Phil La Duke's Blog

Fresh perspectives on safety and Performance Improvement

When is Safe Safe Enough?


By Phil La Duke

Four Burros in the Back of a Pick Up Truck

As is frequently the case, last week one of the editors of one of the premier safety public reached out to me (as well as a lot of other top safety professionals) to ask a question that he hoped would generate some discussion.  While his question was limited to the U.S., I think it is of universal interest. The question revolved around the general opinion that safety, as a discipline was no longer necessary, more succinctly put, has the world reached the conclusion that the world is safe enough? And if so what should the safety professional do about it?

Worldwide there is a growing attitude that we have achieved a point of acceptable and manageable risk of workplace injury. In other words, more and more people are beginning to see safety as anachronistic, out-dated, and excessive. With workers, employers, the public, the media, and lawmakers all seemingly having reached this conclusion, I am haunted by the deeper question, “are they right?”

There is a growing population that believes that safety, as a function, has outlived its usefulness.  After all, they argue, injuries are down and workplace fatalities have continued falling.  The low hanging fruit has been picked and the kind of improvements that remain will be too costly to ever return anything on the necessary investment.

How Safe is Safe Enough?

For decades now, the safety profession has been working without a goal.  We have preached the heretic gospel of “zero injuries” even though wiser men from other disciplines have told us such goals were counter productive.  We have embraced fad after fad, lie after lie, and goofball methodology after goofball methodology.  Hell, we can’t even agree on a standard definition of the word “safety”. We have been so remiss in establishing a vision of what exactly constitutes acceptable risk that the public, employers, and governments have finally decided for us.  Last year 141 people died in Michigan workplaces. This number doesn’t include those who died from illnesses after spending a career working in poisonous work environments.  There was a time when 141 dead would be an outrage, but now it’s barely considered a shame.  This is a war of public opinion and we lost it.  We’ve openly and ferociously embraced quackery that lead to gross under reporting.  We’ve trumpeted our accomplishments in lowering workers’ compensation fraud.  Basically we’ve spent the last three decades worrying more about convincing the world what a swell job we’ve done and now…well congratulations nobody needs us.

But Is It Fair?

Maybe the workplace has gotten safer but why?  About 25 years ago, I worked at an automotive assembly plant.  Injuries were frequent, but seldom recorded. A lot has changed, but that doesn’t mean that factories are now “safe” places to work. If we assume that injuries remained constant for the past 30 years how could we account for the data that shows otherwise? Fact don’t lie, right? Wrong.  First of all as awareness of the importance reporting injuries rise so too does the reporting.   For many years workers didn’t know that they were expected to report injuries, weren’t encouraged to do so, and may even have been ridiculed or disciplined for trying.  Then, as enforcement and awareness grew, more people reported injuries and the rate seemed to rise, even though the number of injuries may have stayed flat (or even fell).  Decades of questionable safety improvements (as well as many legitimate ones) brought the number of recordables down.

The data we have are statistics and it’s been said that statistics lie and liars use statistics.  In fact, 43% of all statistics are made up.  Again, let’s assume that the number of actual (not recordable) injuries has remained static over the last three decades what could account for a decrease in recorded injuries if actual injuries remain flat? Several variables can skew the data:

