Managing Safety Differently

 In Tip of the Week

Those of you who subscribe to Industry Safety and Hygiene News (ISHN) may have read an article in the September 9, 2019 issue entitled “Managing Safety Differently.” It was written by Ron Gantt, Vice President of SCM and Director of Innovations and Operations for the Reflect Consulting Group. For those who might have missed the article, the following is an overview. If you’d like to read more, a link is provided to the right.

What is “Safety Differently?” For almost a century, organizations have made some efforts for their employees to work safely. Regulations have been put into place to provide guidance on what is “safe” and what isn’t. But compliance alone is not working. While injury rates are down overall, workplace fatalities are not down and are, in fact, rising. Some safety professionals have realized that maybe the concepts on which safety has been defined need revision.

How do you define safety? It has commonly been defined by a negative, such as the absence of accidents or reduction in injuries. Safety Differently (or Safety II, as some call it) defines safety as the capacity to be successful in varying conditions. As Ron says in the article, “Normal work is a central area of focus in Safety Differently. By studying what conditions enable or constrain normal work, we can help workers overcome constraints and get work done. When work becomes difficult, you often find adaptation, short cuts, and “errors.” Increasing worker capacity to handle these situations not only decreases probability of failure but increases the ability of your workers to be successful.”

So, then, how does Safety Differently work? It works as it harnesses the natural ability of your people, your employees, to get the job done in a safe manner. People are the solution! People come to work with the goal of going home at the end of the day. And they plan to achieve that goal by working safely. In a workplace where there may be conditions or problems to be solved, people solve these problems daily. To quote the article, “Adapting to changing circumstances is a strength organizations need to leverage on the complex problems they face. Workers at all levels regularly deal with these complex problems. They are in a unique position to identify innovative solutions, or at least identify solutions that won’t work.”

What about OSHA and having to comply with regulations? OSHA, with regulations that demand compliance, is going to continue to be part of our world. We can’t turn our backs on requirements that we follow regulations. However, the requirements to comply with regulations can be balanced with the concepts of safety management systems and Safety Differently. As pointed out by Ron in the article, “The organization becomes far more interested in the realities of normal work and creating a safety management system that facilitates work rather than constrains it. Safety is a service the organization provides to its employees. Compliance matters, but balance is needed. The concerns of workers should balance the concerns of the regulatory agency.

Then what should we, as safety professionals, be doing? Ron lists some practical ideas that can help you get started harnessing the positive capabilities of your workers, your people.

1.  Conduct daily debriefing sessions for workers. Ask them how the complex problems they faced yesterday got resolved. Be open to hearing all opinions and concerns.

2.  Management site-walks to observe work as it is actually being done are very useful. It accomplishes two goals. It gets management out in the field and allows them to see what is really going on. It also allows workers to see management in the field and sends a message about how important they really are in the work process and safety system.

3.  During those site walks try to actually see what the conditions are that influence workers, and how workers are adapting to those conditions. Find ways to make work more successful, including safer, for your workers.

Please take time to read the article in the link to the right. There was a lot more good information provided. If you have questions, please let us know at

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