Safety Isn’t Defined By What It Isn’t

This is red, right?

My daughter is either a comic genius or an evil mastermind

“AJ, do you want the last cherry sour,” my daughter held up the small, shiny red sphere.

“That’s nice, Em,” I said. She sneered as her brother took the ball and popped it in his mouth. He bit down and surprise washed across his face. His surprise then turned to disgust as he let the “candy” fall out of his mouth.

“It’s a Babybel wrapper!” My daughter (only four at the time) laughed maniacally as my son tried to scrape the red wax off his tongue. I smiled in disbelief and more than just a little pride. I was even a little disappointed that I hadn’t thought of it an put her up to it. Thankfully my son laughed along with the joke.

Appearance Isn’t everything

This week I had the opportunity to be a part of a podcast with a couple other safety professionals (more on that soon). One part of our conversation centered on teaching leaders the value of action. The problem is that “safety” in industry is so rooted in measuring outcomes. Even organizations and safety professionals who are making serious strides in injury prevention are hindered by the age old belief that a good injury rate equals good performance. While rates and accident totals have their place, they certainly don’t mean that all is well. I’m not going to kick that dead horse too much. I’ve already written about it in several posts:

Despite the misinterpretation of a few, none of those posts are advocacy for neglect or belief that injuries are OK. The point is that stating one thing (the absence of accidents) does not necessarily mean another (good safety performance). But there’s another danger in relying on old school safety measurement.

It encourages lack of responsibility

Stick with me on this.

If an organization values low numbers over the actions required to actually get them, the role of a safety professional becomes… fuzzy. Consider how often the “safety guy” (or girl) becomes the only person who can put a Band-Aid on someone when they get a paper cut. I’m exaggerating or course (unfortunately I have to spell that out). But anyone who’s been put in that position knows the frustration.

We become number pacifiers instead of resources that help solve problems before they contribute to injury. When that happens, injured employees become a safety problem rather than a person. When safety is no longer about a person, its easy to pass the buck.

If you’re in a safety role consider that the next time a leader sends someone to your office because their back is sore without figuring out why. Give the employee the care they need by all means, but then ask that leader why he or she didn’t have the time to deal with it.

Many times something may sound like a safety problem on the surface. But remember, sometimes things that look like candy are just a ball of wax.

As always, thanks for reading. If you have a topic or idea that you would like me to discuss, send me a note at I look forward to hearing from you.

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