  • Increased awareness by corporate doctors and clinics on how treatment decisions can impact safety statistics (the difference in medication can make the difference between first aid cases and recordable injuries.  Simply teaching doctors and clinics how their decisions impact corporate safety performance metrics can account for a decrease in recordables without an appreciable difference in the frequency or severity of injuries.
  • Incentive programs that reward or encourage under-reporting of injuries.  Too many programs (and I have beaten this topic to death) punish people for being injured while rewarding the “blood in the pocket” syndrome where workers seek medical care outside the workplace to avoid spoiling the safety record. In this scenario the actual number and severity of injuries can remain static while under reporting improves the safety stats.
  • A move toward subcontracting of the more dangerous jobs.  Faced with a financial decision of removing a hazard or subcontracting the work to a smaller and less enticing a target of enforcement many companies pass the risk on to contractors.  Many smaller contractors are far less devout in their adherence to the law and safety policy.  In these cases, the client company appears to approve its safety record when it has done nothing to reduce injuries or risk.
  • Shipping the most dangerous jobs to third-world countries.  In the slobber of corporate greed that has typified the last several decades countless jobs have been exported to the third world.  The most common explanation is that these emerging economies have far cheaper labor markets; this is true.  But it is also true that these countries have little or no environmental or safety standards.  While it is accurate to state that many of these countries have more stringent environmental or safety standards than the U.S. but the agencies tasked with enforcement are either so lax or corrupt that they might as well not even exist. Improving workplace safety by exporting the most dangerous jobs to more accommodating environs is like improving public school performance by expelling all the stupid kids (or all the students who can’t earn a C+ or better grade if you prefer a more politically palatable analogy.)
  • Fear of Job Loss.  It may be counter-intuitive that injury rates fall in tough economies.  Many believe that, fearing job loss; most injured workers will fake an injury and collect Workers’ Compensation rather than unemployment.  Unfortunately, this opinion is not supported by the facts.  Many workers fear that an injury—even a minor one—will make a dismissal more likely AND make it more difficult to find another job. Again, we have a situation where injury rates appear to fall when they are actually remaining steady or even increasing.

To what extent have these factors muddied our view of safety? No one can say.  But let’s not kid ourselves about the veracity of the data that suggests that the workplaces in the U.S. are necessarily any safer.

Taking Credit Where None Is Due

Safety, as a profession, has been quick to claim responsibility for the utopian workplace in which we now find ourselves.  But there are plenty of things that have made the workplace safer that had little or nothing to do with the performance of the safety professional:

  • Process advances.  Let’s face it, everything from PPE to machine controls to Kaizen has had a profound impact on what improvements, to what extent have these advancements improved worker safety? No one can say for sure but many believe this contribution has been substantial and the evidence of this is the millions of dollars spent by industry on Lean, Six Sigma, ergonomic assists, and similar efforts.
  • Automation.  Walter Ruether once predicted that “automation will be the salvation of the working man” and, at least as far as safety is concerned, he may have been right.  Similar to technological advances automation has eliminated many of the most back breaking jobs once done manually.  When I worked in that assembly plant they still used lead to fill the seams in the bodies of automobiles (no I didn’t work in the lead filler booth so save your wise cracks), bumpers and fenders were man-handled into position, and seats were loaded by hand.  All of this work is now down by robots (or at very least using lift assists). It depends on how loosely one defines “safety professional” but much of this equipment was purchased to improve production speed and to eliminate labor not to protect the worker.  Was there an ancillary safety pay-off? sure, but that was just a serendipitous boon for most companies.

When Does Safety Go Too Far?

Years ago I was working with an aerospace manufacturer who was purchasing some equipment from one of the Big Three auto companies.  As the equipment was loaded into the truck fifteen people stood around ensuring that no one was harmed completing the task.  I was just finishing an engagement implementing an organizational change with the aerospace company and the scene made a profound impact on the management team. At one of our monthly safety strategy team

What can the EHS profession do to prevent being marginalized?

  1. Wake Up. Denial is a nice place to visit but you can’t live there.  I have been the obnoxious voice nagging safety to recognize that as a profession it has lost touch with reality. We convinced the world that we have won the war on workplace injuries and now we are terrified that the public wants to bring the troops back home.  After polio was cured, what happened to funding for polio research? What happened to the demand for polio researchers?  There is a reason that items are always the last place you look for them, because continuing to look means you’re an imbecile.
  2. Stop wasting time and money.  I’ve already written a body of work on how the EHS profession needs to look for ways to support and align with Operations strategy and to make a real contribution to the bottom line.  The reaction has been…well let’s just say I don’t get a lot of thank you notes from the Safety establishment.  Safety has to broaden its scope and probably will follow Quality into corporate extinction.  This isn’t a bad thing.  Safety professionals can make a far greater impact as part of a continuous improvement and productivity enhancement effort than it ever did telling workers to watch their steps and to be careful because their kids love them.  While a world without a safety professional may seem scary it should excite and reinvigorate those who have always yearned for greater respect and credibility in the organization.  Safety professionals who have long bemoaned their inability to effect real change take note; this will allow you to make a difference.
  3. Wait for the next Triangle Shirtwaist Fire to get the public riled up. Before we get ourselves all twisted and frothy about winning the war on injuries, let’s remember that a lot of what the public believes about workplace safety is a fragile, excremental, fable that will come crashing down after the next horrific workplace tragedy.  In a world of uncertainty, one absolute remains: corporate greed and the lust for profits will eventually turn the tide of public opinion.  The conditions are all in place for a truly abhorrent workplace slaughter and when it happens public opinion will swing 180 degrees.

