Safety Defined: A Means to Provide a Safe Work Environment
- Daryl Balderson
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- May 2016
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 63 - 68
- 2016. American Society of Safety Engineers
- 0 in the last 30 days
- 79 since 2007
- Show more detail
- Good definitions enable people to have a common understanding of a word or subject, which enables meaningful conversations and better decision making. Conversely, imprecise definitions make it difficult to agree and limit anyone’s ability to influence.
- How safety is defined affects its application in the workplace and provides an opportunity to influence positive outcomes for workers, managers and an organization.
- Safety is often applied in an organization without a clear definition or understanding of what safety is or how to achieve the desired outcome. Without clearly understanding what safety is, achieving meaningful, sustained safety performance is difficult.
- This article proposes a new safety definition that supports safety management and can be utilized in most occupational settings. Workers, managers, safety professionals and an organization can use this definition to achieve business objectives while protecting people.
How safety is defined affects its application in the workplace and provides an opportunity to influence positive outcomes for workers, managers and an organization. Safety management has progressed substantially since Heinrich first discussed its practice in the 1931 book, Industrial Accident Prevention. For example, if the U.S. workforce in 1997 had the same risks of dying from injuries as workers in 1933, an additional 40,000 workers would have died from preventable events. Progress can be attributed to multiple interrelated factors, including efforts by labor and management to improve worker safety, research, education and regulatory activities (CDC, 1999).
A corresponding development in the definition of safety has progressed to a lesser extent as evidenced by the limited number of readily available definitions. Established safety definitions referenced in this article tend to be located in textbooks and with one exception were not identified by online searches available to the general public. Also, these definitions tend to focus on the what instead of the how. Defined in terms of the what, safety tends to describe its nature, whereas, safety defined in terms of the how describes its manner or means to provide a safe work environment.
U.S. fatal work injuries between 1992 and 2013 decreased from 6,217 to 4,585; between 2006 and 2013, the rate of fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers decreased from 4.2 to 3.3 (BLS, 2015). Despite undeniable progress over the past half century, many safety practitioners still cling to outmoded practices such as utilizing generic safety posters. Of particular concern is the current trend of defining safety performance as a psychological or emotional issue rather than the complex management challenge that it clearly is. Doing stuff, even good stuff, is not the same as having a management system to promote long-term success and continuous safety improvement. Business needs to appreciate that management systems drive safety excellence and the safety culture (Loud, 2012). Most work problems, including employee injuries, are a result of management decisions and directions (Smith, 2011).
Good definitions enable stakeholders to have a common understanding of a word or subject, enabling meaningful conversations and better decision making; conversely, imprecise definitions make it difficult to agree and limit the ability to influence. OSH will never be accepted as a profession until stakeholders agree on a definition of the practice of safety, make it known and meet its requirements (Manuele, 2013).
This article proposes a new safety definition that supports safety management and can be utilized in most occupational settings. Ideally, a safety definition would describe its manner (how), as well as serve as a working definition that can be utilized by workers, managers, safety professionals and organizations to achieve business objectives while protecting people.
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