Safety Needs to Go Back to Basics

Sorry for the late post. I delude myself into thinking that a multitude of readers sit in breathless anticipation waiting for my next post, or article. But given the metrics on my work very few people read my work, and a good portion of them read it only for the perverse pleasure they get from writing nasty emails and comments. When I started writing this blog (in 2006) I did so because it had been over twenty years since I was a newspaper reporter, and over 15 years since I was a business writer. I held blogs in disdain, and was late getting into the game and did nothing to get followers.

So while a fair amount of my work ended up in Safety magazines, some of whom heralded me as a fresh voice in safety. I made some fans, friends, and enemies. The more outrageous the post I wrote, the more people who lined up to be shocked. But today I am not feeling controversial, in fact I’m feeling minimalist. Which means that scarce few will read this, and those that do are likely to be disappointed. I won’t drop any bombshells, and this post isn’t likely to rankle anybody, but then, I have met so many honest to God lunatics doing this work I no longer know what innocuous statement will set one of you nuts off, so here goes.

Safety has to get back to basics, and no I don’t mean sketchy research done in factories by devotees of eugenics who believed that their subjects were little more than apes.

Safety is about controlling risks. We will never have complete safety, that is to say the absence of any chance of harm. Braying on about zero injuries and zero harm makes for good philosophical debate, but it’s not practical and sustainable. Without an infrastructure for foreseeing, identifying, containing and correcting hazards than nothing approaching safety can ever be achieved.

Safety never sleeps. Recently someone asked me what I thought was the biggest problem facing safety today and I said, complacency. Too many organizations believe that because its been awhile since they’ve had a serious injury that they have conquered injuries forever. Safety has to be dynamic and be continually examined—not for gimmicks or new ways to the same end—and scrutinized to ensure that our practices are commensurate with changes in the business climate.

No more monkey see, monkey do. An in ordinate number of safety professionals simply wait to see what the next guy is doing, attend a conference, or otherwise look for that magic recipe. There are too many variables for you to adopt a practice that another company used to be successful for it to automatically work for you, just do what works in your organization, and to do that you have to listen to your organization and lead them to a better route.