Ep 16 Cristian Sylvestre from Habit Safe talks about 3rd generation safety

Brendan: Welcome to Episode 16 of the Australian Health and Safety business podcast. I’m Brendan Torazzi, the host of the show and also the director of AlertForce.com.au, Australia’s most innovative health and safety training company. Today, I’m with Cristian Sylvestre from Habit Safe. Hi Cristian.

Cristian: Hi Brendan. How are you?

Brendan: I’m well. Thanks for coming on the show.

Cristian: My pleasure, thanks for asking me.

Brendan: Tell me a little bit about you and HabitSafe and how you got into what you’re doing today.

Cristian: I’m a chemical engineer. I did join Shell in the nineties. Eventually I migrated into the safety field. What I was finding with Shell was that we had all the right systems in place. We were having lots of conversations with people about safety but we were still having these unavoidable incidents slip, trip, falls, bangs and those kinds of things. I knew that inattention was part of the human condition if you like. I started getting interested in why people do what they do. A good deal of the incidents that I was investigating had to do with inattention. That is really the focus about the work that we do. Inattention is something that you can address through habits. That is how HabitSafe came about.

Brendan: Take me back to the Shell era. What year was that?

Cristian: That was in the nineties.

Brendan: The flow on to HabitSafe was after that proposition?

Cristian: It was. I left Shell after 10 years. I did a little bit of consulting, a management system, leadership and observation kind of consulting. Then it just migrated into this space that didn’t seem to have a lot of voice. That is what I was sort of interested in.

Brendan: How long has HabitSafe been going for?

Cristian: It’s been going on now for about 12 years.

Brendan: There was a bit of consulting work in between the sort of late nineties and it started.

Cristian: Yes, for about four or five years. I did a little bit of some certifying work with Lloyd’s not just on the safety side but also on the environmental side.

Brendan: Do you mean like quality management systems, that sort of work?

Cristian: Safety and environmental management systems. One of the things that I sort of observed during that time is that there were organizations that there was nothing wrong with the certifying system that they had but they were having more incidences with people that were having lots of issues with the system. You scratch your head and you go these guys are meeting all the requirements yet the safety is not particularly good. Why is that? Rather than just have a view of the world that says the system is the only thing that determines whether you’re going to be safe or not I started thinking about what other things were there.

Brendan: It’s almost like there is a gap between what is on the shelf, what the system should be and the cold phase on the ground at what people are actually doing. You’re able to help people build that bridge.

Cristian: That is one way of putting it. If I go back to how I came into the workforce so in the early eighties I’ve got my first job. That was packing shelves in Cole’s. Do you remember Thursday nights? We went to 9 PM, everybody did their shopping on Thursday night so the shelves were all empty. As a young person going into the workforce, I would go in there at 9 PM until 1 AM, 2 AM, I will just help put the product back on the shelves. Back then what I noticed is that nobody talked to me about safety, absolutely never. They talked about box rates and a whole bunch of other things but never ever about safety.

It wasn’t until the late eighties that I started hearing about people talking about safety. There was legislation that came to play in the mid-eighties and by the late eighties I was in manufacturing. For me it was all about guarding. What people were doing is they were just putting guards on everything. If there is one thing that you’re going to do about safety let it be deal with the worst hazards. Guarding was a good thing but it didn’t take us long to figure out that guarding wasn’t going to prevent all incidents. There were things that you just couldn’t guard. What happened is we started talking to people about hazards that were remaining, what were they and how could they avoid contact with it?

Brendan: Just on the guarding, do you mean like physical people guarding things? What do you mean by guarding?

Cristian: Most of it is guarding of machinery. There were guarding of hazards.

Brendan: A physical barrier where you have to…

Cristian: People weren’t losing fingers or worst things that were happening. I refer that as the first generation safety where you eliminate the hazard. You can’t go around eliminating all hazards so what you do is you educate the workforce and the hazards that are remaining and also on how to deal with them. That was good. It reduced incidents a great deal in the eighties but it didn’t get rid of all incidents. What I was founding is in the nineties we started focusing from the hazard to the person. What I found initially was people had what I refer to as unfortunate habits.

