How do you prove safety works?

How do you prove safety works?

By Keith Johnson

In this lecture we challenge the thinking of the Safety Professional with examples like:

  • companies do a lot of things for the sake of health and safety……we do lots of paperwork, a lot of reporting, there is a lot of activity….yet on face value it does not tell us a whole lot about whether our risks are being managed or whether we have exercised good due diligence; similarly,
  • our obsession with frequency rates (TRIFR/LTIFR etc.) is problematic, as companies and industry believe that these equations are a measure of their safety performance, yet there is no mathematical legitimacy or validity in a Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rate nor does it tell you anything about how effective your Occupational Health and Safety Management System is[1].
  • but our fascination with statistics and metrics doesn’t stop just with the safety fraternity, recently an internal investigation of the Victorian Police Force found 258,000 alcohol breath tests were falsified over 5½ years whereby Police Officers were breathalysing themselves…..and this was done, all in the pursuit of a target…and to highlight productivity [2]!

These examples and others such as a green traffic light safety report or a corrective action was closed on time or that we hit the target for inspection’s completed for the month, only shows that these indicators display nothing more than our measurement of activity.

When we see results that display 100% compliance, or we have a green traffic light safety report or our TRIFR has hit zero, this creates a risky deception of safety or an illusion of being focused on activity over due diligence. Our persistence on targets, metrics and KPIs has shaped the ‘safety paradox’…. either it improves Health and Safety or it undermines it…. this is the deception of safety, which is illustrated by the hole between safety systems as we imagine them and the systems in place [3] or more plainly put….‘work as imagined versus work as done’.

If we are going to exercise true due diligence then we first need to understand what it is and how is it implemented and simply compiling a form is not enough, it’s just another measure of activity. What we want to know is whether the activity was effective and of good quality, that it had an influence on safety and that it proved our OHS systems are effective.

More specifically what the lecture shall cover relates to:

  • What is due diligence, who is accountable for it and how is it implemented?
  • We discuss various cases and coronial inquests about how companies can be ineffective with due diligence, such as, ‘The identification, elimination and minimisation of risks through risk management processes may lead to the production of a suite of documentation that will pass audit requirements. However, the evidence at this inquest suggests that workers in the field may find such documents hard to comprehend and of limited relevance to their daily activities’ [4].
  • We discuss reporting and its lack of effectiveness and where said reporting provided the deception of safety with cases like: Pike River, Dreamworld, Piper Alpha and BP to name but a few.
  • We discuss significant incidents where they had decreasing injury rates and then the incident occurs such as Deepwater Horizon (Mocondo) and Longford….we are hoodwinked!!
  • We discuss the fascination with tablet technology and whether it’s effective, coupled with the ‘tick n flick’ culture in safety practices and all done in the name of safety, but has no real bearing on due diligence!

The take home message is again, ‘How do you prove safety works?’ Once you are in legal proceedings because of a work related incident, your health and safety management system is now considered ineffective!

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[1] G Smith, Due Diligence, 2015

[2] T Mills, Police faked 258,000 breath tests in shocking ‘breach of trust’, The Age, 2018

[3] G Smith, Due Diligence and Management Responsibilities, p10, 2017

[4] Office of the State Coroner, Inquest in the death of Cameron Brandt Cole, 2015