Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Do we make a difference?

This is a common question amongst professionals who are mostly charged with the responsibility of preventing things from happening. This already creates a problem as how do we go about proving that we prevented something from happening? Answering this question could be as challenging as resolving the current crime issues in South Africa. Traditionally we measure our success as to whether we have had fewer or less severe injuries than the previous year. Okay, fair enough… So we hurt fewer people, or we hurt them less badly than in the past,but what we are actually saying is, we measured decreases in our failures or we didn’t screw-up quite so badly. The average safety person, just like the average member of management, looks at safety performance in terms of frequency of losses and severity of losses year over year. Our profession has no viable means of benchmarking what we do in a meaningful manner other than attempting to illustrate how we might have kept a few bad things from happening as terribly as they did last year. Given how many risk-control and risk-reducion solutions are in today’s workplace, it would be reasonable to suspect that the safety profession has met the measurement challenge head on already. When accidents and injuries do occur, even if they are severe or catastrophic, we often hear safety people saying things like “if only they had listened to me, this wouldn’t have happened; I knew something like this was bound to occur; or my personal favorite It could have been a lot worse if they weren’t wearing hard hats”. When bad things happen, people in the Safety and Health Profession are just as likely to rationalize these events the same as anyone else who wants to avoid or minimize blame. To date I can't recall any quantified study attempting to demonstrate any direct, or indirect benefit related to having a dedicated safety officer ever being undertaken. I have not found evidence, that indicates investing in a safety professional yields positive financial results for an organization. Intuitively, we may feel like we make a difference, but there is nothing in the way of quantifiable proof to indicate that we do. So the next time you are wondering what to do with those 15 minutes you have between Lockout/Tagout Training sessions, start thinking about how you REALLY impact the bottom line. Always remember, no business or organization is in existence for any other reason than to make money. If you aren’t adding to the profit picture, you are taking away from it… and that is a situation that won’t last very long. We need to have a concrete means of aligning our workplace efforts with clearly definable and reasonably attainable results. These results must be understandable to all stakeholders and must absolutely result in dramatic improvements to the overall workplace. Until then, Safety Professionals should stop believing the myth that they make an easily identifiable difference.