Safety Speakers Series 6: Mike Kinney

"Every company has a safety culture, but is it the culture you want?"

For this new post in the Kwema interview series, we are pleased to present Mike Kinney! Kwema had the opportunity to chat with Mike about his safety industry experiences, specifically looking at his work as a safety cultural strategist. Mike was very kind to share with us his day-to-day and an overview of how he achieved such success and give some advice to future safety leaders! See what he has to say below. 

Kwema: We found that you have extensive knowledge about different parts of safety. Share with our readers more about your background.

Mike: I originally began my career as a senior conceptual mechanical design engineer. Over the years, I began to appreciate the mirid of health and safety challenges encountered in the workplace. This was part of the driving force for me to pursue a degree in safety and BSCP Certified Safety Professional (CSP) certification and Lead Auditor designation, ISO 45001, Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems. Ironically, my design background provided me with valued insight regarding approaches to mitigating potential hazards, including the use of engineering controls. I also appreciated the importance of taking a systematic approach to developing safety programs.

Kwema: Now you run your consulting firm. What encouraged you to found the company focused on workplace safety culture?

Mike: Throughout my career, I would encounter organizations with numerous challenges regarding having a positive safety culture. I also appreciated the incredible value that could be provided by being able to address the challenges proactively. Finally, I was also very concerned with the so-called “silver bullet” solutions offered by some safety culture consulting companies. In other words, simply buy their CD, workbooks, etc., and everything will change overnight. More importantly, that is not remotely accurate and does not recognize the importance of leadership commitment and employee engagement. 

That provided the impetus behind me forming Safety Culture Strategies to deliver long-term value for my clients that is sustainable. In support of this goal, I work collaboratively with my clients to evaluate their current systems and processes to determine the ideal solutions to enhance their safety culture efforts. 

On the plus side, I have also been blessed to work with some fantastic leaders and organizations. I have also found a lot of enthusiasm and ongoing commitment when the results of their efforts are realized. The experiences I value most are the relationships I have been fortunate enough to build with task-level personnel. In other words, the people responsible for the performance of day-to-day work.      

Kwema: Based on your experience, what would you say are the main challenges in creating a safety culture in an organization?

Mike: Years ago, I came to appreciate that every company has a safety culture. The next step is identifying the current health of their safety culture and whether it provides the capability to meet their organizational goals, management vision, etc. This challenge can be compounded when the management team does not appreciate their crucial role serving as champions for safety culture improvement initiatives. Another challenge is when leadership does not recognize the need to enhance their safety culture since no one is getting hurt and their customers are happy. 

Of equal concern is the limited “deterrence” provided by penalties and/or fines. By way of example, British Petroleum (BP), the company who operated the Deepwater Horizon Drilling Platform (DHDP), had paid more than 317,000,000 dollars in OSHA fines, CAA/CWA violations, etc., before the DHDP disaster that costs 11 people their lives, injured 17, as well as significant environmental damage. By the way, BP recently updated the project costs associated with the DHDP disaster to be more than $63,000,000,000. To clarify, this updated projection is in billions of dollars, not millions.     

Perhaps the most significant challenge is getting the management team to appreciate that the development and implementation of a positive safety culture is a long-term endeavor. To coin an adage: “Fast, Good, or Cheap…Pick Two.”  There are also undoubtedly going to be setbacks along the way, initial efforts not generating desired results, etc. Committing the management team will greatly benefit from maintaining an emphasis on the long-term goals. 

Kwema: How is working in the safety industry different for you as opposed to someone else?

Mike: Great question. Perhaps the most significant difference is the wide variety of companies I have dealt with. Examples range from explosives testing facilities, to transportation companies, to small service organizations. Ironically, even though their day-to-day operations are dramatically different, they have similar challenges regarding employee engagement, leadership commitment, management of issues, etc. 

I have had a series of roles during my career, including developing policies at the Department of Energy (DOE) Headquarters level while serving as a Senior Worker Safety/Nuclear Safety Advisor. This included working with Cabinet-level individuals and representatives of the White House. I have also spent a lot of time with company presidents and senior team, and task-level personnel, including ESH technicians, maintenance staff, and craft personnel. 

I have come to appreciate the challenge of effectively communicating with senior management in a “language” they comprehend. This is commonly a slightly different conversation than those with personnel performing day-to-day work. This should not be viewed as a slight against task-level personnel. It is merely the recognition of a differing skill set. Candidly, I enjoy conversing with task-level personnel due to their down-to-earth approach and “telling it like it is.”

In essence, senior management has many topics on their plates regarding company operations that need to be addressed. With that in mind, the language I have found works best is to bring solutions-based discussions. In other words, “…here’s the approach I/we recommend and why.” A word of caution: when meeting with the senior team, I do not ever recommend blaming others, not understanding key issues/problems that need to be addressed, etc. By way of example, I watched the president of a large company become very agitated when the health and safety manager stated during a presentation that he “hoped” to have an important project completed on time. The president immediately responded: “hope is not a plan!” 

Kwema: How did a tough challenge you faced allow you to adapt your company and improve? 

Mike: Similar to a lot of companies, both large and small, the COVID-19 global pandemic has dramatically changed how Safety Culture Strategies approaches business. Most notability is the use of Zoom, or similar conference call hosting software, versus face-to-face meetings and routine visits to client facilities. However, this has also allowed me to conduct more research regarding emerging lagging and (per se) leading indicators and innovative safety culture practices.  

