Might as well just dive off the deep end, rip off the band-aid and say it. Doc Brown was better at safety than most people who call themselves safety professionals… for one specific reason: He didn’t stay in the past.

Sure he went there, stirred up some shit, and destroyed his Delorean (a couple times). But he learned and moved on. We’re just not good at doing that. At all! And when we get stuck in the past we do it at the expense of the workers we’re supposed to be protecting.

I’ve been around and around on this subject more times than I care to admit, but it’s worth the mention. No doubt It will come up in future posts as well, because its a slippery slope that I would be willing to bet 99.99% of Safety Practitioners have fallen prey to. Here’s the scenario: Someone gets hurt, you tell them their accident was preventable.

It might play out a hundred different ways. Maybe you see a surveillance video of a severe injury and the immediate 20/20 hindsight look on the person’s face indicates they “knew better.” Maybe you have some subjective method for ranking the outcome or circumstances around an event which indicate what a “reasonable” person would have done otherwise. My point is that lots of safety people do things like this, and all of them are wrong for doing it.

When you tell someone who is (or has been) injured, you’re not speaking to a system. You’re speaking to a human. A human who had limited to no knowledge of what that one day at that one moment would bring. Sure we all have varying levels of risk perception, but we all miscalculate those risks from time to time. To tell someone who has already been injured that they shouldn’t have been, is just rubbing salt in their wound.

Here’s the thing. Maybe you’re reading this thinking that I’m just playing with semantics. And maybe I am. But if I’m right, and you continue telling workers their actual injuries were preventable, you’re just telling them it was their fault and they were too stupid not to get injured. Is that the kind of Safety Professional people trust?

As you might have noticed, I’m pretty opinionated about this subject. But I think it’s something that’s so deeply, mistakenly rooted in our professional culture, that people don’t even realize it’s a problem. This is a bigger discussion than a quick blog post, but let’s start small. Next time the opportunity arises, try this: Console your injured worker, tell him or her that their only job from that point on is to get better, then actively work to figure out how to prevent it from ever happening again. Don’t mention anything about how preventable it was. Better yet, go out and search for things that could cause harm and get rid of them before they do. That’s where real success lies.

If you like the content of this blog so far, please follow and drop a reply. I’d love to hear your experiences and examples as well. And for all you Millennials who don’t know who Doc Brown is, go watch Back to the Future. You’ll thank me later.

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2 Comments

  1. Fantastic. We can only work on the premise that all accidents are preventable i.e. As a mind set but that then opens the debate on knowledge, experience, processes selected, environment and a plethora of other influencing factors. So the H&S professional, who themselves don’t know everything and tend to be prone to paper based solutions rather than behavioural aspects including some of those influencers aforementioned. So keep pushing people’s buttons and perhaps utopia may grow out of the mayhem!

    1. Thanks Peter. I’ve got plenty of buttons to push but I truly hope starting these discussions will make people think. We do some great stuff in the H&S field but we also do tons of downright meaningless things. Hopefully I’ll this will be a part I’d changing that.

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