Evolving Fear into Function

swim-with-sharksA professional associate and close friend of mine recently earned the honor of speaking at TEDx Lausanne.  His topic was Evolving Fear into Function, which is a pretty provocative subject for a professional whose focus revolves around decreasing risk.  My friend’s name is Andrew Sharman and we have had many interesting conversations about the future of our profession.  His TEDx Talk has recently been published to YouTube: http://youtu.be/B7-DQFvD5ck.  Before continuing with my post, please take a few minutes and watch Andrew’s fine presentation.

So after watching Andrew’s talk I found myself deep in thought about the EHS profession’s reputation around risk.  How many times have you heard jokes about the “Safety Guy/Girl” being risk averse?  It usually provides a good punchline, and while I am happy to see people enjoy a good laugh, I think it’s a huge misconception.  In fact, I think it’s dead wrong!  To truly do our job of protecting people, planet and profit, we run towards risk, not away from it.  This is the same point Andrew is making in his presentation.  Life is not about avoiding risk at all cost but rather it’s about developing the confidence to master the fear of failure.  Once free of paralyzing fear, we are enabled to achieve goals previously thought unattainable.  The value proposition for EHS Professionals, is our ability to take an inherently risky human endeavor and use our unique skill set to enable success without loss.

So how do we live up to the statements above?  We start by stopping to say “No” and begin saying “here’s how we manage the risk to an acceptable level”.  We engage employees and leaders in identifying actions that both decrease risk and increase the chance of success.  We precisely define the risk problem, partner with our people to solve it, and enable the satisfaction of the operation’s needs.  We lead the effort to shift our organization’s culture from blind risk taking to informed decision-making.

In the terms of our profession, we must become energetic advocates and facilitators of Risk Based Decision Making.  RBDM is a decision-making process by which you systematically identify hazards, assess the degree of risk, and determine the best course of action to achieve the goal with an acceptable level of risk.  The U.S. Department of Energy has come up with a slick acronym for their method of RBDM.  They call it SAFER.  The steps are:

  1. Summarize the critical steps
  2. Anticipate/discuss errors for each critical step and relevant error precursors.
  3. Foresee probable and worst-case consequences during each critical step.
  4. Evaluate controls or contingencies at each critical step to prevent, catch, and recover from errors and to reduce their consequences.
  5. Review previous experience and lessons learned relevant to the specific task anc critical steps.

(U.S. Department of Energy, Human Performance Improvement Handbook, Volume 2, Page 6).

I’ll wrap up with a connection to this point from Andrew’s TED Talk: Thinking alone will not overcome fear, but action will.  We must passionately lead our organization’s to evolve from fear of EHS actions to the embrace of functional practices that result in maximized organizational success regarding people, planet and profit.

About Chet Brandon

I am a highly experienced Health, Safety and Environmental Professional for Fortune 500 Companies. I love the challenge of ensuring HSE excellence in process, manufacturing and other heavy industry settings. The connection of EHS to Sustainability is a fascinating subject for me. I believe that the future of industrial organizations depends on the adoption of sustainable practices.
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