How To Stop Writing Sucky Safety Procedures: Ego Edition

I thought about calling this one “proudity edition,” but I doubt many would appreciate the irony…

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Keep writing bad stuff, keep getting this look

A thought occurred to me the other day whilst (I’m using that word for my UK Friends, and also for the fact that I’ve been using a pic of Shakespeare in this series) I was pondering our state of being in the safety world. When you think about it, ours is really a weird profession. Seriously… it’s not hard to imagine why some people think hiring a safety professional is the corporate equivalent of a stupid warning on a hair drier. Especially if you think safety is just “common sense.” It’s no wonder those people hate the “safety guy.”

Awww. But that’s what I bought it for…

Safety doesn’t have a defined purpose in most organizations. In fact, as The Safety Minimalist Dennis Baker wrote this week, most of us “safety professionals” don’t even know how to define what we do. I believe that identity crisis stems from the fact that most companies only employ safety professionals because they have to. In those cases, the purpose of those safety professionals is solely OSHA compliance, regardless of what the corporate drones might say.

In that context, it makes sense that our policies and procedures follow that mold.

And so… employees shall…

How many of you are guilty of writing a line like that? I have been. I’m not too proud to admit it. I’ve also sat at my desk and foolishly scribed shit I just knew would make mine the safest site on earth… We need to quit it.

Like I said, ours is a weird profession. On one hand we’re expected to act in the company’s interest to avoid costly legal compliance-related expenses. On the other, we’re expected to influence and persuade people to work safely in their own interest. It’s a constant state of conflict.

People aren’t all that great at conflict, though. So, easy usually wins over great. Because great is hard. OSHA is easy. Hence the volumes upon volumes of policies and procedures telling employees what they “shall” do. It’s easier to write that than actually provide them meaningful instructions.

That idiot must not care enough

Those have been reading since I started this thing may remember my old boss The Tongue. If you haven’t read that story, it’s a fun one (give it a click, you won’t regret it). He was a jackass for sure, but I’m not above giving credit where it is due. The Tongue was a notably intelligent man. He never missed an opportunity to tell you that either. Usually by using his knowledge of big words to belittle those who weren’t on his level.

His writing was no different. It was filled with long, scientific descriptions and complicated equations. The directions were perfectly suited for industrial hygiene graduate students, but missed our target audience entirely. Most of his contributions to the site safety program took me two or three readings. Our carpenters and general laborers had neither the time nor patience for it. He was the boss though. So we printed them, put them in binders, and watched them collect dust.

All we had to do after that was wait. It never took long though. The Tongue had a keen eye for spotting violations. When he did, the poor soul in the wake of his wrath would quickly learn how stupid he or she was and informed of their general lack of care for safety. It was a sad, vicious cycle. The Tongue would write a procedure, the staff would not read it, The Tongue would get angry, and repeat.

He never got out of his own way

Just as I mentioned in my first edition about writing better safety procedures, success means first understanding that you’re not writing for yourself. You could write the most eloquent, academic, compliant, innovative masterpiece. But if no one reads it, you might as well never even try. Give your people instructions, simple instructions, they can and will use. All the big words you wanted to use instead can wait for your doctoral thesis or your blog on proudity.