The Art of Safety: Protect the Worker
Given the predictable nature of hazards, how and why do incidents occur? Think about this: If I know the winning numbers ahead of a lottery drawing, it’s simple for me to be 100% successful at winning the lottery money. So, if we know how hazards are going to act and how they cause harm, why aren’t we 100% successful at safety? It’s because we don’t fully grasp and utilize the Art of Safety, or how and why you must understand, lead, develop and protect people.
That’s why I wrote the book “Frontline Incident Prevention – The Hurdle: Innovative and Practical Insights on the Art of Safety” and why I am focusing my 2023 Incident Prevention articles – and their corresponding free webinars – on the Art of Safety. So, let’s get started and discover how to effectively lead and protect people rather than managing robots and pleasing systems.
One of my biggest problems with safety is that we settle. We settle for compliance. We settle for whatever tools and equipment are most readily available. We settle for work practices based on the way we’ve always done them. And, as to the issue we are focusing on in this installment of “Frontline Fundamentals,” we settle for pleasing systems.
To illustrate this point, I want you to answer the following question honestly: Have you ever conducted or evaluated a job briefing based entirely on the form?
You might have. It’s not uncommon. I’m aware of instances in which a crew leader filled out the job briefing in his truck, handed it out, and then instructed his crew members to read and sign it. Everyone complied with zero discussion, and then a safety professional showed up a few hours later, asked for the briefing and complimented the crew leader for doing a fantastic job with it.
Stop Simply Pleasing the System
This is not just about having a sheet of paper filed away that we can give to a regulatory agency in the event of an investigation. The issue of pleasing the system manifests itself in training without evaluation, job site observations perceived as someone being out to get you, safety programs designed with the goal of compliance, incident analyses conducted entirely to satisfy whatever software you have, or worse yet, incident investigations that don’t occur because there were no OSHA recordables. Simply stated, we’re happy to please the system and think we’re successful if we are compliant and have good documentation.
Let’s get back to the job briefing. I promise you this: Documentation doesn’t protect people, nor does it save lives. Discussion and mutual understanding about what’s on the form help to do both. So, how can we stop making it our goal to please systems and start making it our goal to protect people?
Before I answer that question, I want to point out that documentation is important, especially today. From a practical standpoint, if something isn’t documented, it didn’t happen. Safety and health management systems need documentation and reporting. If that’s part of your job, do it and do it well. As I often remind myself, if you’re going to cash 100% of your paycheck, do 100% of your job.
Protect the Worker
With that said, let’s now discuss protecting workers rather than pleasing systems. To ensure our focus is on protecting workers, we simply need to remember CAVE culture, which means caring about people, analyzing incidents, valuing safety and encouraging reporting.
Care about people. Caring is about developing people and encouraging growth while preventing harm. It is demonstrated through accountability, coaching, feedback, observations and training. People are our most valuable assets; they will go as far as the organization allows them to, and the organization will go as far as people take it. The result of caring is mutually respectful, trusting, appreciative relationships.
Analyze incidents. Principle five of human performance states that incidents can be avoided based on the application of lessons learned from past events and errors. Here’s a breakdown of what this means:
- Application: Action is taken based on what is learned.
- Lessons learned: We seek to learn and prevent, focusing more on systems than humans.
- Past events: We analyze and investigate incidents.
- Errors: To mitigate incidents and near misses, you must have complete data and evidence about successes and failures so you can fully analyze incidents, correlate causality and develop effective action plans. Remember this in both incident analyses and post-job briefings.
Value safety. Organizations that get safety wrong view it as a necessary expense. Organizations that get it right consider it an investment, and it becomes a competitive advantage for them with respect to employees and customers. I can state with absolute certainty that safety must be a value that is incorporated into every decision we make and everything we do. Priorities are circumstantial and change. Values do not. And in terms of motivation, we won’t be satisfied until what we value is fulfilled. Think about how we defined caring; I believe it is fair to say that valuing safety equates to valuing people.
Encourage reporting. Companies must encourage employees to report errors and incidents and then make it safe to do so. While most organizations claim to encourage reporting, few get very much, and what they do get often has little value. If we think critically, we will determine reporting to be a natural outcome of caring about people, analyzing incidents and valuing safety. If I care about you and value safety, I want your feedback and ideas; I can’t analyze what I don’t know about. Therefore, I not only encourage reporting, but I do it myself and make sure to follow up.
Avoid the Trap
It is easy to fall into the trap of pleasing systems without realizing it is happening. The Art of Safety requires us to go above and beyond pleasing systems with the goal of protecting and developing people. Focusing on CAVE culture reminds us to care about people, analyze incidents, value safety and encourage reporting.
From Words to Action
The words in this article will not save lives, but what you do with them can. Attend the free webinar on this topic – which takes place July 12 at 11 a.m. Eastern – to learn more about how to turn these words into action. We’ll discuss this article, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and add value to the discussion. I hope you’ll attend and look forward to seeing you there. I also encourage you to read “Frontline Incident Prevention – The Hurdle: Innovative and Practical Insights on the Art of Safety” and enroll in The Art of Safety course available at https://ip-institute.com.
About the Author: David McPeak, CUSP, CIT, CHST, CSP, CSSM, is the director of professional development for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute (https://ip-institute.com) and the author of “Frontline Leadership – The Hurdle” and “Frontline Incident Prevention – The Hurdle.” He has extensive experience and expertise in leadership, human performance, safety and operations. McPeak is passionate about personal and professional development and believes that intrapersonal and interpersonal skills are key to success. He also is an advanced certified practitioner in DISC, emotional intelligence, the Hartman Value Profile, learning styles and motivators.
About Frontline Fundamentals: Frontline Fundamentals topics are derived from the Incident Prevention Institute’s popular Frontline training program (https://frontlineutilityleader.com). Frontline covers critical knowledge, skills and abilities for utility leaders and aligns with the Certified Utility Safety Professional exam blueprint.