Episode 40

Published on:

17th Oct 2022

Reducing Risk and Telling Stories in Manufacturing with Jonathan Klane

Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturer's Network podcast. I'm excited to introduce you to our guest today, Jonathan Klane.

Jonathan is senior safety Editor for Lab Manager Magazine and has been in the field of environmental health, safety, and risk for 35 years in many roles. He's also a Ph.D. candidate in human and social dimensions of science and technology, where he studies in two large areas risk perceptions, cognitive biases, decision making, and storytelling, how it affects how we see risks, and its many other valuable benefits. Jonathan, welcome to the show.

Jonathan Klane: Thanks, Lisa. It's an absolute pleasure to be here.

Lisa Ryan: Please share a little about your background and what led you to do what you're doing.

Jonathan Klane: I started in Maine as an environmental geologist and an industrial hygienist. My undergrad is in geology. I got hired to do industrial hygiene, which is just exposure science. Your listeners in manufacturing would know processes generate vapors, fumes, et cetera, and someone has to know how to measure that and figure it all out. So I did that and gradually ended up doing training. Then taught college for several years and enjoyed that, exposing me to different clients.

And from there, I got back into consulting on my own. I did that for a few years before finally migrating to Arizona, where I worked for Arizona State University as a safety director. On my card, it said bald-headed Safety guy. That was my title. People would say, How did you get that on the cards? And I would always say, Oh, I figured out how to hack the system. But it was that no one cared. So it was a nice joke. I did that for ten years and a couple of different colleges of engineering.

And then that eventually took me to this wonderful role I'm in, where I finally write for a living, which I enjoy doing for a lab manager magazine. It's a great place, Wonderful people. And we write about all sorts of stuff dealing with labs, Senior safety editor. So I write primarily about lab safety, about risk. And, of course, as part of the Ph.D. program, I write a little bit about storytelling, or I engage in storytelling as part of it.

Lisa Ryan: Both are important to the manufacturing office audience because the risk is inherent in working in a plant environment. And what you said earlier with the fumes, you want to ensure that you're keeping your workers as safe as possible. But that also brings us to storytelling, where you can convey to your employees the importance of what they do and how you care for them. What is the reasoning behind why what they do is so important?

So let's start with risk. That's what you want to avoid the most in manufacturing. How would you describe risk and some? What are some of our perceptions as far as risk goes?

Jonathan Klane: Risk is a much better concept than just safety. In safety. We always say you're safe or not safe, and it's such a binary concept that it's not usually helpful. There are so many nuances to it, but risks. I'm sure a lot of your audience is familiar with this. You can look at it as two factors or three factors. So, the two in particular to start. What is the probability of something happening? Basically, what are the odds, right? And then, of course, how bad will it be?

What's the severity of the consequence, right? And so, besides processes that generate vapors and fumes and dust and all of that stuff, or maybe it creates dust that collects. And then the worst thing that could happen is they could have a combustible dust explosion. That has occurred across many industries.

It could be guarding issues, so the worst is someone can get devastatingly injured or even killed if they bypass the guards, if the machinery doesn't have the proper guards, or if someone starts up equipment, et cetera. So, we can analyze things by severity and probability.

The third factor that I like to use, and others don't, is exposure. How exposed are we? An operator, let's say of a system that's got product moving past them, has to check if they're within touching distance of the operation. So they have a significant amount of exposure to that risk, probability, severity, what can happen, et cetera, et cetera.

And as opposed to someone much further away, they have far less exposure to it. And thus far less probability. And some people embed exposure into the probability part of the equation. So perhaps the better analogy, and I'll use some risk perceptions for this as well, is biking, or the better example that many of us can relate to.

I don't know. Do you bike by chance, or do you know how to bike?

Lisa Ryan: Yeah, and I make, I wear a helmet, and I make my husband wear a helmet. Much to his dismay.

Jonathan Klane: I wear a helmet. I have no protection except the helmet. And in my skin, as we said. I've been hit by a car I've wiped out on my own. I don't know how many times my head has hit the pavement. I don't know how many times with a helmet on. It rings my bell, but I can always walk away because I've got that protection. So I perceive the risk, and I've taken the step where I think I have the most critical exposure to the hazard.

