By: Kathy Kent Toney, President of Kent Business Solutions
Yours truly after my first graveyard shift
Is staying resilient a challenge during these less-than-ideal circumstances? I know for me some days have been tough to put one foot in front of the other, staying true to my goals and accomplishing what’s on my plate.
As I was thinking about the word RESILIENT, something that happened last year came to mind. So, I thought it would be great to share some things I learned about resiliency through this experience…my stint as a chocolate covered almond factory worker.
Yes, you heard that right!
In case you are wondering, I didn’t actually do this for a full-time job, so let me explain…
About a year ago, I got a call from a consulting company I partner with. They asked me if I would lead a three-day, 24-hour project…a time cycle study at a factory that makes chocolate covered almonds. This project involved timing the cycles of the processing equipment for each phase of the manufacturing operation.
The catch was this...it was three days in row and three different shifts: first day, first shift; second day, second shift; and third day…you guessed it, third shift.
At first, I balked at the idea for the following reasons:
A. I’d never done a time cycle study before.
B. I had never worked a graveyard shift, let alone a swing shift, in my life.
C. Doing these three days in a row…that would be a stretch!
D. I wasn’t sure I’d have the stamina to do it, especially at my rather mature age.
But I accepted the task and jumped in headfirst. I was between projects, so I had the time and I was feeling adventurous!
In the end, it was a great experience, and I learned a ton, especially how to be resilient in less-than-ideal circumstances.
But before I get into the meat of what I learned, here’s a funny video I’ve actually shared before and got such great comments, here is again…Lucy and Ethel as chocolate candy factory workers.
What better video to share than this!
So, what did I learn? Here are five things:
1. Always Be Open to Learning Something New
I’ve got to tell you…I LOVE my sleep! The thought of having a compromised sleep schedule over a couple days did not sit well with me. I hadn’t been up all night for a very long time, so I really wondered how I’d handle it. But I knew that learning how to do time cycle studies would be a great new tool for my consultant toolkit. The discomfort of forgoing sleep would be well worth it, and it was.
Lessons learned: Don’t let your preconceptions box you in from learning something new. Just replace the “I cant’s” with “I can’s”, staying positive and determined.
2. Try to Make the Most of Any Situation
Although there were times I felt like a walking zombie, I tried to rise above the situation. I distracted myself through striking up conversations with some of the laborers when they weren’t busy as well as talking with my co-worker on the project.
I also tried to find things to do that kept me engaged and awake, even doing some statistical analysis work I would typically have done at home, which actually benefited the client with additional project cost savings.
Lessons learned: determination and positivity is a choice. Even in the mundane or hard times, there’s a silver lining, if you open to seeing that.
3. Forge Ahead in Situations That are Less Than Ideal
Being covered in chocolate dust (I know there can be worse things), hearing ear-deafening noise (even with ear protection), sleep deprivation and staying alert to accomplish the task at hand were all challenges for me. But I kept keeping on, knowing the situation was temporary. I just kept in my mind’s eye that when the project was over, I’d be able to catch up on my sleep.
Lessons learned: Even when circumstances are challenging, make a decision to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
4. Even the Best Things, If Done too Much, Can Get Old
Here’s something you’ve probably never heard before…The wonderful smell of chocolate can actually lose its appeal. It’s true! After being in the chocolate processing room for just a short period of time, I smelled like a walking chocolate bar.
Case in point…I actually went to a networking event right after the first day on the job site. To get a few laughs, I asked some of my friends that were at the event to smell my hair. They looked at me funny, but they did so. The look on their faces after one sniff was priceless!
But, like all things in life, too much of a good thing can get old. Smelling chocolate, smelling like chocolate, and being around chocolate was enough for me. When I got home, I changed out of my clothes as quickly as possible to get the smell away from me.
Lesson learned: Too much of a good thing can sometimes be too much! “All things in moderation” is great advice.
5. Challenging Situations Can be our Best Teachers
During the middle of tough times, we may want to escape reality. But wishing you were somewhere else never works. Sometimes I have to talk myself out of demanding what I want when I’m in the middle of challenging situations. Wishing your life away often distracts us from being fully present and engaged in the moment.
One great outcome of this project is that I discovered I’m much tougher than I ever believed. And whenever we have opportunities to learn how resilient we are, that’s a great thing!
Lessons learned: Making a choice to embrace difficulties as great opportunities to grow and overcome can help prevent the desire to escape.
In closing, I just wanted to mention something. The challenges I overcame in this role obviously doesn’t compare to the ongoing challenges of the fallout of a pandemic. I’ve certainly learned a lot about resiliency as well during our post-COVID fallout. But I think some of the things I’ve learned as a chocolate almond factory worker might be of value to some of you, since we are smack-dab of challenging times.
