With the explosion of safety-related information and improvement strategies, it is becoming increasingly difficult for safety professionals and organizations to discern highly beneficial efforts from less valuable approaches. Applying the age-old axiom of "separating the wheat from the chaff", a variety of separation strategies will be explored.
A primary objective for safety professionals and their organizations is to gain greater insight into the pros and cons of the myriad approaches, terminologies, programs, and issues that influence contemporary safety practice. As this objective is met, safety professionals and their organizations will be able to better evaluate the relative value, strengths, weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages of various strategies so they can successfully employ activities that deliver the greatest benefit to their organizations.
For the practice of safety to advance, constructive dialogue, candor, and healthy debate of the merits of various approaches to safety management must take place. As the discourse proceeds, greater efficiencies and the pace of safety advancement will result.
Separate the practice of safety from other unrelated disciplines.
Safety management is different from other business functions – it can't simply be integrated into them. Where synergies are logical, they should be leveraged – but there are great limitations. Comparisons with other disciplines illustrate this point. Quality is an important part of production or service, but it is also a separate discipline requiring different types of expertise. Manufacturing personnel must understand quality, but quality assessments still must be performed as the product is being made, and in labs to understand the effects of factors that determine product or service quality. Similarly, other business functions are even more separated. Human Resources is obviously a distinct discipline that is managed separately. The same holds true with Legal, Sales, and Supply Chain Logistics. Differing degrees of proficiency are needed by everyone to effectively manage a business, but specialized technical expertise is required for individual business functions. Safety management is no exception.
Instead of buying into the irrational notion that safety should be integrated into other business functions, safety professionals should be advancing the reality that safety management is extremely difficult and complex, and great effort is required for success. As long as there is competition among all business disciplines for scarce human resources, the characterization of safety as a discipline that can be integrated is very shortsighted and counter-productive.
Regulatory compliance must be a given. More importantly, the intent to comply must be ever-present. When the intent to comply is present, non-compliance will be found and corrected. When organizations with mature safety processes become over-confident about their compliance, insidious deficiencies will creep into the process. They may brag about catchy programs that serve as nice window dressings, while regulatory compliance declines. Even as OSHA frequency rates are remaining low, the whack on the head usually happens with a serious injury or other major incident. The warning signs are usually prevalent but the right type and amount of diligence is not being paid.