Here's a good way of looking at it, Lisa. When I used to work at Arizona State, it was about a nine-mile bike commute. And one night, on the way home, on a major drag, a very big road university drive, I got hit by a car. So the police officer responded the guy drove away and never found them. And the police officer said you had the right of way, et cetera.

So sorry. Glad you're okay and all. And the next day at work, I told a buddy of mine, Rick, and he said, John. You got to get off the major roads, right? There's just too much traffic, right? You're exposed to a lot more traffic at a lot higher speed. They're not paying attention. So you said get on the side roads where there's less traffic. They're going slower.

Follow me home. I'll show you the way. All of a sudden, by changing my route, I could reduce all the risk factors, right? Exposure, probability, and to an extent, severity. Getting hit by a car going 45 is different from getting hit by a car going 25, right? Odds on. This how do I recognize the risk factors, and then how do I control them?

Plant managers do health and safety. People do supervisors online. Maybe the maintenance crew does. I used to work with many maintenance crews in all sorts of manufacturing and other facilities, and one person will perceive risk differently from another. I live in Arizona, and we get dust storms. We had one last night. Now our shingles have been upset by the winds. Our shingles are going to be replaced. And the roofer was on the house, right? The guy was inspecting it, and we were joking back and forth, and he said it doesn't bother him in the least, right? But he's got a brother-in-law who is in law enforcement and has been shot twice.

To each or their own, how do we perceive the risks? And we're, and the science speaks to this very clearly. We're very comfortable with the chances that we know that we take on ourselves willingly, not forced upon us. If I want to wear a mask for Covid, I feel okay about it. If someone makes me wear the mask and I'm resistant, I probably don't feel good about it. And if I'm doing it willingly, I don't see it as a considerable risk. If I'm being, if it's being forced on me, I'm probably going to assign it a negative. We call it a valance, but a value. And therefore, I think that there is a much greater risk. So the risk is about our human perceptions, which are incredibly subjective and vary tremendously.

Lisa Ryan: When you said at the beginning, you're either safe, or you're not, that's black and white, where with the risk, there's a lot of grays thrown in there. And in the manufacturing, and I don't remember if this was an audience member or a podcast guest, but what they had implemented, I think they called them "gotcha" cards, something like that. So if they saw somebody participating in risky behavior, they called him on it. They said, Hey, you're at risk. The funny thing is the person I was talking to was the manager who implemented this program, and one of his employees busted him because he was unsafe on a ladder reaching for something and could have gotten in trouble.

He could have gotten hurt as a result of it. And the manager was like, Yeah, of course. Give me a part because you legitimately caught and perhaps prevented me from getting hurt. When we look at the maintenance environment, we must create a safe environment where people don't feel like they're snitching. It's if nothing terrible happened, nothing bad is going to happen. There's this little, tiny chance that it's going to, And then are you going to feel bad because you didn't quote-unquote snitch on that person? But we're looking at keeping everybody safe.

Jonathan Klane: And our brains are great, but they create heuristics mental shortcuts because our brain is about 2% of our body weight, but it consumes 20% of the energy we use. It's an energy hog. Fuel hog, but it's our brain. It needs it. Part of the way we've evolved is to create these mental shortcuts. They're called heuristics. And all sorts of stuff, right? And it's very subjective to us. So, it might be that a heuristic might be this operation has never hurt me. Therefore, it is safe. And not addressing the fact that odds have a way of catching up. I would bike and go through neighborhoods instead of on the major roads.

I live on a grid system. Everything is 90 degrees off, but there are neighborhoods that I could cut through, so it lowered the risk, and I might drive dozens, hundreds of times. I measured it because of the nature of what I do with risk and studying it that on like the 500th time, all of a sudden, there's a car coming in this place that there's never been a car before.

But I might have been hit if I was not paying attention to it because I didn't expect the car. He didn't expect the biker. But after doing it hundreds and hundreds of. It finally happened, and I remembered my dad telling me his story. So I wrote long-form creative nonfiction about it.