That’ll do it for what I learned. Here are a couple of questions for you:
If you or your your business are experiencing some challenges, I’d love to be a resource for you…be it connections to individuals or organizations, etc. In whatever capacity, I’m here to help!
If that’s you, I’d love to have a chat! Just click here to schedule a virtual coffee.
By Kathy Kent Toney, President of Kent Business Solutions
Digital transformation…it’s certainly a hot topic these days. We’ve heard more about it since the pandemic started, but I’m sure there are some of us out there that are unclear of what exactly it is.
So, what is it?
To get some answers, I interviewed my strategic partner, Michael Cantu’, an expert on the topic. He’s the founder and CEO of Accelerate, a platform dedicated to digitally transforming businesses. This is our second interview, and I’m excited for the opportunity to share his wisdom with all of you again!
Our topic today is:
How Can Digital Transformation Help My Business?
Kathy: Welcome Michael, glad you could join me!
Michael: Good to be here!
Kathy: First of all, why don’t you to define what digital transformation is.
Michael: Digital transformation is a big topic but it's essentially the adoption of digital processes and technology to replace manual, non-connected processes. It’s building systems that are interconnected that take care of themselves across time.
The end goal is to create better service in companies that better align business objectives for the future.
Kathy: Could you give me some examples of what it is?
Michael: Yes. There are so many, but here are a few:
It could be an accounting process. A company may not be utilizing their accounting system to the fullest extent possible or there may be ways to digitally transform the process that they have today. For example, they may be receiving invoices from their vendors that need to be tracked in a more digital way instead of just via email or by paper mail. So, it may come down to enhancing their existing systems, or if they don't have an accounting system, implementing one of those to take care of some of the accounting issues.
Here's another example...
Every business has some sort of order or bid process that may be manual. Or perhaps it’s all in someone's head and that person has to teach the rest of the people on the team how to perform the work. This could result in bids that are inaccurate and inconsistent. With little-to-no process controls inside of a bid system, these bids could be inaccurate, resulting in lost business, which impacts the bottom line.
A way to digitally transform that could involve a new order or bid system or creating some digital processes around handling approvals within their business. By having these process controls and consistency, a lot of these problems I mentioned go away.
Another example is fulfillment. Once a bid is won, effective customer onboarding and order intake needs to occur. You want to make this process as brief and consistent as possible. For example, if your information collection is inconsistent, this leads to poor customer information, which means downstream you're going to have to contact your customer again to gather information that you could have gotten up front.
You also want to ensure there are predictable process controls so that the system can help you make decisions, instead of people having to remember what steps to take. This improves your quality and increases your margin, because the system is more efficient. This in turn increases your data quality across your company during the fulfillment process.
Another example is customer success, which is at the end of the fulfillment spectrum. How can digitizing processes ensure the quality of output, namely the experience, is consistent?
From a services company perspective, one of my biggest challenges in why I was interested in getting technology involved with the customer success area in the first place. Most of customer success that happens in a business is really tied to someone's ability to understand where a customer is in the process, and conveying that to them, say, when they call in with issues. That also includes a follow-up cadence with the customer during all of these different processes. Technology allows you to implement those controls, from a customer success perspective, into the process. For example, automatically signaling when it’s time to reach out to that customer on a certain matter is certainly a good thing. And what that does is keep your customer informed during the process.
One thing that’s really great about using this technology is this: a lot of new employees, and perhaps more apathetic employees, are not as attuned on how to highly satisfy customers. For perhaps the apathetic ones, it may just be a job to them. That’s one great thing about digital transformation…it can help sidestep potential problems resulting from employees that are not geared towards satisfying customers.
So, having automated customer success mechanisms in place can help make your customer experience solid so they keep coming back for more. In the end, as a business leader you know that if you can retain customers longer, you can keep revenue coming in the door.
The fourth area is document digitization and processing. This gives companies the ability, through an automated process, to have the system extract out all the information from documents instead of somebody manually reading the data and acting upon it. Then that data entry person turns into a verification person. It allows the company to get higher-volume throughput by moving that data entry person to a higher knowledge center. That way they can operate out of a higher part of themselves rather than just reading and copying information. That also improves the quality of the data that's coming in as well, because the system accuracy is very high. Getting the oversight from the data entry person for the revision makes that process a lot simpler as well.
Kathy: Thanks for clarifying that!
As you’ve worked with companies, what has been the driving force to get them started on their transformation journey?
Michael: I’ve seen two pathways:
First, they have a problem and want to solve it. The way they’re doing things is archaic. It may be costing them money or customers. Employees may be complaining about the process. When we come in, we identify what's needed.
Speaking of companies having problems, many are often overwhelmed by these problems to the point that they are often stymied when it comes to innovation. I’ve found through my digital transformation projects that these companies have lots of innovative ideas. Being mired in these problems has often outweighed the ability to implement their ideas. So, when the problems are taken care of first, they are often freed up to start implementing them.
