ASA HOP Spotlight: 12 Steps of Assertive Accountability

October 31, 2018

Weak Accountability drives Normalized Drift

In this section, we spotlight a specific ASA HOP strategy so it’s easier to see how all 52 are inter-related and have tight continuity. Our first spotlight is on Assertive Accountability.
We define the most common true cause of catastrophic events as, “extreme Normalized Drift caused by a lack of accountability.” Mitigation of risks will not be reached until Normalized Drift error traps are well understood. We will discuss Drift in many future posts, but this focus is on ASA HOP Pillar # 6, Element a, “The 12 Steps of Assertive Accountability (AA).”

When violations happen we wonder, “Why in the world would someone do that?” Almost always, the answer is… because we allow them to do “that” – whatever the bad action is.

That’s right, we allow drift because we don’t ensure accountability. This is true not only at work, but also with our children and socio-recreational activities.

When a high-powered rifle is “accidentally” fired right through the middle of a hunting camp without striking anyone (only by the grace of God), everyone freaks out, thinking, “How did this happen?” Though it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering the lax enforcement of their written rules, including “no loaded rifles in the campsite.” Many early warnings were ignored, thus extreme drift resulted.

When an experienced night-shift operator violated several procedures by removing a guard to clean a belt while a heat-setting line was running (and got his hand caught between the belt and a steam-jacketed roll, degloving the skin off his hand), it was clear that punitive discipline was in order. Until…the Plant Manager didn’t buy what he was told, that “this was a one-time aberration—no one would do this.” He circled back with other experienced operators who gave him the straight story—that sometimes, most often during off shifts, they cleaned the belt while it was running. It was determined that wing nuts were used as guard fasteners, yet another overlooked indication of the severity of drift present.

The reason the operator did what he did was because he was allowed to do it! Perhaps he was rewarded for higher productivity – the end justified the means, so the means were ignored – even though they created unacceptably high risks.

Behavior-based approaches will not address systemic, organizational weakness; they never have, and never will. Leaders not enlightened by HOP assign fault to human error, and think they need to send a message – they mete out punishment because they WILL NOT tolerate “violations of procedures by an employee!” Retraining is conducted, procedures revised, and more signs are hung, further insulting organizational intelligence. Reality is the punishment is not for violating a procedure – it’s for getting injured. Procedural violations had been tacitly approved, even rewarded. The real causes are never addressed, allowing latent risks to grow until the next injury event occurs. Then the cycle repeats.

The time for BBS is over, along with the placing of blame on the final human error – the reasoning intrinsic to BBS. Stop trying to fix the human condition. The time is now for embracing ASA HOP so weak systems are diminished, setting people up for success.

There are solutions to this challenge beginning with embracing the 12 Steps of Assertive Accountability. Safety-minded leaders should advance these concepts across their organizations so that decision makers and stakeholders can stop doing damage but instead access the path ahead by embedding these 12 steps into their organizational culture immediately.

12 Steps of AA

1. Understanding What is accountability?
2. Process How does it work here; are standards set?
3. Communications Understanding; acceptable and unacceptable risks
4. Responsibilities and Duties What am I expected to do; never condone
5. Acceptance Do I agree with expectations and risk tolerance?
6. Authority Do I have the power to control my destiny; start with self; STOP WORK? Coaching – “Own It”
7. Consequences What happens if I do, or if I don’t? enforcement
8. Performance Reviews When, who, how, why?
9. Candor Nothing but whole truth ALWAYS; self-reporting
10. Culpability How is fault determined; blame vs true cause
11. Just and Fair Consistent; mistake or violation; organizational weakness
12. Assessment Does this accountability process improve performance?