The Impact of Curiosity vs. Compliance in Safety

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The Impact of Curiosity vs. Compliance in Safety

Insightful article by Jenny Krasny first published here but deserves a more discerning audience than the LinkedIn circle

This post discusses the idea of progress in safety vs. a process of dehumanisation and, the changes we have seen over time. You’re welcome to skip ahead to the webinar on the topic – hosted by Shaun Davis from the Royal Mail and I. Click Here.

Sitting quietly, I couldn’t help but overhear the lively conversation on the table beside me. A group of men at the table were reflecting on how things had changed – for the better and worse – since they had started with the company.

“Remember the days when Friday would come around, the boss would lay on the beers and the BBQ and we’d all have some good laughs before heading home for the weekend?” said one guy. Another older chap said, “…and sometimes we carried on for the whole weekend. We’d go fishing together, have a hit of cricket and a kick around of the footy”. Another chimed in “You know, they seemed to care more about their workers back then. I remember when the wife of the boss would even bring in a cake she’d made for our birthdays”. “Everyone knew everyone’s name and business, but it was good. You felt like you belonged, like you were part of a family”, responded another. “I liked coming to work once upon a time”, one of them reflected.

“Wow”, said another guy who appeared many years younger than his table-mates, “I couldn’t imagine hanging out with you blokes. No offence, but when I knock off from work, I just want to get away from here and not be reminded of it until I come back on Monday”.

“These days,” said the first guy who had spoken, “I’m the same. I can’t wait for the week to end, to get the boss off my back and hang my boots up… and then come Sunday night, and I’m not too happy about coming back to this place”. “It’s sad though, work was hard but fun back then. The bosses were tough, but fair.” “And there was none of this paperwork we have to get through today”, reminisced another.

“Oh, don’t get me started on paperwork mate”, said one of the men who had been silent until now. “I seem to be an admin person today. I spend more time in the office on the computer than with the boys. There are days when I sometimes don’t see the boys for the whole day.”

“It’s ever since safety came along I reckon”, offered another. “Safety really brought with it the ‘fun police’. I wish I never put my hand up for the leading hand role. I’d jump at the first chance to get back in the shop, with the boys and on the tools…”

“Those were the days…”, mused the old gentleman who had been sitting quietly beside me as we had apparently both been eavesdropping on the animated conversation on the next table.

We then spent some time talking about the conversation we had both heard, with him agreeing with the sentiment of the table beside us.

“We’ve come a long way from the days of walking around with shorts and bare chests. Today, it’s all hi-vis, long sleeves and steel capped boots. Where we could just scale the silos and hang onto the sides of them to clean them, we now have guarding, harnesses and special equipment. I’d often have a stick of dynamite in my pocket when I went into the pit. If one of the crushers had a rock stuck in it, I would just light up the dynamite and drop it in to break up the rock”, he said. “We did some wild things back then…”

“It’s not all bad. The guarding, the harnesses, policies and the PPE have helped save arms, legs and lives. But the paperwork that’s come with it all, does nothing for us, but cause us grief. It doesn’t seem to change the numbers. The same number of accidents are still happening that happened back then. We do these observations, write up hazard assessments, put in ideas for making things better… but it all seems to make little difference”, he exclaimed.

“If this paperwork stuff is supposed to help us and keep us safe, it’s actually hurting us. There is fear out there for those who get hurt – no one wants to report it because of the paperwork and interrogation that it will trigger. We all madly fill in our monthly quota of observations and throw them into the box by end of month to avoid getting written up. We just write the same stuff each month. Sometimes we write something silly to get a rise from the boss. Either way, no one really says anything”, he continued.

This gentleman’s comments got me thinking…

If all the things we ask people to do ‘in the name of safety’ are supposed to be life preserving  – even life-extending – then why then do people often comment about how safety is tedious, time consuming, soul-destroying, depersonalised and non-caring.

Can something designed to help us be actually hurting us?

This conversation sparked my investigation into the idea of humanising safety.

The idea that in safety we often use methods of control to limit risk and provide protection but, this limits employees ownership of the situations they are faced with. In ‘controlling’, safety professionals aren’t engendering a culture of safety that can evolve with business or situational needs, but rather one which hampers change.

So, how do you humanise safety? You embrace employees as partners for safety innovation and engagement, you adapt your communication style and you consider the ways in which you measure safety performance to encourage trust, ownership and innovation in your safety practices.

Dr Shaun Davis from the Royal Mail and I discuss the specifics on humanising safety and building a sustainable people-centered culture, in a webinar. You can register to view the webinar here if you would like to know more.

What do you think – are many of the ingrained safety practices hurting progress?

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below