The second pathway is that they don't necessarily have a problem, but they know things could be done better. They know the way they are doing things is not as good as it could be.
Kathy: One of my clients falls into that second category. They are a profitable company, but they want to scale for growth. So, they’re having me map out their processes and then have them automated. They’ve told me flat out they want to build a foundation for their business so they can scale for growth.
Michael: that’s a great example of what I’m talking about!
Kathy: Speaking about making things better, and along the lines of our topic today, “What's in it for me?”, what benefits could a company realize through digital transformation?
Michael: There are many, but I would say the top four are:
1. Increased Efficiency Across Manual Processes
A company may have standalone digital documents or they have paper documents and forms that they're filling out for different items. Or maybe they are sending a multitude of emails back and forth between teams of people. After increasing the digital efficiency, they are experiencing more of an integrated process, bringing awareness to what needs to happen next and accomplishing those things with less human intervention.
2. Reduction in Manual Labor
This translates down to having less failure points by removing areas of human failure. Automated systems bring together correct documentation and tasks so people can do the things they're supposed to be doing, when they’re supposed to be doing it. This replaces multiple people manually making decisions and conveying information, which has more opportunity for potential failure points.
3. Increase in Quality
This doesn’t just involve quality products and/or services…it increases quality in your relationships and customer satisfaction as well.
As we know, people are very good at introducing risk into manual processes, because they forget to double or triple check something. Mistakes that aren’t caught that reach the customer are going to negatively impact that relationship.
On the other hand, a digital process has controls in place that automatically click-in to reduce the occurrence of these mistakes. By tasks taking the same routes, digitally speaking, this removes the risk from your overall process. And when mistakes do occur, they can often be caught upstream. Not only does this improve the quality of relationships with your customers, this also allows you to save on inventory and reduce wasted effort. Ultimately this all combines to ensure that the customer has what they want, when they want it.
4. Increased Transparency
This involves an increased visibility so that the entire team is able to see everything they need to see when they need to see it. A key outcome of this is a reduction in potential process breakdowns. This is a big deal, because not all digital transformation processes allow you to do this… some service providers will just build you a digital form, which is by definition, digital transformation…it is adoption of digital technology to transform a service.
However, these limited types of projects still introduce the need for team members to raise their hand throughout the process to say something’s incorrect. That’s obviously not optimum. You know you don’t have an optimum process if you still have a bunch of emails that are going back and forth. And most people will read through the email strings, what’s happened around something, but there’s always potential to miss something.
So, if you have tasks that are digitally placed right in front of their face and alerts them to that fact…that includes elevating potential issues and escalations to the proper level…then that's a completely different experience, which leads to a better employee and customer experience.
In a nutshell, the best digital transformation projects reduce the risk downside. and that reduction means money. And you don't want to go out there and be spending a lot of money on something that doesn’t do what you want it to do.
Kathy: That really makes sense!
Michael, do you have any closing thoughts for us?
Michael: Yes, there are a couple of things.
First, digital transformation is a consistent effort of seeking betterment within your process. For example, it’s like you’ve gone to the gym consistently and you’ve lost 20 pounds. You don’t quit there. You’ve got to keep going and eating right to keep fit and maintain your weight or lose even more weight.
It's also a mindset that both people, the service provider and the customer, have to be invested in the conversation.
Here’s a good example of what this doesn’t look like. I met with a guy yesterday who was frustrated at their service provider. He called me and told me that his digital transformation project wasn’t panning out very well. He told me it started with a quick sale. It wasn't a consultative conversation. He wasn’t asked the question: “Do you even know where you want to go?” He also wanted his service provider to teach and train him on the system, which didn’t happen.
So, doing a quick fix isn’t always going to be the best route. It’s got to be a partnership between the two that translates into a great experience and end result for both parties.
Along the same lines, going into this it’s best to have a mindset that digital transformation will drive you into the future, because the decisions you make today impact the decisions that you're going to be able to make tomorrow. It's not that the decisions you make today can’t be changed in the future, but they are going to cost you a lot more money. But if you make the correct decisions today, do your due diligence, then options for change in the future are going to be more plentiful and less costly.
Kathy: That makes sense.
That’ll do it for today. Thanks for joining me, Michael!
Michael: my pleasure!
Interested in learning more about what digital transformation can do for your company? Michael and I would love to learn about your challenges and explore some ideas with you.
Click here to schedule a virtual coffee.
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By: Kathy Kent Toney, President of Kent Business Solutions
It’s common knowledge that bottom lines for many companies have taken a hit during the pandemic. Once-loyal customers have fled some companies and flocked towards others that have very smartly pivoted to meet changing customer needs.
What is it about these companies that has created a virtual red carpet for new customers? What’s the secret formula?
