“It was 4:30 in the afternoon on nice, sunny day. Our crew had performed regular trimming on multiple oak trees around a three phase and was stacking brush while getting ready to shut down for the day. One of the crew members went to remove the drop zone cones when all the sudden he heard the sound of a limb slam on the ground. The employee was about 12–15 feet away from where the limb (15 feet long and 8-inch DBH) landed. It took us by surprise. This oak looked very healthy.”
– Excerpt from a Lewis close call about situational awareness
This article was originally published in the July/Aug 2020 edition of the Utility Arborist Newsline.
From Data to Insights
In February 2019, Lewis Tree Service launched a mobile app with simple-to-use, voice-to-text capabilities to capture safety observations in the field and allow craftworkers to share their close calls. Over the first year, approximately 8,000 observation and close call reports were logged in to the system. As team members grew comfortable with the technology and gained trust that the information would not be used against them, the number of reports entered per month began increasing steadily.
To ensure success, instead of rewarding crews with the lowest number of incidents (leading to the unintended side effect of suppressing incident reports), Lewis began encouraging all stories to be shared—especially those with serious injury potential—so we could begin learning from the experiences.
We quickly realized that we needed to focus, near-term, across a few key areas: avoiding struck-by, managing drop zones, avoiding line of fire, working safely at elevations and safe equipment operation. These initial insights informed the framework of our 2020 learning plan and we now use real-time assessments to adjust our learning plan in a flexible, timely fashion. In fact, we recently adapted our learning plan to cover work zone situation awareness, as well.
From Reporting to Storytelling
Along the way, as trust continued to build, an interesting thing happened. Our reporting shifted dramatically in two key areas:
- Ownership and point-of-view
As our company-wide desire to learn was continually emphasized, the stories collected began shifting from the passive voice (where our crew members were simply victims of an unfortunate series of events) to the active voice (where we played a role in the shape of the events whether unintentional or intentional as in “good catch”). This transition allowed us to have a more comprehensive view of the variability of our work environments. It also opened the door for us to begin talking about what surprised us, where risks are hiding, how we kept the event from being worse, what we learned from the incident and what we might do differently.
- Depth of content
By encouraging our craftworkers to tell stories in their own natural language—complete with cultural phrases, emotions, sensory engagement and suspense—we’re collecting rich, vivid stories that build collective memory. Research confirms that narratives thoroughly engage people and activate the same area in the brain as if people actually experienced the event firsthand. We can then call on this knowledge when faced with a similar situation.
As Lewis continues to embrace a culture of learning, we remain committed to leveraging our stories and insights to build new actions and techniques (e.g., pausing, scanning, noticing, forecasting) into our human performance tools and practices. These actions will enable our workforce to reduce risks long-term and achieve highly reliable outcomes.