Thought Leadership

Safety: have we lost our focus?

September 14, 2011

Focus on safetyI try to stay abreast of the safety profession by reading several magazines and websites monthly. In addition, I am fortunate to talk to a number of highly skilled safety mangers on a frequent basis and I blatantly pick their brains as much as possible.
The more I read and learn the more confused I become. When did safety come out of the trenches and into the psychoanalysis world?
A friend of mine, with a very distinguished career in safety, whom I greatly respect, corrects me when I refer to an accident. Today it is PC to call the event an “incident.”


An employee lying on the plant floor with a large and bleeding cut in his leg probably does not care if it's an incident or an accident. On this topic my firend is all-in and I am all-confused.

A toddler spills his chocolate milk and mom runs to the rescue, reminding the child that it was just an accident (should it now be incident?).

Listen to the evening news. "Tonight traffic on the I-15 is at a standstill due to multiple incidents (?)". Certainly mixed messages are being sent. Are we devoting time deciding on terminology and not on accident/incident prevention? I fail to see how it helps prevent injuries.
Then we have Behavior-Based Safety. WOW, this is a system loaded with pitfalls.

First, a line manager who wants to change a process or get a new piece of equipment will go to senior managers and explain the cost of the new stuff and then the financial gain to be achieved and finally, a bottom-line analysis. With BBS we can quantify start-up costs but can we predict how long it will take to realize the change in behavior, and more importantly can we quantify the improvement to the bottom line? Safety is always at a disadvantage because it is so difficult to predict an improvement in costs.
There are other issues of course, but it seems to me while we are trying to implement this brand new system we are losing focus on worker and property protection.
I do not wish to offend the safety professionals who recommend or who make their living with Behavior Based programs. But I would like to propose that prior to implementing such a sweeping change that an organization go to the workforce and see what they think will work best. It has been awhile since I was a site/area safety manager, and I know I have lost touch with the reality of production and safety, therefore I would need to go to the professional ironworker, assembly line worker or hospital staff and make sure that whatever program is recommended will actually provide the gains promised in safety and risk.

And finally on BBS, if the person at the top of the company management tree is not convinced and supportive it will not work!
We need to fix working level issues. I have attended production/staff meetings where they advertise that safety is always first on the agenda. They seem to go something like:
"Good morning, was anybody hurt this week? Any lost time accidents/incidents? None, Great safety is working, now on to the schedule". Of course this is not the case in all companies or divisions but it is frequent enough that it is worrisome. My thought is that we should fix this before we worry about what to call an injury or what to name our safety program.
Safety and Risk are so complex that we need to devote all of our time to issues of protection. Squabbling over terminology is counter-productive. We should use any available “down” time learning to speak “financial.” Then we will start effecting positive changes.

(As always these are my thoughts and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or position of ISHM or its members).



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