I was involved in a couple of initiatives to introduce eye protection and people were just resisting all the way. What we thought was happening is people weren’t really caring enough about their safety. We started talking to people about safety first, think safety, don’t do anything without having safety in mind. A lot of the observation and leadership and conversations came into play around that time. The idea behind that was that if you had enough conversations with people about safety then they would start to care more. Safety would become part of the culture. I refer to that as second generation safety. It’s you or me trying to influence you to be safer.

The downside to that or I guess that is not a bad thing. A lot of organizations are at this point where they’ve dealt with the hazard as much as they could. For the remaining hazards they’ve got inductions, training, systems, rules, procedures, a whole bunch of other things. They’re having lots of conversation to people about safety so they keep safety front of mind but then they hit a brick wall. I’m already dealing with a hazard. I’m already educating people. I’m already talking to people about safety and dealing with their behaviour but incidents are not at zero.

Second generation safety had a good impact as well which is good but they were still having incidents and most of them were avoidable incidents. I thought at that stage that is about the stage that I left Shell that there was a piece missing. The piece missing was about how inattentive people are. The problem with inattention is that most of the time when you and are inattentive we don’t have a bad outcome. Most of the time when we’re inattentive nothing bad happens so we tend to think that inattention only comes into play when there’s an incident.

An everyday example is if you look at people walking and looking at their mobile phones. When they’re doing that they’re definitely inattentive. They’re not looking where they’re going. Most of the time what happens? Nothing. The repetition enables them to do it habitually. Because they do it habitually they’re not consciously thinking about whether they’ve got that in play or not. It just happens.

The inattention aspects of what I do is what we refer to as third generation safety. That is what HabitSafe is all about. Inattention, the way that we define it is when people aren’t thinking about what they’re doing and what is going on around them because they’re not thinking about it, they’re not looking for it. A lot of the time these days they’re not listening to it either because they’ve got something in their ears.

Brendan: I was going to say fast forward to today’s generation with all the social media and information flying everywhere it’s getting harder in a way isn’t it for people to get people’s attention and get them to be aware.

Cristian: What we see is we see this increasing inattention over the last 10 to 15 years. Technology is really the avenue through which it’s really spreading more like a virus than anything else because it affects everyone these days. Some of the work that was done by a Canadian by the name of Larry Wilson 25 years ago identified the causes to inattention. The main four causes are autopilot, rushing, frustration and fatigue. What we do is we teach people first and foremost the big insight that we give them is inattention is much more of their everyday behaviour than they ever thought. Once they start to appreciate how inattentive they are then they’re internally motivated to try and become more attentive. We teach them how to manage those four attention disruptors autopilot, rushing, frustration and fatigue in order to become more attentive.

We’re not interested in a zero to 100 because it doesn’t work that way but if we can get somebody who is attentive 10% or 20% to be attentive 70% or 80% of the time it reduces their risk profile considerably. They have lossless incidents. That translates to safety performance in the workplace.

Brendan: What sort of industries are you working in?

Cristian: If they’ve got humans it applies.

Brendan: There must be some industries where the risk are greater when you are inattentive. Is there a cluster of industries that are attracted to what you do?

Cristian: We’ve done a lot in the mining space. We’ve done a fair bit in the materials handling space, transport, we’ve done work with local government as well. Wherever a person is out there or the stuff moving around them the potential for an incident is there. If we can get them to buy into what we’re trying to do and get them to be more attentive then it has a positive impact.

Brendan: Walk me through a typical program that you would implement into a company. Obviously it’s not a four hour training session. Based on what you’re saying and what I’m hearing is it would have to be quite repetitive to get that habit to stick.

