I’d like to introduce a few truths and dispel some myths I’ve come to discover in my nearly two decades of working in the safety management arena. Some of these you will know of and agree with and some you won’t know and/or agree with. Either way, the article will have served the purpose of opening up a conversation about safety excellence. Even if the conversation is just going on internally in your mind, it’s a worthwhile exercise to challenge what we believe is true. Because of the limited space for the article, let’s start with some of the most popular myths and truths:
- Excellence is Possible (and Highly Probable) – Perfection is NOT (and Highly Improbable)
Although it is highly popular in safety management to get our CEOs to sign off on a Zero goal commitment, it sets us up for inevitable failure. It is a much better plan to strive for excellence in creating safety than to expect perfection. Excellence is possible… perfect isn’t. There is a major problem with Zero Goals… they can be reached without being safe! See below.
- Passing a Safety Audit Doesn’t Prove That Your Company is Safe
Most, if not all, of the popular audit instruments were created by well-meaning groups of people and are not based on any scientific evidence. Now, most of the questions in these audits are likely to be positives to your company outcomes but let’s examine a typical example question.
“Does your company have a signed Health & Safety Policy?” Arguably a good way to communicate your company’s intentions regarding the management of H&S. Problem is, the score. What is it worth. What are other questions in the audit worth toward your passing mark? Have they been measured in a test using control companies? If the scientific method has not been used to validate the audit… we must admit that we are just guessing. Some very unsafe companies can and do pass audits. That being true, then this audit process is flawed. I’m not suggesting you abandon your audits… I am suggesting you read the results with a clear view of what the audit score may not be telling you about your safety management system.
- Doing Safety TO Your Employees and Contractors Give You Poor to Mediocre Results
As companies mature and strive for safety excellence, they almost universally realize that the model of “the few controlling the many” plateaus their safety results. Supervisors and managers cannot and should not take the place of full engagement of your employees (and contractors) in their own safety. When talking with those companies who have indeed reached safety excellence, they will all tell you that in their evolution to excellence, there came a point where they had to give it back to their employees. Doing safety with people has been proven to enhance your outcomes. People support what they had a hand in creating.
- When your employees tell you it’s a safe place to be… it’s safe
Given the opportunity to honestly provide feedback about a company’s safety process, workers are great sources of information. Usually done anonymously to reduce any feelings of reluctance because of perceived negative consequences, perception surveys are wonderful sources of information. Workers really know what is happening in your company. If it doesn’t match your company’s intentions, then there is a gap that is clearly an improvement opportunity.
- Low Injuries Rate Can (and often do) Mean Nothing as Proof of Safety
Measuring safety by the lack of injuries is just not valid. It is true that very safe companies have very few injuries… but it is also true that some very unsafe companies can and do work long periods of time without any injuries. This makes measuring safety by the lack of injury reports a very poor tool. What can be measured is the act of being safe. See the next point… Safety can be observed and measured.
- Safety can be observed and measured
There’s no need to count injuries or damage to prove the existence of safety in your organization. This can be easily done through discussions and actually observing the work place for behaviors and conditions. We call these observations “leading indicators”. They serve us well as predictors of success (and sometimes failure). Either way, these leading indicators can help us focus on what needs to continue to be done or to be altered if we are unhappy with the observations.
Well there you have it, a few Myths and Truths about safety management. I hope that this article helps you to reflect a little on what we believe and why we believe those things. After all, what we believe helps to drive our behavior and our behavior is what helps to make ourselves and others safe.