A Bloody Hand Rail
It doesn’t matter where in the world you go there is always a safety crusader who doesn’t understand what safety is about. The safety crusader is so fixated on petty objects they don’t even realise that there are people in the world. I had a classic example this week when presenting at a conference in Helsinki.
I had been asked to present on leadership in risk and safety so as part of my presentation included reference to my Risk and Safety Maturity Matrix. This was one of three models I presented on the capabilities required for leadership in risk and safety. The second model demonstrated the Human Dymensions Dialogue Tool and third the Leading-Following Tool from my latest book. After the presentation a number of people approached me wanting contacts, copies of the tools, offering affirmation and asking questions. Standing in the line of people waiting to chat was this one rather agitated person I could see out of the corner of my eye. When you speak (and write) in public you often experience this, someone wants to come and ‘tell’ you something or set you straight on something that they are bothered about, this was no different.
After a number of people had a chat this person was finally next. As I greeted them with a kind ‘hello’, they blurted it out ‘your model is wrong!’. No ‘hello’ or friendly exchange just ‘your model is wrong’. So I responded kindly and asked what the concern was. ‘Your model has no handrail’ he said. My mind was stunned, I had just presented on risk and safety maturity, just finished chatting to the CEO of one of the largest oil producers in Europe, who affirmed the three models and here was this person agitated about a handrail. This is akin to those people who always see the spelling error in a paper but miss the whole meaning of the text.
‘You know you really shouldn’t be putting models of safety in public like that with no handrail’. I was dumbfounded so asked, ‘So, how did you find the presentation?’ ‘It was all wrong’ he said, ‘if you miss something as important as a handrail then you don’t know about safety’ he said. I responded, ‘I don’t want a handrail in the model’ and asked if he had ever seen that the leader of the western world never holds the handrail when getting off Air Force One, neither does the Vice President. ‘They never hold the handrail even in the dark’ I said. ‘Well there you go’ he said, ‘they don’t know about safety either’. He then lectured me about falls at his workplace and their zero tolerance policy and how he took delight in catching people not holding handrails and how he had sacked two people for non-compliance. This followed by regurgitating data on some frequency rate he thought was important and other numbers and I started to look for an escape, luckily my host could see I needed rescuing and interrupted and I was introduced to someone else who actually wanted to talk about safety.
Isn’t it sad when all the safety crusader can see is objects, so proud to play Hazardman or dominate others in the name of petty safety. This is the spud head idea that ‘safety is a choice you make’ or that safety is some dumb down binary idea such as zero.
I get similar responses from safety crusaders who look for a tag on the power lead on my laptop or want to tape down trip hazards in the room before they can think of offering me a coffee. This is the sad state of safety that wants to scan the workforce for risk takers and sack them, police a work site with a reign of fear in case someone has forgotten some pissy pathetic item of PPE.
Nothing is more dangerous to safety than to elevate the importance petty safety and totally miss real safety that engages with people and understands human judgment and decision making. Nothing is more dangerous to safety than this myopic safety that doesn’t see people, that doesn’t listen to others, it only wants to make a ‘song and dance’ about a bloody hand rail.