SAFETY – What is the definition of safety? What does Safety mean to you?
See also: Understanding Safety as an Archetype
WHAT IS FUNNY ABOUT SAFETY? Read more here
Safety is a temporary outcome of doing many, many transdisciplinary things well and is not a an explicit process or things that we do.
SAFETY = A temporary moment when physical harm is low?
You might also like: WHAT IS A SAFETY RESET? and Risk vs Hazard vs Safety
Download the S.A.F.E.T.Y. “What is Safety” Backronym Poster here: Safety Backronym Poster
See also: What ISN’T Safety
What Really Is Safety?
Greg Smith and Nippin Anand recently did a podcast where Nippin asked Greg about how far the industry has onboarded his wisdom about paper safety. The discussion ended in a very interesting place where we both felt the need to articulate a very basic question – what is safety? It sounds like a simple question but there are so many dimensions to the idea of safety that we never come to a shared understanding and so I’m afraid we don’t have an answer but we do have some questions for you to reflect upon. I hope you will enjoy listening and watching this podcast as much as Greg and Nippin enjoyed creating it for you.
A post on Linkedin by Gareth Lock:
What is safety? I had 100 words. I used all of them!
What is safety to you? It will be interesting to compare perspectives from my post and others on the MSc who have the same question to answer.
Safety is a social construct: it involves a shared perception and acceptance of risk and reward. Human agents within an environment create a complex system that has emergent outcomes. Safety is one of those emergent properties, as are accidents. The definition of success and failure is in the eye of both the beholder and the beholden. Safety cannot be forced, in terms of compliance, but structures can help influence the socio-technical conditions that enable cognitive capacity at the individual level and resilient activity at the system level. Safety is dynamic, context-shaped, and paradoxically, it leads to both events and non-events.
One of teh responses:
“Safety” is a transient, illusory, and subjective human emotionally attributive evaluation of past performance. It does not ensure survival.
The late Alan Quilley wrote, in an article on his blog: What is YOUR definition of SAFE?. He says:
Many of us, myself included, use the word SAFE (and unsafe) in our writings and discussions. If you work in the Safety Management field, it is likely even in your job title.
What I find amusing and sometimes disturbing is that when challenged about their definition of the word “SAFE” people in the Safety Profession often stumble and stutter when it comes to providing THEIR definition.
Alan’s article prompted me to resurrect this article which did generate some interesting discussion a while back……..
Someone asked me the other day: “What is Safety”? A really good question…….They say it is critical for most people in deciding where they go, what they buy and what they do, consciously or unconsciously. Until a couple of years ago I never really thought much about it, I thought I was just doing it. Is it just “it is what it is”? If you can this question quickly and succinctly then I guess you really haven’t thought much about it either! It is bound to be a different thing for different people – Its a bit like asking “what is Love”?
If you are a Safety Manager then what are you managing if it cant be properly measured, understood or defined? Are you managing things (hazards), statistics, systems, compliance, behaviours, feelings, failures, thoughts or perceptions? Is that Safety? If you are a Zero Harm Manager – do you manage nothing?
This article by Dr Rob Long provides some good insight: Safety should not be about Safety, Rob says:
I often get called into organisations under some concern about safety, many see my work as something about ‘behaviours’ but that is not what I am on about. Some think my writing is about safety but its not, and some want me to give ‘fixit’ type stories and illustrations on how to improve safety at work, but I don’t. Can I just say this, if your world is just about safety, then your world is too small.
When I come in to organisations I often start with a range of consultations, ‘walk-arounds’, observations and preliminary training, then deliver some services or maybe a program and it doesn’t take long before someone will come up to me and say: ‘Rob, this is not just about safety is it?’ and when that happens I know we are starting to get somewhere.
