Canaries in the Organization

Into the early 1900s, canaries were used in mines as early warning indicators for toxic gases. Possessing greater sensitivity than humans, the bird’s health warned of hidden hazard. If the canaries thrived, the air was free of toxic gases, the miners were healthy, the mine produced ore, the ore was sold, and a sustainable profit was earned.

Mines with more viable canaries were, by this logical extension, in a position to earn a profit. But this process could not be shortened; ore was still the goal. No matter how many canaries the mine had, they could not be sold by the ton like iron or lead.

We still have canaries. One canary in my organization is housekeeping. If I walk into a shop with poor housekeeping, I’d give 10 to 1 odds that their safety practices will also be poor. Their hazardous energy control, their flammable storage, their training…all of it in shambles as indicated by housekeeping. In the words of a much smarter person than me, “World-class organizations do not have second-class safety.”

Why this talk of canaries on a day meant for turkey?

Because I had another guy tell me this week that having a CSP doesn’t make one a great safety professional.

I got it. I do.

But safety training, including formal education, certifications, and experience, are like the canary and housekeeping. Walk into a mine or shop without one or the other, and I’d give 10 to 1 odds that their focus isn’t on being world-class.

I know that canaries (and certifications) never directly indicate the health of the mine (or safety professional).

But their absence may indicate other priorities.

What’s your canary?

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