Another initiative is deploying my new podcast entitled Safety Culture Solutions, sponsored by Safety Culture Strategies. This podcast is filmed at a local production studio in Las Vegas, NV, and airs on Fridays. I intentionally chose a televised fireside chat format to provide viewers with the opportunity to learn from my featured guests in a relaxed environment. Topics include leadership perspective, employee engagement, and the importance of being a learning organization. 

Recently featured guests have included: Mr. Tom Ziglar (proud son of Zig Ziglar), Ziglar Institute; U.S. Air Force Major General (Retired) Roy Bridges, Jr., former NASA Shuttle Pilot; Dr. Jeffrey Magee, President of Leadership Academy of Excellence; Dr. Christen Lee, President, Lemma Technical Services; and Mr. Mark Towers, CSP, CSHM, President, Tower Risk. Their interviews, and many more, can be viewed on my company website:        

Kwema: Where do you see your firm looking to expand and why? 

Mike: Over the next few years, I would like to see Safety Culture Strategies also providing support for companies outside the U.S. During a recent visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), I had the opportunity to meet with UAE representatives to develop a ten year Master Plan. During our discussions, it was readily apparent how common some of the challenges are, combined with their intense interest in my thoughts regarding shared fate and clearly defined endstate.       

Kwema: In your view, how does Kwema technology help professionals enhance their organization’s safety culture

Mike: The Kwema technology provides a series of solutions that can directly benefit any company’s safety culture. Of particular interest is the ability to notify supervisory and/or medical personnel when an injury occurs. Another benefit is the ease of accountability (e.g., “Roll Calls”) during emergency response drills and exercises. 

With the increased awareness regarding the potential for workplace violence, the Kwema technology can also assist with quickly identifying company personnel who may be injured or need assistance. Collectively, this approach provides another mechanism to reinforce managements’ commitment to providing a safe work environment. In turn, this can directly contribute to sustaining a positive safety culture.      

Kwema: What advice would you give to our audience to create and maintain a healthy safety culture at their workplace?

Mike: What a great question, and the response could quickly fill many pages. In my case, a comprehensive response is addressed in my latest book entitled Navigating Your Safety Culture Journey. Readers also need to appreciate that the summary provided below addresses an ideal state, with most companies requiring a concentrated effort over time to achieve. Here are some critical thoughts: 

- Leadership Commitment: This element is essential due to the crucial role of the leadership team. As with most initiatives, leadership commitment is instrumental in ensuring long-term traction and visibility. Another critical consideration is the leaders’ willingness to listen to their employees and be receptive to new ideas. 

- Employee Engagement: This element compliments leadership commitment whereby company personnel embraces safety culture processes and “own” their actions. In other words, not only do the employees understand their responsibilities, but they also embrace the need to be held accountable for their actions. Note: success for this element also requires high levels of trust throughout the organization.    

- Continuous Improvement: Truly successful safety culture programs also embrace this element as critical to identifying cost efficiencies, enhanced work practices, and process improvements. Most companies have some version of an Employee Suggestion Program, Bright Ideas, etc., to capture this information. Unfortunately, this essential element can lose momentum due to a lack of emphasis combined with responses not being consistently provided to participants.  

- Long-Term Sustainment: Most company leaders appreciate the importance of sustaining new programs or initiatives. However, due to competing priorities, this element has proven a challenge for numerous companies. With the best intentions, some sound processes can lose visibility, thereby inadvertently communicating to employees that the process is no longer critical. By the way, this recognition should also include a commitment by the management team to avoid “Knee Jerk Reactions,” “30 Day Solutions”, or “Flavor of the Month.”

Kwema: What other projects do you have in mind to do for the future?

Mike: I am currently working on a series of algorithm options to assist companies with translating ESH&Q data into actionable information. This includes prioritization to capture the significant few. This approach can provide a series of advantages, including helping senior management determine which issues need to be addressed first and those that can be deferred until additional funding can be provided. This technique can also assist with the identification of potentially adverse trends. 

Another project addresses the alignment of safety culture assessment criteria with topical areas. Examples include leadership, trust, communications, and issues management. This strategy also includes the identification of “stressors.” I utilize this term to capture challenges that are commonly compliant but preclude the organization from achieving optimum performance. This is proving of interest to many clients to support their continuous improvement efforts.

Kwema: Finally, where do you see yourself in the future?

Mike: Ideally, I will be allowed to provide senior-level safety culture consulting services at the C Suite level for Fortune 500 companies. Due to the series of noteworthy guests sharing their insight and expertise, I also envision my safety culture podcast gaining national recognition. Finally, I look forward to additional opportunities to serve as keynote speaker and presenter for breakout sessions at regional and national conferences. 

We would like to thank Mike for this opportunity to have spoken with him. We hope our readers get as much out of this interview as we did. Kwema was excited to have the chance to talk with Mike this week and expand our knowledge of the Safety Cultural strategy field. We appreciate your continued support, and if any of our readers have an idea of who we should interview next, feel free to share in the comments below! 

About Mike Kinney

With over 40 years of experience in the safety space, Mike Kinney is what one would call an expert. Within those 40 years, Mike spent 30 years working as a mechanical engineer focusing on commercial and nuclear power and working with the department of energy. Mike's knowledge doesn't stop there; having authored many papers regarding worker safety and even publishing a worker safety book shows that Mike knows what he's doing in the field. Recently Mike has been working as a senior-level support manager for a commercial power industry while expanding his knowledge by gaining many certifications in the area. With so much experience under his belt, Mike has now decided to start a podcast to detail the importance of safety culture and share his experiences. Connect with Mike below:
Phone number: (702) 780-1410


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