Every time I read through them, I see something that makes me cringe.
“100% preventable.” Ugh. There it is.
What’s worse is when it is echoed in the sentiments of others.
This was a comment on a recent post about an incident where someone had “done something stupid,” and the result was inevitable. Just from reading a short news blurb, there was an exhortation of safety professionals about how this and similar incidents could be easily prevented.
One of the places that it is easy to get into trouble as a safety (or any) type of professional is with specificity of language. When we have these conversations within our own organizations and make definite statements like “100% preventable,” what message does that send? Do we inspire confidence in our critically-thinking peers when we make those statements?
Across the spectrum of probability, there’s zero on one side, and on the other is 100%. Neither of these numbers have the business of passing the lips of safety professionals because they are both absolutes. There are no black or white areas in life, nor do they exist in the management of safety. Taylor got this wrong about the profession of management, and we still put this same gun in our mouth, day after day.
Is it because safety professionals are incapable of seeing gray areas? Do we believe as professionals that we (or our organizations) are capable of maintaining enough control over employees that we can absolutely report that no one is going to be injured while on the job?
Could it be that there is so much social pressure in our organizations to reduce incidents / injuries to zero, that we feel that we have to promote “zero-worship” to others in the organization to be considered reasonable? Or maybe the profession is too closely tied to compliance with rules and regulations for us to see anything different.
We hear a lot of talk about safety culture. The starting point with culture change is communication. One of the aspects of communication is how we manage our own and our peers’ perception of the capabilities of safety and its management. It is politically expedient to trade the pragmatic language of safety for one which provides assurance and comfort to our own organizations about the ability of safety to definitely prevent all incidents. In doing so, however, we will continue to set the profession up to fall short of zero-incident goals.
What else are we doing as a profession that keeps us from being effective?