One of my alliance partners, Roberta O’Keith has some answers to these questions. She’s an expert in Customer Experience with over a 20-year track record of creating successful customer experience programs. The topic she’ll be sharing about today is:
4 Tips on How to Retain Customers in Our Post-Pandemic World
On a side note, I received so much positive feedback on The Office videos I’ve been posting, so here’s another one…ways you DON’T want to treat a customer.
Kathy: Welcome, Roberta. Thanks for joining me today! What are these four tips?
Roberta: The first tip is:
1. Ensure Employee Safety and Communicate This to Your Customers
What I mean by that is making sure their employees are trained around what needs to be done to ensure that their work environment and their customer areas are safe. That builds trust with your employees and hopefully it will reduce employee turnover.
Then, talk with your customers about what precautions you have taken to ensure the safety of your employees so they feel trust with your brand. Build this into your marketing strategy, specifically to build more awareness and brand messaging around making safety #1 within your company.
Kathy: Have you seen any good and bad examples of ensuring customer safety?
Roberta: Yes. I have definitely seen restaurants that have gone above and beyond by providing wipes for your table as you walk in the door. Stores with plastic shields…we’ve seen that in a lot of places.
But I've also seen bad things as well, specifically restaurants where you walk in and the table that they're wanting to seat you in is still right next to another person or the table is not clean. There are still crumbs on the ground and crumbs on the table…that's just unacceptable.
These days when we walk into restaurants, we have a certain level of expectation that is higher than it's ever been. I think expectations are going to continue to be super high going forward, and companies are going to have to meet that expectation and raise the bar.
Here’s another example: I haven’t traveled on any airplanes these days, but I’ve seen some articles stating that Southwest Airlines is leaving middle seats open so that you don't have to sit immediately next to somebody on the plane.
And then I've heard the opposite from someone who has traveled on American Airlines. They are still putting you next to everyone, cramming everyone close together.
So, there are two major examples that I think show the side of the company's personality and how they are responding to the customer. Being sensitive to the customers’ needs and expectations is so important, and Southwest has always done a great job with that.
Kathy: yes, those are great examples of what to do and what not to do around the topic of employee and customer safety.
What’s your second tip?
2. Listen to Your Customers
There are lots of ways to do this, like through traditional channels such as surveys and phone calls.
Also, be present…walking your customer journey and experiencing what your customers are experiencing is important for any employee or manager.
Then take that feedback and do something with it. Don’t just be listening to your customers…collect and use that feedback to drive change in your organization.
Here are two other ways you can do this:
Listen to what people are posting out there on social media about your company and then take action with that feedback.
Go out and talk to your customers. Be present during their experience with your brand so you can build stronger relationships.
A great example of this is that I've seen more managers coming around and asking how things are…they are more present on the floor, whether it's in a store or at a restaurant. And I think that is because they want to show empathy and they want to hear what the customer has to say…to see if there are any issues so they can be proactive in fixing them.
The third tip is:
3. Be Flexible
Companies need to be more flexible and be able to pivot their products and services in a quicker way, because COVID isn't the only disruptive thing that's going to happen. There are going to be others, I'm sure…other situations where we'll have to learn to pivot quickly and be agile.
So, if companies have not been focused on understanding the holistic customer experience, they should be today, because your customers are going to be expecting more from companies. And if you're not delivering on what their needs and expectations are, you're going to miss out and lose that customer base.
Also, if you're not taking the feedback that you're getting and taking action with it, you need to. That will help keep you differentiated in your market.
Take, for instance, restaurants and how they've had to pivot during COVID. Those that have survived have been able to pivot quickly and produce food in a separate way, using a different type of kitchen environment so that they can do deliveries or pickup. If they don’t use an app to allow for ordering online for their customers, they should be now. Restaurants that haven’t done this have probably not survived through this COVID experience.
Another example is the KC manufacturer Thermo Fisher. They have built a whole new facility where they're going to be manufacturing PPE equipment. They were able to seize a moment to switch operations and meet the demands of the economy fairly quickly.
Kathy: another good example is J. Rieger. They pivoted from making exclusively alcohol products to making hand sanitizers, because there was such a huge customer need.
Roberta: Yes! That’s the way to meet consumer needs and also build goodwill with customers.
So that brings us to the fourth and final tip:
4. Personalize Your Approach
This involves adding messaging that is more compassionate or empathetic to your customers and ensure that you're providing content that's relevant to your customer.
Companies need to make sure they're becoming more aware of how they're treating their customers. And I think now more than ever, we have to be kinder and more patient with them, so that you can provide them that personal touch.
Make sure your employees are trained to do so, because we're all stressed out during this time. And if you can go above and beyond just your average experience, customers will remember that, especially during this time period.
In the end, when you can make their experience more personal and you'll be able to build more loyalty.
A great example of this are restaurants like Chipotle or McDonald's where you can order online and pick up your food in their parking lot. It’s very easy. With Chick-Fil-A, you can place your order online, go to a specific parking spot and they'll come to deliver the food directly to you. That was something that they never did before and now they're able to do that. I think that's something that's going to stay.
