Seriously, we could use some positivity. Maybe safety people should meditate…

(Or read awesome books like the one I wrote: A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit )

How many times throughout life are you told to “think positive” or “count your blessings?” You’d think it would stick a little better. Especially in today’s world of ultra woke philosophers and positivism gurus.

A perfect example of the overt positivity of our times came up the other night as my wife was working on her latest TV binge. She’s been watching the network show 9-1-1. Many of the more dramatic scenes start with a recorded voice over playing over a transcript. One scene actually pulled me away from my work (OK, I was watching YouTube videos). It went (loosely) like this:

Operator: 9-1-1, what’s your emergency?
Frantic woman: A man’s been attacked by a shark!
Operator: I hear you, ma’am. What beach are you on?
Frantic woman: We’re not on the beach. It’s on the 405 (freeway)!

The scene cuts to a man lying on the road with a shark attached to his mangled arm. A broken “aquarium truck” sits in the background as EMTs rush in with their tools. They are quickly and forcefully chastised by the victim.

Man: No, don’t hurt her. She has a husband and a baby! (that’s probably not what he said, but I was laughing too hard at that point).

In a final touching moment of pure positive goodness, the shark is triumphantly motorcaded down to the beach and set free to rejoin baby shark… and daddy shark… and grandma shark.

Ba-by… Shark… do do do do do do do!

In case you’re wondering, I would not have given one ounce of concern for that shark. In fact, my line would have been something closer to: “Punch it in the face with the jaws of life!”

But, whatever, that episode must have been low on the required amount of inclusivity. Only Hollywood would try to make lemonade out of a shark attack in downtown LA. In the real world we only focus on negative things.

Or so safety would have you believe…

Think about it. What was the last “safety report” you heard, gave, or read? 9 times out of 10, I’d put money on that report having at least one of these elements:

  • We’ve had a rash of injuries lately…
  • No one was injured last week…
  • There have been way too many (fill in the blank) violations lately…

All negative. All emotion based. None helpful.

Like it or not, though, statements like those are what define safety for much of the industry. The idea that “safe = accident free” has been pounded into us so relentlessly, that even those who know better still fall prey to the idea now and then. Sure it’s tempting to make the illogical leap that the absence of something (injuries) means the existence of something slightly related (safety). But believing something doesn’t make it true.

This is a theme I’ve touched on before in several posts like THIS ONE, but the problem isn’t going away any time soon. So, I figured I’d be relentless as well and drive home the counterpoint.

I was speaking to a group of interns and newly minted career professionals recently and told them what I tell all groups of new workers: Learn from every day, not just the bad ones.

But having x amount of injuries is bad

No argument there. Work related injuries are terrible, and we’re supposed to be the one’s helping prevent them before they occur. The sad reality, though, is that rarely happens when we focus on the past. In my experience, that’s because we only look back when something “bad” happens… like an injury.

Let me put it another way. If a facility (any facility) experienced 20 serious injuries in a year, that facility would likely invest some concerted amount of time and effort into figuring why and how to prevent similar events in the future. That’s a good thing. Those lessons need to be learned. But things often go off the rails from that point.

The company will likely harp on those 20 injuries, consider “safety performance” poor, and perform CYA type activities like “sign off sheets” in order to show how proactive they are. While all that may sound OK on the surface, consider what’s been thrown to the wayside.

Just to keep the math simple, we’ll say all 20 of those injuries occurred on separate days. That means that the while the facility did indeed have 20 bad days, it also had 345 injury free (“good”) days. But what happened on those good days? Were they even good at all? Or were they close? Maybe they were outright disasters. If focus was solely on the 20 “bad” days, no one will remember the other 345.

Learn, move on, find your weak spots

Getting hung up on injuries defeats our ultimate purpose. If you forgot what that is, I’ll remind you, but you should also READ THIS if you can’t remember that the goal is to keep workers from being killed. So learn the lessons that need to be learned from each injury, and then let it go and let your injured worker heal. Instead of focusing on a consequence of the past, focus on what matters and what you can do to better the future. There are a million ways to slice that pie, but none of them involve wailing and gnashing of your teeth in pious self righteousness. Or worrying about getting bit by a shark during rush hour.

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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