Re: [xmca] A Culture of Safety at Work

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Thu Jan 17 2008 - 05:35:16 PST

Not nearly enough from you, Steve!!
In your telling, we might have in this domain of activity and its modern
social organization
at GREAT object for analysing culture in relation to political economy and
class. I'll bet
none of that is in the Fine article on shopfloor idioculture.

Lets see what others say

On Jan 16, 2008 10:34 PM, Steve Gabosch <> wrote:

> Mike is right, Helena's questions and post deserve a serious
> response. I had too many ideas at once so I waited for others to say
> something, and now Mike just did. So here are few thoughts that come
> to mind.
> I watched the safety "culture" at Boeing Commercial Aircraft factories
> transform considerably over the period 1979 thru 2007. Many of the
> items Helena mentions below were involved - protective equipment,
> process improvements, new habits, new forms of problem solving on the
> factory floor. Many industries changed their safety "cultures" during
> those decades, and still are. Some, like Boeing, changed safety
> practices for the better, especially from the point of view of death,
> injury, and "lost work day" measurements, and some seemed to get worse
> - for example, coal mines, and other areas where unionism has eroded
> or been eliminated in recent decades, such as meat packing. The
> bottom line is that safety takes a lot of capital investment and daily
> resources, and only happens when management really gets serious about
> changing how work is really done. The traditional method of ignoring
> safety problems until someone gets hurt and then blaming the hurt
> person(s) for the incident is still very much in use at Boeing, (using
> slick "coaching" meetings that are "documented", for example) but this
> atmosphere of intimidation is also accompanied by, in more and more
> cases, genuine dedication of resources to investigate changing a
> process that created a problem. This is relatively new.
> Something I also noticed over the years, highly capitalized factories
> like Boeing use safety laws (OSHA and the state level versions of it)
> to compete with other outfits - when Boeing decides it is willing to
> invest in a safety improvement, it often becomes a government
> regulation that others now must follow. In this way, Boeing can use
> the government to dominate areas of high tech and large scale metal
> processing and other forms of production, setting standards and
> thereby having an influence on industry profit rates. My point here
> is that this safety "culture" is very much tied to very large and far-
> reaching economic issues, many now global.
> A very interesting aspect of changes in safety "culture" (the term, of
> course, is loaded with multiple meanings) is the resistance to these
> changes by some workers who are used to living at a certain level of
> risk and have developed skills and acclimations to certain ways of
> doing things. Typically, these are the older workers. At the same
> time, younger workers and workers newer to a process are often more
> inclined to insist that management make the investments in making
> things safer. So there is sometimes friction among workers on this.
> Management manipulates this, playing the more conservative workers
> against the ones more willing to insist on a change when the change is
> too expensive (for now, anyway), and then turning around on another
> issue and pitting the more change-oriented workers against the more
> acclimated ones when a process is producing too many "lost work days"
> and medical problems (repetitive stress injuries, back problems, etc.)
> that are associated with a given process (use of vibrating tools,
> bending over a lot, etc.) and management wants to change the
> statistics while also blaming the bad habits of the workers who won't
> do things the right way. (This is the kind of situation where the term
> "safety culture" is most frequently used by management). Issues
> about productivity (doing things more safely often takes more time in
> the hour to hour sense) are always lurking behind safety discussions,
> where workers are expected to maintain the old pace and the old quotas
> but keep adding on new ways of trying to get things done.
> A driving force in the culture change on management's part, of course,
> is the fear of lawsuits from workers and their families holding the
> company responsible for health problems, as well as injuries and
> deaths on the job. All of management's efforts are very much designed
> to make the company look like it was doing everything possible should
> they be taken to court. A lot of these safety campaigns often look
> very much like CYA (cover your a**) maneuvers when this is kept in
> mind. Juries are much tougher on companies on these kinds of issues
> these days (reflecting an overall change in consciousness about health
> and safety), so Boeing, like many others, has had to adapt their ways.
> The role of the Machinist Union in the Boeing safety changes has been
> very interesting, participating with the company in many joint
> councils and teams that oversee safety problems and efforts. Much of
> this process has been written in the labor contracts in the past
> decade. This joint effort has both involved the factory workers and
> union officials in safety improvements in new ways, and also caused
> the union to sometimes become an accomplice in sweeping some safety
> issues under the rug - after all, the bottom line in all this really
> is money, and there is only going to be so much available for safety
> improvements at any given time.
> And that is the ultimate answer to Helena's question, in my opinion.
> It is about management seriously investing in safety and spending a
