My first job out of college was as engineer # 3884 in a large oil refinery. Yield, cost, and throughput were all more important to the organization than the front-line people who were nameless numbers to the higher-ups. 

OSHA? It was a bunch of rules with enforcers who knew little about industry realities and only checked on meaningless stuff that had little or no effect on the root causes of injuries.

In the intervening years technology has changed incredibly and so have our many workplace cultures. Still, as I work with field and corporate safety personnel most continue to focus on regulatory compliance. They seem to have become a “one trick pony.” Safety must expand its understanding of the overall business realities. It’s critical to engage business-savvy leadership that is trying do more with less in the long term.

Getting better in everything

Sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely. Sustainability means keeping our company going in the ever-changing competitive reality that faces us every day and in the foreseeable future. Sustainability requires getting better in everything we do. It requires our employees at all levels to relentlessly keep doing their jobs and to relentlessly try to improve what we are doing.

 Our global world today is doing more with fewer resources. This means we have fewer people who have more responsibilities and associated accountabilities. Our companies are ever more challenged to find, train and retain the talent we need to sustain our performance. These people on the front line who deliver our products and services also ensure the rest of us get paid and we certainly want to sustain this aspect that injuries decimate. If the organization is to keep thriving (sustaining) in this kind of reality our people have to become living valuable assets who we can’t afford to lose through injuries on or off the job.

Many companies use a business model that views problem areas as either red or yellow depending on the potential severity, while strengths are green. Dominant companies strive to be number one or two in their markets when compared to their competition’s performance. A simple worldwide safety metric is RIF (Recordable Incident Frequency). Where does your organization stand with respect to your global industry average RIF? Where do you stand with respect to the best of the best in global safety? If you want to be sustainable in the near future a RIF of 1.0 or higher is definitely a red threat. If you want to be number one or two in industry safety the RIF reality looks to be less than 0.5.

Our living assets must be secure. Our safety resources must go beyond the 1970s OSHA compliance culture blinders. What does it take for your organization to develop a culture that relentlessly pursues a zero-incident safety culture as foundational to your sustainable business strategy? Status quo is not sustainable in the long term.