My dad said, Hey, Johnny, now that you've got a ten-speed bike, I was a kid. You got to remember something. I said, What's that, dad? He said there's always someone coming. And it's like gun safety. The gun's always loaded, right? You're biking around neighborhoods; you're not paying close attention. There's always someone coming. And the other one my dad would use. I don't know where he got all these things. I'm pretty sure he didn't come up with them, right? But they were good. They lasted with me over the decades. Lisa, he said, Johnny, there's a lot of people in heaven who had the right of way. And it's just such a great, powerful metaphor, right?

Lisa Ryan: And that's the thing. It only takes that one time. I think about what we just went through with the devastation from Hurricane Ian, and there were a whole bunch of people that evacuated who were probably mad because they evacuated and didn't need to.

And then there's a whole bunch of other people who didn't evacuate, who wish they would've because they lost everything. So that's a thing we never know when that. An incident is going to happen. That changes everything. Or, like you just said, it causes us to go to heaven.

Jonathan Klane: And it's about our consistent behaviors, habits, and even so, think that work teams are rituals. Like sports. . Sports figures, right? Like Nadal and so many different, different sports, right? Whether it's tennis, baseball, football, or whatever, they have rituals and excellent science.

I just read another paper where rituals help our brain in putting us in the right frame of mind and preparing for what we're trying to do rituals. Don't mean anything. They don't have a physical construct, meaning they haven't changed something that's going to occur, but they have so much meaning to us.

For instance, a wedding. A wedding isn't a legal mechanism. There's paperwork and legal stuff, but the wedding itself is a ritual that has tremendous value and meaning not just to the couple but to everyone involved. And they've even done studies to look at oxytocin levels, human love, and bonding chemical, and the closer people are to the people that matter the most.

In the case of a wedding, a bride and a groom. Or two brides. Or two grooms. And they did oxytocin levels, and the closer they were to that, The higher the oxytocin levels. I think the quote was the bride's level was just off the chart. Her oxytocin level was like through the roof, so these habits that we got into my habit of biking on side roads helped protect me. But more significant than that, my writing that long-form story about biking risk, about conversations with my dad in episodes I had or witnessed, including my crashes and others that I helped take care of or tried to avert, caused the behavior change in me.

That the writing of the stories and the meaning of the stories, and how powerful they were, caused me to reflect on whether I would wear earbuds and listen to music, which I loved to do. I remember it fondly, but because it was so meaningful in such an emotional way to write those stories. I realized I was driving up the risk by having earbuds where I couldn't hear traffic and by trying to see how fast I could get to work and time myself and see if I could beat my times.

Those are risk-increasing behaviors, right? And so it was only through this self-storytelling that I could eliminate those behaviors. So we're back to the power of stories, which can be used for health and safety purposes.

Lisa Ryan: And that's what I was going to do now because when I think about storytelling, and I think of manufacturing and specifically attracting people into manufacturing, opening up as a viable career path, part of that is bringing employees in, with the story.

So what are some of the things you see regarding companies using stories? I know you've talked to many people in your Ph.D. research, but how are companies using accounts to attract new people and use them as an engagement tool to keep their people?

Jonathan Klane: Absolutely. In so many ways. It's amazing to me how much I'm exposed to this. And it's a great question, Lisa. So just one example I've seen for several companies, including ours, LabX Media Group, that we have, instead of an employee handbook or manual, it's a playbook. And the playbook is about culture.

You've probably seen this with a lot of your clients. I saw this with another local company here. I read through the entire playbook, and it tells the story of the culture because an employee wants to know what it will be like there. I understand the job because I've done similar jobs, but what do people like?

What's the culture like? And the same thing goes for the company. They want to know about that person. So a great way of learning is to ask someone, so there's the usual question, Tell me a bit about yourself or whatever. And you and I were chatting a little bit before, and I shared the advice I had gotten, which I think is great, which is if you want the truth, don't control the answer.

It's scary. You get the truth, and sometimes that's helpful. And there's good research on vulnerability, how we can bond and relate, and how people connect. So, a good question, instead of telling me about yourself, is, tell me a story.

