Monday, May 14, 2012

1970 – Approaches to today’s safety issues


Many of you are able to think back to your personal realities world in 1970. I was a recently graduated, just-married engineer working in an experimental pesticide development laboratory. An ongoing assignment dealt with how to get rid of our toxic wastes in (then legal) tidal area landfills of the San Francisco bay area. My wife and I shared a 1966 Ford Mustang and we pulled down an amazing $1,000 or so a month. Life was good as major safety and environmental regulations were being talked about and battled over by industry and government personnel.

Shortly after, a number of sea change laws were passed and we feverishly sought out technologies, policies and procedures (PNPs) to comply with this whole new world of regulations. Over the years since then, there have been various tidal changes to the regs. However, we still have similar foundations and approaches. The rest of our technology world, cultural world, education world and other areas of how and where we live and work have changed, and continue to change, more and more dramatically.

I often feel that, in the safety world, we keep using the tools of the 70’s (regulations, PNPs) and somewhat updated 1930’s era (H.W. Heinrich) observation programs to address a whole different world of realities than existed when they were last revised. The injury numbers for our nation have changed, but not all that much. We just keep slogging along at about the same pace as organization after organization hits its own personal injury rate plateau.

This is not good enough for the ever increasing number of global and domestic companies that are committed to living safety as a value. They do not count on government programs or dated approaches to help them achieve results beyond these unsatisfactory plateaus. The companies I deal with first assess their safety culture with a valid diagnostic. They then begin engaging their hourly and salaried employees in continuous improvement teams that relentlessly resolve the true root causes of their safety culture areas that are just not quite right.

Regulations and observations still exist in the foundational framework. However, the world we live in has changed so dramatically that the safety surgeons of leading edge companies are using other proven people technologies. This helps them to deliver a zero-incident safety performance culture that is far beyond what is available with the 30s and 70s tools to which downstream indicator approach companies continue to cling.

The Doc

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