Cheers to your safety system health

Slicing the health and safety cake up into percentages is not always practical.
Slicing the health and safety cake up into percentages is not always practical.

After a visit to a large employer in South Africa, David Broadbent takes a festive look at safety system health, climate, and leadership.

While I was working with the global safety team at a large multinational organization, we explored the influence of a number of different safety interventions.

One of the health and safety guys asked: “If we don’t know the percentage of value this intervention would add, then why should we do it”.

I had spoken for the influence of leadership as a significant driver in the development of a sustained optimal safety culture. The peer reviewed literature is quite definitive, but we cannot say that implementing a leadership programme in your workplace shall provide a certain percentage of reduction in your preferred metrics.

Some managers become so focused on their pet numbers, that they use the absence of numbers as a rationale for doing nothing.

Sadly, some people sell their particular interventions on the promise of a certain percentage of reduction in certain numbers. I call these people snake oil salesmen of safety. Do not be seduced by the rehearsed patter.

You will end up investing a lot (and I don’t mean money, although there shall always be a lot of that).

What we do know, is that the application of safety leadership sets the temperature that shall optimise other developments occurring within and without the workplace.

Many employers apply tried and tested systems, but modify the recipe too much, and what they end up with does not really do the job.

Safety culture and safety leadership create the enabling environment of energy, synergy, and sustainability for your system. Get it wrong, and everything else shall fail.

You just have to review almost all of the past twenty years of safety disaster investigations to see the truth of this statement.

Some companies cause their own health and safety problems

I was having a chat recently with a medical doctor. Dr John was saying that just about every patient he sees has a health complaint that is avoidable.

All it takes is a bit of recognition, and a bit of action, and they have their health under control. Dr John and I found ourselves sharing very similar frustrations.

My frustration, as I am sure you can imagine, is that the vast bulk of workplace accidents (system events) are just as avoidable.

All it takes is a bit of recognition, and a bit of action, and they have workplace safety in a healthier place (optimal safety culture).

An ever greater frustration for me is that I know that the recognition phase has already occurred for many, and yet their remains no action. It was this mutual discussion between Dr John and I which led to a chat about the “Safety Heart”.

One of the biggest killers in the world today is not the heart, but personal ambivalence.

Consider the key risk factors that pre-dispose us toward the experience of a heart attack. Just like a workplace accident there is no one cause, but a multitude of causes, all interacting with each other, which results in a heart attack.

In the case of your own heart there are a couple of risk factors that you just have to live with, as in workplace risk factors.

Health and safety leadership prompt action

Some factors that are Negative, Delayed, and Uncertain, our behaviour does not change. There needs to be other factors feeding into the decision making. That is where climate and leadership come in.

I see many organisations quite willing to keep doing what they have always done. They also keep getting what they’ve always got – Not Much.

Even when they ask me to come in and show them how they can do things differently (so the recognition is there) there remains real “resistance” within the workforce to do “things differently”.

So, even though they see the need, their controlled ambivalence often leads the way – most unfortunate, and very, very frustrating.

Sadly, it is exactly these same reasons why most people are quite willing to keep damaging themselves. They just don’t consider the consequence.

When things do go wrong people start tearing their clothes, running around in circles, screaming “how could this happen” and the like.

Sorry guys, it was always going to happen. We just did not know when.

There are people who shall die today from having a Heart Attack that could have been so easily avoided if some different decisions had been made, and not necessarily all that long ago.

There are people who shall die in workplace accidents today that could easily have still been alive with their families, if only some different decisions had been made.

So what is acceptable in your workplaces. Do you have a “Safety Heart” in your organisation. The answer is Yes. The real question though is do you treat you Safety Heart like your own? If the answer is Yes to that one then we should all be very scared.

Every organization needs a properly functioning Safety Heart to pump all the good stuff out to its periphery. Without it, the organisation will die, and that is all too often a slow and painful death.

Check your system health. Don’t put it off. You don’t want to have a Safety Heart Attack.

Stay safe and well. With my kindest regards.

  • David G Broadbent is a safety psychologist, and founder of TransformationalSafety.Com
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