Relentless Safety is a journey, not a number (metric)
Throughout my writing on this site (and my book) I’ve explored themes of poor safety practices (Fox Paws) pretty extensively. One area where I hope I can influence some change is the idea that good rates is equivalent to good safety. It’s just false logic. And it blinds us to the real issues our people face.
I’ve written several posts about this topic. You can check out a few HERE, HERE, and HERE. But this week I wanted to do something different.
SOOOOO, I present to you, my first audio blog. It’s based on THIS ORIGINAL POST from a few months back. Let me know if you like it. I could probably be persuaded to do more…
If you’re new to this blog, let me introduce myself. My name is Jason. I’m a safety professional, podcast host, author, and world-renowned origami artist (that’s a lie). If you’re NOT new to this blog, go buy my book… it’s like this but multiplied by the power of unicorn tears. In any case, I hope you enjoy the content here. Please like, share, and join in the discussion as we all pursue Relentless Safety.
My wife is gone. She left in a packed car and drove back to Tennessee to be with her parents.
Until Tuesday. And the car wasn’t hers. She’s just helping out a friend get back on her feet after a rough breakup (my wife’s a much better person than I could ever hope to be). It just so happens that her friend’s parents also live in Tennessee. So, she got to help her friend, and see her family.
What that means for me is that I have until Tuesday to clean up the mess that the kids and I have left scattered around the house. If not she might actually pack up her car and leave. Seriously. It looks like we’ve been robbed by someone covered in glitter and tiny scraps of construction paper.
Aside from highlighting my lack of housekeeping skill, the alone time has given me the chance to do two things: 1) watch terrible horror movies my wife won’t tolerate & 2) finally learn how to put my daughter’s hair in a ponytail (I’m pretty proud of that one).
I started the movie binge last Friday night when I stayed up after everyone else had gone to bed. Having spent the early part of the evening Tetrising all of my wife’s friend’s belongings into her tiny Mazda, I chose to unwind by watching Jigsaw. I regret every minute of that decision.
The movie was terrible, but it got me thinking
Anyone who’s ever suffered through a Saw movie knows that they revolve round an evil genius who puts immoral people (his opinion) through grizzly tests designed to get them to confess their sins. I couldn’t help but see the safety parallels. And not just the obvious ones like how putting your face into a rotary saw is not a smart decision.
My thoughts drifted away from the laughably terrible movie as the hours droned on. In it’s place I started to think about all of the times people find themselves up against insurmountable obstacles. In those times, as in the movie, safety is not guaranteed. Only the resilient make it through. The weak are subject to a collar of lasers that will flay their heads into something resembling the tendrils of an octopus (seriously, it’s a terrible movie, don’t waste your time).
At the end of this particular movie (spoiler alert), no one is left in a good position. Everyone except the bad guys dies. It was a glum way to end a Friday night, but the thought occurred to me that life is eerily similar. No one gets out alive.
On that positive note… Happy Halloween everyone!
OK, so the movie sucked. Hopefully you’ll take my word for that. There was a good takeaway though. It reminded me how immeasurable safety is. Stick with me on this one.
No one in the film had a guarantee of survival, right? They were all captured by a madman and put through some awful trials designed to test their resolve. But the riddles were beyond reason. Essentially, if a character didn’t understand what the antagonist was after, they were doomed to die. Safety was only available to those who exercised precise judgement at the precise time it was required. And no one had the knowledge or skill to make those judgments.
Regardless of the nonsensical nature of the movie, that principle is a pretty accurate representation of how safety really works. It’s only available at the one point in time you need it. It’s a present state of being. Put another way, safety only truly exists (or ceases to) in the moment. Any attempt to measure safety is just describing a ghost from the past.
If more people thought about it in that manner, how might our organizations do things differently? Would we invest more in the tools and knowledge our workers need in order to make those precise judgments? Or would we keep chanting about how we’re so awesome because our injury rates are low? I’d like to hope for the former.
Oh and by the way… wish me luck. I just realized it’s Tuesday!
“So you’re saying I can’t watch TV before bed?” He responds.
I imagine part of his questioning is a clever ploy to get me to commit to the latter activity. But on the surface, at least, those two topics have nothing do do with one another. One certainly doesn’t guarantee the other. He might also know that his homework will take much longer than he told me it would, but I digress. Here’s another good one.
“AJ, you need to clean your room before you go to your friend’s house.”
“What?” he asks somewhat hysterically. “You mean we’re not getting ice cream tonight?”
Safety arguments are often the same
The argument that I’m alluding to, of course, is that safety performance can be measured by rates. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.
As you can tell, I’ve kicked this dead horse several times, but it keeps resurrecting itself like an undead zombie pony. Ponies are evil. This one needs to be dispatched for good. Not just because it’s wrong, but because it’s harmful. Harmful you ask? Yes, for two reasons:
Why do we insist on measuring what we can’t control?
You miss the opportunity to learn from what is happening when you’re focused on what already happened.
Pick up the pieces and move on
Too often we get caught up in creating “corrective actions” based on events in order to prevent something from ever happening again. While that is often a prudent measure, it’s easy to get over zealous in that activity. No one can guarantee that something will never happen again. There are too many variables. Going overboard can lead to sitting around waiting for the next bad thing to happen before you do something. That’s equivalent to playing whack-a-mole blindfolded.
When something happens correct what’s reasonable, but then go and seek out the things in your environment that are going to fail. Fix them before they do. In the absence of action that actively eliminates hazards before they harm, we’re just begging for chaos.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.