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Industry Voices: Workplace safety - The path forward

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by Jeffery Lyth

Workplaces are the safest they have ever been historically, and that is due in large part to regulatory enforcement and companies having safety management programs in place.
Industry Voices: Workplace safety - The path forward

However, having recognized a kind of glass ceiling in our ability to achieve safety at work, and with growing concern about the potential legal consequences of that limitation, the next obvious questions are:

Is there a path forward? And if so, what is it?

I believe there is, and that it's not particularly difficult.

I believe companies can get better results simply by trying a few things they've never tried before.

A lot has changed in the last decade, and our understanding of what it takes to create and maintain safe operations has grown exponentially.

In fact, there is a paradigm-shift occurring internationally in our understanding of safety generally.

However, we are not going to hear about it from the quasi-governmental body that enforces the rules and sells us insurance.

It is outside their area of expertise.

This change in thinking originated primarily in the airline and health care industries, as both face huge public exposure and other consequences after "accidents."

They were finding that their safety efforts had plateaued, their safety improvements slowed to a crawl, but incidents still occurred. This forced them to re-examine some long-held beliefs about safety in the workplace.

What has emerged is a growing movement referred to as "Safety Differently," or "Safety II" and it is completely relevant to construction.

Safety II thinking is largely based on principles such as creating a "just" culture, local rationality, field level expertise and recognizing goal conflicts as well as trade-offs.

The movement towards Safety II doesn't seek to replace what we do in our current paradigm.

Rather, it causes us to start examining how we do those things and ultimately why we do them.

Establishing a safety program or management system that meets accepted norms, such as the Certificate of Recognition program, is an important start.

It provides a good internal framework for safety, which should be the price of admission to the construction industry. If you can't buy car insurance without proving you can drive safely, why then can we buy workers compensation insurance without having to show we understand workplace safety? However, the systems we implement are not the entire answer.

They need to be customized, and I'm not just talking about putting company names and logos on generic safety programs, or even adding safety procedures specific to the work we do.

I'm talking about integrating those systems into how we operate so they are built-in and not just bolted-on.

Those who bolt it on will always experience safety as being in conflict with productivity, and rightly so because it usually is.

More importantly, I'm also talking about companies taking ownership of their safety programs, rather than letting their programs own them.

All companies have a culture whether they are aware of it or not.

How you apply and administer your safety program is a glaring indicator of yours.

If we don't stop and question where we are and what we do, we run the risk of doing the same things over and over, just because we have always done it that way.

We will continue to realize mediocre results and stagnant improvements.

There has never been a better time to stop and ask the hard questions about the performance of your safety program. There is a wealth of new information available to those willing to take a risk in order to improve safety.

This is second half of a two-part series looking at workers compensation in B.C. In part 2. Jeff Lyth is a consultant with QSP Leadership Inc. Direct comments or questions to editor2@cmdgroup.com.

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