Many years ago, when I was starting my career, the Information Technology department was much different than today. Their function was largely considered to be the automation of clerical processes and the department was very much considered to be a “cost center”; operations talk for, “they suck down a lot of money and we don’t understand how this helps the company” – or words to that effect. It didn’t help that the people who understood computers weren’t terribly good at explaining them and why they cost so much.
Years later, Information Technology has indisputably become a critical component of nearly every department, and increasingly a source of true competitive advantage for most large enterprises. From managing supply chain to understanding customers, information systems are at the center of informed decision-making processes.
We are on the brink of a similar transformation for the traditional safety management function. For too many companies in the past, the safety function existed for little more than regulatory compliance. Safety Managers were often plucked from the ranks based on their exposure to a plant disaster (“try to make sure that doesn’t happen again”), or more sadly, inability to perform previous job responsibilities due to age or injury.
This has been quietly, but steadily, changing as a new generation of safety professionals has been emerging supported by technology, and driven by a generational shift in attitudes about worker empowerment. This new generation includes men and women who are a combination of engineer, psychologist and management consultant. They understand the power, and the limitations, of technology and are becoming more sensitive to the role of safety in the context of overall company goals. Many understand that safety is not a function in a silo. Safety management is tightly linked to process quality management – so much so that Gartner recently discontinued separate analysis of EHS software, noting that their traditional large client companies had stopped shopping for stand-alone EHS software.
So what does this mean for you the safety professional? Well, to paraphrase from Charles Dickens, “It could be the best of times, it could be the worst of times”. For the best of times, educate yourself on important emerging current events (the new ISO 45001 standard should be REQUIRED reading for all safety professionals, operations leaders and executive management); embrace new and readily available technologies (there are some really cool products on the market that blow the doors off many of the legacy vendors); and broaden your view of what constitutes safety responsibilities (if your inspection procedures can identify process issues that improve productivity, you are driving both safety and profitability – you will be a hero). Or for the worst of times, just continue focusing on regulatory compliance and behaving like the PPE police – you will be retired before you know it!
As the old Chinese curse has it: May you live in interesting times. We certainly live in interesting times, but they are times of big opportunity for those willing to seize it. Reach out to us if this topic interests you and you would like to continue the discussion.
By Thomas Carson
November 27, 2018
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