While reading a recent article in Professional Safety, a Journal of the American Society of Safety Engineers, I saw in print what I have been observing for the last five years in the safety industry. The first part of the article referenced a systems approach to safety, which is commonly referred to as traditional safety: emphasizing procedures, processes, policies, rules, training, goals, metrics, equipment, tools, and more conventional safety pain points.This approach requires the least amount of knowledge, few skills, and minimal relationships between people, the author says. The author then states that today’s Occupational Safety and Health Professional “knows better,” hinting that this training is insufficient as it is. The article is worth a read and I am eager to read the next few installments, as it is part of a four-piece look at the need to focus on one’s own self as well as the group one works within. Yet, intimating that this approach is not only ineffective, which – as a Safety Professional – I agree with, but that today’s Safety Professionals “know better” does not provide a viable stand-alone approach to safety. There is a need for a bigger emphasis on the individual’s role, especially an introspective one, to ensure and promote workplace safety.
In this blog, I will explain why I think that today’s Safety Professionals largely do not “know better” and why I truly believe that a systems approach to safety alone will not get them to where they are seeking to end up. This old-school, “know better” mentality is strong in today’s safety field and I am worried that such an approach will stifle Safety Professionals’ ability and willingness to recognize the need for more self-focused, personal approaches to safety.
A personal approach to safety is key. A situation I encountered recently illustrates how Safety Professionals can use the systems they have to gather the data needed to understand your safety risk as well as the actions you should take to create a safer workplace.
A fellow Certified Safety Professional forwarded an inquiry on a message board to me, asking if I knew of anyne who used an outside vendor to "evaluate the safety aptitude (knowledge and skill) and acumen (decision-making ability) of their hiring job candidates." His curiosity led me to believe he would be instantly open to exploring the personal approach to safety. He had been looking at some big data approaches that focused on tendencies of the working population and used that data to predict where, when, and how injuries would happen. This struck me as a refreshing step away from the same old, same old!
If you think about it, this is essentially another system approach, but it's backed by more robust analytics. It tracks group trends, but it does fail to recognize the individual and doesn’t give the individual something to key in on. I used Snapshot® from Progressive as an analogy, as I often do when trying to explain the "self” or personal approach to safety concept to others. Insurance agencies have done a great job of amassing big data on how many accidents are likely to occur, and where and when they might happen. They can develop probabilities depending on the driver’s sex and age and the vehicle type and color. Then, they match your premium to a persona similar to you: for example, a male between the ages of 35-45 years old who drives a red Jeep Wrangler. The reality is that you may drive better (or worse) than the “normal” 40-year-old male red Jeep driver. Gathering data from your specific driving habits is the only way for you to A) know your results, and B) help you to know what to work on.
SafetyDNA, an assessment and development program created by PSI, facilitates the personal approach to safety by evaluating the individual traits of front line workers and leaders. It assesses how certain personal psychological factors affect their liklihood to be injured. The program then suggests individual, targeted safety plans. How you go about changing your focus, and what tools you use to do so depends on your willingness to internalize what the personalized Safety Manager is trying to convey: an authentic focus on yourself and your personal safety profile.
It is a lot easier to fix things when we are aware of what we need to be working on. If safety had a spokesperson like Flo, I believe these concepts would be more widely understood and today’s Safety Professionals would be way ahead of the game.