Many well-intentioned businesses find themselves trapped under a searing array of rules, cardinal rules and complex processes. It’s often impossible to do any task “by the book”, including safety management, and the workplace is expensive and difficult. This “rule creep” scenario is costing companies millions in lost revenue each year.
Safety professionals who attempt to achieve “zero harm” within their companies often reduce the effectiveness and efficiency of their safety programs. Cary Usrey, in a recent interview, stated that while “zero harm” was a good strategy for many companies’ safety management programs, it is becoming more of a focus on the trivial than the serious. This article will discuss the top three safety management myths and offer a solution.
1. Complexity = More Coverage
Safety management programs often include many unrelated safety measures. They may not always be compatible and provide little value for a workplace, but can also cost a lot and make things more complicated. These safety measures do not address the root causes of problems. Instead, they focus on symptoms such as unsafe conditions and risky acts.
It is common to find policies that address all possible risks, regardless of how small or far away. These are particularly problematic if workers who have been assigned to them do not evaluate their utility. They may not be relevant to the job being done if they were assigned in a general way, which would result in disregarding the whole safety system. Organizations simply express shock at the ineffective and complex procedures not being followed after an incident.
It is a common practice to ignore lengthy and complicated procedures. These criteria look reasonable because they contain almost all possible safeguards and controls. If employees refuse to follow these complicated procedures, what good is it? I have seen many businesses resort to these “feel good” methods to burn out employees. Ineffective or over-done procedures can slow down work performance, make it more difficult to complete tasks, increase the risk of making mistakes, and cost more.
2. Safer workplace = lower incident rates
A low or zero TRIR is the holy grail of many businesses. While this type of safety management comes with many drawbacks, the two most common are under-reporting or fabricated data. This method results in the corporation spending 20% of its budget on risk. However, this is often ignored. Because these targets are low in number, the organization will spend most of its time and money on events that have low consequences or risk. In an effort to decrease the incidents, an integrated safety approach that addresses more serious but less obvious dangers is not taken into consideration. Instead, the focus is on the most common and easiest to spot risks. Numerous research shows that low TRIRs and a decrease in fatalities and serious injuries have very little or no correlation. Safety is limited in resources so it is important to make the most of them. Perfection (such as zero harm) is expensive.
3. Quick fixes
Safety management is a field that requires quick solutions. This is because there are increasing costs to being late and those who promote them are persuasive. It is common to feel pressured to do something quickly when safety and compliance issues arise. However, this can be dangerous. When it comes to addressing complex, systemic and cultural safety concerns, paint-by-numbers solutions are nothing more than a wasteful use of time and money.
It is also problematic to try and add more regulations, guidelines and/or lengthy and laborious procedures after an incident. Although safety achievements may be perceived as better, this “check the box” approach can lead to more complicated and expensive tasks, which could have unexpected consequences. This may make it difficult to address more fundamental organizational issues, which could be the root cause.
Safety management cannot be improved simply by adding more safety protocols. Safety does not always come from inundating workers by more regulations, complicated procedures, start cards and stop cards, take-fives, or other safety measures. Although some safety measures are beneficial, others may not be. They can make work more expensive, risky, and difficult. The risk of alienating employees is high when you create what some call “EHS illness”.
It may be possible to simplify and eliminate practices that are not necessary for safety management by carefully examining the arguments. The review of safety procedures can be initiated by a multidisciplinary committee, which includes all affected employees. It has been my experience that employees are willing to take part in this effort. This is a great example for “good housekeeping.” Although safety excellence is not an easy goal to reach, it can be achieved with a more focused, too complex quick fix. However, it could be easier to set a target if safety measures can be changed to be friendly, and useful. Safety perfection is not possible but it is possible to improve safety.