you're trying to manage someone, you will not be successful. You have to learn the skill of leadership. Click To Tweet

Just because you’re in a leadership position does not mean that you’re a good leader. The truth of the matter at the end of the day is there are more bad leaders out there than there are good leaders. However you choose to do it, I personally use the extreme ownership version of leadership. That’s what I like. Go get it if you want. It’s a phenomenal book. However, if that’s not your thing, go find something else. Whatever helps, learn how to become a good leader. Learn that skillset, how to communicate, how to influence people, humility, ego, and all the different components of being a good leader.

Learn how to influence people. Click To Tweet

When you learn that, go learn it again because it’s never-ending and what we ask in this habit is to learn how to be a leader and lead safely with enthusiasm because what happens many times by title, people are put in leadership positions and they’re looked up to through their organizations. If that person says something along the lines of, “We got to go to that crap safety training next week,” and they treat it like that and it’s that crap the safety department wants. If your leadership is talking like that, you have no idea how hard you make things by doing that.

Learn How To Be A Leader

Most people don’t even realize they’re doing it. We ask that leaders lead safety with enthusiasm. When there is safety training, be excited about it. Even if you’re not, be excited about it so that your people will be excited about it. Talk about what’s possible in safety. Don’t talk about all the accidents this and that. Talk about what’s possible to be enthusiastic, but in order to do that, you have to learn how to be a leader.

Habit 6, stop trying to fix the worker and fix the work. What are some common misconceptions when you introduce this particular habit into an organization?

This boils down to the Heinrich triangle that we talked about earlier, the behavior-based approach.

Give me the triangle.

The Heinrich Triangle is the basis for behavior-based safety. The bottom area of the triangle has a large number. We’ll say it’s 300,000. Above that is say, 3,000. Right above that will be 30. Right above that will be 3, and then at the very apex, there’ll be a 1. It is the number of fatalities that occur for every 300,000 unsafe acts. It starts with unsafe acts and it gets worse and worse up to the top two, which are significant injuries and fatalities.

The idea of behavior-based safety is to focus on those unsafe acts. Therefore, you’ll have less fatalities and significant injuries. Mr. HW Heinrich the gentleman that did that study back in the ‘30s, his study showed 88%. We know now that the data was flawed, but they still started implementing this hard, back in the ‘90s and having those go out and try to change people and make people, “If Eric would work safer, then our job would be okay.” We cannot focus on human behavior that way.

Here’s a perfect example of construction. Everybody out there knows if you’re in construction, what fall protection is. A fall arrest system has three parts to it. It’s a full-body harness. It’s a shock-absorbing lanyard and anchor point. Let’s think about this for a minute. Out of everybody reading, I’d like to know how many of you have ever worn a fall arrest system. Most of you have. How many of you now have ever used the fall arrest system and it kept you from hitting the ground? There’s only a very small percentage. Those are anomalies, very few people that happens to but we still tie off.

If it’s rare, I’ve never needed one. I used to build scaffolds. Most people, even that where I’m every day, will never use that harness. Most people who wear a seat belt will never need it, yet we do it. The reason we do it is because we have to give ourselves the ability to recover. The ability to recover allows us to create that environment where I can fail and feel safe.

Habit 6, stop fixing the worker. That means to stop focusing on work or errors. People are going to make errors. We’re not going to stop that. Stop blaming people for errors. When you blame, name, or shame them and all that stuff as we talked about earlier, all you’re going to do is create an environment where they’re going to start hiding stuff from you. Go out. Find the precursors.

I’ll send it to you and you can put it up for everybody to see what those precursors are and go look for those things. Those are your leading indicators when you can start finding those things correct them and you can see things before they ever happen because you’re looking at things that haven’t even occurred yet. Look for those things and find the things that need to be corrected. Correct those. Now, you’re creating environments where the employee fails safely. That’s the perfect segue into Habit 7. It is about finding the STCKY and stopping the SIF.

Define for us STCKY and SIF. Give us what both of those mean.

SIF is Significant Injury or Fatality. There’s also what’s called a PSEF, which is a Potential Significant Energy Fatality. Let’s talk about SIF, an actual Significant Injury or Fatality. The top two sections of the Heinrich triangle. STCKY is the Stuff That Can Kill You. Fair enough, on most construction sites, they’re going to change that first word out for a different one. For this purpose, we’re going to stick with stuff.

There have been a lot of studies done in the last many years. A gentleman that I know worked for the University of Colorado at Boulder. His name is Matthew Hallowell. He has these teams that get together. They’ve done all these studies. I didn’t know until a few years ago that every single workplace fatality that has ever occurred in the history of the country is caused by one thing. It’s energy every single time. It’s some form of energy.