Tell me a story that has meaning for you. And stories are just such an excellent way to create meaning-making. Researchers consider them as meaning-making and sense-making tools. They allow us as the storyteller and the story receiver, listener, reader, and viewer to better understand the world around us as described, whatever that world is. And that story, real or fictional. It could be middle earth like Lord of the Rings, right? It can be outer space—Tattooine with Luke and Leia and all that stuff. And we have the willful suspension of disbelief where we're so wired for stories, Lisa, that we're willing to give up the reality and let ourselves be what's called transported into this story. The best thing a storyteller is looking for is that the viewer, reader, or listener feels like they're part of this story where time has a way of slipping away. So stories can be a great way for work groups.

To better relate stories can be a great way for different groups to understand each other and for different people within a group, to understand their diverse perspectives and perceptions of the same situation. Maybe it was an incident. Perhaps it was a close call. What was going on? What was What were people doing at the time? So thinking and stories can be a great way. People can collaborate on a story. People can tell different stories about the same thing and tell each other, and then there's so much wonderful relatability to it and context and meaning-making that it can help make teams much more effective. If it's done well, it can also be done reasonably quickly. And I know this is something that you and Scott discussed to build psychological safety because stories are a great way to express one's vulnerabilities, which we all want to relate to. I think it also makes it easier for people to remember.

Lisa Ryan: If you're, trying to share numbers and statistics and all of these things with your employees, they don't care. They don't remember it two seconds after they leave the meeting. But if you show them specifically a story that ties into what they're doing, the difference they're making, and what the increase means over something else. One of my favorite books is Bill Bryson's, a short history of nearly everything, and he talks about the size of the atom in a molecule. And he said that if you put a piece of paper next to the Empire State Building, that is the neutron of the atom compared to the size of the rest of it. In my whole life, I would never think of the size of an atom, but it was the story that he told me, and I read that book years ago. I just reread it because I like it so much. But yeah, that's the thing that makes a difference, that we remember stories, we don't know numbers, we don't remember percentages as such.

Jonathan Klane: Oh. Yeah. You're getting it. So much of the research is almost as if you could be teaching this stuff, Lisa. ? It's been studied since, God, I think, the seventies. Eldon. Tell that we have all sorts of different memory aspects, but a couple includes semantic memory, which is, like you were saying, facts, figures, data, and statistics, which we, the brain, is not wired well to recall, easy to forget type stuff. And then we have something called episodic memory, which is obvious. It's about episodes. What's an episode? An episode is what life is. Life is stories. That's how we're wired, right? And stories are a wonderful way to get people to remember things.

I did a study with others when I was at Arizona State, and it was whether or not humor or stories worked better in safety. And so in manufacturing, you got to do a lot of safety training, right? In this case, it was biomedical engineering students, and we had to do fire safety, lab safety, and biosafety three courses in seven class sections. So that's 21 courses every semester. That's a long, And I told the faculty person in charge, I. I don't know what's working. And she said they...

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About your host

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Lisa Ryan

As a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), an award-winning speaker and author of ten books, Lisa Ryan, CSP, works with her clients to develop employee and client engagement initiatives and strategies that keep their top talent and best clients from becoming someone else’s.
Lisa’s expertise includes: strengthening workplace culture, improving employee engagement, increasing customer retention, and initiating gratitude strategies (“Grategies”) for personal and professional benefit. Lisa’s participants enjoy her high energy, enthusiastic delivery and quick wit and they leave the session with ideas they are committed to acting on immediately to make positive workplace culture changes.
Lisa costars in two films with other experts including Jack Canfield of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” She is the Past-President of the National Speakers Association, Ohio Chapter and holds an MBA from Cleveland State University.

Relevant Experience

• Keynote, breakout or workshop speaker at more than 100 national and international conferences
• Thirteen years of industrial marketing and sales experience, including seven years in the welding industry – and yes, she does weld
• Host of “Elevate Your Engagement Levels: What You Need to Know” on the Elite Expert Network and the C-Suite Network
• Creator of “The Seven Mistakes Managers Make to Crush Company Culture” video series
• Best-selling author of ten books, including “Manufacturing Engagement: 98 Proven Strategies to Attract and Retain Your Industry’s Top Talent”
• Award-winning speaker