Why do safety professionals do what they do? Why do their companies or clients listen to them? Why, why, why?

At the 2018 Saiosh conference, Owen McCree, MD of The Compliance Group, presented on the topic: Have we lost our why? In an informative and engaging way, he questioned just about everything that is done in terms of health and safety.

“What do we do in safety? How we do it is starting to become a grey area. Why do we do it is where we get stuck… The ‘why’ has become to make sure that, if something goes wrong, everything is in place…” he began.

“In safety we sell outcomes, not the ‘why’. The moment we try to explain the ‘why’ we say: ‘because we care’. But, do we really care?

“It has become the job of the safety professional to promote ‘we care’ … but this cannot be demonstrated from a single department. Company staff have many job issues that are impacted by different departments. So how did ‘we care’ become a safety function?” he questioned.

As he explained how the human brain works and the dynamic between the neocortex (the “what” or statistical) and the limbic (the “how” and “why” or emotional) sides of the brain, McCree suggested that the key to changing an employee’s view on safety is to appeal to their limbic brain – their emotions.

“We need to stop providing safety stats – we need to get people to feel. Changing people is difficult; changing the context in which they function is a key catalyst. We need to create an enabling environment where people can grow and mature,” he suggested.

“We are focused on legal repercussions. This affects how we approach the tasks and the end product. This is so complicated that the output we generate is useless,” he said.

McCree then spoke about how safety professionals measure safety performance.

“The issue is we usually don’t know how we did it. How did we get that dramatic improvement in safety? What was the baseline, the plan, intended outcomes, implementation, project post-mortem and measurement? If you can’t show these metrics, it was just luck,” he said, adding that if one knows how they did something, they can more easily repeat it.

“We investigate accidents, but that doesn’t help us. Where are the teams that investigate positive trends? We should establish success factors and roll them out. Safety professionals present the ‘what’, but the key to their function lies in the ‘why’ and ‘how,’ said McCree.

However, it’s not all as simple as it sounds, as having competent health and safety professionals in the first place is a key consideration.

“Safety professionals are their own worst enemies… How can we have such short training courses for such a complex job? How do we promote people to the role of safety manager if they have no idea what the job entails? How many new people are consciously entering the safety profession?” he questioned.

In conclusion, McCree suggested that entering the safety profession should be a well-meditated career decision.

“If you, as a safety professional, do not want to busy yourself day and night with creating an enabling environment for line managers to care for their employees, find something else to do.

“Everyone needs to sit with their hand on their heart and decide if safety really is for them. If it’s not, it’s no bad thing, but then they mustn’t be part of the corruption of the profession,” he concluded.

About The Author

Gavin Myers is the editor of SHEQ Management. He’s been with the magazine for seven years.

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