Who are you? It’s a seemingly simple question, but one that the safety community struggles with daily. It’s a problem when we don’t know who we are because if we don’t know who we are then we cannot accurately communicate who we are because when decision makers don’t know who we are, and what our precise role is, they make bad decisions. When leaders make bad decisions about safety it increases risk and it kills people.
The safety zealot is an idealist, and while that term is a compliment in many contexts, in the context of safety it is not. Safety zealots are inflexible, rigid creatures who see anyone that disagrees as evil and dangerous. Safety zealots are often at odds with company leaders because the leaders know view the zealots as harmless fools at best and lunatics at best. The zealot wants it all and will stop at nothing to get it. Zealots are dangerous because they are unreasonable—they are uncompromising and anything less than perfect is a failure. They tend to see others as uncaring or at least not caring enough.
The safety crusader believes that the safety of workers is his or her job 24-7 and that this responsibility extends beyond the workforce and intrudes into the personal lives of the workers, safety at home, safety in the hobbies and pass times of the workers. The crusader sees him/herself as the one true champion of the worker and believes that making the work force safe is the role of every safety practitioner. Crusaders believes the only reason to make the work place safer is because it is the “right thing to do”, and to talk about safety in terms of cost savings is crass and cold-hearted.
The safety philosopher likes to argue about things that at a practical level really don’t make much of a difference in actual improvement in safety. Safety philosophers will argue vehemently one inconsequential point against another. Safety philosophers tend to spend hours online shouting down anyone who disagrees with their chosen beliefs set.
The pragmatist knows that safety isn’t cut and dry and that if safety is the absence of injuries you can never really measure it. The pragmatist may face battle after battle with leaders who have been swayed by one of the other kinds of safety practitioners. The safety pragmatist understands that zero injuries may be possible, but achieving it and sustaining it usually isn’t practical. The pragmatist understands that his or her job is to reduce risk, and protect both worker and the company. We need more safety pragmatists.
Safety accountants are enamored by numbers. They make pretty charts of body counts and love to show off how much things have improved (or are improving) without really calculating all the costs. The accountants are good at manipulating numbers to make it seem like they are doing a better job than they are.
The Safety Cop
Safety cops believe that if everyone would just follow the safety rules that everything would be wonderful. Safety cops live in a world of rules, infractions, and ruthless disciplinary action for noncompliance. These safety practitioners are often frustrated because operations don’t through the book at people who don’t follow the rules. Safety cops also tend to see the injured workers as careless or reckless dopes without the sense God gave geese. They see workers as the enemy or as children that have to be watched and disciplined constantly.
The Safety Storm Trooper
The Safety Storm Trooper sees him/herself as the thin red line between the lying workers who fake injuries so they can lie around and fraudulently collect disability. When a worker is injured on a Monday, the Safety Storm Trooper defaults to the belief that the injury actually happened while the worker was roofing his brother-in-laws house. Safety Storm Trooper works tirelessly to prevent workers from collecting money from the company.
So Which One Are You?
If you are being really honest you probably are seeing yourself in one or more of these roles. I think we all find ourselves playing one or more of these roles once in a while, the danger becomes when we start playing one role to the exclusion of all others.
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