It’s the time of year when many people do a personal evaluation with the thought of improving themselves during the coming year. This post suggests reviewing how we are practicing the profession of safety by looking at the ghost of decades past, the present and what the “ghost” of the future might tell us.
The past four decades were a period focused mainly on OSHA compliance, with efforts geared to identifying hazards, implementing safeguards and lots of training. Most of the effort was program related, often confusing management and supervision as well as employees.
Lockout, slips, trips, falls, material handling, confined space, PPE, HazCom, and literally dozens of other regulations or safety programs were typically implemented as functional silos – all with their own terms. Along the way, we adopted OSHA recordkeeping as the primary means of tracking performance. The quest to continuously improve OSHA recordable cases for that elusive goal of “zero injuries” was a mantra often heard in the safety community. The question I would pose is, “Gee, what if I get to the top of the ladder and find out I’m on the wrong wall?”
Unfortunately, we still have a strong OSHA focus. We bemoan that OSHA recordables are lagging indicators but do very little to develop new metrics for a more proactive look at things. Enlightened safety pros have moved to a systems approach that integrates the various programs into a cohesive system focused on continuous improvement.
Such systems demand leadership and employee participation and have proven to be successful when properly implemented. Concurrent with systems thinking has been the active use of risk assessment to complement traditional hazards assessment. Tools like task-based risk assessment recognize the realities of the workplace and do not skirt the issues where power must be on, work performed at elevation, etc. Through the application of the hierarchy of controls, risks can be mitigated allowing the work to be performed with acceptable risk. Those using the latest state of the art tools and thinking are making real headway — but still missing the real issue.
The ghost of the future would probably ask, “Why do you folks insist on working on 4% of the problem? Is the “ghost of OSHA past” so strong that you cannot expand your focus and address the 96% of accidental deaths occurring off the job?” This is the real future of safety – tackling the bigger issue without abandoning the occupational focus.
In fact, you’ll find that making safety a 24-7 family driven value can do much to help your in-plant efforts. That is the opportunity. The challenge will come from the strategic initiatives of sustainability and corporate social responsibility that demand a broader focus of efforts geared to the family and society. If safety is not at the forefront, we will be pushed further to the back burner and CEOs will find other means and methods to address these strategic challenges.
Take stock of how you see and practice our profession. Are you in the past, the present or the future? When you climb the ladder of successfully reducing risk, make sure you are climbing the right wall – the wall of safety 24-7.