The musings of my colleagues this month prompt me to consider issues beyond safety by compulsion to the undreamt sunny uplands where people actually accurately risk assess and perhaps even do more in safety than is actually demanded of them.

What is the ‘dream ticket’ in safety? Well we train and equip man A to such an extent that when he approaches a job he needs no more guidance because he personally considers the task, assesses the risk and takes precautions accordingly and he has immediate and convenient access to the equipment to enable those precautions. Job done.

Plainly this is easy to say but damnably difficult to implement. Mountaineering to a high standard would be a good example of this situation.

Two golden tickets

Given the degree of difficulty in getting to the position described above many organisations aim to achieve the following instead. We train and equip man A to such an extent that he personally considers the task and assesses the risk and takes precautions. But we know that given typical levels of safety culture maturity his risk assessment may well be flawed, so guidance and rules are provided.

In addition we’ve implemented a culture of looking after each other so that when man A makes a mistake man B will step in and assist by suggesting extra precautions or pointing out the risk and MAN B WILL THANK HIM for this.

The vehicle for implementing the second vision and moving (steadily) towards the dream ticket is usually a process of workplace engagement i.e. one to one discussions regularly between man A and a trained coach. The structure of the conversation is such that it leads man A through a process of mental risk assessment. These conversations occur with a frequency that condition man A to carry out the mental risk assessment unprompted i.e. without the coach being present. The process also facilitates man A looking after the safety of man B.

Assuming that we need guidance and rules in safety because the level of maturity dictates it then what are the implications? Introducing a blanket eye protection policy provides a good example.

Consider ‘Trying To Be Safe Ltd’

TTBS has a lost time injury rate of 0.5/100000 hrs so there’s room for improvement but it isn’t a disaster area either. The safety manager (Edsel Murphy) is tearing his hair out trying to work out how to improve the injury performance because, yes, the safety performance is seen as his baby rather than being owned by line management.

There’s no history of eye injuries on the site, near-miss reporting is under developed so no indicators there either but Edsel can see that in some areas there’s a reasonable risk of eye injury. The areas concerned have been designated eye protection areas but Edsel frequently finds people not wearing their spectacles in those areas. In desperation and reluctantly, because he knows that protective measures should be risk based, Edsel decides to introduce a policy of eye protection to be worn in all operational areas.

Sighing Edsel paints a green line on the floor to designate the eye protection area.

Follow Edsel’s further adventures next month as rioting erupts at Trying To Be Safe Ltd as a result of his efforts to protect people from being blinded.