Safety shouldn’t be about safety, it should be about living and learning. When safety is made into some bureaucratic, legal or club exercise, it has lost the plot. This is why I prefer to talk much more about risk than I do about safety. The moment you tell someone you are into safety they think you are either the fun police or some legal nerd who loves checklists. If safety is some engineering exercise of shifting objects to keep some system clean, then I think we have lost the plot. If safety is about trying to memorize sections of the Act so that we can dominate and rule others, then we have lost the plot. If safety is a power trip so that we can bully others to ‘keep them safe for their own good’, then we have lost the plot. Safety should be about none of these things. When we put learning first, people first, relationships first, respect first and living first, then we might get to the heart of safety.
Helen Keller once said something like:
“Safety is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
Someone once said to me:
“Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.”
- Is safety something you do or part of what you do – drive safely, what does that mean?
- Is Safe something that you be – I promise to be safe – that will sound good but what does it really mean?
- Is safety something you take – Take safety precautions, take safety seriously?
- Is safety something you ensure – Ensure the health and safety of others, how do you do that, how can you guarantee it?
- Is Safety a place you go to – The children were taken to safety, is it really safe?
- Is Safety a more short-term or external physical thing as opposed to Health?
- Is Safety a real thing or do you just feel it – It looks safe, or does it feel safe?
- Is Safety something you think or actually are – I’m worried about my safety but am I really safe here?
- Is Safety something that just exists when you aren’t in danger – The workplace is safe because it is hazard free?
- Are Safety and Danger things that are mutually exclusive or is protection from danger called risk management – I have protection so it will be safe?
- Is it something that is always 100% guaranteed as some Zero Harm proponents would believe?
- What about when something is called “the safest” or “the safest way” – is that a perception, has worked before or based on fact and data or just luck?
- Is Safety First, the No1 Priority or should it be just part of everything we do? The hourly workers know the truth about that!
- Is Zero Harm the new or better term for Safety? I hope not!
Let’s look at the definitions of Safety, official or otherwise:
Definition of safety: noun (plural safeties)
1 [mass noun] the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury: they should leave for their own safety, the survivors were airlifted to safety
2 [as modifier] denoting something designed to prevent injury or damage: a safety barrier a safety helmet
3 [count noun] North American short for safety catch.
Of course any word so popular and powerful is going to be abused and Rob Long explains in his recent article “Safety Justifies Anything and Everything” He says:
Isn’t it strange how the quest for safety is used to justify all range of unethical practice. As long as we put the intention and words of safety in front of some practice or some idea, we are somehow allowed to bully, intimidate, manipulate, overpower and say anything offensive, as long as we speak the sacred unchallenged words of safety.
Therefore Safety Is
As Gab Carlton wrote in Safety Solutions Wont Move a Hippo:
We need to understand that risk and safety is a wicked problem. In other words it’s complex and one that cannot be ‘fixed’ by simple, silver bullet solutions. Risk and safety is complex because we are dealing with humans. Humans, by design, are very complex and are averse to being told what to do. We are not motivated by this. We are not motivated by bullies who just want us to comply, like the lion. We are not motivated by pushing or shoving or bouncing for that matter. If we want to understand how people are motivated firstly we need to understand the psychology of goals, we need to understand human beings.
• Safety as a concept resists and attempt at a simple definition and is in turn inherently complex;
• There is a need to focus on the role of people within the workplace and their inherent resilience, bias, rationalities, flexibility and fallibility; and
• We must look way beyond systems and compliance.
• Safety can be seen as something that comes out of the organisation that allows it to achieve its objectives (even in a high risk environment). In this way, safety is not something that is done to the organisation, but comes out of it.
So what is your definition of Safe or Safety? (please read some of the articles linked to in this post before you answer as they may change your thinking)
Below is an extract from an interesting article by Jenny Krasny
Curious now, I set out to ask some of my colleagues the question of ‘safety’ – what it means to them…and here are some of their answers:
1. “To be free from risk of physical harm” – a site supervisor,
2. “Something that protects you – a barrier – from harm” – a tradesman,
3. “A sense that nothing (or no one) will intentionally hurt me” – a customer service consultant,
4. “Somewhere I can go to let down my guard” – a senior manager,
5. “It’s about people – looking after each other, keeping an eye out for my mates” – an underground mine worker.
