Can Safety Be Defined as “Reliability”?

imageSome time ago we asked the question “What Is Safety”.  We didn’t find a real definition – probably because there isn’t one. We had more success in answering the question: “What Isn’t Safety” (“If safety is just zero harm then love must just be zero hate”)

Karl Weick says of reliability:

“People aren’t used to giving praise for reliability. Since they see nothing when reliability is accomplished, they assume that it is easier to achieve reliability than in fact is true. As a result, the public ignores those who are most successful at achieving reliability and gives them few incentives to continue in their uneventful ways”. READ MORE HERE

What if we substitute “safety” for “reliability” in the above quote? – Not a bad fit huh?

Dr Rob Long says in “I wasn’t thinking Mr Spock”:

“We make thousands of decisions everyday in automatic mode without a mistake. Yet we don’t reflect and celebrate this wonderful mode of human decision making at work rather, we put the blow torch on the one moment when it doesn’t work and something goes wrong”

Behaving unsafely and taking risks rarely means that we will end up getting hurt so the absence of injury in no way indicates the presence or practice of safety.

So, is reliability a better definition of safety and, if so, should we and how do we measure it?

I’m looking forward to some comments from those who know more about the work of Long and Weick than I do.

More reading:

Dennis Millard recently touched on the High Reliability Organisation in “Strategic Business Plans, hierarchically driven”. You can read more on Weick in the essay by James Ellis:

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below