COGE 261 | Safety Culture
Safety Culture: Every workplace fatality that has ever occurred in the country’s history, energy caused every single time.


There are ten forms of energy, but energy is what kills people every time now. I don’t mean a non-job-related heart attack. That’s different. I’m talking about a job-related significant in fatality. They’re always caused by energy. What we can do is know what those ten forms of energy are. We do our normal job safety analysis that we talked about earlier. It’s all part of the system. We’re doing those. We’re tracking and trending all the data now we get to this point where we are identifying energy. Just by identifying it only, I’m getting my job ready. I do my JSA and we stop one more step and we say, “Have we identified all forms of energy?” At Ampirical, we put it in a wheel. It’s a picture. It looks like a big piece of pizza. It’s got ten sections and each one has forms of energy the other way around.

What are those forms of energy? Can you think about your head?

There’s motion, mechanical, temperature, gravity, chemical, pressure sound, biological energy, radiation, and electrical. Those are ten forms of energy. You can do it in the wheel or in the triangle, I don’t care, but the idea is to identify the fact that energy is present in your job site. Do your JSA and then cover those ten things. That’s about to go to work. Have we identified all the energy? Let’s run through them real quick. Have we identified all the mechanical energy in this job we’re about to do? We have.

Temperature energy? Yes. What about motion energy? Hypothetically somebody right now says, “There’s this forklift that’s driving on this side road over here. That’s motion energy.” It is good. We’re going to put that one down motion energy. We’ll go through the rest of them, chemical pressure, sound, all the way through them and we ask the same question, “Has this form of energy been identified? Everybody looks around and identifies.”

We get through only that one was identified. What do we do now? The fact is by identifying it alone, you reduce your chance of having a significant injury or fatality by more than 20%. Imagine if the workplace fatalities in this country dropped by 20% next year. That’d be all over the news. All we had to do was identify. The fact is, more times than not when people get significantly injured or killed on our jobs, it’s because it wasn’t identified.

COGE 261 | Safety Culture
Safety Culture: By identifying the energy alone, you reduce your chance of having a significant injury or fatality by more than 20%.


We take it a little bit further and we use it. This part isn’t even in the book. It’ll be in the next one. It’s what we call a bow tie effect. Suppose you can imagine a bow tie. It has two triangles on each side and a circle or a square in the middle. The circle or the square in the middle is, let’s say, the work as performed. That’s the work that goes on every day. Know that work performed and work as imagined is different. That’s where those precursors come in I’ll send that to you and you can share it with your audience.

If I had a coin and I started flipping my coin and let’s say I flipped it 100 times. After I flip it 100 times, could you tell me roughly how many of those landed on heads and how many landed on tails? It’s 50/50. That’s the same thing with accidents. Over time, I can tell you what the probabilities are. I can’t tell you what the next flip is going to be. We know that flipping a coin is a 50/50 possibility. We do that all the time on our job sites. That’s called success and capacity. Heads and tails.

Success means I did all the pre-planning and all the safety analysis. I lined everybody out correctly and nothing happened. How often does that happen on our construction sites? All the time. That is what happens most of the time, and then there’s the capacity. Capacity is any control that you may have put in place, safety glasses, barricades, lockout tags out, you name it. It worked. Sometimes it works and you don’t even know it. You put a barricade up to keep people out and something falls.

What you didn’t know is that on the other side of that builder over there is that barricade you put up. Somebody saw it and they walked around instead. The control worked. That’s capacity. We flip our coin all day and we get that. Success and capacity. We do it very well. What do you think the odds are? I flip that coin and it lands on its edge. It doesn’t land on heads or tails. It literally lands on its edge. It’s rare. It’s one in 6,000. That doesn’t mean if I hand out 6,000 coins that you flip them in one’s guaranteed to land that way. That’s one in 6,000 per flip. It’s an anomaly. Accidents can be predicted. Anomalies cannot be predicted. Anomalies are what cause significant injuries and fatalities. The energy causes that to happen. It’s an anomaly.

What’s an example of an anomaly?

It’s something that is extremely rare. Workplace fatality is an anomaly. More times than not, we’re going to get up, go to work, do our shift, and get success capacity all day long. We’re going to go home. Most people will never be on a job site when someone dies. Most people will never be in a company that has someone who’s killed on the job site. It’s an anomaly when it happens. When you step back and look at it from the 30,000-foot view, you can see that in 2020, the United States would have 5,333 people in workplace fatalities.

If you think about the 140 million people in the workforce and the number of man hours it would end to that, it’s a horrible thing. Please don’t think I’m taking away from that, but it’s an anomaly. It doesn’t happen very often. It’s extremely rare. Flipping a coin at landing on its edge is extremely rare. Someone being killed or seriously injured on the job is extremely rare. In our bow tie now, we know what the middle is. The middle is the coin flip, success, and capacity on the left side of our bow tie which is our hierarchy of controls.

