Welcome to the Safeti Podcast
‘The Art of Decision Making’ with Billy Sim
In Episode 13, we talk to Billy Sim, a veteran firefighter & safety trainer of over 30 years.
Billy has taken his experiences and simplified them into a learning approach for people & businesses that focuses on decision-making, situational awareness and communication skills.
Billy firmly believes that workplace stress is strongly connected to poor decision making, which can result in serious health and safety outcomes.
He is on a mission to demonstrate how teaching ‘soft skills’ can both improve the mental health of employees and subsequently have a positive impact on safety.
If you would like more of this free content and access to exclusive offers from Safeti’s partners, you can join our community below
Love Learning Scotland – check out what Billy is doing with the charity Love Learning in Scotland, UK
Billy Sim on Linkedin – connect with Billy on Linkedin to start a conversation
HSE – Soft Skills in Organisations – HSE study on the importance of employee participation in health and safety
Stress at Work HSE – lots of useful resources for workplace stress management
Podcast Transcript – here’s the written version of our chat
Here’s a taster of the Episode…..
Thanks for pressing play and listening into the safeti podcast. We aim to break down the barriers to learning in the HSE space to help you stay motivated, improve your knowledge and maximize your impact. So on the show today you have an esteemed guest all the way from Scotland, Billy Sims is a veteran firefighter of over 30 years.
Who since retiring has taken it upon himself to share what he has learned during his time in the fire service and try and translate it into something unique and useful. Now delivering corporate training programs which focuses on soft skills.
Billy explains how he has extracted the key learning from as many years in emergency services and tried to simplify them into practical tools. These can be used in any context to achieve better outcomes for people and businesses.
If this sounds like something you would like to hear a little bit more about, stick around.
Welcome to the safeti podcast with your host all the way from a small green island in the wild Atlantic Ocean, Richard Collins.
Thank you for sticking around and joining me on this conversation with Billy Sims. I really hope you can take some value from this conversation. Let’s go over and speak to him.
Billy Sims thank you very much for joining us on the safeti podcast today and all the way from sunny East Kilbride in Scotland.
Yeah I’m glad to be here, I’m doing fine, glad to be here, thank you.
We’re obviously interested to hear what you have to say, you have a lots of experience coming from many years in the fire service and now of course you’re working as part of love learning Scotland delivering training and you tell us a little bit about your background just for the audience and sort of how you got here.
On the front line
Yes Richard and my background I had done safety years in the fire service. That was roughly 15 years on a frontline fighter planes. S, I have a lot of, I have a wealth of experience of attending emergency incidents as a firefighter and an officer as well.
Then the last 15 years of my career I was involved in of the senior officer and I was predominately involved in training and assessment.
But then the fire service we have what’s called an incident command. I was in charge of incident command. That involves helping firefighters and officers make risk critical decisions.
So I was heavily involved in this and I’ve done a lot of work with the Scottish fire service college and I represented the service a national level. Where I was responsible for things like leadership management as well as the soft skills.
What we call communications, situation awareness and decision-making. Because these are vitally important in the fire service. I don’t think a lot of people realize why one of the things that made these vitally important in the fire service was partly the piper alpha disaster. Do you remember that?
Piper Alpha disaster
Yes Alan I don’t remember it as such. But not [03:09 inaudible] but it’s the mass of the disaster in oil and gas industry right?
Yeah but one of the issues you can know that Richard and Lord Cullen looked into the panel for disaster and one of the things he came out, one of his recommendations was and it was to do with risk critical decision-making. What he said was that conventional training was no good. I’m just paraphrasing here. But conventional training and the assessment was no good.
If the person themselves cannot make risk critical decisions at a time of extreme stress. So what he was saying, the answer then what happened was there were decisions made that the person was under so much stress, so they couldn’t make the decisions. Though if you think in emergency situation, firefighters are the same.
We have to deal with emergency situations under the Health and Safety Work Act, all fire authorities have to make sure people of course efficient instruction, information, training and supervision.