Kathy: That’s certainly a great example of personalization!
So, Roberta, do you have any closing thoughts?
Understanding your customers experience and identifying where to improve throughout that experience is very critical, more critical than it has been in the past.
And the last thing is this…
COVID has definitely provided an avenue to bring to light issues with businesses processes or systems and now's the time to take action on addressing those issues. If you haven't already, you won't survive the next pandemic or the next global crisis.
Kathy: I agree wholeheartedly.
Well, that’s it for today. Thanks for joining me, Roberta!
Roberta: Thanks for inviting me!
Also, if you’re interested in addressing process and system issues that have come to light during this pandemic, I’d love to talk with you about them…be it streamlining or automating them…or both!
If so, click here to schedule a virtual coffee. I’d love to connect with you!
By Kathy Kent Toney, President of Kent Business Solutions
Part 3 of a 3-Part Series:
How to Keep Your Employees Safe
If you’re like me, you may be wondering this: what’s the truth about face coverings?
These questions may have crossed your mind:
We’ve all heard so many different things from so many different sources. What are the facts?
Employee safety expert, Attorney Andrew "Drew" Brought, has the answers to these questions and more. I recently interviewed him for the final feature of my 3-part series on Keeping Your Employees Safe. This week’s topic is:
N95s, Surgical Masks and the Like…What Do I Need to Know?
But before we do that, here’s a funny employee safety training video, courtesy of The Office.
Kathy: Drew, thanks for joining me! My first question is this…I was surprised to learn that an N95 is not a mask, but a respirator. What’s that about?
Drew: I would tell you that lots of people are surprised. In fact, virtually everyone that I meet is unaware that an N95 is actually a type of PPE that OSHA regulates and refers to as a respirator. And a respirator is a type of device that protects the person wearing the piece of PPE. It's designed to filter out particulate matter, other toxic chemicals, biological agents and other airborne contaminants that protects the user wearing the respirator. To the extent that an employer makes a determination that the employees in the workplace should be wearing an N95 respirator, there are a whole series of specific requirements and rules that OSHA also expects you follow.
So, N95 respirators are in fact regulated very differently than masks…a surgical mask, or what people are referring to now as a cloth face covering. Those are not respirators…they are not designed or intended to protect, at least scientifically, the person who's wearing that type of mask. They are designed to protect those around the person wearing the mask by keeping the bodily fluids in…from either the nostrils or from the mouth. Masks do provide some layer of protection to the wearer as an added benefit, but not the same type of protection that an N95 would, which is a respirator to protect the person wearing it.
Kathy: So, you're saying that an N95 protects the person wearing it and a surgical mask protects other people around the person wearing it.
Drew: That's exactly right. That's the whole purpose of it. An N95 is a device that has been certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is the research arm of OSHA. It's gone through very specific testing. A separate agency has performed evaluation testing to demonstrate that the N95 respirator when worn properly creates a seal around the wearer’s face that has a level of efficiency to protect the person wearing it from inhaling various pollutants, chemicals, biological agents, chemical agents and things of that nature. The “95” is a reference that the filtering aspects of the respirator filter out 95% of airborne contaminants to the person wearing the respirator.
On the flip side, a surgical mask, or a cloth face covering, does provide a layer of protection to the person wearing it. The purpose of that mask is to protect people around the individual wearing that mask, people within the vicinity…whether it's a bodily fluid, sneeze or cough.
If you look at the CDC or FDA website, they talk about the differences between a respirator, a surgical mask and a cloth face covering. Surgical masks are regulated by the FDA and they pertain to different devices. And they are a type of PPE, for the healthcare setting, that have to be worn in a hospital or healthcare setting.
Kathy: that’s interesting…you learn something new every day, right?
Another little wrinkle is that there are a number of people wearing respirators called K95s or KN95s, and it’s not an N95. A K95 or KN95 is a respirator that purports to be equivalent to an N95, but it has not been tested or approved by NIOSH. It's a respirator that has been made in another country that purports to have the same level of protection for the person wearing that respirator, which satisfies that country’s standards as explained in this website. So, a country other than the United States might have a similar industrial hygiene standard to protect the occupant from 95% of air contaminants reaching their body…that's what “95” refers to, for both masks.
Bottom line: if you want to satisfy the respiratory protection standards in the US with a NIOSH-approved and certified respirator, you would use an N95 and not a K95 respirator.
Kathy: Thanks for that clarification.
You mentioned earlier about a “different set of regulations” for N95s. Why don’t you fill me in on those that employers must follow?
Drew: OSHA has a detailed respiratory standard for N95s. They have a very good website that talks about what that respiratory protection standard is and what are some of the obligations that an employer has.