Filed under: Safety, , , ,

Brother Can You Spare A Time?


By Phil La Duke

Image

Phil La Duke presenting in Lima Peru at the XIV Seminario Internacional De Segurida (sorry I don't have one from the Michigan Safety Conference and i like this picture)

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
    —Margaret Mead

This week I delivered to speeches at the Michigan Safety Conference to standing room only crowds at the DeVos Center in Grand Rapids, MI. This conference has been around for 80-some odd years and was founded by businessmen who decided that the number of injuries in Michigan workplaces had become unconscionable. (An interesting aside is that one of the founders was the father of the late U.S. President Gerry Ford.) For years, buoyed by the auto industry, furniture manufacturers, and other booming industry the Michigan Safety Conference thrived.  But the Great Recession has really hit the safety shows hard and that is an issue for all of us.

This isn’t going to be an impassioned plea to save our poor beleaguered professional conferences. In fact—at least the Michigan Safety Conference—professional conferences are thriving (well at least as much as any not-for-profit can be said to be thriving in today’s bruised and battered economy.) Nor will this be a condemnation of the out-of-touch and bloated international organizations that justly deserve to dry up and blow away (look for that in this week’s post on the Rockford Greene International blog www.rockfordgreeneinternational.wordpress.com).  Instead I thought I would devote this week’s post to the need for you (yes, YOU) to get more involved in this very important, if not essential, element of the safety profession: the professional organization.

As I said, my speeches were well attended (thanks to the many of you who stopped by and introduced yourself it was truly great meeting all of you), and better attended than most.  That, I believe, had more to do with my shameless self-promotion than the quality of my speeches, but that’s a discussion for another time.  Because my speeches were so well attended I had many conference organizers put the bite on me to become a board member, lead a professional group, or take on some other pivotal leadership role in the organization.  I turned them all down flat.  Not because I am lazy.  Not because I don’t have time. And certainly not because I don’t think these positions aren’t important.  No, I turned them down because I have seen too many organizations that were ruined because the leadership drifted away because the leadership was taken over by vendors.  While it’s true that Rockford Greene International drives the bulk of it’s income through my writing and speaking, about a third of the income still comes from “fixing broken companies” or, more correctly stated, helps companies move from good to great when it come to one or more of the SQDCME elements of business.  Does that sound like a commercial? Is it irritating? Is it something you would be happy if you had to pay to hear it? Well that’s what you get when vendors are running the organizations.

What Do We Need?

There is a lot of work that goes into making a professional organization successful and many hands make light work. A good professional organization teaches the novices the tricks of the trade, alerts the veterans of new and emerging issues, and informs everyone of changes in the laws or innovations that make our jobs easier.  For that these organizations need people who work in the field and struggle with the issues that are most important to their peers.  Why is it so important that people with field experience take on these roles:

  • Credibility.  A conference planned by cross section of safety professionals from across a variety of industries can defend the choices of topics, policies, speakers, location of conferences, etc. You know what is important to you and you know what you DON’T want in a professional organization.  Don’t turn that over to academics and vendors; you won’t like the result.
  • Knowledge. One of the most important roles of committee members is selecting the speakers and being able to vet the ones who are experts from those who are boring, unprofessional, or full of…well…let’s go with “hot air”.
  • Impartial Commitment To the Improvement Of the Profession.  Sure there are some vendors out there who are sincerely trying to push the profession to new and exciting areas. I would like to think I am one of those people.  But when you sell hammers the entire world looks like a nail and even the most altruistic vendor tends to succumb to a sales pitch if given the opportunity.   Even though I am basically selling expertise, I doubt I could remain fair and impartial when planning events that clearly promote things that I routinely denounce as excremental drillings of mouth breathing brutes.  Additionally, I am a safety journalist and my helping to plan events that I am ultimately responsible for covering as part of the safety press puts me in situations where I might face conflicts of interest.
  • Practical Experience.  Someone who works in the field understands what their peers will find valuable and what they will find wastrel (although I am beginning to wonder about this after the American Society of Safety Engineers sponsored a People to People Citizen’s Ambassador delegation that sent safety professionals (largely on their employer’s dimes) on the mother-of-all-boondoggles trip to Brazil in the worst part of the Great Recession. Don’t take my word for it check out the proud write up on its website http://societyupdate.asse.org/2011/12/asse-delegation-travels-to-brazil/ . ) And because you work in the field you can be a better judge of what will make sense to your constituency.
  • Expertise. Many of the people who come belong to these professional organizations do so because they are struggling with a professional issue.  Your expertise can help thousands by volunteering to lead your professional organization.
  • Leverage.  In the U.S. (and listen up Europe because this is a lesson you need to learn) the cost of attending professional conferences is kept to affordable levels in a large part because of the fees paid by vendors who exhibit at the expos that so frequently accompany the shows.  The cost for exhibiting is not inconsequential, but if gently prodded by a customer that represents a substantial amount of business, even the most reluctant vendor can be swayed.  Vendors, academics, and the press don’t have any leverage; you can do what the rest of us can’t.
  • Pull Within Your Organization.  Corporate sponsorship is another key to keeping the price of attendance down, and having an inside contact who can solicit this important patronage is invaluable and unique to someone who works in the field.  Sure, it’s true that vendors are also key sources of these sponsorships they are even more likely to continue to do so if asked by their customers rather than by an employee.

I’m not letting academics, vendors, and the press off the hook.  We still need to participate by making speeches, covering the events in magazines and blogs, and exhibiting, but we need to stay off the boards and committees.  I have seen more than one professional organization ruined because the vendors and academics took the wheel and drove the organization into the nearest ditch; a ditch of irrelevancy, inappropriateness, condescension, pretension, and pedantic garbage.

Filed under: Safety, ,

Making Safety Talks Better


This week I will be delivering tow presentations at the Michigan Safety Conference in Grand Rapids, MI.  With between 1,500 and 2,000 expected attendees, the Michigan Safety Conference is one of the largest regional conferences in the world (in fact, it is far larger than many International safety conferences.) For those of you who won’t be attending, I thought you might like to see an advanced, sneak peak, of my talk.—Phil

ImageSomewhere in the world right now a worker is being injured, and the response to that injury will be a ham-fisted, hackneyed “safety talk” that will amount to little more than an admonishment that workers had ought to be a damned site more careful in the future..

All over the world the same scenario plays out: a worker is injured, a likely cause is determined, the safety professional is asked to put together a safety talk, that a supervisor may or may not do a quality job delivering a brief speech to the team. Far too often, the delivery of a safety talk is a lackluster, half-hearted, non-event that bores the worker and inconveniences the supervisor.

Why Safety Talks Need to Be Better

Safety talks are the single most common device used to communicate a hazard that has already injured someone.  When done well, a safety talk can be instrumental in helping to contain a hazard until it can be permanently corrected.  Safety talks are quick to deploy, easy to deliver, and inexpensive.  But safety talks are often slapped together, poorly planned, and not taken seriously by supervisors and workers.

Issues With Safety Talks

A principle problem with safety talks is that they tend to be reactionary and external to our safety strategy—scarce few safety talks are given before someone has been injured, rather they tend to be given to alert workers of a danger that has already harmed someone else.  Even as organizations try to be more and more proactive, safety talks remain a reactive and ineffectual response to a single contributor instead of a well thought out discussion about a hazard or system problem. Beyond poorly created or ill-timed safety talks in many case the “safety talk” consists of a supervisor passing a written “talk” around and having the team members read and sign the “talk”; the entire exercise is a pointless waste of time.