The hierarchy of controls for a safety professional starts off at the bottom of the triangle with elimination. Elimination is the first thing you should try to do. If you’re going to try to eliminate a hazard, you eliminate it first. If you can’t do that, then you try substitution. If that doesn’t work, then an engineering control or the next would be an administrative control. Your last line of defense is protective equipment. Always use your hierarchy of controls. Control the hazards and we’ve been doing that.

Now we get to our coin flip. We’ve been doing great there right in the middle until the anomaly occurs. The right side of your bow tie is to protect from the anomaly. What the right side is your energy wheel or all forms of energy are built in there. If you identify that it’s there, you will reduce your number of significant injuries and fatalities by better than 20%. However, that’s identifying it. In our bow tie model, we identify it on the right side and we go back to the left side. Where are your controls? Control it.

The example from earlier where the gentleman said, “There’s a forklift driving back here.” We identified. Good job. How can we control that? What if we put some barricade up, combs or maybe a spotter to make sure nobody walks in front of it? You controlled that hazard. If you did that for every one of those forms of energy, make sure it’s controlled. I hate to say something is 100% because it never is, but I promise you if you control every form of energy in your job site, that is as close as 100% you’ll ever get.

With that model there, knowing those ten forms of energy and then basing your safety procedures and safety conversations around those, it’s a very insightful way of looking at how you’re operating on a job site on a daily basis.

When we do that when we identify and control the energy, we that that gives you the chance to fail and you can fail safely, you’re going to fail. There will be errors. Most errors are as simple as plugging in the USB and it didn’t work. Nothing happens. Some errors are a little bit worse and you end up with a cut on your finger. Somewhere a little worse than you need stitches and they go all the way up that triangle. If you can identify and control all forms of energy, that’s as close to 100% safety as you will ever see.

COGE 261 | Safety Culture
Safety Culture: When we identify and control the energy, that gives us the chance to fail safely.


Let’s move to the eighth and final habit. Stop trying to Influence everyone. Who should I be trying to influence when it comes to safety?

In full disclosure, when I went to publish the book, it was The 7 Habits Of A Highly Effective Safety Culture. I started this in 2004. I was the health safety environmental manager for Kellogg Brown & Root for Halliburton in Iraq. I spent three years over there building US military bases for US military and coalition forces in an active combat zone. That’s where culture first started for me. To be honest, it wasn’t a safety culture. It was culture in general, the differences between all of us.

I read the book The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. I thought, “What a cool idea, The Seven Habits Of A Highly Effective Safety Culture. Sure enough, I wrote seven of them out.” The weird thing is the first five. They’re still the same today as they were many years ago when I wrote them down. Only 6 and 7 change. That’s because we went from a behavior base to a human performance base. When I went to publish it, the publisher called back and said, “I come to find out the Covey Institute is proud of that Seven Habits trademark.” They have and they are rightful so. To be honest, I wasn’t educated enough at the time in the process to know it was going to be that big of a deal, but it is.

Stop Trying To Influence Everyone

COGE 261 | Safety Culture
The 8 Habits of a Highly Effective Safety Culture: Powerful Lessons in Human Performance

I did what any smart person would do and I made an eighth habit. First, however, I went and purchased the trademark to the 8 Habits. You got to do that first, and then I made the eighth habit. Honest to God, I’m glad I did because what I did originally was I told you what needs to change. I never told you how to change it. The eighth habit is how you implement the first seven. Stop trying to influence everyone. The truth is if you try to influence everybody, you’re going to end up influencing nobody. They’re very strategic ways to influence. Habit 5 was about leadership. That is a skill that we all need. Influence and communication are two other skills that we have to learn and you have to try to learn them. Learn how to influence people.

There’s a guy named Simon Sinek. Simon does a bunch of TED Talks. He has some books out. Go get them. There’s one that’s called Start With Why. Simon talks about the Golden Circle. In The Golden Circle, he talks about regular folks, we talked backward. When we approach someone to try to influence them, we approach it completely opposite from the most successful people in the world because, in my years, I’ve always done that. I go up to somebody, I want to influence them. I tell them what I want, how I need to get it, and why I want it. The truth is when you tell anybody what you want first, you’re going to lose about 50% of them. They’re gone because they’re not as excited about it as you are.

When you tell them how you’re going to lose another 50% of that, you’re only down to about 25% of their attention. By the time you get to why, you’re only getting such a very small percentage of their attention that, more times than not, it’s not going to work. If you reverse that, and this takes practice, you’re not going to do this instinctively. I literally sat in my office, read a script over and over again, and practiced it before I went and tried it out. You go in and start with why. When you start with why, then you keep most of their attention because they understand the end goal right off the bat. You have a better ability to influence someone.

