We seek to prevent unintended injury and illness. Some have gone deeper with this purpose, such as Todd Conklin, who offers; “Safety is not the absence of accidents. Safety is the presence of defenses…stop seeing safety as an outcome and start seeing safety as a capacity.” (ASSE’s Safety 2017)
In seeking to clarify my own definition of safety, I wrestle with what it is we do.
In safety, we seek to separate cause from effect. If an error is made, our deepest desire is that no negative outcomes occur. The hazard is engineered out, substituted, or separated from the worker.
But feedback is essential to growth and what are effects but feedback from a cause or action?
If there are no consequences and no feedback, how does the individual or organization learn?
If failure is impossible (think of bailouts and banks too big to fail), does not risk-taking increase?
If a worker could be hired, show up disengaged every day, just barely meet the minimum standard and not be fired, would that improve the organizations culture?
No, you might say…safety is concerned only with physical harm such as preventing the amputation, the vehicle rollover, or the lung disease.
But are we concerned only with physical health? With more and more EHS roles taking on wellness, security (active-shooter), sustainability, and sometimes anti-bullying and suicide awareness campaigns, the line of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual is no longer separated by duty description.
What relationship does cause and effect have in organizational and individual learning? (After all, some EHS practitioners even joke about “defeating Darwin”) When we separate actions from outcomes, do we reduce this learning? Are there allowable outcomes (you weren’t prepared for the meeting and your boss chided you) and unacceptable outcomes (broken leg)?
What part does (and should) EHS play in cause and effect?