The April 2012 edition of the UK magazine Training Journal makes a statement that is so simple, safety professionals should be kicking themselves. The safety profession is trying to change the measurement of safety from lag indicators to lead, from negatives to positives, from failures to successes and yet we continue to talk about zero harm. In Training Journal, Stuart Walkley states that
“…we face a new challenge, not just to ‘do no harm’ but to ‘do some good’ in the workplace, to create a healthy working environment that supports and contributes to our wellbeing.”
“Do some good”. I would rather be a Do Some Good Manager than a Zero Harm Manager. Focussing on the safety positive is what I do as a safety adviser but saying that my job is to “do some good” makes me feel better about my job than if I was minimising the negative, which is what the zero harm descriptor does.
Also, “do some good” sits well with the new approach that safety professionals are supposed to have, having to blend the psychosocial hazards into our risk controls approach.
Walkley provides some terrific comparative statistics on workplace injuries. He compares the deaths and injuries from building the Forth Bridge in the late 1880s (26,000 instances of illnesses or accidents, including 71 deaths, out of a workforce of 4,600) to those of the Wembley Stadium (one death and one serious injury) and the current Olympic Stadium and Complex (no serious incidents of fatalities to date). Look how far the management of safety, in the broadest sense, has come in just over a century.
The Training Journal seems to have the human resources sector as its main readership but Walkley broaches the safety and wellness divide by discussing the “interconnectivity” of the two disciplines and, more importantly, the divide between wellness and safety – a divide generated from the two disciplines being in a transition to a combined discipline.
This transition seems a recent phenomenon but Walkley points to the 1948 vision of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on wellness, WHO’s 1995 global strategy on occupational health, and the World Economics Forum’s 2011 report Working Towards Wellness: Measuring Results. The comparison of the construction projects and the international wellness reports shows the importance of an understanding of OHS history beyond Bird’s pyramid and James Reason’s cheese.
Some have started referring to this century as the “Asian century” but given the safety improvements in the Western world in the 20th century quoted by Walkley, what could the current century be in relation to health and safety?