Our profession has lost its identity and, perhaps, even our credibility. From COVID-19, which has caused us (and our employers) to question our expertise on using respirators and masks, to years before when psychologists and psychiatrists pushed a single-focused behavior-changing program that miserably failed, we are floundering. People we were to trust played us for profit and politics.

Vendor “off-the-shelf” programs purport they will simplify our lives if we buy them. Have you purchased a “customizable” program and told, “yeah, it can do that,” to find you just doubled your price and it still doesn’t work like it was explained? And – did you buy another one?

We shifted from following proven safety principles to chasing others’ action-based programs. Worse, we question our training and expertise only to realize it wasn’t our expertise in question, but the integrity of others. I know the pressures placed on our CSPs and CIHs. But, we are not the ones that are wrong.

Early in my career, skeptical employees commented on changes I wanted to make “for the better” stating, “All I have to do is outlast you. This will go away, too.” To them, it was another flavor-of-the-month trial. There was no buy-in, no engagement, no trust, and no sense of our company’s identity. It was just another ‘to-do list program’ that was never going to work.

Programs do not work unless the actions are tied to your principles – your values. Purchasing a commercialized program means you purchase the actions and activities of the author of that program. To somehow believe we can make someone else’s actions that fit their needs fit into ours means we must change our identity to mirror theirs. It will not work.

You cannot “do” things to “be” something. If you whinny, neigh, and eat oats, you are still not a horse because you do things like a horse. You can never become the horse.

What you “do” in your programs must connect to the principles (character traits) of your company. The established values that you and your company believe in create the base for your actions and activities. Your employees will not blindly follow prescribed actions without that connection.

Programs are good and necessary. For a safety program to work, though, you have to “be” who you are (principles/values) so you can “do” (programs) what is important to energize your culture (process).

Programs do not live forever. Don’t waste time keeping a program that no longer is serving its purpose. Breathing “new life” into a dead program wastes our limited resources. It may work in a Frankenstein movie, but not here.

What’s more, safety professionals know programs run their course. Yet, I still see position descriptions requiring safety roles to run behavior-type programs. Really?

So, what principles help shape our own programs and strengthen our culture?

Value, not priority

A priority changes with circumstances. A value remains constant, regardless of circumstances. Safety is a value. If integrated into the process, procedures, and practices, safety will not be the first to go when budgets are cut or when time pressures push for compromise. 

Proactive, not reactive

Proactive means you will formulate actions and activities that look for hazards and correct them when found – before the incident.  Your metrics will focus on leading indicators, not “getting lucky” with fewer injuries this year.

Recognition, not incentive

This is not just semantics. Recognize employees for doing the right thing; do not incentivize or bribe them into it. You want employees to learn it and do it right, every time! When they achieve milestones for it, recognize them, celebrate the success!

Performance, not compliance

Doing the right thing the right way at the right time is a performance value to which each person can contribute and succeed. Focus on finding and fixing the hazard, not, “because OSHA says so,” which kills any real motivation to doing it right. Emphasize doing it right for an employee’s quality of life – at work and home – not because they are being watched.

Team vs individual

We are all in this together.  It requires a team spirit where everyone looks out for the well-being of each other.  I want my team to have my back, to look out for me.  That way, when I “brain fart” or get distracted, I know my team is also committed to my safety.

Prevention vs complacency

We must correct unsafe actions or conditions when first recognized. Changing the action or condition early eliminates the hazard, reducing the exposure to the hazard.  If we do not see the urgency or the need to prevent the exposure, we increase the odds for an injury.

Let’s get our identity and credibility back; trust our training and expertise; employ principles to develop programs that will energize your safety culture.