Another issue I have with safety talks is that they perpetuate the idea that safety is somehow external to the core business systems. Far from hardwiring safety within our business systems, safety talks remind us that there are inconvenient little impediments to our job that the safety department wants us to address in addition to our work.

Tips for Making Safety Talks Better

  • Discontinue the yearlong safety talk schedules. Many organizations buy or create a year’s worth of safety talks and carefully schedule a weekly or monthly talk months ahead of time.  Here is a newsflash—YOU AREN’T WRITING A SAFETY MAGAZINE.  It’s cute that you like to pretend that your safety talk program has an editorial agenda, but “cute” turns off workers, embarrasses supervisors and generally trivializes the topic being presented.  Your safety talk topic should be directly aligned to changes in operations that temporarily heighten a particular risk.
  • Create Safety Dialogs Not Monologs. Believe it or not, the people who have the most exhaustive and highest quality body of knowledge about the safety of the workplace are the workers themselves.  By structuring the safety talk as a conversation instead of recrimination or condescension not only can the supervisor communicate important safety information but he or she can also receive important suggestions for making the workplace safer.  The safety talk should be a conversation, not a speech.
  • Eliminate Safety Sermons. Having a dialog about the potential process failures is important, but unless the person initiating the dialog is very careful, the talk can quickly degrade into a lecture about how people ought to be more careful. Those who initiate pre-shift dialog must be mindful that the intent of such activities is as much to gather information, as it is to disseminate it

So instead of having a supervisor read a script designed to warn workers of a hazard, the focus should be on engaging the workers. A pre-shift dialog might sound something like this:

Leader: Good morning everyone, let’s take a look at what we have in store for us today. For starters, our standard production number is twenty, but we have four special orders that we need to work into our shift. We will also have a customer visit today and they will be in our area at about 11:30 a.m. So what are the challenges we’re likely to face making today’s goals?

Team Member 1: Well, at 11:30 we are scheduled to take our lunch break, so that shouldn’t effect us in any way.

Team Member 2: Yes, but if it’s possible maybe it would be smart to move the time? I’m just thinking that the customers might want to see us working. I know that having visitors in the area means we have to be extra alert, but I think it’s worth it.

Leader: I think that’s a great suggestion, but I don’t know how full their schedule is. I’ll check it out.

Team Member 3: We also need to consider that they may have a particular process that they want to see . . . it’s not necessarily that they don’t care what we do here, but they may have other priorities.

Team Member 1: And we need to remember that just because they are scheduled to be here at 11:30, they may turn out to be early or late. And if they are expecting production to be down, they may not wear the appropriate PPE. We should have some on hand just in case.

This example may seem implausible to some, but I have seen actual meetings very much like this on a regular basis. The focus is on the process and protecting both the people from the process and vice versa. Notice that the tone of the discussion centers on changes and what that means to the process. Since the process is ostensibly designed so that no one gets hurt, even the smallest changes to the process can heighten the risk of disrupting operations, mistakes, defects, and injuries. Discussing safety in the context in which the work is performed is far more effective than reading a sheet about blood-borne pathogens.

