www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/19311-safety-leadership-same-technology-different-outcomes
Safety Leadership

Safety Leadership: Same technology, different outcomes

January 26, 2020

Editor’s Note: Achieving and sustaining an injury-free workplace demands strong leadership. In this monthly column, experts from global consulting firm DEKRA Organizational Safety and Reliability share their point of view on what leaders need to know to guide their organizations to safety excellence.

I recently received a call from a senior executive who was frustrated with the outcomes from the implementation of in-cab technology. The technology detects driver behaviors that contribute to incidents. Since the technology’s implementation, the organization has fired seven employees and recently experienced a spike in cases of the technology being damaged. The leadership team recommended installing inward-facing cameras “to catch people damaging the equipment” and moving to a harsher discipline policy.

Investing in technologies that monitor employees is an ever-increasing employer trend that includes:

  • Cameras monitoring employees as they perform work
  • Drones recording activities in railroad terminals
  • Devices in cars and trucks recording driving actions
  • Wearable devices tracking a person’s location

These technologies have proven value. Devices that give feedback on driver behavior change the way a person operates company equipment. Having wearable devices that shut down powered industrial vehicles when they come too close to a person can prevent serious injuries.

Yet despite the many benefits, implementation can create leadership and cultural problems. What’s your motivation? Consider carefully why you as a leader want to install monitoring equipment. Or consider the underlying reason others in your organization are recommending its installation. Is the motivation to find fault and level punishment, or is it to help the organization and individuals learn and increase their chance of safety success?

In a learning organization, there’s a desire to continuously improve systems and performance. There’s motivation to understand how the configuration at the working interface has led to variation from work as imagined. For these organizations, data from monitoring devices is an opportunity to create deep learning.

Other organizations tend to perceive employees as a key “problem” to be solved. They see imagined work as reality and a correction is administered if there’s a variation from the prescribed framework. In the lowest-maturity organizations, correction means that monitoring data is simply the evidence needed to punish the person. In this case, the technology sets the culture back even further.

For the organization that successfully implemented the technology, we worked with leadership on a robust change management process. In this organization, no one was fired, and equipment wasn’t damaged. Instead, the organization found ways to drive further employee engagement by having peer coaches talking to co-workers about triggering events. They also used the data to recognize those team members who went 30, 60 or 90 days without a triggering event.

Not punishing the employee

Eventually, the senior executive discovered the problem wasn’t the employees or the technology. Instead, the problem was rooted in his leadership team’s underlying belief that employees are to blame for variation and incident. With this kind of thinking, naturally the data is going to be used to try to direct fault at the individual, not the system.

For many organizations that use these devices, leadership is often caught off guard by what it’s finding. These outlier findings are much more likely to be shared broadly, especially with the leadership team, so a bias is created, suggesting these unexpected actions are rampant, which isn’t necessarily true. Even for organizations focused on learning, it takes willpower not to revert to the “shame, blame and punish” mentality.

Any time you install monitoring equipment, you’re going to find occasions in which the data or video is shocking. In these cases, you need to confirm these events are outliers, not the norm. As leaders, we should always be asking for and looking at balanced data. Like the organization focused on identifying employees who performed their task without a triggering event, we should find such cases a cause for celebration.

The use of monitoring technology isn’t likely to slow down. What we need to do is slow down and implement the technology in a way that enhances performance and strengthens culture. It can be done.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.


Don Groover, CIH (retired), CSP, is senior vice president of DEKRA Organizational Safety and Reliability. Groover develops solutions that leverage the latest technology and advancements to improve safety performance in client organizations.