How Do You Keep People Safe Who Don’t Want To Be?

This thought usually passes through many EHS professional’s minds on the bad days. When nothing seems to be going right and there’s been an injury or close call.

I was asked this question this week by a safety professional I greatly respect. Here are two ways to think about the answer:

  1. Everyone wants to be safe. Seriously, no one in your organization wants to go home hurt. The issue arises when they don’t want to do their job your way. Their perspective: “Management (you and those other people sitting the ivory tower) makes the rules for a job they know nothing about…the job cannot be done that way and everyone knows it!” Todd Conklin, in “Pre-Accident Investigations: An Introduction to Organizational Safety,” gives us an in-depth perspective on work as imagined versus work as done (Figure 4.4). This short but substantive book is a must read for the EHS professional looking to make sense of error and cause.
  2. Remember seatbelt and child safety seats. The introduction of seatbelts came in the 1960s and it took generations for the habit to become a cultural norm. Were the drivers and passengers in the 1950s and 60s incompetent or negligent when they failed to understand the risk? Did they not want to be safe? How about the parents who raised children in the 1970s and 80s? Car seats were not something parents even thought about and it would take another decade at least for them to become the norm. Taking the long view on many of these societal EHS challenges helps (me at least) to gain perspective. I think we’re seeing the same thing happening today with opiate prescriptions.

How do you answer this question for others? How do you answer this question for yourself?

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