First, there’s educating and training employees on how to properly “don” or put on the respirator to make sure that there's a proper fit. OSHA refers to this as “fit testing”. Employees that are provided respirators need to go through a proper fit testing process to ensure that there's a proper seal around the face. OSHA also wants men to have really short or thin facial hair to make sure that there is a nice tight fit, that there is not going to be air coming out through the sides. You also don’t want air coming around the top of the nose, underneath the chin and things like that. There is supposed to be a perfect seal around the mouth and nose so that all air is filtered through the fabric before entering the body.
There are also obligations regarding the disinfection and maintenance of respirators, so obviously you can't have people wearing the same unit day-after-day, for weeks and months on end without going through proper disinfection and maintenance protocols for these units.
Kathy: Makes sense.
I understand there have been some compliance issues around N95s that OSHA is following up on. Could you explain some instances or explain about that?
Drew: Here's a situation that took place in the state of Ohio where several skilled nursing facilities and rehabilitation centers were fined with the maximum OSHA penalty for a serious citation. These skilled nursing facilities provided N95 respirators to their staff very early on during the COVID crisis, really as a measure to protect the employees, thinking that they were doing the best thing possible. In fact, OSHA even acknowledged this in a national press release, detailing one of the very first enforcement cases around COVID-19. They mentioned that the employer had been trying to protect the employees by providing N95 respirators, but that the employer didn't recognize or understand that there were additional regulatory obligations they didn’t follow. Specifically, the skilled nursing facilities had not done fit testing nor training. They also didn't have documentation showing that their employees understood the way to properly use the respirators. So, OSHA actually fined these three healthcare centers, because they did not satisfy the regulations affiliated with that respiratory protection standard.
Kathy: And they were trying to do the right thing! That’s certainly a lesson for organizations that currently use them!
Kathy: Next question: what are the basic guidelines for a business to be compliant with PPE requirements, other than N95 respirators?
Drew: Respiratory protection is just one layer of protection affiliated with PPE. Typically, when individuals and workplaces think of PPE, you're going to potentially have hardhats protecting the head, safety glasses or safety goggles, steel-toed boots, gloves, and perhaps long sleeve shirts and pants. There are general PPE OSHA regulations that indicate the type of hazards employees encounter in the workforce and what that employer needs to do to make sure they provide the proper PPE to mitigate those hazards.
Kathy: Last question…what’s the landscape of requirements for wearing masks in the workplace, be it Federal, state or local government…or even OSHA?
Drew: That's a great question… you've got different government agencies mandating or requiring different obligations right now in the COVID-19 world. There are local ordinances, as well as state ordinances, that specify mandates for the use of cloth face coverings before you go into a public establishment. Those types of local and state requirements are generally not directed at specific employers, or a duty for employers, but they apply wholesale to everyone within that area. For everyone, for example, in Kansas City or in the state of Kansas…that's an obligation.
As for employers, OSHA does not have a mandate that says they must require their employees to wear cloth face coverings, masks or respirators. OSHA leaves it up to each employer to determine what is going to provide the level of protection and safety for their workplace. Now, that's not OSHA saying the employers have no obligation; rather, it's OSHA saying employers have a duty to:
Then if you identify a risk and can't implement engineering or administrative controls (which we've talked about in our first interview)…say in our current COVID-19 landscape…OSHA would say to a specific employer that a face covering or a respirator would be necessary as an obligation…not because it’s in a regulation. They would say it’s part of the general duty they have, and because of the industry they’re in, they would have to provide that protection.
Kathy: So, this falls under their general duty.
Drew: Exactly. It's called the 5(a)1 Clause. It's Section 5(a) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, but everyone calls it either the 5(a)1 Clause or the General Duty Clause.
Kathy: Makes sense.
Well, I think that’s a wrap, Drew! Thanks for taking time over the last couple of weeks to inform us about important safety topics businesses are facing. It’s been a pleasure!
Drew: It’s been my pleasure, too!
Thanks for tuning into today for Part 3 of this three-part series! If you missed the other two blogs featuring Drew Brought, you can check them out here:
Part 1: Design an Employee Safety Program Using These 4 Steps
Part 2: Current Trends in OSHA Enforcement: How This Affects You
Are there other areas of your business you'd like to improve, but don't know where to start?
Then take my free business assessment! You'll receive a customized report that will give you an easy-to-understand roadmap to help you achieve your profitability goals.
By: Kathy Kent Toney, President of Kent Business Solutions
Part 2 of a 3-Part Series:
Keeping Your Employees Safe
Have you wondered if you’re in compliance with OSHA regulations around workplace safety?
Are you concerned that OSHA might come knocking on your door for reported violations?
I hope to put your questions to bed through a recent interview I had with Andrew “Drew” Brought. This is Part 2 of my 3-part series on Keeping Your Employees Safe.