Cristian: If we go back a step and say what are habits? We talk to people about habits being reliable behaviours. The reason that you developed the habits that you have is because it served you well but that does not make them the safest. Basically the first thing that we do is we work with leadership to get them to understand what we’re trying to do because third generation safety is about influencing the subconscious mind. That is very different to first and second generation. First generation is about the workplace and about giving people knowledge. That is one way. You deal with people one way. Second generation is about dealing with a conscious mind.

Third generation is about the subconscious mind. It’s a different game. It’s not about providing knowledge. You have to give people knowledge in order for them to get the right insights but at the end of the day you have to do things that will enable them to change their habits. Habits are a function of repetition. The reason why you have the habits that you have is because you have done those things plenty of times before and nothing bad has happened.

What we do is we do is we say to people take a habit as an example look before you move. How good are you at that? We’ve asked that as part of the training. Most people will say I think I’m pretty good at it. I ask them why do you think that is. The answer they give me is I haven’t had any incidents or I’ve had very few. I tell to them if you now focus back in what we talked about in attention that is not really a good way by which you can assess yourself. The reality looks more like this. You’ve been inattentive. You haven’t really looked before you moved very often but most of the time nothing bad happens. You create a fallacy I guess.

Brendan: Most of the times you’re in a low risk situation but if you put yourself in a high risk situation then it’s a different ballgame.

Cristian: That is when it costs you. A lot of times people come to the realization of inattention coming into play when they’re in that situation. Let me give you an example. I’ve got a daughter who is 18. When she was about 12 we gave her an iPad. The first week she had an iPad she was sitting down. She wasn’t moving. The second week she got up and was walking inside the house with the iPad. The third week, I caught her looking at the iPad when she was getting out of the car at a car park when we were going shopping. That was when it hit me. I’ve gone okay, that is how habits build. Repetition, lack of bad consequences and then the habits establish themselves. Nobody else makes an assessment of what is going on around them and decides whether the habit is going to take over or not. Habits come into play automatically. I started working with her about okay, which of the attention disruptors are in play. What inattention is taking place and what habit do you think you need to work on in order for you not to put yourself at risk in those situations? What she came up with is I need to be able to look before I move. If I’m looking at my iPad I can’t do that.

Rather than to do what we normally do as parents which is to set rules and go don’t do that anymore. What I allowed her to do is I allowed her to fix it for herself. I didn’t say to her don’t look at your iPad. What I said to her is I said to her, if you’re going to look at your iPad be still. That is an example of how we engage people in the training. We don’t stop them from doing what they do. We just give them conditions in which they can do them in a less risky way.

Brendan: I know this is probably going to be quite a general question but how long does the program take to implement. I mean obviously it depends on what the habits are. What would be an average length for a program?

Cristian: What we do typically is in order to get them through the training we will have a number of sessions usually four or five sessions, an hour or two, two weeks apart. After each of the sessions for the workforce we give them something to practice. One thing to practice, one thing only. We don’t really teach them a lot but what we teach them we need them to be able to put into practice enough in order to start getting into the habits space.

The basic training takes anything from 10 to 12 weeks. It’s five sessions of two hours each and a whole bunch of repetition in between the sessions. That gets those habits to start getting into the habit space but it doesn’t drive them all the way in there because they’ve had their existing habits for a lifetime, most people. Then we talk to the organization about how do you sustain it because there is a role for somebody to look at their workforce and help them identify what we refer to as habit decay. We do the training. We get habits look before you move habit. We get it from something like 20% to 80% but as soon as we stop focusing on it the habits start to decay. Eventually they will have a big incident and then they become aware that they’re no longer looking before they’re moving. We want to avoid that. What we do is we train the leadership to do observations and teach them how to coach in a constructive way like I did with my daughter in order for the workforce to work out.

First, they need to detect that habit that is being decayed and secondly, what they need to do in order to do to get that up closer to 80%. For us it’s not a question about going from 0 to 100. For us it’s about getting people to have that reliable behaviour which is much less dangerous than the one that came on board without them consciously thinking about it. What we do is that space between detecting habit decay and doing deliberate practice in order to build them back up, I call that the Goldilocks conditions. Not too much, not too little, just enough in order to keep that at a reliable level.

