The Building Blocks of Next Gen Health and Safety
What of this Safety II, Safety Differently, Disruptive Safety, etcetera, etcetera???? Will it work? Why will it work? Will it be worth the effort? If we did it, what will the components of the strategy be? Where would we begin? So many questions…..
We’ve got a bunch of academics telling us it is the next best thing. We’ve got a few early-adopter companies dipping their respective toes in the water but not a lot of evidence back just yet to indicate success. It seems like we’ve got an even bigger bunch of people telling us it’s just another fad, it’s too touchy-feely, too soft …….that’s understandable, it’s all only relatively new. Company executives and the traditionalist health and safety brigade are feeling uncomfortable about compliance and liability.
Personally, I don’t think the leap is that great, I’m excited by the possibilities and at the same time, comforted by our learning and experience from the last 30-odd years. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say that this new approach is going to be any easier; nor should it be, we’re looking for improvement. How many times have we heard that doing what we’ve always done, won’t get us where we want to go. I believe that we should have a crack. Looking at health and safety through a new lens, I think, will open our eyes even wider to risk, give us a clearer picture and ultimately better outcomes for our people and our businesses.
I agree with the research of Dekker, Hollnagel, Pink, Dweck, Green, Hummerdal, etc. that challenges long-held views on health and safety and promotes:
- People are the primary customer of our efforts to improve health and safety. This may seem a tad obvious but how often do we speak of compliance first, how often do we design equipment or systems of work first and then consider how we might get our people to adapt to keep themselves healthy and safe.
- People are creative, innovative, adaptable, intelligent problem identifiers and solvers; our people at the front-line can see things that we cannot, know things that we will never know. We need to tap into this resource to build resilience that will benefit all aspects of our businesses. Who better to give us insight and feedback on managing risk than the people that are or will be standing right in the middle of it. People are not machines or processes to control, to minimise variation – stop trying to be a people engineer! Less telling, more listening. Close the gap between how work is designed and how it is done.
- By large degree, people come to work to do work and to do it well. Prevention of injuries, illness, rework, wastage, damage, etc. is on everyone’s mind; we’re all about making things better. We’re more likely to be engaged and motivated if we feel a part of something bigger than ourselves and if, as a group, we are achieving good things as opposed to feeling like we’re being blamed for everything that goes wrong. People don’t come to work to do safety.
- Making work better is a team game. Do your teams of supervisors, managers and functional experts (engineering, finance, HR, WHS, environment) understand the function of their role and how they specifically support each team of front-line workers. Are you and your management team ‘cops’ or ‘coaches’? At what level are you operating? Do you remove obstacles or introduce layers of complexity?
- Measure success not avoidance of failure or your rate of ‘busyness.’ Let your people know about your collective progress in removing the things that make work hard, inefficient, dangerous or how you have improved critical risk controls. The absence of injury events is not a reliable indicator of how safe your business is. Let’s move on and be realistic with our goals.
There is a lot more explanation in each of the above points, and in future articles, I’ll expand on each. To be able to move forward and develop a strategy to improve health and safety requires us to think creatively, think of how we might do things a bit differently and to customise. In many respects the game has changed, it some it hasn’t. We’ve got to keep moving forward by challenging the status quo if we want to improve. I think that there has been a sufficient level of research conducted to warrant change and to guide future action.