Ridiculous Claims of Safety

It’s time to let the cat out of the bag…

I’m the greatest boxer of all time! Some of you are reeling from that revelation, I know. It’s true! I’ve never fought, but I’m sure I’m the best. I mean, I can bench 295 (315 next month baby) pounds, so it stands to reason I can hit really hard too.

Maybe you don’t buy it, but I am the safest boxer of all time, though. Who else can claim that they’ve avoided getting punched in the face for their entire career? (although according to my wife, that streak won’t continue if I keep up with this blog)

Since I’m in the mood to talk about ridiculous claims, let’s kick around one of the most frequently made in the name of safety. Say, for instance, the idea that a low injury rate somehow equates to high performance in safety.

But you have to have a low rate to get a VPP Star!

You also have to eat in order to get food poisoning, what’s your point? Of course OSHA would require a low rate in order for entry into their program. There’s no other regulatory “measure” for safety. As with all things OSHA, rates have their place, but they’re hardly a measure of performance. I’ll put it this way; if you need the government to give you a gold star in life, you’re missing the whole point of living. Safety should just be part of who each one of us is. Simple (but not easy).

Instead, we’ve let it become a task we have to check off a list. This is where safety pros and average Joes both get it wrong. Safety tells people to do it because OSHA said, which means nothing. Many of those people, in turn, just check it off to make Safety go away. Then we all hope for the best and pray no injuries occur. Because if nothing happens, we’re good at safety, right?

That makes about as much sense as saying that KFC tastes good because it’s not made with grapefruit. Or that people from the south sound funny because they’re not from California.

But doing something is hard…

There are far too many who would debate, argue, and cry for days about how incident rates are the best benchmark we’ve got. That’s because measuring nothing is easy. People who would argue just want to cash paychecks. It’s much harder to measure action and see meaningful results. But that’s what moves the barometer. Not inaction and hope.

The good news is that there are visionaries out there who are making impacts. They’re building safety into their processes. In order for real change to take place, though, we have to start educating our leadership about what real progress in safety means. It’s not removing all the bumps and scrapes that lead to OSHA recordables. It’s sending our people home every night to the lives they work so hard to support.

6 Replies to “Ridiculous Claims of Safety”

  1. Jason, do you have any data that backs this claim? I didnt get me degree in Safety, but the Heinrich Study shows an arguably clear correlation between low incidence rates and low fatality rates. So where exactly do you get off saying that safety programs with well-performing incident rates are somehow low-performing?

  2. Let me start by saying that I truly appreciate the comment. I never intended for the things in this blog to be universally agreed upon, but I do always hope to start a conversation. So thank you for engaging.

    There are a couple things to address, but let me start with your last question. At no point have I ever made the claim that a low rate means low performance. My point in the whole rate discussion is that there is no real correlation between a rate and performance. There could be some parallels, but rates are derived from arbitrary (in a severity sense) legal definitions. Even OSHA acknowledges that the mere fact an injury is recordable does not mean there is a problem with a company’s process. It’s just a line in the sand.

    Secondly, I would suggest you research Heinrich a little further. His work has been largely discredited for many reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that his original source material does not exist and that he changed the data without explanation in revisions of the book. If you’re up for it read “Heinrich Revisited: Truisms or Myths,” by Fred A. Manuele.

    My biggest point in all of this isn’t just to be provocative or sensational. It’s to point out that professionals often tend to focus on the little things thinking they will magically affect bigger, more catastrophic ones. There are plenty of examples (I’m not going to call them out by name on a public forum though) of companies with impeccable safety records whose facility or process had a critical failure which resulted in an extreme loss.

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