Interview: Safety Speaker Kevin Burns (Part 2)

Interview: Safety Speaker Kevin Burns (Part 2)

Kevin Burns, Safety Speaker

Part of our interview with Safety Speaker Kevin Burns!


TalentClick: Have you observed any significant shifts in safety strategy over the course of your career? Is there anything you would call archaic or irrelevant to today’s safety world?

Kevin Burns:
I’m really starting to hear from my clients that the main reason that they are choosing me to work with their people is that they are tired of using scare tactics to try to motivate their people. Injured workers stories from 20 or 30 years ago are old, boring and ineffective. Processes, procedures, rules, observations, audits and training have evolved. Most of these stories you hear wouldn’t or couldn’t happen in today’s workplace. There are just too many safeguards in place. And those stories really have little to do with safety.

Safety is NOT the avoidance of injury. Companies should want to bring a positive message of safety to their people. You don’t go to the grocery store with a list of things NOT to buy. Why force your people to listen to a message of don’t-do-what-I-did? That’s not a plan to be safe. That’s a warning to not be unsafe. Being injured at work makes you no more of an expert in safety than being in a car accident qualifies you as a driving instructor. Bankrupt people don’t get invited to speak to financial planners. Fat people don’t get invited to speak at fitness trainers conferences. But safety seems stuck on using those who have failed as the messengers. Seriously? How backwards is that? Shock them once and you’ll have to shock them bigger the next time. Besides, injured worker stories have no lasting power. There are no concrete steps to take to achieve success.

People can’t buy-in to what not to do. Shock only works short-term to get compliance. But it does not create buy-in to the safety program. When employees buy-in to the safety program, they don’t need to be policed anymore. Top-down compliance enforcement is archaic and creates resentment. That creates turnover. How much fun is it to go to work knowing that someone is just waiting to pounce on you for not doing it right? How about you treat your employees like adults and build up their accountability and personal leadership? Then watch what kinds of decisions those same workers make.


TC: What is one of your favorite things to hear from your clients?

I like when I get the call from a past client and he says, “That went over so well we want to bring you back. We want all of our people, in every one of our locations to get this message.” That’s very rewarding. They see the value in what I do because it helps put everyone in the organization, from the CEO to the first-day young worker, on the same page. The problem with most safety programs is that they are communicated and interpreted by so many different people within an organization.

Senior managers explain it to middle-managers. Mid-managers to front-line supervisors. Supervisors explain it to front-line employees. There are too many places to get it wrong or misinterpret. Not everyone explains it the same way to each person. That creates voids. But, by putting the whole company into one room gives everyone the same opportunity to hear it the same way.


TC: What are your thoughts on Behavior-Based Safety? Have you seen successes in organizations using it?

Behavior-Based Safety has been around since the 1950s when General Motors introduced their philosophy of helping workers to make better decisions. Then, in the 1970s, Richard Nixon signed into law the Occupational Health & Safety Act. Companies like GM had been caring for and looking after their workers for twenty years but other companies had not. So, legislation was required to protect workers who were not being protected. When that happened, the focus of voluntarily looking out for the well-being of employees took a back seat to meeting the bare minimums of the Act. The focus moved onto enforcement and off of voluntarily doing the right thing. Courtesy gave way to legal requirements.

Now, we are coming full-circle with a bunch of like-minded programs: values-based, observation-based, feedback-based and behavior-based safety programs. There’s a program that I have seen do great things called the Positive Attitude Safety System or PASS. It is developed by Jim Burns (no relation) in Kelowna, British Columbia. I have watched this system work and I have been very impressed with it and the safety culture it creates.


TC: If there was one strategy leaders could implement immediately, what would you recommend?

I think the key strategy the safety leaders need to get right away is this: staff don’t work for managers – managers work for staff. That includes front-line supervisors too. If managers and supervisors can get that part right and buy-in to its meaning, they are on the way to building a strong culture of safety. It’s based on the job of the baseball manager. Baseball managers don’t hit the ball, field the ball or run the bases. They prepare their players to hit the ball, field the ball and run the bases. A baseball manager’s job is to inspire their players, to help players dig down to find their internal motivation and their “on” switches.

That’s the job of the baseball manager. It’s to put his players in a position to win championships. Safety managers are the same. The job of the safety manager is to put employees in a position where they can hit a home run in safety; where doing safety isn’t an arduous task but a personal value. When an employee owns safety as a personal value, good luck trying to get him to do anything other than the safe way. I think that if you want to take a light-years leap into the future, stop looking at the job of a safety person as one of paperwork. Safety is people-work.


TC: There is a lot of talk about Online Safety Training becoming the next big thing. Do you see value in shifting training online?

I think it’s about time. I mean, we have a whole generation of employees who find it difficult to disconnect with their phones for even a few hours at a time. Everything they do is on their phone. They are connected like no generation before. So it seems that if they are already connected, safety training should be connected as well. If the student is already connected, the teacher needs to be too. Because attention-spans have shortened, training will have to re-think how it delivers. On-demand video would be a great start. It would help by not taking employees out of the field for a week at a time for safety training after getting job training.

It seems that job training and safety training need to be integrated much better. Safety is not an add-on. It must be the foundation of how you do the job. So, it seems to me that the most efficient way to use an employee’s time is to spend an hour or two becoming safely trained in a classroom, virtual or otherwise, and then sending them out into the field with a mentor/instructor to use skills practically. The real upside to online training is the simulations ability. Setting up training like a video game in which employees get to make decisions in a virtual environment, to me, is more engaging than listening to trainers in a classroom setting. In addition to the online training though, is the need for field mentors. That’s a key consideration.


TC: Finally, anything exciting coming up our readers should know about?

I am always working on some new exciting thing. The safety industry is changing by leaps and bounds. Think about how we did safety 5, 10 or even 20 years ago. We’ve come a long way. For one, there weren’t a lot of web sites 20 years ago. I use my web site to put good information into the hands of safety people – most of it for free. I write a Blog post every week on my web site. I have written 4 e-books recently that I give away on my web site. I am in the process of writing a few more e-books and yes, they too, will be giveaways. I have developed some free safety posters. And, I am writing and recording more video and adding to the video vault on my web site all the time. That’s free too. I am constantly researching and developing new material. I will also be releasing a new regular book soon. And I am working on a new management and supervisory training program for those working specifically in the area of safety.

Big Thanks to Our Guest!

We’d like to give a huge thanks to our guest Kevin Burns! Be sure to visit his website and download his recently launched eBook The Perfect Safety Meeting.

Be sure to also connect with Kevin on social media: