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Safety is a Matter of the Heart
NASA's Langley Research Center is home to the first federal facility with an OSHA Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) STAR rating, which indicates exemplary achievement in occupational safety and health.

Last year, the center had an accident rate of 1.1 per 100 workers. According to employer-reported data from a 2011 OSHA report, the national average was 3.5 instances per 100 workers.

“That’s a world-class rating, and it’s easy to get excited about a low accident rate,” said Center Director Lesa Roe to a group of about 100 employees who attended a two-day Incident and Injury-Free (IIF) Workshop in the Reid Conference Center.

“We’re doing great, so why should we change?” Roe asked. “That 1.1 injury rate means that 28 people were injured at the center.”

IIF Safety Workshop.

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About 100 employees from NASA's Langley Research Center attended a two-day Incident and Injury-Free (IIF) Workshop hosted by JMJ Associates. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Some of those injured visited Roe during open-door sessions. It became very clear that those people’s lives, and the lives of their families, had changed forever. That was all it took for Roe to realize that a low incident rate wasn’t something to celebrate.

"What do we accept as world-class?" she posed to the attentive crowd.

Whether it's referred to as "zero harm," "IIF," or "everyone goes home safe," the goal was the same — no incidents or injuries.

Is that even possible? It is when you think of IIF as a mindset intolerant of any level, frequency or severity of incident or injury.

"There is not a playbook for how those 28 people don't get hurt," said Greg Savage, senior consultant at JMJ Associates, a safety consultant firm. "IIF is not a goal, or a result, or a trophy to seek and acquire."

Savage and his associate, Lansing Bicknell, asked workshop participants to discuss what they do, and how safety affects them.

A Lab technician spoke with a scientist who cycles to and from work about dangers they face. A technical branch lead talked with a ROME supervisor about processes. A procurement specialist spoke with a member of the Director’s office about balancing risks while operating safely.

Participants also discussed a person or an incident that impacted their view on safety, and talked about what matters most to them. Upon returning to their seats, they built a foundation for safety without even knowing it.

"The foundation of all accomplishments is relationships," Savage said. " 'Just a co-worker’ is probably not going to cut it."

With the groundwork laid, they took a look at the bigger picture. Bicknell explained that for every 2 million unsafe acts, 240,000 of those are near misses, 20,000 become minor injuries, and one becomes a fatality.

"The important question that needs to be asked is, 'why, at the time, did it [an unsafe act] make perfect sense?' " Savage said. "Ask that question in a trusting environment and it will reveal gold for you."

The accident triangle.

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An accident ratio triangle shows the relationship between minor and serious injuries. Credit: Heinrich

Using an Integral Injury Analysis, which includes personal, cultural, behavioral and systems approaches, attendees turned their focus to NASA Langley. There were no right or wrong answers, only perspectives. The approach provides a full view, seeing and working on both the subjective and objective aspects of safety.

During analysis, it was revealed that members thought that Langley's history plays a big part in the center’s caring culture — that NASA as a whole, even in the face of adversity, strives to get better.

"What strikes me about NASA, and especially Langley, is the heritage," Savage said. "It takes a lot of pride and strength to retain and utilize talent and knowledge. And you may not even realize it since you’ve been here so long."

Some attendees have worked at the center for more than 35 years. And with that comes challenges, because things that used to be acceptable aren't anymore.

There was a lot of give and take, good and bad, kudos and criticism. But that discourse revealed relevant matters that were important to the safety of the center.

When communicating about IIF, Bicknell suggested that we should: 1) Make it personal. 2) Make it authentic. 3) Deliver it from the heart. 4) Have it be about family.

Those suggestions were the "how" of IIF. The "why" is because no one wants to be injured or to see another person injured.

"When IIF is present, people do not live and work safely out of motivation to be in compliance with some standard or to avoid punishment," Savage said. "Instead, people choose the safe path simply because not doing so would violate a deep internal value — their commitment to IIF."

To dignify commitment through actions, employees wrote a personal action plan and traded a copy with someone else. Going forward, they are expected to provide support to each other, and to hold each other accountable for their intended actions.

"IIF is sourced out of a personal commitment where individuals hold themselves responsible for not only their own safety and well-being, but for that of everyone else," Bicknell said.

This was the second of two IIF workshops held at NASA Langley. From those, Grant Watson, director of the Safety and Mission Assurance Office at NASA Langley, gained a broad perspective of how the Langley workforce will view IIF.

Watson is working with Center stakeholders to develop an action plan for the center to be presented to senior management early next year. In December, JMJ Associates will return to NASA Langley to help develop that plan.

“There is nothing written in concrete at this point,” Watson said. “We want to take the paradigm of thinking from these workshops and develop a plan that is right for Langley.”

By: Denise Lineberry

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman