The Safety Fool’s Errand

Not often these days you read gem on Linkedin. But I found one this morning by Bob Cummins (but blame me for the silly title above):

To most people, most often, procedures, policies, life saving rules, courses, briefings, posters, signs, instructions, dictates, stand-downs, disciplinaries, performance reviews, etc. are just noise.

A noise that is tolerated and ignored, given importance to only when we are forced to either listen to or adhere. Or in the aftermath of an incident.

The noise is not ignored out of badness, but simply because it is of little use to the day to day happenings in life.

This noise does not drive behaviour and most know this to be true, you just need to look at the proportionate time a person spends consulting such reference material compared to actually working to know that something else is at play.

Yet we perpetuate the myth. We direct focus to the importance of gaining signatures of those who have been forced to receive the message once more. We hide behind the story written by the practitioner but rarely checked on for its accuracy in real life.

Leaders hide behind a record of instruction, believing that they have done their bit in at least the transmission of the virtual message.

We all congratulate ourselves on the badges of compliance to the noise believing it to have made us safer.

All the while waiting for the next explosion which we know too well is coming.

5 Replies to “The Safety Fool’s Errand”

  1. So spot on. The reality is that most workers use their implicit knowledge to tackle risk on site and whatever is done on paper or in offices is simply noise. here we are driven by this excess of paperwork and noone is doing much about it. Then if they get to court will find out that most of it will be used against you.

    One of the constructive things I do in organisations is get rid of 50% of what they are doing because its is not only unhelpful, its actually not required by the Regulation or the Act. Then we often help organisations improve their in situ interactions without paperwork and they get astounded at how simple and effective it can be.
    I am currently working with three International organisations that are doing this with excellent results.

  2. It does drive behaviour though. That’s the trade-off. That’s why it’s more than just ignored paperwork. It’s presence increases risk (rather than the implication that it does nothing to risk).

  3. If Safety had even the slightest interest in the unconscious and implicit knowledge it could do amazing things. Keeps me busy and I save my clients millions.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below