The other thing I talk about in that chapter and this one, is going to be huge, especially for all you safety professionals out there. How many times have you been asked to,” go make sure everybody is wearing their seatbelts.” I used to build wind turbines. Wind turbines are built in the middle of flipping nowhere or in a cornfield in Iowa. There are human beings for miles except for us. I want you to drive 25 miles an hour and wear a seat belt. Ironworkers don’t like that.

That was a little legitimate problem. I was having issues with that. The fact is, at the time, I worked for Siemens. Siemens had bought a Danish company. For every American worker, we had one Danish worker. If you were a project manager, you had a Danish counterpart, a construction manager. Everybody, all the way down to the people turning the wrenches, had a Danish counterpart. I had a Danish counterpart as well, but it was the opposite because we’re here, and we have to follow OSHA.

What happened was I was trying to tell all the American guys because they know what OSHA says, “You have to wear your seatbelt.” These days, they didn’t care. They didn’t give a flip about that. I’m having a hard time telling half the job site, “You have to wear seatbelts,” because I know they’re not going to do it, but they have to. What I found out was, and I call it in the book Find The Mascot, in every group of people, set of friends, job site, and group of family, there’s a mascot.

It’s usually the alpha personality, but it’s the person that everybody else listens to. It’s Grandpa at Thanksgiving dinner. He’s the mascot. In this case, it was a Danish guy named Henrik. I was sitting back after a safety meeting one day and I was pretty frustrated. I looked over at Henrick. About 6 or 7 of his Danish buddies were all over and they were talking in their language. They were all laughing at Henrick. I said, “Look at that.”

What I did was build a relationship with Henrick. I learned about him. I learned that he wanted to bring a ‘69 Camaro back to Denmark with him. He had a dog named Wag. I knew how he liked his steak cooked. I could tell you what his favorite genre of music was. I built a relationship with him then all I had to do was convince Henrick to wear a seatbelt. He convinced everybody else for me. It works the same with everything else. Find the mascot, build a relationship with one person, and then you only have to influence one person. They’ll influence everybody else for you. That’s the the last habit in the book and that’s what it’s about. It’s about don’t try to influence everybody because you’ll end up influencing nobody. Learn the skill of influence.

I appreciate you coming on today. Tell us a little bit more about how people can get that book and where to find it and all that good stuff.

The best place is on Amazon. I don’t know if anybody out there is a current author or if you’re trying to become an author. Through my publishing company, if I call the printer and say, “I need 50 books,” they put me behind Amazon. I’m the flipping author. I can’t put it behind Amazon, but it’s true. Amazon has been running specials from time to time. Amazon is the fastest, easiest, and usually, cheapest way to pick up a copy. I do speak a lot all over the country. I left Des Moines at 5:00 to get home and be here for this. I’ll be in Michigan and San Diego. I’m all over the place. If you follow me on Facebook, you can see where I’m at and I’ll gladly bring some copies with me and I’ll give them to your son. Amazon is the way to go.

I appreciate you taking time on the show. Thank you for your insights and your wisdom around safety.

Thank you so much for having me here. It was a pleasure meeting you.

Thank you.

Check out his book, The Eight Habits Of Highly Effective Safety Culture, on Amazon. One final request before you bounce away, if you like the show, and I’m assuming you do because you’re reading this, go out and give the show an honest rating and review. I would deeply appreciate that. Thanks very much. We’ll catch you on the next episode.


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About Rod Courtney

COGE 261 | Safety CultureRod began his career in the US military. He served as an Army Combat Medic from 1990-1998. Rod has been a Certified Safety Technician for 25 years and became a Certified Utility Safety Professional (CUSP) in 2019.Rod is a highly respected safety culture consultant, author, and speaker with extensive experience in safety management and consulting for more than 30 years. He is the author of “The 8 Habits of a Highly Effective Safety Culture,” a groundbreaking book that provides practical guidance on how organizations can establish a strong safety culture.

Moreover, Rod has taught graduate-level courses in occupational safety and health management at Southeastern Louisiana University and has served as an expert witness in numerous court cases involving construction workplace accidents. His expertise and practical approach in risk management, safety culture, and leadership have made him a highly sought-after speaker at many safety conferences and events worldwide.

Currently, Rod is the HSE Director for Ampirical who is one of the fastest growing companies in the US. Ampirical was named one of Americas Safest Companies by EHS Today in 2021. Rod is a USOLN Board Member and author of “The 8 Habits of a Highly Effective Safety Culture” and was selected as a member of “Who’s Who in America” in 2022.