  • Ask the workers to suggest topics. As I previously mentioned, workers have a wealth of information about the dangers in the workplace, and a good way to address the topics they feel are most relevant is to ask them for their suggestions.  You may get the occasional wise crack, but even wise cracks can be important windows into the overall mood and atmosphere of the workplace.
  • Involve the supervisor in writing the talks. Perhaps the greatest influence on the level of success of a safety talks is the performance of the supervisor, to whit, if a supervisor thinks the safety talk isn’t necessary or credible he or she will likely not be able to deliver the talk with the sincerity it requires.  A key way to ensure that the safety talks resonates with supervisors is to enlist their aid in developing a safety talk that is appropriate to the specific hazards associated with their work areas and processes.
  • Embed safety topics in pre-shift huddles or rounds. Consider, for example, a daily pre-shift meeting where the team discusses unusual circumstances that they will face in the work for the day ahead.  In law enforcement and security they call these meetings &”roll calls”, in manufacturing these meetings are called & “huddle meetings” and in healthcare these meetings are often referred to as “rounds” (okay rounds are a bit different, but for our purposes they serve a similar purpose) but whatever the sessions are called, the intent is the same: to identify the process variation that jeopardizes the optimum performance of the tasks required. The purpose of a pre-shift huddle or making the rounds in a work area is to discuss the challenges associated with the day’s work.  Safety needs to be embedded into these talks not treated as a separate topic.
  • Be timely and relevant.  It may seem like it goes without saying that safety talks have the greatest impact when they are delivered in propinquity to an event or hazardous situation. For example, if a manufacturer is running a batch of prototype parts or a hospital gears up for a holiday weekend it would be wise to have a safety talk about the issues associated with these deviations from the standard shortly before those events.
  • Be proactive. A good safety talk should be the result of an analysis of changes from the standard operating conditions. Using the examples above, the model changes may change the physical foot print of the process and workers may need to work outside the normal work area. Or the holiday weekend may bring more injured and inebriated into the Emergency department of the hospital.  In either case the safety talk should be a proactive discussion of the contingency plans that Operations has developed for dealing with these possible situations.
  • Create safety talks in-house. There are many high quality safety talks that are commercially available.  These products should be used as templates and must be customized for use in your environment.  Commercial safety talks can never address your specific needs, but they do form a nice template from which to work.
  • Link safety talks to near misses. Near misses—situations where an injury could have occurred but didn’t—provide excellent opportunity to talk about safety in real-life and relevant terms.  Workers will respond far better to something that almost happened over something that theoretically could happen.  While it is often difficult to get workers to report near misses it is usually quite easy to have them share their experiences through the telling of “war stories”. Using safety talks to share the results of read across (the practice of determining where else in the organization a similar problem might exist to cause problems.
  • Avoid the safety horror stories. Too often safety talks become horror stories like those devised to frighten children into behaving.  Adults don’t respond well to condescension or scare tactics.  Present the fact of the hazard openly, honestly, and accurately and spare the hyperbole.

Preparing The Supervisors To Make Better Safety Talks

The biggest factor in whether or not safety talks/pre-shift dialogs improve the competency and credibility of those who deliver them.  Many safety professionals are quick to criticize the performance of the supervisor far fewer are prepared to do anything about it. Supervisors and team leaders should be trained in active listening. The safety professionals should coach these individuals in how to draw individuals into a conversation by talking to them rather than at them. Ideally, the safety professional will demonstrate the correct way to have a dialog about safety in the larger operational context and will model this behavior in his or her everyday work.

Safety talks shouldn’t be discontinued, but they do need to be dramatically redesigned so that they are a part of a larger conversation about keeping the organization running smoothly. After all, what organization can accurately claim that it is efficiently operating and successful at anything when it injures its workers in the pursuit of its goals?

Filed under: Safety, , ,

Ooops…the Link To The Article Was Not Working


I fixed the link in the previous post… but here it is for those who need it…

Filed under: Safety

The April Edition of Phil La Duke’s Column, The Safe Side just hit the virtual news stand


In this month’s edition I start a new series that takes a look at the various safety specialties.  I start with the safety generalist.  Give it a read and let me know what you think

http://www.fabricatingandmetalworking.com/2012/04/the-safety-generalist/

Filed under: Safety, , ,

If All Injuries Are Preventable What Does It Say About Us When Someone Gets Hurt?


 

Several weeks ago I posted La Duke’s 14 points for safety to a tepid response. Not that I expected to be hailed as the second coming of W. Edward Deming, but more and more I find that the nastier the message the bigger the audience.  It doesn’t speak well of the Safety trade, when the only thing that seems to draw an audience is a message that energized the puffed up and the self righteous. I’d like to think that I could draw an audience without calling strangers hypocrites and fools, but maybe I give myself too much credit.