Even with my small sample, ‘safety’ was reported to be a feeling, a physical object or place, and an action. For some other people, ‘safety’ referred to something personal, individuals and intimate – a felt experience -, while for others, the word extended to include the environment – animate or inanimate – in which people lived or worked. If a handful of ‘safety’ definitions can exist right under my nose, I am fascinated to discover how else ‘safety’ is conceptualised, perceived and experienced. It certainly has me wondering about the implications that this has on ‘safety initiatives’ that are taking place in organisations around the globe. Is there a shared understanding of what the concept means and how it is played out across various levels in a business? Is this concept reinforced or sabotaged by the systems, structures and procedures that are in place?
As I don my researcher’s hat, I’m keen to understand the depth and breadth of what ‘safety’ means for people, and invite you to leave a comment as to what the word means to you.
Understanding that each thinks of safety differently becomes vitally important when we try to create a culture of safety excellence. It demonstrates the importance of involving every person in the organisation – from the ground up – in the conversation. We need to shift our mindsets from only accepting top-down safety communication to supporting bottom-up ownership of it. Let’s combine these different employee perceptions of safety and in supporting each of them, we will be another big step closer to safety excellence.
So, the purpose of safety is not to correct and control hazards or humans who want to self-harm, it is to be helpers, carers and facilitators for others as they tackle risk in their view of the world. At the moment, there is nothing in the curriculum, Body of Knowledge or safety industry to help safety people undertake this purpose.
Safety is about…
Why the way we talk about safety in an organisation matters.
Does getting home at the end of the work day mean that we were safe that day?
Here’s my 7 ½ minutes on why the way we talk about safety at work matters so much.
We asked ChatGPT:
Safety is the state of being free from harm or danger. It refers to the condition of being protected from hazards, risks, or threats that can cause injury, illness, or damage to property or the environment.
Safety can be achieved through various measures, including:
- Risk assessment: Identifying potential hazards and assessing their likelihood and severity.
- Hazard prevention and control: Taking steps to eliminate or minimize hazards, such as using protective equipment, implementing safety protocols, or providing training.
- Emergency preparedness: Preparing for potential emergencies, such as developing evacuation plans, providing first aid kits, or conducting drills.
- Monitoring and evaluation: Regularly assessing safety measures to ensure that they are effective and addressing any areas that need improvement.
Safety is important in various contexts, including workplaces, homes, schools, and public spaces. Ensuring safety requires the cooperation and participation of individuals, organizations, and governments, as well as ongoing efforts to identify and mitigate risks and hazards.
Why Safety Is Important to Me
Been lots of heated discussions and chest beating and on this site and Safety Forums lately which is really healthy but I thought that, just for a moment, we should all step back, take a deep breath, let the dust settle and take a moment to reconsider what safety is really all about. One of our counterparts – Sarah-Jane, The Safety Nerd, from Riskology Consulting sent me this video yesterday. It is so simple and raw yet sends a very powerful message. Please take a moment to watch and enjoy this short video and share it with anyone who you think may need a good dose of compassion and empathy.
What is safety according to Safeopedia?
This is a really simplistic and traditional definition of safety and quite unhelpful:
What Does Safety Mean?
Safety is a concept that includes all measures and practices taken to preserve the life, health, and bodily integrity of individuals.
In the workplace, safety is measured through a series of metrics that track the rate of near misses, injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. In order to improve these metrics, employers and safety officials must also conduct investigations following any incident to ensure that all safety protocols and measures are being followed or to implement new ones if needed.
Safeopedia Explains Safety
Ensuring the safety of workers is both necessary and beneficial for any organization. Regulatory bodies such as OSHA and the NFPA mandate a variety of safety measures employers must take and have the authority to impose fines if their investigations reveal a violation of these standards.
Safety is also beneficial for all organizations since, in addition to avoiding costly fines, it ensures increased productivity, better morale, and fewer lost work days.