Monday, July 29, 2013

We are all safety pros

In a meeting today with a client who is implementing a new safety management system, one of the attendants of the meeting made the comment that its nice to have safety professionals available to help them determine what’s safe and what’s not because they don't do safety for a living. This is a reasonable comment to make - after all, they don't get paid to be safe. There's all these regulations to learn and all these terms that safety pros throw around (like “confined space” or “risk”) that not everyone knows. It makes sense that safety is given an “us and them” mentality given how difficult the safety profession often seems.

Now, I have some thoughts as to why this is the case, but that’s for another blog on another day. But think about the comment that the person made – we need safety pros to tell us what’s safe. That’s sort of a shame if you think about it. After all, isn’t self-preservation a very fundamental human behavior? Aren’t humans wired to be safe? Many of the behavioral responses that humans have are there to help us stay alive in a world full of things that are trying to kill us. We take this for granted because it happens many times on an unconscious level, but we all are safety managers in that we manage our own safety.

This may seem like one of those safety motivational blogs, and it kind of is. But in the specific case I’m talking about the person was talking about a confined space where they thought it was dangerous but they weren’t sure. My point to them was, if your body is telling you something is wrong, this body that is wired to identify hazards, there’s probably a reason and you should pay attention to that. Don’t start the job until you look a little bit closer because something is wrong.

Now don’t get me wrong, the opposite is not true – if you don’t sense a hazard that doesn’t mean its safe (again, more on that in another blog). Our bodies are good at identifying some hazards, but we’re really bad at identifying other hazards. This can be made better through training and deliberate practice.

The point I’m trying to make though is that we need to take the emphasis off of the safety profession to make us safe. What if, instead of one person on a job site looking for hazards, we had hundreds? In the safety profession we call that collective mindfulness – everyone out there doing their jobs but being mindful to identify those diffuse signals that could indicate impending failure.

So, get out there and put your safety hat on. You just might see something you never noticed before. Maybe a new hazard. Maybe a better way to reduce risks. Often these have unintended consequences of also improving quality and efficiency. Whatever it is, being more mindful while working makes everyone a safety professional. And that makes for a safe job site. 

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