Safety Reflections by guest writer, Brian Darlington
I had decided to take a walk on Saturday through Vienna with the focus on semiotics and how the signs and symbols reflected the culture that we experience in the city. However, my mind wondered off this objective as I took a right turn and walked for a couple of hours through the natural forests, alone enjoying the fresh air, nature and the birds that have arrived after winter and the start of spring. Walking along paths, between the trees and along the banks of streams my mind wondered back to safety and how we do things.
Over the past couple of years, studying with Rob Long and in discussions with a friend of mine (Mike Kruger) my “mind’s eye” has moved from focusing on orthodox style of safety to elements of social psychology of risk. A new way of thinking has opened up for me and I just wished it had happened a lot earlier in my career.
Anyway, as I walked, I looked at objects and related them to how people in the safety field should realise that that a lot of what we have been doing for many years is not going to be suitable and effective going forward. Obviously some use of metaphors.
For example I noticed a number of large trees that had broken, some fallen to the ground, others leaning against adjacent tress and some almost snapped in half which were being supported by their own branches leaning on the ground. These damaged trees brought my thoughts back the term “Zero Harm” and made me think of the Coronavirus that is taking its toll around the world. Not only on the people becoming physically ill but also on many of those that will suffer mental illness due to stress, loneliness and financial concerns to name a few.
What did however strike me was the thought of how would any hospital be able to promote the thought that Zero Harm and all injuries are preventable is possible and at the same time expect their medical doctors, nursing staff, paramedics and others to conduct their work in healing people and saving lives.
People following a career in the safety field need to step back and take some time in self-reflection. Reflecting on the focus and efforts currently in place in many companies across the globe related to the safety and health of their employees, contractors and communities, in some instances. Reflecting whether the focus and efforts are on the rights things and whether these are truly adding value.
The approach to safety needs to change in the messages that are created, and the way things are over controlled at times as well as the way that companies deal with people in terms of their safety, both employees and contractors.
The old methods of telling, continuously adding systems and paperwork will not get companies to the desired level in providing safe and healthy workplaces, as well as promoting open and honest discussions related to safety and health at work.
Surely, safety has come to the fork in the path, and decision of which route to follow need to be taken. Decisions whether to continue with the old orthodox approach to safety and health management or whether a new approach is taken that finds a balance and makes a difference. An approach where the social psychology elements of risk are introduced. An approach where the mindset of individuals and the dynamics of the group as well as the impacts the group and the environment has on safety and the way people react.
I believe as that those employed in the safety field as well as leaders in all industries have to break the mould and do things differently if we wish to see the efforts and focus make a positive contribution.
It is clear and I have no doubt his is not easy and that there will be many obstacles along the way, both big and small. These challenges will include changing and creating the mind-set amongst ourselves as safety leaders as well as in general management.
However, these obstacles can be overcome by ensuring understanding of social psychology of risk and through continuous engagement with stakeholders.
It is not about companies having to replace everything that they have implemented but rather finding a balance between issues related to controls and the two other important elements as mentioned above, mind-set and group dynamics. Two aspects that are often give no consideration.
On leaving the tranquillity of the forests and walking back to my apartment, I did see something related to semiotics. This was a mandala painted on the walkway next to a water channel feeding off the Danube River and running through the city. It reminded me that there are opposing forces in everything that we do, in our beliefs and in our focus and efforts. We just need to understand these forces and learn to manage them to obtain the best possible outcome. In this case the best possible outcome in proving a safe and health working environment for all.