So we had to make sure firefighters and fire officers and fire officers also had best prerequisite amount of training. So we complied with the health and safety at work act. But so we could do the job to the standard that public and we expect so that was where my background came from.
And that’s how I focused on the risk critical decision-making. There was a lot of stuff done in Robert Gordon University and Aberdeen University on this. We got a lot of good information from them and we worked closely with professors and psychologists. To come up with a program to make sure that our personnel were trained as good as it could be. It was based on good empirical evidence as well.
So we had the psychology part over. We had the professor’s input and part of my job was getting to a language that firefighters could understand and they could use on the ground. So that was very important to me and I’ve got a lot of background in relation to that.
Really something as you say you know that I guess a lot of people listening here involved in health and safety management and you know crisis management would not have direct training in terms of how to react under stress as such.
We always talk about preparation for those moments. But we don’t necessarily have the competence or experience and actually dealing with it when it does happen. I have to say it is something that crosses my mind regularly. You know, what I would do if this happens? So I can certainly certainly see the value in it. Absolutely from the fire services point of view.
Have you identified why and how this could be useful in the corporate context?
One of the things I will say to firefighters and people who are ready to retire. We’ve got a lot of skills that are transferable. I was looking to see how their skills and knowledge I had, how I could transfer this over to the private sector. Because when in one of the key areas I’ve looked at was decision making. I was involved heavily in decision making.
That’s a key aspect of firefighting. But it’s also a key aspect of everyday work. People have to make decisions. So I looked at all the reports I had and all the stuff I had from the professor’s or psychologists and I tried to come up with a process.
I would like to come up with as a three-step process if you weren’t for people making decisions. But I didn’t actually have enough… I didn’t think I had enough evidence. But then I looked back and within the fire service we have to keep things called incident logs.
Now when I go to an incident there’s a log of the all the messages and that basically the messages are a logo of the decisions I’ve made. Now I was fortunate to have a log of every incident I went to as a senior officer.
So I had probably over a thousand messages I could go through. When I was going through them Richard, I was looking for as I was trying to look for key aspects of each incident. I was trying to break it down into three key parts.
We had recurring themes of recurring areas within every incident and that’s what we are looking at. So I went through and I managed to break it down into four, I thought I had three key areas.
Breaking it down
Then I went to look at historical incidents, not the ones I attended. But just any historical instant and I broke them down into three key areas and this is why I came up with this decision-making process. Now to me that decision-making process is very simple.
I’ll explain it hopefully very quickly. I will not go into detail. Because usually it takes a day to explain the whole process and do the whole course. But trying to go into it very quickly.
So when you’re making any decision Richard, the first thing you need to do is specify the expected outcomes. You need to concentrate and be outcome focused.
Look into these decisions, it would appear that everyone wasn’t doing that and sometimes people were making decisions that under no circumstances could get them to achieve their outcome.
The first thing I see when making any decision, specify the expected comes. Because I’m very important and we teach people to do that within the program. The next thing we look at was identifying other factors and potential consequences.
Some decisions we seen within the fire service, other factors and potential consequences were so glaring and so foreseeable that people shouldn’t have made the decision in the first place. So we look at that and the third thing we teach with in this decision-making processes is to maximize first-hand experience and my opinion Richard first-hand experience has not used anyway near enough.
See, feel, do.
It’s the most undervalued commodity and I’m just talking again about from doing, seeing or feeling things. That’s how I class first-hand experience. Now I break these elements down and I show people how to use them.
But the other thing that I had to realize quickly. Decision-making can’t stand on its own. It has to be linked to situation awareness and communication. So I had to in ways of incorporating all this into a package that would help people and the jobs.
Now I’m not talking about a mere instant. I’m talking about the work environment. The normal day-to-day work, the normal what would people have to do. Because I think these skills are key across every sector and it doesn’t just have to be an emergency situation.
So that’s why I approach that we take and that’s why I broke it down into simple steps. It took quite a long time in a long process to get to this. But we are teaching it just now, people seem to understand it and they are taking it on board.