At any rate, I thought I would expand on my 14 points, one a post until I have given each its proper attention, at least in my mind.

My first point is one that I have been preaching for almost a decade and it is also the one I get most push-back from safety professionals.

All Injuries Are Preventable

I have always been amused by scientist who pronounce things impossible just because they haven’t yet determined a way to do them.  But that isn’t even the case with preventing all injuries.  Engineers and quality professionals have long used tools to predict possible failures in a process but these tools never seem to make it to the Safety professional’s toolkit.  Perhaps the most powerful and simple of these tools is the discipline of Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA).  An FMEA is a relatively simple tool used to predict all the things that could go wrong in a process and identify counter measures that can contain or minimize the risk of a process failure.

A process failure can be a machine breakdown, a quality defect, or an injury.  A secondary purpose of the FMEA is to determine the extent to which action should be taken. The FMEA calculates the probability of a failure which, in turn,  allows the organization to make educated judgments about how much effort (and money) should be spent preventing a failure that is only remotely possible and unlikely to cause a serious injury.

There are some who will argue that some injuries are completely unpredictable acts of God.  Certainly, if God is actively trying to injury your workforce there is scarce little you can do about it, but I am of the opinion that the safety professional is, in fact, blaming God for his or her own shortcomings and ineptitude.  In short, don’t blame God for hurting your workers. 

Striking a Balance

That having been said, you can’t prevent injuries you can’t predict and you can’t predict injuries without good tools.  Also, it is foolish to expect that you will be successful in predicting and preventing every injury, but that doesn’t mean its impossible.  When we conclude that something is impossible the rational response is to stop trying.  Only a lunatic continues trying to do what he or she believes to be impossible.  So we have a choice, we can either believe that all injuries are preventable and continue to create new and innovative ways to prevent injuries or we can respond to injuries by throwing up our arms and saying “oh well, shit happens”.

On the other hand, we must recognize that while preventing all injuries may be possible it may not be practical.  As safety professionals we have to recognize that we don’t have infinite resources and we have to be judicious about how and where we expend our resources.  There are some hazards that are far too costly to eliminate and a far better response is to contain the hazard and manage the risk. 

Years ago I worked with a large manufacturer who benchmarked some of the world’s safest companies.  All of these companies believed and—more importantly—acted as if, all injuries could be prevented.  These companies all had substantial procedures for identifying the hazards and conditions that could cause injuries. But more important than predicting potential injury causes, these companies placed real emphasis on mitigating risk all had formal containment strategies for hazards that could not be practically eliminated.  In one case, an aerospace manufacturer determined that removing a hazard would cost over $2 million. The hazard in question was related to a model that would be out of production in less than a year.  The company decided not to eliminate the hazard and implemented containment measures instead.

Such an action sounds dangerous and it can be.  But in this case the company realized the need to balance the exorbitant cost of correction against the risk that the hazard posed. 

Slapping A Band-Aid On the Problem

There’s a big difference between a carefully crafted containment strategy and slapping a Band-Aid on a problem.  In the case of the company that opts for containment over correction the responsible company understands that containment—even a relatively long-term solution—is a temporary fix and one that needs constant surveillance and evaluation.  In fact, in many cases, containing a problem may actually take far more effort than a permanent solution does.

Prevention Is Far Less Costly Than Correction

It takes far less effort to design a safe process than it does to reengineer an unsafe process to make it safer.  In fact, there is an old engineering adage that roughly states that in design phase one has 90% control and 10% cost but once the process is in production one only has 10% effectiveness and 90% cost. Obviously this rule isn’t hard and fast, but it is fair to say that one has a lot more control and effectiveness when making changes to a design than one does when making a change in production.

The crux of this point is that a) given enough time and information we CAN prevent all injuries and when we fail to do so, we need to be accountable for our failure.  We must continually ask ourselves why we failed to prevent an injury and continually improve our diagnostic procedures and policies.  We can’t be content with reaction as a safety management system.

To be continued in http://www.rockfordgreeneinternational.wordpress.com

Filed under: Safety, , ,

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