10 Health and Safety Myths – those times we smelled a rat

This week: Passion for safety – Please no!

Background to the series: Health and safety is a consequence of doing things right. That’s because it’s quality management and it co-habits with efficiency. It’s a product of good management more than being an end in itself. So it requires consistency, vision and leadership. It also requires respect for and collaboration with the people called workers. The rest of the stuff means nothing until you have those basics.

I’ve worked in safety for 28 years and it’s full of dogmas. I don’t necessarily believe in catch-phrases and folklore. We need to question commonly-held beliefs and have a healthy level of suspicion. So I’ve put together 10 of my favourite safety-time-wasters, irritations and myths. Expect one post about every three weeks.

Now, these are just my opinions and others may “feel” differently. I might also say something controversial or flippant.  But if anything does resonate with you, punch the air. Better still, if something leads you to question conventional safety doctrines, then join the party.

On to this weeks topic…

# 1: Passion for Safety – Please no!

We’ve all seen the job ads. You know, an employer wants to find a safety person and the ad is littered with requests for someone who has “passion for safety”. Someone to be their “safety champion”.

Passion for safety? That must be good, right?

Passion for safety
“Today, let’s do safety, guys. C’mon, whaddya say!”

Well no. In fact, it doesn’t make much sense. Visualise if you will, a person who spends their time feeling truly passionate about health and safety. Yes really. Get a picture in your mind. Now: When you fly in an aircraft across the world in turbulence, ice, storms and hordes of other planes, do you want someone like that sitting in either of those two front seats – feeling their “passion for safety”? No, you want people who are level-headed, maybe even boringly pedantic, who can think in a crisis and not get excited too easily. Pilots are very, very interested in safety. So if someone in or around their plane doesn’t get it, a pilot will spell it out for them very carefully. I don’t call that passion for safety. I call it conviction. That’s quite a different meaning.

Closer to home, does your CFO get passionate about finance? No. They just take it very seriously. And managing safety isn’t about “passion for safety” either. It’s about understanding and caring about the interface of safety with the business. Knowing it’s part of the fabric.

Failure in safety is a loss of coherence in the business.

What’s coherence?

Safety is not just a “nice to have” add-on. Risk management is an organisational imperative for protecting the “bottom line”. We must all be “in” on it. In the same communication stream. passion for safetyTo use an analogy, if the business is a train, are you in one of the carriages or running alongside, gesticulating? You need to establish a logical relationship with the train passengers or you’ll spend your whole time working on a personal project. Passion for safety has nothing to do with it. It’s the same as any other business role. You need to be part of what’s going on. But safety is worse. Because people are genuinely bored by it, especially if it’s treated as pure compliance, a guilt trip, a crusade or an add-on.

Having passion for safety gets you nowhere unless it’s channeled. The conversation must be in themes that other participants agree (more or less), are common purposes for the business. Otherwise, you’re just a bouncy little rabbit who makes meetings last too long while everyone else studies their fingernails.

Contact me if I can help you with any safety stuff. Call 0800 000 267 for a welcoming chat, or email simon@safetypro.co.nz

My 10 Health & Safety Myths. Planned topics and dates.