The words ‘risk taking’ and ‘safety professional’ aren’t often used together. Sure, we have heard the story of the safety professional who failed a site drug and alcohol test. The safety professional who didn’t follow the working at heights procedure. Well, I’m not talking about these people or this type of risk taking.
I think that we should be taking risks in safety. Safety is not going to improve if we keep doing the same things. How can we expect change if we aren’t prepared to go out on a limb every now and then? If we aren’t pushing the boundaries? As T.S.Eliot said “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” But trying new things comes with risk – the risk of failure, the risk of being wrong, the risk of making a mistake. I am not alone in thinking this way and Safety Differently is evidence of this.
I believe that there is another form of risk taking that is not so obvious. It is a risk that safety professionals may face in their roles. If your approach is to support your organisation by helping people develop and implement solutions, then you may know what I am talking about.
It is the risk of not being recognised for the work that you do. Or worse, it is the risk of people thinking that you are not doing your job properly.
Consider the following. You are speaking with a manager and while in conversation you discuss a safety issue or opportunity. You work with the manager, bouncing around ideas and help to create a solution. You do the background work converting the solution into an initiative. You coach the manager, assist in advocating the solution and support in launching the initiative. You know that you have done a good job when the manager sends out the communications, sets expectations, leads the implementation and follows up on progress. Better yet, the initiative is successful and you feel proud of your contribution and hard work. Are you then prepared to not be recognised for the work that you did?
Another scenario. You have been working with a management team to prepare for an upcoming audit. It is like pulling teeth. No matter how hard you try, you find it impossible to engage the team. You know that there is a good chance that you can pass the audit with some quick fix solutions. Instead you allow the management team to score poorly in the audit. As a result the managers become invested in safety. You now have a management team that is engaged and actively works on improving safety. Are you then prepared to be questioned about the poor audit result and how you allowed it to happen?
With risk comes opportunity. I was elated when an engineering manager asked me to be part of a project team. He said that with my support he knew that the initiative would get off the ground. I have also been passed over in favour of a safety manager who promised he had all the answers, the silver bullet. To me, in the end, the risk of not being recognised, of being overlooked, is risk worth taking. Because there is also the chance of success.
I like what you have written and can agree with your acceptance of those risks. What I have found in my current role is that, although I don’t get a lot of direct recognition from senior ‘officers’, I have been congratuated by quite a few ‘frontline’ workers for my efforts on their behalf. I’ve also regognised an increasing willingness from frontline managers to involve me in issues as soon as they arise. This indicates an increasing confidence in my contribution to their issues.
For me these outcomes are worth more than a payrise because they result in better safety outcomes than a payrise would. (But I do appreciate getting pay rises).
Also in the area of Systems audits – I’m not frightened to let poor scores result because as you also indicate, they result in better ‘buy-in’ from those managers whose performances are affected.
Its a matter of finding the right balance between ‘carrot and stick’ to motivate individuals. For some it’s more carrot, for others it’s more stick.
I agree. It is a great feeling when the people that you are trying to support welcome and seek out your input. I don’t know about you but it can make my day, even my week.
Part of my motivation for writing this post was the idea that to do safety differently will require more than just a different way of thinking about safety. It will also require a diverse range of people to be attracted to the field of safety. To me this needs the role of the safety professional to be viewed in a different light. I am not sure how this change may come about, but I think that this is a good place to start a discussion.
‘Doing it differently’ is something I’ve come to enjoy – raising issues where others accept the staus quo is a great way to have conversations about safety which can also result in changed minds.
I’ve often been amused when coming into a new role how people expect me to act like a ‘policeman’ because that’s how my predecessors have acted. But then they are pleasantly surprised when I don’t act like that but rather seek to ‘make their job easier’. I’m keen to reduce paperwork and adminstration associated with WHS.
I believe we have to start by having a general conversation with the people we support, to understand where their minds are at, BEFORE we start spruiking for prevention activities.
One significant conversation I had in my current role (in disability services) was with a middle manager around some clients’ behavioural events.
His attitude was ‘we work with disabled clients who can be aggressive and violent – we expect that our support workers may be injured’. (Shock-horror !!!!)
The gist of my conversation with him was ‘if we expect people will be injured we won’t do anything to prevent those injuries, but if we refuse to accept those injuries we’ll at least explore options to minimise the potential for injuries’.
I’m pleased to say that now that middle manager is one of the ones who seek my advice in working on issues PARTICULARLY associated with client behaviours. And we’ve successfully reduced the frequency rate of behaviours and the degree of consequences where behaviours do still occur.
And the support workers who felt previously unsupported are grateful that they now have my support in these issues and they are not being hurt.
I had a similar conversation a few years ago with a supervisor/mechanic who accepted that minor cuts, scratches and bruises would occur when using tools around engines and gearboxes. Again I pointed out that if we accept those injuries will occur we won’t act to prevent them. But simple solutions like placing ‘cushions’ on likely bump zones or taking a file to sharp edges will reduce the injury rate. Better yet making sure we use the correct tool and consider where the force of using them will take our hands may even reduce the incident rate.
I have to say that I believe I’ve achieved more changes and improved performances in WHS through these conversational experiences than by ‘waving a 4*2’ and demanding compliance with policies and procedures.
I’d love to hear some of your ‘war stories’ in doing it differently.
I believe that “conversational exeriences” are often the start of something awesome. A chat while making coffee, waiting for a meeting room, during a break in training session, on-site discussing the job at hand. These conversations allow people to be informal, have a laugh, throw ideas around, ask ‘why not?’. You never know where an idea will spark from and where it will go.