Ignore the Scoreboard – Focus on Safety Fundamentals

Safety fundamentals are the beginning to safety success.

Principle to Practice, David G. Lynn, CSP

Front Cover 07-21-10Safety reminds me of sports – it’s all about safety fundamentals.  Let me explain. When my nine year old son played baseball his first year, he had a lot to learn.  Jacob’s first season reminded me of how important a good coach is because a good coach will teach the fundamentals that make you successful.  This was apparent when Jacob’s little league team hosted a hitting clinic at a local batting cage.  The owner of the batting cage taught Jacob more in 20 minutes than I could have taught him in years.  The difference in the professional instructions and my advice was the level of detail and experience the coach possessed.

With my limited knowledge, I taught Jacob basic baseball principles.  I focused on the obvious.  Walk up to the plate.  Get a good stance and swing the bat.  If you make contact, run as hard as you can to first base.  The principles were a good start, but Jacob did not have a concept of the basic technique. This lack of knowledge impacted his potential.

A good hitting coach enlightened both Jacob and me.  He taught Jacob how to watch the ball and then he explained the purpose and consequence of every body position from the time a player approaches home plate until the time he walks back to the dugout.  If you point the bat in the wrong direction in your stance, it affects bat speed.  The way you balance your weight affects the power of your swing.  The position of your head impacts the direction the ball will travel.  The coach explained fundamental hitting techniques in slow- motion and with purpose.  There is a cause and effect to every move.  After he explained the fundamentals, each player demonstrated their technique as the coach fined tuned their skills.  The coaching clinic was an awesome experience.

Does a good coach really make a difference?  It did for my son Jacob!  The fundamentals created consistency and Jacob began to build a foundation for success.  But, the basics are not inherent to a nine year old boy’s behavior. Somebody has to teach him, coach him, and encourage him so that he can adopt the behaviors that will make him a better player.  Patience to train and a willingness to learn will build a cornerstone to success.  Jacob is well on his way to becoming a fundamental baseball player.

Putting safety and health principles to practice takes a similar approach.  You have to “know” that the basic safety fundamentals and principles are essential to success; principles like management commitment, employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training – each of these basic principles not only make sense, they take into account everything we do in the name of safety and health.  The principles of OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) are similar to my approach in coaching my son Jacob.  These principles help us to not only understand the rules of the game, but also to build a solid foundation upon which to add fundamental techniques that deliver consistent success.


I started my career learning safety principles through different jobs, but it took me several years to discover the right combination of techniques that creates a culture that embraces the belief that working with zero injuries is possible.  Just like fundamental techniques for baseball are not inherent to nine year old baseball players, safety fundamentals and safety techniques are not inherent to safety professionals.  I am proof of this fact. I learned fundamental safety techniques through unique and diverse job experiences.

I started my safety career in 1992, working for OSHA as a Compliance Officer. In this role, I conducted over 200 inspections ranging from scheduled audits to fatality investigations. My job with OSHA enabled me to see how the good and the bad companies managed safety across a wide variety of industries. The regulatory background taught me the rules. I also began to understand VPP principles on the surface, but I had no clue what it took to build a culture that believed you can work injury free. I thought the OSHA rules and generic VPP principles were the complete answer. I have learned that an injury free environment is more complex than I originally thought. An injury-free environment requires you to apply the rules and principles with disciplined techniques – safety fundamentals. The techniques allow you to apply your knowledge and build an injury-free work environment.

Although my OSHA experience did not teach me how to manage a safety program, knowledge of “the rules” enabled me to transition to a Safety Engineer’s role at a Duracell battery plant that made alkaline batteries. The battery plant wanted OSHA experience and they got it when they hired me. My safety experience evolved in a fast-paced environment where the plant made over a billion batteries a year. For five years, I faced the challenge of leading injury prevention strategies with a large workforce in a high-demand industry. Through this role, I began to understand how important it is to translate regulatory requirements – “the rules” – into workplace habits that drive an injury-free culture. I wanted to enhance our safety culture, and I began to research opportunities to apply VPP principles. I knew VPP is a catalyst for improvement, but while I was at the battery facility, I could never get my arms around how to apply these principles in real-time fashion in a fast-paced industrial environment. My grasp of the general principles were not enough to put the initiative in motion.

