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.