Last Week I Covered the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and as is always the case I ran into more than a couple of earnest looking safety professionals who, with a straight face, claimed that they were trying hard to work themselves out of a job. It’s a lovely sentiment but it’s also hogwash. Safety professionals love to propagate this steaming pile of propaganda; it’s the kind of gooey, sappy sentimentalism that we use to promote our sacred mission of saving lives. No offense to those among us who legitimately feel that our jobs our more a calling than a career, but I think for many of us, it’s just something we say. It doesn’t require a lot of thought and it doesn’t carry a lot of weight.
I’ve been giving this statement a lot of thought in the last week or so and it occurs to me that maybe safety shouldn’t be its own discipline. Maybe instead of merely giving “working ourselves out of a job” lip service we should take steps to make things happen. Can we as safety professionals be brave enough to envision a world without us? What would happen if we eliminated the position of safety professional? If that idea scares you, you’re not alone.
The initial response I get when I ask a safety professional to picture a world without safety professionals is shock: how could I even suggest such a thing. But given that so many safety professionals collect paychecks without really changing things year after year I fail to see how industry would suffer any great tragedy if the profession ceased to exist.
The next response is to argue that if there were no safety professionals that Operations leaders would run amuck, violating rules and breaking laws. My response to this argument is based on the belief that safety professionals are supposed to be the safety cops and without them people would be victimized. If this is the case, the safety professionals have failed to make a compelling argument for safety as efficiency and have failed miserably. Industry is well rid of these professionals.
Some argue that safety professionals are integral to ensuring governmental compliance and maintaining records. To these professionals I say that they can be replaced by an administrative assistant of average ability.
But what if the safety, quality, lean and continuous improvement functions were combined, would that be so bad? One of the first things taught in Lean principles training is the first rule of process change is to make the process safer. And certainly since injuries cost money, any serious effort to make the workplace safer would constitute a continuous improvement project, Finally, the goals of Quality are parallel and overlaid with each other—both look for the root causes of a process inefficiency that results in waste.
If we were truly interested in working ourselves out of a job we would be looking for ways to consolidate our departments with other departments and to leverage the work of others in the organization to save money and make the workplace not only a safer place to work, but a more efficient and profitable organization.
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