Resilience: Is it missing in safety?
Resilience is to adapt to change
Often resilience is seen as something ‘we’ as individuals need to master from a personal angle.
We have to be resilient when times get tough and have the skills to pick ourselves up from the ground when we fall over. If we are going through some hard times at home or work and relationships are on a tender hook, it’s all about overcoming the problems in a positive way.
I could go as far as saying we often see resilience as the ability to properly adapt to stress and adversity from a psychological perspective. I think we can give resilience a broader perspective. One that relates to safety and the way we do things in an organisation.
Just moments ago I received an email from a HR group who were promoting ‘resilience through change’. Once again though, it’s focused on organisational change and the ability to cope with uncertainty – in particular with the on-going of lay-off’s and the changing business environment.
Maybe we can also use resilience in the day to day workings of managing risk. Does that seem too out of the ordinary?
Resilience in the face of making a workplace safe
This week I watched a video by Sidney Dekker. It talked about why things go wrong. Watching it confirmed what many people in the safety movement ‘safety differently’ talk about. It’s about thinking about safety differently.
I don’t need to tell you there are loads of things that go wrong in the workplace that lead to incidents. Often we think about them as failures relating to work practices, procedures, the environment and the internal workings of the business’ we work in.
Over the years we’ve shifted our focus from believing it’s the injured persons fault something went wrong. We are now focused on safety systems. We have been ‘trained’ to believe that we should look for the holes in our system and fix them before they get us into trouble.
Is there anything wrong with this?
Well, yes and no.
Sure, the safety management systems we have in our workplace can help us to put in place standard processes we need to follow for different circumstances. However, I’m not too sure if they always help. In fact, I’d be brazen enough to say they probably hinder our efforts to manage risk.
If there’s an accident in the workplace we focus on the areas where the system failed us. There are still some circumstances where the injured person is blamed. When someone is hurt or an incident occurs when I talk to leaders in business about what goes wrong, we look into the systems. We look at the area that failed us.
We then put a bandaid on the system.
We add another procedure. Perhaps we add more detail into an existing process we need to follow. Maybe we put a safety cap on top of our safety helmet.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I think it is.
We have overcomplicated our safety systems and are now setting our employees up to fail. The focus is on enforcing the new procedures and making sure people are following them.
And then we have another incident.
So the process continues…. we add more bandaids onto the previous bandaids, with the hope the blood won’t run from underneath.
If we aren’t too careful, we’ll have rotting bandaids underneath we’ll need to rip off and have to start again. This happens. I see it all the time. When I make my rounds doing audits and speaking to leaders, I see systems that have been so overcomplicated the business needs to start again. Their system has rotted and they have to rip off the bandaid and start the process again.
So, what is the other option?
I’d like to propose we aren’t providing our people with the ability to be resilient. This means the ability to change.
We must provide our workers with the authority and ability to change
It’s about empowering our people to see themselves as the solution rather than the problem.
I don’t believe things go wrong because they go wrong. I believe things go wrong because they go right. – Sydney Dekker
So how do we make our people resilient so it makes our workplaces safer?
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