Is The Safety and Risk Revolution Coming?
We spoke at length at how inspired they have been lately working with companies who want to embrace real safety and risk through the understanding the social and human aspects of it and move away from “toxic culture” inspiring zero harm, compliance, BBS and paperwork for “arse covering”. This is obviously a brave and courageous move for many given the sunk cost and the fear driven by regulators and even principal contractors – but these companies are smart enough to realise that there is no other way to move forward and mature than to break away from hitherto unsuccessful, if not harmful, traditional safety and risk approach. It’s also good business, the No1 priority for a company is profit, not safety, always has been, always will be. But there are ways to be highly profitable AND highly safe AND highly productive AND have a positive organisational culture – many would find it hard to believe that you can have all 4 – and that is true if your main pursuit is traditional safety and risk. Mature organisations ‘know’ that ‘meeting’ people rather than on ‘meeting’ legislation is a much more effective way to deal with risk. (Read more about that here)
One thing we lamented upon is even though we all know the current disdain for the word “safety” is considerable, the realisation and understanding that there must be a better way is only building very slowly in workplaces.
However, we are convinced that is about to change.
In my job I regularly visit a whole range of workplaces and audit their systems and processes. I tick off on their impressive LTIFR graphs, their comprehensive systems, their safety plans, their compliance audits, their manuals, their contractor controls, their lengthy inductions, their checklists, their training matrix, their QA, their PPE, their SOP’s and their SWMS. I don’t ask much about culture, yet! Everybody extols the virtues of their company’s commitment and their personal commitment to safety, zero and compliance. Not that there is anything wrong with that, in theory. That is what they are judged upon and that is what I am paid to want to hear. To their credit, they do a terrific and admirable job working with what they have and their hearts and minds are in the right place. I am not anti systems and rules, they are the necessary foundation but that is where most are just marking time or going around in ever growing circles. The reality is that we will never reach full maturity in safety and risk unless we engage in more social, psychological and humanizing approaches. Rob Long puts it better than I ever could in his article: Who Said We Don’t Need Systems?
Back to why I think we are approaching the tipping point (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipping_point_(sociology) – point in time when a group—or a large number of group members—rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice)…….. One of the things I love to do, after my real work is done, is to put down my clipboard, assure my contact that things are now off the record and have a meaningful, agenda free and bias free conversation about real risk and safety. At that point the discussion always takes a wild, wheel spinning U-turn. The truth, it seems, is that everybody is completely disillusioned and totally frustrated by safety at the moment. They have had enough of paperwork flooding, of compliance and punishment, of dumb down systems, of silly slogans, of pointless telling and data dumping inductions, of endless checklists, of hiding and distorting incidents, of meaningless statistics, of snake oil, of generic SWMS, of subjective risk assessments, of double speak and of hidden agendas.
There is enough cognitive dissonance out there to make me firmly believe that we are very close to the tipping point, the workplace simply cannot and will not take it any more.
All it will take is a few more straws on the camels back or a few influential people or true leaders to realize that there is a better way and I think we will have quite the safety and risk revolution on our hands! My fear is that, true to form, safety will defend and react with more simplistic solutions to what really is a wicked problem.
I would definitely love to hear your thoughts on this one!