Stop Talking About Safety

Stop Talking About Safety

Construction Suffering From Noise Pollution On Building SiteRob Long wrote an article last year (The Sound of Safety), where he said:

I think sometimes the word ‘safety’ get’s so abused and overstated that it becomes the ‘killjoy’ word. Unless of course you are a ‘zero harm advisor’ and you have totally killed off the word, rendering it useless. Unfortunately, the word ‘safety’ gets used all the time to justify organizational and political compliance when it has nothing to do with safety. People just throw the ‘safety’ tag into the mix and somehow the sheep will be compliant. How about going on a conversation walk sometime, to learn how people manage their work and risk and try not to use the word ‘safety’. See if you can do it.

The idea of not talking about safety appealed to me and, although challenging, avoiding talking about safety really does do positive things to people. I cheekily added this juicy provocation to a LinkedIn forum which was asking for things we could do to improve safety culture. I guess it kinda stood out from the other traditional, boring suggestions and this is the response I got:

This article and even the dim-witted banter of some of the comments was really tough to get down, and make sure it stayed there. I’m quite certain it’s why I along with my peers have made a career and been successful in creating the right environment and keeping people out of harms way. If the culture in your organization is as this article suggests, your doing it wrong. Looking for blame is about as effective as winning the lotto. In a positive environment, with an engaged safety culture, the program runs itself and doesn’t hinge on “that guy”. It’s not my job to keep you safe, I am the encyclopaedia Britannica that you tap when resources are needed. I can’t imagine not starting my day off with a safety discussion (tail gate) appropriate to the tasks were heading off into dangerous areas to perform in. Not talking about safety for a week is absurd, peer to peer conversation has its place but so does the useable elements of any program rooted in education, daily briefs, job hazard analysis and good controls to mitigate risk and potential injuries. I wrap all my program in a nice neat package on a smart phone or tablet (completely paperless) (government and commercial folks love it) to complement and support the technical side.

A positive safety program and facilitator is a support function, they don’t really manage anything in the right context. I’ve seen my peers that act drunk with power and don’t achieve anything except making sure that EMR rating stays higher than it needs to be. Throwing a program by the wayside is wreck-less and irresponsible, it’s poppycock to even suggest it. The ear marks of a successfully implemented program? Employees that manage each other and the program, without me, that’s the validation I get and have the metrics to prove it. Searching for a pariah to climb on the cross is idiotic and as the article points out achieves nothing, instead I use them as opportunities to revise hazard analysis to figure out what we missed, conduct lessons learned because we are indeed fallible. Taking a whimsical Woodstock approach to safety is bad advice even in an article aimed apparently to spin up passions. As far as a great discussion, it definitely caught my eye, but we should be using the forum to supply solutions to struggling safety professionals, especially programs that are working, with that said, anyone needing content both relevant training materials and or process is welcome to reach out, I’m happy to help…

So apart from sounding like something out of the memoirs of Barry Spud, this guy is a Safety Encyclopaedia who can’t imagine starting his day without a safety discussion and can fit his safety program nice and neatly into an ipad! Apart from being a walking contradiction, he sounds like the sort of person that he is saying he despises? Imagine how he might respond to questions and suggestions in the workplace!

My faith in the profession was restored by this comment in response to Rob Sams article, How to communicate about safety – The art of humble enquiry :

Another opportunity is to involve techniques of appreciative inquiry – move from “What could go wrong” to “what might happen to make your day the most productive that it could be?” “What would make your heart sing?”, “What would happen for everything to go right, and even go beyond expectation?, and “What might success taste /feel/smell/look/sound like?”…. This, too, is a very humble approach and a move toward innovation with integration of safety, leadership, health, engagement, and superior work design.

So, do we talk about safety too much? What are alternative ways of communication about risk which wont make people cringe and roll their eyes?

2 Replies to “Stop Talking About Safety”

  1. There should be evidence of commitment and compliance to maintaining records and implementing Safety Management Tools at work to support the policy of zero incident of an organisation. Noel Kaminiel

  2. Noel, the ideology, language and discourse of zero suppresses reporting and creates fear of injury, bullying and a fixation on numbers as a measure of safety.

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