In 2000, I accepted the challenge to work for Owens Corning as an Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) Manager. I was responsible for all environmental, health, and safety responsibilities during the construction phase of a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. I also coordinated all EHS start-up requirements as the plant came on-line. Once the construction and start-up phase was complete, I remained the EHS Manager with the company until 2004.

The experience taught me that environments change. I learned how different phases of a project impact the way you lead safety. A construction environment has a unique personality with visible change on a daily basis. The site you see today isn’t the same site you see tomorrow. Today there’s a field, tomorrow a lay-down yard, and the next day your structure can emerge from the ground. You see the skyline change before your eyes. A start-up and commissioning phase creates unique hazards that are difficult to anticipate while a factory in operation has its own set of hazards and challenges.

Through experiences, I learned how to manage a safety and health program under dynamic circumstances, but I did not fully understand the importance of having a process that translated the principles into consistent action (safety fundamentals). I was like my son that went to the plate to bat without instructions from a qualified batting coach. I fully understood the principles of the game. I could stand at the plate, take a swing, and run to first base but my game lacked consistency and discipline. I did not understand the full cause and effect of the systems I implemented. I was a victim to the safety traps we all encounter – I searched for the latest and greatest “silver bullet” for safety performance.

In 2004, I accepted a position with Fluor Corporation as a Corporate Health, Safety & Environmental (HSE) Manager in Greenville, South Carolina. Fluor is one of the largest engineering, construction, and procurement companies in the world, with a distinguished safety reputation that the industry recognizes as one of the safest in the world. As a Fluor Corporate HSE Manager, I have supported HSE efforts in all of Fluor’s Business Units. I witness incredible diversity in Fluor projects – power plants, refineries, roads, mines, chemical plants, and wide a variety of other projects. Fluor also performs maintenance in operating plant settings, each unique by its design and functionality. My experience at Fluor helped me “get it” to realize that safety and health management principles are universal, and that these principles are imperative. The ability to apply these safety and health principles WILL MAKE ONE SUCCESSFUL, without question, every time! Although it may take a while, it WILL HAPPEN!

The Fluor culture is built on VPP principles, and the principles are executed using fundamental techniques. At previous employers I learned the principles; but at Fluor, I witnessed how to apply these fundamental principles. The result is a culture that embraces the philosophy that you can work injury-free. The culture is confident. The expectations are high. The outcome is excellence.

The content of this book is based on what I have seen and heard in my career.  I have been blessed with the opportunity to observe the good and the great, and I have tried to learn from my mistakes and build on my successes.

What have I learned through these diverse jobs?

Companies that excel in safety and health share common characteristics. They understand the fundamental safety and health principles, and they execute them through methodical techniques.  Progressive safety leaders implement the five strategic principles of VPP:  Management Leadership, Employee Involvement, Worksite Analysis, Hazard Prevention and Control, and Safety and Health Training.

This book is divided into five chapters that highlight OSHA’s safety and health management principles for achieving VPP.  Each chapter will discuss the value of the principle and then offer three techniques you can use to implement the principle.  The techniques are a bridge to success.  Principles only exist on paper until you make them a habit.  Most crucial are the suggestions to implement the techniques.  Compare the techniques to those in your safety and health program and prioritize which techniques you want to implement first.

With each technique, the section will offer suggestions to develop and implement the technique over a three‑week period.  This is a rapid delivery process that requires focus and commitment from your leadership team.  The purpose of the three‑week implementation is to establish a sense of urgency about change and improvement.  Each week you will focus on a different element of the implementation.  You will start with a planning phase with a team of employees.  The second step will require you to communicate your strategy and in the third phase, you implement the process.  The rapid delivery process works best when a core group of leaders understands the urgency and value of building an injury-free environment.

If you already use the technique, use the process to improve your current system.  This book is a roadmap to build or enhance a culture that believes you can work injury-free.

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