Brendan: You could put this training anywhere in the world couldn’t you? As long as you’ve got human beings you can help make positive reinforcement and positive habits.

Cristian: The difference between sort of changing your own habits, if you’re motivated to change your own habits then you go ahead and find a way to do that. The process is the same. It’s through repetition. The problem that we’ve got is we’ve got a workforce that doesn’t believe that they’re inattentive at all because they don’t have the experience that gives them that insight. We have to go in there. We actually give them a filter to which to look at their experiences differently. Those are the four attention disruptors and the inattention aspects. Then we engage the organization to help them continually help the workforce see that habit decay. What happens is that I use my children, I use myself as lab rats part of the time. I was finding that I’ve been doing this for a while and I thought I was pretty good at most habits. I took the look before you move thing. What I noticed is a couple of incidents that I had little close calls. It was obvious to me that I wasn’t that good at it. I was thinking to myself is I need to be able to detect this before I have the close call because the difference between a close call and an incident sometimes is a second or two or a meter or two.

What I did is I actually engaged my kids to tell me whenever they saw me in one of the attention disruptors where it led to inattention. For the first couple of weeks they were pretty honest about it. I said to them I’ll give you a dollar every time you can point it out to me. After a couple of weeks they were making stuff up so I had to rely on other people observing me because it’s difficult from an individual perspective to see that habit decay unless you’re consciously looking for it on an ongoing basis. That is a tough call when there is a lot happening in your life at any particular time.

Brendan: Cristian, we’re going to wrap up the interview now. I’ve got some questions I want to ask you before we leave. First question was how many hours sleep do you get each night?

Cristian: As many as I can. I try to aim for at least seven and a half.

Brendan: What do you do to keep active?

Cristian: I walk. Whatever opportunity I have I don’t take lifts. I take stairs rather than drive. Rather than park near the office, I park two kilometres away and make myself walk in and walk back every day. I’ve got one of these pedometers that say 2000 steps a day. That is the target. Most days I get there. I assess myself on a weekly basis. I start on a Monday.

Brendan: This is sounding like a very positive habit.

Cristian: I start on a Monday. It gets to Friday, I need to be at about 50,000. If I’m not at 50,000 Saturday and Sunday, that is the catch up. Then I reset on a Sunday night and then it starts again on a Monday morning.

Brendan: Do you have any personal goals that you’re looking to achieve in the next 12 months?

Cristian: One of the things that we want to do is a lot of the training that we’re actually doing at the moment is face to face. There is a certain amount of it that needs to happen face to face but we want to be able to do less of that and provide a lot of the knowledge and the insights that we provide to people in other avenues just to give organizations flexibility because the way that we roll the program at the moment logistically for some organizations it can be difficult to manage. That is the feedback that we’re getting from our clients. We’re always looking at trying to improve the efficiency of it and trying to improve the ease at which these things can be rolled out because the more efficient and the easier it is the more likely that people will take it on board.

Brendan: What business achievement would you like to be most remembered for?

Cristian: What I would like to be remembered for is make people aware how much inattention plays a role in their life and also to appreciate that there is something that people could do through deliberate practice in order to be more attentive as life goes by. From a safety perspective that is kind of the avenue that we use, the vehicle but once you get the hang of this you can apply it to all sorts of things in life.

Brendan: It’s not just the workplace. It’s also your personal life. If people want to find out more about HabitSafe and the work that you’re doing could you give us your website. You’re on LinkedIn obviously. That is how we met.

Cristian: Our website is HabitSafe.com.au. Our main office is in Sydney. Our phone number is 88448100.

Brendan: Cristian, thanks very much for coming on the show. Remember if you’ve been enjoying the show don’t forget to subscribe and share. We’ll see you next time.

Cristian: Thank you Brendan.

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