22 December 2017
As the year draws to a close, we are bombarded with messages on how to stay safe over the holiday season. But according to our Global Safety Consulting Lead, Craig Marriott, it’s time we start approaching safety differently.
We caught up with Craig to discuss his views on safety management and the trends he sees emerging in 2018.
Over the past couple of years, the traditional safety approach has reached a plateau - how can we change our approach to safety in the workplace?
My biggest concern is a lack of risk management. Safety seems to attack every issue with the same approach, regardless of how severe it might be. Overall injury rates have continued to decline - it’s the more severe events that have plateaued.
We can make the biggest genuine contribution to safety by really understanding the high potential hazards we have and managing them really well. I would rather have a hundred cut fingers than one amputated arm - though I’m not sure most business systems reflect that because we use coarse indicators that make all events look the same.
So what would you say are the underlying drivers of good safety performance?
Willingness to learn and improve, genuine two-way communication, critical thinking and understanding of how our operational processes actually work, and finally, properly understanding and focusing attention on the highest priority activities. These underpin good performance in all areas, not just safety. You can’t have sustainable good safety practices without generally good business practices.
You often talk about shifting the focus of safety from processes to people, can you expand on this?
There are two main areas. Firstly, processes are an attempt to capture what should happen so that we can make it repeatable and hopefully meet our objectives consistently. But we cannot predict everything that will occur in a complex environment so our processes are inevitably inadequate. It’s only the quality of our people that gets us through - trusting that and harnessing it makes for a more dynamic, responsive and innovative environment. Well-trained, well-resourced, good quality people will outperform a procedure.
Secondly, safety is about people. That’s why we’re here. Too often the focus is on whether an accident was properly reported and classified rather than worrying about the wellbeing of the injured person. It simply isn’t good enough to accompany someone to the doctor to make sure the injury is properly assessed rather than to make sure the person is okay.
So what trends do you see emerging for HSE in 2018?
The last year or two have been about an emerging trend towards a more distributed and worker-driven model. This has been getting a lot of coverage and is becoming more and more mainstream.
I think 2018 will be more about dealing with the implications of that change on the centralised safety teams we see, particularly in large corporate businesses. They have begun to recognise the benefits of a new approach, but have yet to come to terms with its disruption to their current operating model.
How well safety teams manage the transition from compliance officer to coach will be critical in achieving improved performance. Also, proper recognition of safety as a complex issue (i.e. losing the ‘safety is simple’ mantra that drives a lot of poor behaviour in organisations).
What can organisations do to improve their safety performance in 2018?
Start doing things differently. A lot of what we have done to date has been effective, but to make a change you need to see a change - doing more of the same will not get us to the next level. Year after year I see safety plans with the same activities, just doing more of them. More audits, more observations, more leadership conversations. How about asking people what they want to see from their safety team, rather than telling them what they’re going to get?
What advice would you give safety managers/businesses to help them improve their safety performance?
Stop thinking so much about safety as a process in its own right and start thinking about it as an outcome of doing the job well. Safety should be built-in, not bolted on. Stop relying quite so much on posters, and stop basing performance on lost time injuries.