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When It Comes To Safety, Forget Saving Lives And Focus On Making Every Dollar Count

We are in the business of saving lives right? No.  Much as the platitude spewing, self congratulating yahoos that have so much to say about safety may preach, we are not in fact, doing God’s work.  Those of us who go on and on about how pure our vocation is are full of excrement. I am so tired of safety professionals feeling superior simply by nature of their jobs.  Safety is a business and we have a choice we can either contribute to the business’ bottom line or we can attend conferences, and sponsor safety bingos, and argue about safety theory in LinkedIn group forums.  We have no choice but to consume valuable resources but we do have a choice as to whether or not we contribute to the bottom line.

It’s time for a reality check for safety professionals.  Times are tough and the days where any function in the organization can continue to consume resources without producing tangible value has no hope of surviving. And while the economy is likely to continue to improve the days where the safety function can consume resource and produce platitudes, excuses, and schlock-programs are extinct.  I use the word extinct deliberately. I don’t mean it as a euphemism for “over”.  I mean it is as extinct as the moa.  It’s gone and it’s never coming back.

I’ve been accused by some of those of more delicate temperament of being too negative; that I am long on criticism and short on solutions, so here goes:


Solution One: Stop spending money without calculating a return on investment. B
A business case is simple—calculate the cost of the conference and weigh it against the tangible monetary returns on the investment.  What will you do with the information you receive at the conference? How will this newly acquired knowledge change your job? Is there a cheaper way to get it without jeopardizing quality? If you can’t quantify a return on investment you probably shouldn’t attend. That is not to say all conferences are boon-doggles—I attend conferences with several goals in mind and I work to ensure that I meet these goals while there. One goal is to get ideas for new initiatives. Another is to meet vendors who may be able to provide me with solutions that will make a measurable difference for my clients.  But perhaps because I run my own company (and the conference isn’t on the corporate dime) I am far more judicious in the conferences I attend.  When you return from your conference jot down the value you derived from it.  If you would be embarrassed to show your boss because he wouldn’t let you attend next year, you had ought rethink conferences.

Solution Two: Simplify

Every couple of years some new half-wit comes up with a new way to milk the safety cow.  We go to conferences and here snake oil salesmen pitching quack remedies and hurry home to build our perpetual motion machines.  We get taken in by the next big thing and can’t wait to implement it.  Meanwhile confused Operations leaders snigger behind our backs at our simple-minded projects.  When we fail to get funding we pout and bitch about a lack of support from leadership.  We mistake a lack of support for foolishness with a lack of support for safety.  We do safety a great disservice by creating complex processes based on academic models.  Do they work? Sometimes.  But when they do they often get us the same results that rolling up our sleeves and getting to work would a lot sooner. We don’t need Safety BINGO to lower injury rates we need hard work.

Whenever the safety professional proposes a solution that is over complex Operations leadership begins to worry that it isn’t making a good decision.  When you make things hard to understand it makes it hard for leadership to commit to the proposal.

Solution Three: Focus on Results Not Activities

Often, frustrated safety professionals will point to all the things they are doing as justification for their jobs, but truth be told, Operations doesn’t care one wit how hard we are trying (we can get a chimp in here to try hard) it cares what we have achieved in real terms.

Too often safety professionals are uncomfortable with measurements of safety. But a simple blend of lagging and leading indicators can help embed safety activities into the overall operational strategy. By understanding what the data is telling you about where you are likely to end up if you do nothing and combining it with data that tells you where you actually end up after a safety initiative you can clearly articulate what you have accomplished and, by extension, the value you bring to the organization.


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