No Gurus, No Stars, No Heroes Needed in Safety
The discourse of gurus and heroes in the safety industry draws attention away from everyday realities (https://safetyrisk.net/everyday-safety/) of tackling risk. The endless quest for silver bullets and ‘safety programs’ is a distraction from the basic foundations of what safety should be about – the care and help one can offer to others to empower them to tackle the way they embrace risk.
Plain old everyday safety of walking the job, asking open questions, listening not controlling others, resisting ‘telling’ and helping others own their own safety, this should be the foundation for the industry. The distractions of measurement, engineering, injury rates, reporting, forms, paperwork and more paperwork all serve to distract people from the basics. This is often why safety people do not do the basics well. There is a real sense of awesomeness in the basics.
Similarly, the language of gurus, stars, heroes, ‘sexy’ and ‘nerds’ simply alienates people from the basics of effective conversations and skilled listening. Why does Safety feel it needs to attend to all this stuff? Why does Safety need to make itself extra-ordinary when it is not? The last person anyone will relate to is someone who thinks their work is about being a hero! (https://safetyrisk.net/i-have-the-power-im-a-safety-hero/).
Workers relate best to people who are just like them, ordinary everyday, vulnerable fallible people. Workers don’t read books written by gurus, they learn their skills on the job and certainly don’t respond to some hero coming in and telling them how to do their job. Similarly, workers have no interest in zero campaigns because they know it is BS. People on the frontline know that zero is propaganda from on top and they don’t like it (https://safetyrisk.net/take-the-zero-survey/ ). Workers think excessive paperwork is just more safety BS (https://vimeo.com/162034157 ) to slow them down and somehow protect the boss (which it doesn’t). My son who is construction has to sit through safety inductions for each new job always reports just how boring a waste of time they are and a total turn off to safety.
I would like a dollar for every phone call I have had like the one yesterday. The phone call came in from a total stranger who was the Manager of HR in a large organization. They have been doing safety for some time in compliance mode for a long time and have comprehensive systems. However, they know something is missing and compliance to systems and papersafety (https://www.booktopia.com.au/paper-safe-gregory-w-smith/book/9780987630001.html ) DOES NOT work. Often a focus on safety systems and compliance to paperwork creates the opposite of what is needed culturally. Workers are most interested in what works (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/it-works-a-new-approach-to-risk-and-safety/) not some wizzbang marketing propaganda exercise of jumping through hoops to the tune of jingle bells.
This HR manager on the other end of the phone wanted help to create a culture that knew how to tackle risk in reality not in a spreadsheet. They wanted to connect with the skills of leadership, conversation, care, listening and helping and wanted guidance in how to do so. These are the things Safety rarely speaks about. So much noise about zero, TRIFR, LTIs, measurement and injury rates but not a clue about the basics.
There is no magic in the basics that is the focus of the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) (https://safetyrisk.net/what-does-spor-do/ ). There is no magic in putting a focus on helping, care and listening but it is not something that comes naturally to an industry that has been taught for the past 50 years that safety is about TELLING. There is nothing helpful in the WHS curriculum or the AIHS BoK that comes close to a focus on the basics of safety. Simply amazing!
When we focus on everyday safety rather than the mystics of zero (https://safetyrisk.net/the-spirit-of-zero/) we get drawn into the nature of fallible people in fallible systems working with risk the best they can. This is the primary task for any safety advisor.
And it is in the basics that we really find out what is awesome. The awesome is not found in gurus, stars or heroes but in the delight of the job going well and enjoying the success of making sense of risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/risk-makes-sense/). If you have to be a guru or hero to experience the awesome, then I’m not interested. How awesome to watch others take ownership of risk without needing to be told and knowing that really being professional is about helping. How awesome to know the fulfilling sense of being a skilled helper (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337084700_Egan%27s_Skilled_Helper_Model).
When we know about everyday safety leadership (https://safetyrisk.net/everyday-simple-safety-leadership/) and don’t fall for the con (https://safetyrisk.net/setting-up-a-safety-con/) safety can be awesome.