This week he’ll be answering two questions. The first is:
How is OSHA Responding to and Enforcing Workplace Safety and Work Rules?
I have an interesting tidbit to share: Drew had to postpone our interview time slot late last week, because OSHA came knocking on one of his client’s doors. They were threatening to issue a warrant to be able to collect evidence around alleged workplace violations and Drew was counseling his client through its options. So…I encourage you to continue reading if you have any concerns on this week’s topic!
Before I get into the interview, here’s a funny video, courtesy of The Office.
Kathy: Welcome again, Drew! Let’s talk first about what OSHA enforcement looks like these days. What are some important things businesses need to keep in mind to help prevent visits from OSHA?
Drew: the first is this:
1. Understand the OSHA Penalty Framework
It’s set forth by statute, and by regulation in terms of their monetary authority as well as their ability to seek injunctive relief, basically to shut down someone's operation if an operation is unsafe.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed by Congress in 1970. It sets forth provisions that allow the agency to bring an enforcement case against an employer in those situations where that employer is not satisfying the workplace health and safety rules. We mentioned those rules last week in the first topic.
Drew: the second important point is:
2. Recognize the Historical Application of OSHA’s Penalty Framework
The overall statutory background of the original penalty authority historically has not involved a lot of aggressive enforcement. The actual monetary penalties for pretty significant infractions have never really been a driver in terms of changing conduct.
Previous to 2015, the penalties ranged between $7,000 up to $70,000 per violation, dating back to 1970. And that is a key point…the maximum penalty would be $70,000, per violation. So, a typical inspection might have five or 10 different findings, which translated to five or 10 different violations. What might have started off or seemed like a relatively minor issue could have daisy chained quite quickly into a relatively significant penalty.
Now that being said, this was the penalty authority that was set forth under the OSHA act in 1970. Those penalties were not adjusted for inflation and remained on the books until 2015.
I’d like to point out that one of the reasons for a government penalty is to deter and change conduct. And if a business continues to get a significant penalty, the business is going to change their conduct. Even assuming they don't agree and adopt a safety mentality/safety culture, they will eventually change their conduct simply because of the cost of non-compliance.
OSHA had historically been viewed as a paper tiger, because pretty serious workplace injuries and even fatalities would often result in a pretty low five-figure penalty that might have ranged from $3,000 to $10,000. So, it was not uncommon in very significant workplace injury cases and investigations for the total maximum penalty to be less than $20,000. For a very small business, that's a very large fine, but for a Fortune 100 or 500 company, a $15,000 fine from a government agency is not necessarily going to necessarily change or alter the way that the company does business.
And I hate to say it, because it's crude, but you hear this in the industry: it costs more to kill a fish than it does a person. What people mean is that the EPA has had a much more robust enforcement program for environmental violations between 1990 and 2015 than OSHA did. When you look at the casualty and injury rate in the workforce, many were saying that this is unacceptable,
Drew: the third important thing to understand is:
3. Trends & Shifts in OSHA Enforcement
In 2015, OSHA began adjusting penalties to account for inflation, for the first time since 1970. The range of $7,000 to $70,000 per violation was adjusted upwards to almost double, from $13,500 to $135,000. Since then, I've seen a major shift where an enforcement case could easily be $40,000 to $100,000, or even more. So, in the last several years, the cost of non-compliance has gone up significantly. Penalties have doubled since then, and I've done more OSHA enforcement defense work in the last three years than in the 12 years proceeding!
The best trend has been that businesses are complying with the health and safety rules.
Another important thing to understand is the difference between serious and willful violations. Willful is a situation where the company was aware and had knowledge, yet chose to proceed despite that knowledge and awareness. So, it's almost evidence of a bad act or bad faith as opposed to an accident.
So, if you had a serious accident and you didn't follow the rules, that’s a serious violation. That penalty is going to be in the mid-to-lower range. But if you have a situation where there's a repeat violation (or there's evidence or an indication that the employer was aware of the conduct and in a position to prevent that conduct and chose not to do so), that's considered a willful violation...not just a serious violation. And with that willful conduct, OSHA’s going to seek that six-figure penalty instead of a low-five figure penalty.
Here’s another thing to note: every year there are more than 5,000 individuals that die in the workplace due to a workplace fatality. You’re talking about 10-to-15 people that leave their home in the morning, go to work and don't come home because of a workplace accident! We have safety rules to protect all this and it's still happening. So, I think that's one of the reasons we've seen this more aggressive shift in the last five years as well.
Here’s another thing that's interesting, and this is more just a side note: there have been many outsiders (and I'm not turning this into a political piece at all) who have challenged the current administration about regulatory reforms…arguments that the agency has not been enforcing regulations or ensuring that businesses are complying with all the rules. That has not been the case in the current administration with OSHA. I have actually seen some acceleration in terms of more protection, again, maybe because of enforcement of workplace health and safety rules.
