Workers Keep Dying, Safety Keeps Chasing Band-Aids
I’m just going to come right out say it. This subject straight pisses me off. When we go around talking about how awesome our companies are at safety because we’ve got low incident rates it equates to pissing on the grave of every worker who has died at our facilities. There is no correlation and the games we play to get “good” are just disgusting. Interpreting the grey areas in CFR 1904 to justify leaving it off your 300 log IS NOT safety.
If you think I’m wrong, just do some research about the “excellent” injury rates and safety programs of giant companies that have experienced multiple deaths when offshore rigs explode, or have massive chemical releases/explosions that poison whole towns. The point is that anyone can boast good numbers. Very few can say they’ve provided their workers a workplace that won’t kill them.
Stop looking in the wrong places
If you’re willing to accept the idea that our main goal is to prevent death and catastrophic injury this should be an easy logical leap: Trying to reduce risk to the point where no one is injured is ridiculous. Life itself is a risk of injury and a guarantee of death (I’ve said that many times, but the safety zealots won’t buy it). The only reason for an organization to set a goal of “zero injuries” is to look good on paper, thus becoming more competitive and beefing up bonuses. It’s much less glamorous, and a much harder endeavor to focus on the things that kill.
So, we don’t. We nit-pick every bump and scrape that required more than an OTC dose of Advil. Then we chastise managers and supervisors because they can’t find any way to prevent those things from happening again. The sad part about it is that for all the time we waste trying to find the “root cause” for why Billy’s finger started hurting, we loose valuable time that could be devoted to making sure his partner doesn’t get crushed by the faulty machine he operates.
Here’s a newsflash. You can’t prevent every injury. Neither can those leaders who you accuse of not giving a shit about safety. If you want to eliminate risk in your facility, recommend shutting it down as the corrective action next time someone gets cut and needs stitches. That’s the only way to guarantee it never happens again.
It’s time to get off the pedestal
Safety professionals (leaders in general, actually) are prone to superiority complexes. We get so good at analyzing things after they happen that we start believing that knowledge can translate into real time. “If only our workers paid more attention.” Maybe if we spent more time working along side them, feeling what they feel, seeing what they see, and reacting to what they experience we’d have a better perspective. Until we realize that our view of the world is different and start trying to figure out how other people see it, workers will keep dying. We’ll be safe in our plush office chairs, though. So I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter.
It’s time to put some pragmatism into this profession. That’s exactly why I wrote A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit. If you’re reading this thinking I haven’t offered a meaningful solution to our problems, well… buy the book. I’m not going to give everything away for free. Either way, let’s work together and start making a difference in the lives of the workers we’re supposed to support. They might not thank you for it, but at least you’ll be able to sleep at night knowing you did something that mattered.
March 24, 2019
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