> lot of serious money where it counts. Ultimately, it takes
> transforming the way things are done, from the bottom up, to make work
> as safe as possible - to make the work process more and more human.
> As one peels away at any given safety issue, layer after layer of
> capital investment, social relationships, political and economic power
> relations, etc. etc. become revealed. Down deep, fundamental issues
> of class structure are at work. In every instance, if one looks into
> it like this, profit greed versus human need, private property vs
> human rights, are in perpetual conflict within every big and little
> safety and health problem in every workplace. Management "safety"
> solutions, while perhaps addressing one problem, often become a
> bandaid over something else further underneath that is also generating
> real health and safety issues. And so it goes. Safety is a lens into
> how any business operates, how the world economy is structured, how
> work is done, how each and every artifact interacts with its user -
> how humans organize activity.
> Ok, enough from me! 28 years of living this stuff at Boeing every day
> obviously left me with some attitude! LOL. Safety consciousness has
> truly changed in recent decades in all social classes (probably for
> very different reasons). These deep-going human issues and the
> complex changes they address are a minefield for CHAT thinkers. My
> hat is off to Helena for raising this so intelligently. I hope others
> chime in.
> - Steve
> On Jan 11, 2008, at 10:21 AM, Worthen, Helena Harlow wrote:
> > Hello --
> >
> > Here's a concrete situation that I'm up against where the question
> > of what constitutes "culture" matters.
> >
> > I'm on a team that is looking into working conditions at a power
> > plant. It's an old (1940's) plant with a whole lot of old equipment.
> > About 40 people work there. Management as asked us (a mixed team of
> > students and professors from Human Resources, Sociotechnical
> > Systems, Engineering, and Labor Education -- me) to come and study
> > the place specifically to look at the "culture of safety" at the
> > plant. By this they mean the human interactions, behaviors,
> > practices that address the exposure of workers to the risks that
> > abound in the plant which include high pressure, hot steam,
> > electrical current, moving parts, noise, dust, asbestos, explosions,
> > etc. etc. etc. So....where in the interface between and among human
> > beings and all this equipment does a "culture of safety" get
> > created? Is it in the regular use of safety glasses, hard hats, ear
> > plugs and gloves (personal protective equipment)? Is it in the open
> > lids of vats of acid that becomes gaseous and corrodes the steel
> > beams that hold up the conveyors? Who is responsible for creating
> > it? What are the social connections that engender a "culture of
> > safety"? What undermines it? What defeats it? Whose responsibility
> > is it? How can it be created?
> >
> > The answers to these questions are totally concrete and they are
> > different depending on who you're talking to.
> >
> > So here's a use from real life (what's a good word for that --
> > colloquial, non-technical, practical?) of the word "culture" where
> > in practice the people on the team are all agreeing that we all know
> > what we're talking about by the word culture, and we're getting
> > started at going around trying to answer the question, "How can a
> > culture of safety be developed at X power plant?"
> >
> > I'm going to use Andy's formulation of the subject/subject of
> > analysis, to the extent that I understand it, but I'm also using the
> > Engestrom triangle which has "tools" at the top and rules/customs/
> > historic practices etc on the lower left hand. I don't see a problem
> > with keeping both in mind when figuring out how to approach a
> > complex problem where you have to keep your information organized
> > while doing things. The theory is the tool, here -- you can draw a
> > picture of it and put it up on the wall for people to use to talk
> > about things.
> >
> > Comments?
> >
> > Helena
> >
> > ________________________________________
> > From: [] On
> > Behalf Of Andy Blunden []
> > Sent: Friday, January 11, 2008 1:26 AM
> > To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> > Subject: Re: [xmca] artefact 4
> >
> > Chapter 5 of Mike's book, "Cultural Psychology," found at
> >
> >
> > concludes as follows (p. 144):
> >
> > "We can summarize the view of culture given here in the following
> > terms:
> > 1. Artifacts are the fundamental constituents of culture.
> > 2. Artifacts are simultaneously ideal and material. They coordinate
> > human
> > beings with the world and each other in a way that combines the
> > properties
> > of tools and symbols.
> > 3. Artifacts do not exist in isolation as elements of culture.
> > Rather, they
> > can be conceived of in terms of a heterarchy of levels that include
> > cultural models and specially constructed "alternative worlds."
> > 4. There are close affinities between the conception of artifacts
> > developed
> > here and the notion of cultural models, scripts, and the like.
> > Exploitation
> > of these affinities requires one to conceive of schemas and scripts as
> > having a double reality in the process of mediation.
> > 5. Artifacts and systems of artifacts do not exist as such in a second
> > sense: they exist as such only in relation to "something else"
> > variously
> > referred to as a situation, context, activity, etc.
> > ..."
> > _______________________________________________
> > xmca mailing list
> >
> >
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Received on Thu Jan 17 05:36 PST 2008

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