The Banned Objects Index – A New Development in Safety Culture
See also: Measuring Does Things To People
Have you heard of the ‘Banned Objects Index’ (BOI)? It is the latest ‘measure’ that you can use to compare your organisations safety culture against another. The ‘BOI’ is easy to calculate, it’s simply the number of banned objects (for safety reasons) per full time equivalent employees. The higher the number, the better the safety culture. Sounds pretty simple right?
Could ‘BOI’ be the elusive ‘Positive Performance Indicator’ we have all been searching for?
Word in the industry is that Government are considering a national ‘BOI’ target and an associated strategy for achieving it. The country’s leading safety body, the Stupid Incident Again (SIA) are reportedly forming a Committee to review the concept, with one insider leaking that the BOI is just what the industry has been searching for. Some suggest that it could even replace Zero Harm as our key aspirational safety target as it’s so much better to have a positive number as a goal.
It also means that the risk and safety industry would have access to a great new range of charts and diagrams where finally safety numbers can go up instead of down. Business is more likely to take our message seriously when we finally have a positive performance indicator that makes sense. Onwards an upwards in safety…..
This all sounds pretty silly right? I mean why would any organisation think that the number of items banned from a site could be an indication of safety culture? In fact, why would an organisation think that they could in any way get a feel for culture through the use of any (apparent) objective measure? Did someone mention LTIFR?
I guess if your tools of choice in ‘enforcing’ safety are control, rule and fear, then a BOI might make perfect sense in measuring culture. If we adopt an approach to safety that is focused on controlling others then banning things in the name of safety is a perfect solution to dealing with the grey, messiness and ambiguity of risk. There is no grey in banning something, right?
Safety would become so much easier to enforce when we ban things. Safety culture would then improve, right?
I recently came across this article that refers to the banning of ‘energy drinks’ on construction sites. The key point made in the story is that people cannot be entrusted to make decisions about their own health and in order to ‘make them safe’, it is reported that some organisations in the construction industry in Australia are banning ‘energy drinks’. If you’re into the BOI, there’s your first tip!
Is this what health and safety has become? Is the focus of our industry now so consumed on ‘eliminating risk’ and controlling people that we move too quickly to banning things in the name of ‘safety culture’? What does banning an object result in? Does prohibition work? Do people really stop, or do they just find ways to ‘work around’? What is excess regulation doing to us all? Prohibition, banning and control have worked for alcohol and drugs, right? So many questions, but are we asking them?
Those of us who work in risk and safety can find it so easy, tempting and seductive to move to control in the name of ‘health and safety’. There are enormous pressures to do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure safety. We seem to be continually searching for answers to problems, to controls for risk and to solutions to complex situations. It seems we just can’t cope with ‘grey’, it’s just not in our nature. So turning to banning, to blaming and other forms of control becomes the norm.
I wonder if we even realise that this is what we are doing sometimes? Are our policies focused on control, or empowerment? Do we appreciate ‘truth’, ‘value’ and ‘control’ (autonomy support and motivation) in decision-making, or do we opt for the easier position of binary rules where things need to black/white, safe/unsafe or good/bad? When things could create danger, injury and harm do we move to ban them or is our focus on, understanding and supporting people to discern risk?
Why do we think it is our domain to control people and dictate how they go about living their lives? But of course we might ask, what could happen if we don’t? How could we live with ourselves if someone hurts themselves? Of course the real question is, why do we have to make this about us? Do we really care for ‘others’, or is our focus on self?
Then there is our talk of ‘safety culture’ which is oft so simply explained away as ‘what we do around here’ and measured through punitive instruments such as incident rates and audit scores. But is this really how we should consider culture? Do we adopt a far too simplistic view of what culture means? Could culture mean more than just a bunch of slogans and aphorisms? Could it be that safety culture is more complex than ‘safety is our first priority’? Do you use LTIFR as a measure for safety culture?
I wonder how many people in risk and safety are familiar with the Competing Values Framework? Developed by Cameron and Quinn, this evaluation of culture recognises that organisations have ‘competing values’ and that unless we seek to understand these, we are in danger of taking a one dimensional view of what culture means, such as ‘what we do around here’, or dangerously by considering measures like the BOI or LTIFR.
I wonder if it is time for our industry to start thinking critically and deeply about how we might ‘measure’ safety? Should we be considering more about how we measure safety? Why do we measure safety? What are the trade-offs and by-products of measuring? Do we have an understanding of the psychology of goals? When we measure something, what might it ‘do to people’? These are all critical questions we all ought be considering as we go about improving risk and safety in our organisations.
I suspect that most working in the risk and safety industry would consider the ‘BOI’ as rubbish and ridiculous. Sadly and equally though, there will be some who would jump at this, another measure that can be used to control and manipulate people in what they do. Further, and more sadly, those same people will probably think that an increased BOI is a suitable measure of safety culture. It is for those few that I feel for most.
‘Safety’ after all does like a good measure…
As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.
Author: Robert Sams
Phone: 0424 037 112
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