People or Paper?

I was in East Africa, teaching a course on managing and implementing safety programs. During a section where I’d share best practices such as training, safety policies, and inspection/investigation techniques, a man in the front row uncrossed his arms and said, “We have this already!”

“You have what?” I inquired. He said that they’d already implemented the safety guidance I was describing. He said that 20 years before, they’d sent their safety officer to the U.S. and upon his return, the entire department had adopted the guidance.

And very proudly, he held up a copy of the guidance. A 1992 copy of the text, photocopied many times over. He admitted that no one really knew what it said, nor followed any of the cautions, warnings, or guidelines, but this was their official safety book.

This happens time and again. We spend more time building programs, policies, and paper than we do on investing in our people.

Maybe our organizations do not need better paper, but more focus on people.


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