I was presenting at an executive strategy meeting last week for the organization in which I lead EHS. During the presentation I had a thought that I want to expand on here: Safety Must be Made. In the discussion with the leadership group I was using this statement to communicate the concept that the people of the organization must take action continuously to ensure that the organizations activities are safe.
Safety does not occur automatically in nature. In fact, nature tends toward unsafe with elevated levels of chaos as the normal state. Chaos is by definition disordered and unpredictable. The lower the level of predictability, the more risk of occurrence of injurious or loss producing events. Safety is maximized in ordered and thus predictable conditions. This ordering must be constantly maintained. If left to nature’s whims, risk increases.
So how do we make safety? There are many aspects to this question but I want to focus this discussion on one: people taking action. I’ll use the analogy of an electrical generator. The generator must be in constant action to maintain the flow of electricity to create an electrical field. In this example, the electricity is the metaphor for safety and the action of the generator (rotor revolutions) represents employee actions. It is consumed as soon as it is made; safety cannot be stored. As long as the employees remain in action, the safety field is maintained.
Actions such as hazard reduction, behavior correction and system improvement are examples. Note that all these require people to make them occur. People Make Safety. The key to ensuring they continue to make safety in the work setting: the culture of the work group must have the basic assumption that safety is a core value. This means that the group self-reinforces the behaviors that maintain or improve safety. On the I/O Psy page of this blog is some great detail on Culture Transformation to Support EHS.
Summing up this post, Safety is a condition that must be constantly maintained. It is maintained by the people involved in the processes of the organization. The group’s culture must deeply support this constant effort. Safety does not simply exist, it is made and remade by each decision and resultant action taken by people working together.
That is the first time I have seen a definition of the second law of thermodynamics used to describe safety and safety culture. Although, it fits and it fits well!! One of the human values I have looked at is altruism and how an EHS professional can tap this value to improve or expand safety culture. It is so powerful that people will take the action you are talking about to protect their co-workers when it is present. So how do we tap into that value or any other human energy sources to motivate people to anticipate hazards and take action for safety?
Thanks for your comment Randy. I’m glad the post gave you a new perspective to consider. You have asked the million dollar question regarding EHS&S: How do we motivate people to take action? This could be a long answer because of the wealth of information and facets to the question. In the interest of brevity I will focus on one area of the subject. Human behavior is influenced (some would even say controlled) by environmental, social and personal factors. The International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI.org) has developed a Human Performance Technology Model that summarizes both these factors and the tools to achieve desired outcomes with people. Take a look at the link for more detail.
Good stuff! I think another key with this topic is realistically defining what success looks like. How can we continually improve if we do not know that we have achieved what we set out to do!