Face It, Your Safety Powers Are Limited

Wrap yourself up in bubble wrap and never leave home if you want to avoid all risk!

I had a supervisor once who would respond to absurd safety “prevention” methods with a similar statement. Sometimes I want to tell people the same thing. Then again… the bubble wrap would probably cause heat stress and skin irritation. But hey, Gatorade and Hydrocortisone cream aren’t Recordable, so bring on the bubbles!!!

One frustrating aspect of the safety profession is the constant second guessing and armchair quarterbacking that follows an injury. Or even a picture of a hazard. Just log on to any online safety forum and you’ll find a dozen or more “experts” who could have prevented any catastrophe or would never allow this or that behavior on their sites. Hang around this field long enough and you’ll meet them in real life, too (they’re super fun people).

My favorite is this line of questioning: “How will you guarantee this preventable injury never occurs again?” It’s even better when someone in safety asks it. Mainly because others try to answer that irrational question rationally.

The answer is YOU CAN’T! I can’t. We can’t. Humans are not that powerful. As long as we interact with risk we will be subject to our own fallibility and frailty. So why don’t we just give up?

“Stand for something, or die for nothing” -Rambo

I often hear the argument made that if you have a goal for anything less than zero accidents, you are condoning accidents. That type of non-sequitur logic has been used in safety for eons. It sounds righteous, so it must be right. Right?

Wrong. The answer is that you shouldn’t have goals based around accidents. Accident’s (and managing them) is not what what makes and breaks a safety program. I would even go as far as to say that those who only focus on what ALREADY happened are destined to fail. Band-aids and ice packs don’t make your people safer!

We have to dig ourselves out of the vicious cycle we’re in if we want to make things better for our workers.

The change we need

Safety Professionals have to quit living in the past. Our focus is far too limited to past actions and what we should have done to prevent something happened. “Shoulda” is a really weak business strategy, though. So here’s what I’m getting at: Realize that your powers are limited.

You can’t prevent accidents once they happen.

You can’t see the future.

You can’t change people’s behavior by telling them it’s unsafe!

So focus on what you CAN do!

You can help people work through their job plans.

You can help people learn effectively.

You can make sure that conditions will help guide desired behaviors.


Remember this. Focusing on what matters doesn’t mean that you are automatically evil (unless you’re already evil) and will overlook the lessons and learning that comes from incidents. Quite the contrary.

Being proactive, directing energy toward what you can control, and helping people learn will ultimately bring results that no injury “goal” could ever achieve.

What will you tackle first?