Kathy: that’s great info, Drew!
Now let’s talk about OSHA’s COVID-19 response. We touched on some of this last week. Is there new info you can share and/or summarize for those reading this?
Drew: yes. Here’s some info we didn’t cover:
OSHA’s COVID-19 Response
One of the things the agency is trying to do is balance and protect the unknowns that we have while trying to ensure a safe workplace. There have been a number of skeptics and critics who've said the agency has not done enough to pass workplace restrictions related to COVID-19. It’s noteworthy that there have been no new regulations issued by OSHA.
What OSHA has done instead is to develop a number of different guidance documents and enforcement guidelines for different industries that outline what the expectations are, e.g., the meatpacking or transportation industries. You can find them on their COVID Resource page.
Lots of different sectors have been identified and have different guidance documents in which the agency identifies the criteria and the expectations for the employers...to ensure that that the workforce is protected.
Where we're seeing the most significant amount of guidance, and the most significant enforcement, is in the Healthcare sector. And that's not a surprise…if you think about which industries where employees are most likely to be impacted by COVID-19, it's this sector. So, the agency is focusing on the highest-risk categories.
The other thing that is phenomenal is the number of complaints that have been received related to COVID-19. Through August 10, 2020, there have been almost 30,000 complaints made to OSHA in the State programs, alleging that employers had not satisfied duties regarding COVID-19. That's a lot of complaints that the agency has to look into! Of those 30,000 complaints, the agency had worked through about two-thirds of them. About 20,000 of those complaints had been investigated and closed, meaning either they disagreed with the employees and/or they took action. They either brought forward an enforcement case, or brought a recommendation and issued what's known as a Hazard Alert Letter.
OSHA will frequently, in lieu of issuing an enforcement case and issuing a penalty, send this type of letter to a company. This letter typically states that OSHA is not bringing an enforcement case against a them; however, they will outline practices they need to follow to change their business.
It's a little bit like a shot across the bow, like a warning, from a police officer saying; “Okay, I pulled you over. I'm not going to give you a ticket this time. But if I have to come back again, or if I see it again, it's going to happen next time.”
So, to summarize, there are two things OSHA will do:
Then the penalty is either closed out, in which case, the complaint was not justified. Or, if the complaint was justified, the employer will receive a Hazard Alert Letter or an enforcement case will proceed.
For most of the 30,000 complaints, the agency simply sent a letter to the employer saying something like this:
“We've received allegations that you are not protecting your employees. The allegations are as follows: you need to respond to this letter, within one week, identifying the actions that you've taken to protect employees. If your response is not satisfactory, then we are going to do an onsite inspection.”
So, when I say there have been 30,000 complaints, that doesn't mean that a government inspector has actually gone out to visit the work place. OSHA doesn't have the resources to do that.
Kathy: thanks for clarifying what OSHA’s COVID-19 response has been. I’m sure a lot of people have been wondering about this!
We talked a little bit about this next topic last week, but I think it’s important to ask again:
How Can an Organization Help Prevent OSHA from Knocking on Their Door?
Drew: While there are a variety of best practices, three key areas to focus on:
1. Ensure a Good Line of Communication
If there are legitimate concerns about the workplace and safety, there should be a mechanism by which employees and management can have a free-flow of dialogue about what those risks and concerns are. And a lot of this just comes down to trust. You don't want an employee to pick up the phone and call the government, which triggers an OSHA investigation, as opposed to them going in and talking to their manager to express their concerns.
If your employees are not having a dialogue in a candid work environment, and I understand you're not always going to have that…there's always going to be some level of apprehension. But the reality is, people are picking up the phone and calling the government as the first line of defense for protection. As you know, there's going to be pretty significant problems as a result of that.
Drew: The second is:
2. Commitment to Health & Safety
Have a dedicated person or resources that are focused on health and safety issues. We talked about this last week.
Drew: The third is:
3. Ensure Constant Learning and Incorporate Changes
Focus on changes over time and make sure how those changes get incorporated, because any business is not static. The world around us is changing, and we need to constantly be in a position of learning, and in the same way, you have to have dedicated resources…someone who's focused and paying attention to the changes.
And if they receive a violation, they need to ensure they don't repeat the same mistake again. From a lessons-learned perspective, that's all important.
So, one of the key takeaways is to ask these questions:
Kathy: Drew, this is such great information. Thanks so much for your taking your time to share your wisdom with us!
Drew: my pleasure.
Stay tuned for next week’s interview with Drew. He’ll be answering the following question:
What are Important OSHA Requirements Around PPE and in Particular, N95 Respirators?
In the meantime, feel free to reach out to him if you have any other questions about health and safety in the workplace.
Are there other areas of your business you'd like to improve, but don't know where to start?
Then take my free business assessment! You'll receive a customized report that will give you an easy-to-understand roadmap to help you achieve your profitability goals.