Safety Culture – Are Injuries Consequences of Our Daily Actions?

I am a firm believer that injuries happen for a reason! There are many that will agree with this statement, while others will rationalize that some injuries are just, “Freak accidents.” If you listen to news reporters on your local new stations, you will hear that someone getting hurt is usually, just a “Freak accident.” In many cases we never get to the root cause of injuries because of the “Freak Accident” belief.

Would you believe that some injuries are just due to the consequences of our daily actions, habits, and lifestyles? To make my point, let’s look at several examples that will help put this into perspective. We add to the probability of having an injury every time we get in our car to go to work, to run an errand, board an airplane to go on vacation or business trip, crossing the street, lifting a heavy object, etc. The list is endless and can go on and on.

It is my belief that individuals alter their behavior in response to re-enforced safety rules.  For example, wearing a seat belt while driving a car. The question: If the law did not require drivers to wear their seat belt, would they still wear them?  It it interesting to me, with all of the statistics that show that seat belts save lives, that many drivers still do not wear their seat belt.  On the other hand many drivers that wear their seat belt just see it as a necessary evil and have been conditioned to do so, either through being told by someone, the law, or just self-awareness, while other drivers are still convinced that they are safer without their seat belt and refuse to wear them.

Now let’s take it a step further and think about the industrial setting. If some believe that seat belts are useful and others do not, does this carry over into the work environment? This is only one example. It is my belief that a workplace safety culture will not change, unless there is a good management system in place that is capable of motivating and allowing employees to alter the amount of risk they are willing to accept.

I have always used many quality techniques in the safety arena, as, in my opinion, quality systems are very closely aligned with safety efforts.  For example, Philip Crosby, Quality expert,  defined and promoted the phrase “zero defects,” whereas “Zero defects” does not mean mistakes never happen, only that there is no allowable number of errors built into a product or process and that “you get it right first.” In his book “Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality,” originally published in 1979, he discusses quality improvement as a 14-step process.

From my perspective, if you take the 14 element he outlines and compares them to several models such as: OSHA’s VPP, ANSI – AIHA Z10 – 2005, you will find a lot of similarities in establishing a Safety Process.   The bottom-line, his belief was that an organization that established a quality program will see savings returns on investment that more than offset the cost of the quality program.  This should be the same vision that one must have with the safety system.

Crosby makes a statement that I really believe and I think that it is worth repeating. I believe that it puts everything into perspective. “People are conditioned to believe that error is inevitable. We not only accept error, we anticipate it.” “It does not bother us to make a few errors, and management plans for these errors to occur. We feel that human beings have a “built-in” error factor.”

Think about this! How many companies have you heard of building service (repair) centers as they are building a new product? We have a tendency to anticipate that the product we are building is going to fail.  Do we want to use this method for your safety management system? This is the same as someone developing safety policies and procedures, or guarding machines, after an employee gets hurt.  To avoid this, we must understand risk assessment and analysis to help prevent injuries before they occur.  We need to get smarter in some respects and understand how to build systems with the right components that will sustain it self.   This takes a lot of commitment from everyone from Top Management down to the lowest level.

The question: Do we do maintain the same standards when it comes to our personal life? If we did, we would resign ourselves to being shortchanged now and then as we cash our paychecks. We would expect hospital nurses to drop a certain percentage of newborn babies. We would expect to periodically drive to the wrong house. As individuals we do not tolerate these things. Thus, we have a double standard, one for ourselves one for our jobs.

Source: “Developing an Effective Safety Culture: A Leadership Approach” by James Roughton

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