The How, How likely and How much of workplace safety

I return to the observation Ken made in his article, the obs about the most successful safety places where

“…safety is driven at the shop floor level and led by a committed team of senior executives who can be relied upon to show it by their actions and not just words.”

Of course, at first blush this is about ownership, commitment etc.  But I get the impression that it’s something even more fundamental and that’s about pragmatism.

I’m not sure OHS-World is so good at How, How likely and How much: the things that I’d suggest cut-to-the-chase on defining pragmatism.

In contrast, we seem to get all caught up in What and Why as if that is enough to motivate good safety performance.  What manifests itself as interminable reports of all the horrible safety failures and the injuries that accompany them.  For mine, the only What in this context is a What that matters to the punter.  Did something go wrong in a way and situation that is completely relevant to the punter, so it can be used to look for similar potential at the punter’s place?  The Why I’m referring to is why a punter should fix stuff, specifically in the context of fixing stuff ’cause it’s the right thing to do or ’cause ya can get busted.  Both are pretty superfluous. If callousness about safety is the main problem, then by now it would be pretty clear that just prosecution would be the solution.  And the related thing is that a typical small business owner knows how likely it is they will get an OHS inspector knocking on the door, and that’s bugger all.

How, is about the solutions, the pragmatic solutions.  This is where I think shopfloor solutions shine: workers doin’ the stuff, given the right amount of knowledge, almost always have the most pragmatic solutions.  Effective How can also kick in with that thing Yossi mentioned of sitting down and talking about solutions on the spot.  Take us away from the security of rabbiting on in a safety report and make us provide answers on the spot and the How is more likely to be pragmatic, bullshit is exposed on the spot, we have to cut-to-the-chase.

The How likely bit is a real problem.  I do me best to find likelihood of a particular injury and to pass that info on.  A NSW uni study on compliance with road safety signs stumbled on this issue of our decisions about likelihood of being screwed by a safety problem as a big motivator. “If I don’t do this or that, how likely is it I’m gunna get hurt?”  That study suggested that likelihood completely swamped consequence as a motivator. (Study titled: “Signs of trouble to come? A behavioural assessment of the effectiveness of road warning signs, Final Report“, Authors: Austin Adams Jim Bright Ben Searle, School of Psychology The University of New South Wales”.)  I think we really haven’t tackled this issue of likelihood enough.  And if the UNSW study has got it right, then we are overlooking a big practical safety motivator.

And there there is How much.  OHS-World seems to be “cost-averse” or sometimes “cost-blind”.  It’s either the illusion of pretending that cost is of no consequence or just failing to take cost into consideration when recommending solutions.  It’s about taking safety recommendations “personally” I reckon.

If you were running the business what would you do to get a good safety outcome at a sensible price?  And it’s clearly not a case of how cheaply something can be done.  It’s about bang-for-the-buck, and taking all costs into account that isn’t always going to mean penny-pinching at every turn.  I think it’s vital to have at least a ball-park cost in mind when doing a safety report.  And I think a “sleeper issue” in OHS is we don’t take into account that our recommendations, no matter how cheaply they are delivered, are almost always going to come with an implementation cost.  This implementation cost may be the reason the various free OHS regulator advisory services don’t get used as much as you’d expect them to be.  Related to this is the OHS thing of plonking in a process or record-keeping obligation with little or no regard for how the data is going to be used or can make things better.

What this boils down to is how much effort and how clever we can be in making recommendations, and helping out in the implementation, to make sure best possible reasonable results happen.  When OHS-World is seen as a practical problem solver and not just a problem identifier I guesstimate that we will see OHS performance move ahead leaps and bounds; and that is probably about treating ourselves as expert tradies, more than just experts. (Climbs off soapbox.)

Col Finnie
col@finiohs.com

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, consultation, culture, evidence, guidance, OHS, safety, UncategorizedTags , ,

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