There's No Safety In Numbers Only.
By Kevin Dwyer
Friday, 23rd November 2007
Occupational Health and Safety is a serious subject - The degree of seriousness in which it is held by organisations is demonstrated by how they are lead, not by their bald statistics, their processes and policies or their insurance bill.

To embed a positive attitude to occupational health and safety in an organisation requires attention to three areas.

The first and foremost is leadership. The leader of the organisation must be seen to be leading on safety. A leader that demonstrates that they care about their employees health and well being including their own will generate a much higher degree of compliance with health and safety policies and processes than a leader who demonstrates a good knowledge of the legislation.

A leader that sets a standard of intolerance to unsafe acts and unsafe conditions will prevent more lost time injures than a leader who asks for safety to be at the start of every agenda for the effect rather than the substance.

In all cases I have observed, this means at one time or another putting safety ahead of a short term goal like a sale, or completion of a project on time and within budget.

Two examples from my personal experience come to mind. One was a senior executive visiting Fiji taking a tour of a service station who spotted a bald tyre on a delivery truck. He personally stopped the delivery, personally called our fitting hop and instructed the fitters to come to the service station and replace the tyre. We lost sales that day due to delays in delivery, but the clear point of where safety fitted in the petroleum business was made.

The second was when we closed down a chemical solvents filling plant after a serious incident with no actual consequences on the day due only to good luck. We did so because we could not find a way of preventing the incident possibly occurring again.

The second area that requires attention is the processes of an organisation. All processes should be analysed for risk. Not just the formal processes that are documented and held in a retrievable form, but also informal processes which are not documented.

Formal processes should be analysed by both a desk top study for hazard identification and by observing the actual practice being carried out. There is often a significant difference between what the written process says and what process actually is being carried out.

Informal processes should be observed to determine if any unsafe conditions are evident and if any unsafe acts are being practised. Risks are evident in the most benign of places. Many people are hurt through not using hand rails on stairs. Risks tend to strike when environments change. For example, at Christmas time many office people are hurt putting up the Christmas decorations.

The third area which requires attention is the measurement of safety performance.

Safety performance in some organisations is measured by the number of safety meetings held, the response time to safety issues being raised or the conformance to processes such as advising visitors to a factory or office of the safety procedures.

These measures are appropriate for measuring conformance to business processes related to safety but do not measure safety performance.

Research has shown that a pyramid of safety KPIs exists where the number of fatalities has a relationship with the number of lost time injuries which has a relationship with the number of medical treatment cases which has a relationship with the number of unsafe acts and unsafe conditions which has a relationship with the number of hazards present.

It is important to measure through the pyramid and attack the base of the pyramid; hazards, unsafe acts and unsafe conditions to reduce the top of the pyramid. However, the measurement of statistics and the analysis of processes are not enough.

Statistics can and are fudged. Lost time injuries are not reported because workers are encouraged to return to work to do "light duties", not as part of a rehabilitation scheme but so as not to be classified as a lost time injury.

In some organisations contractors are not included in statistics. Leadership of the highest order is required to use statistics to actually understand the genuine health and safety status of an organisation and to act with sincerity to improve it.

Copying an organisation's approach to safety is also not enough. In business, copying the good original works of others in a pursuit of "best practice" without having the same belief or the single minded determination to reach a goal is hollow at the best of times.

Taking this approach with occupational health and safety is not just hollow, it is taking liberty with the well being of others; at times a criminal offence and always a moral offence.

Kevin Dwyer is the founder of Change Factory. Change Factory helps organisations who do not like their business outcomes to get better outcomes by changing people's behaviour. Businesses we help have greater clarity of purpose and ability to achieve their desired business outcomes. To learn more or see more articles visit www.changefactory.com.au  or email kevin.dwyer@changefactory.com.au  ©2007 Change Factory
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