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By: Thomas Carson

How to Incorporate Serenity and Courage in Top Safety Challenges

 EHS Today recently published results summarizing the Top Challenges Facing the Industry as reported from 900 safety professionals who responded to their survey.  Included in the results was information on current compensation levels summarized from respondents – more about that relationship later.   I have been pondering the challenges as presented to look for patterns of actionable concerns – I mean really, who wouldn’t want to be able to solve all of the serious issues of an industry?  The editors summarized the results and published 44 challenges.  As I read the slides, I thought of the classic Serenity Prayer by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:  

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.  

It turns out that safety professionals worry about a lot of things, all worth some level of concern, but not all of which they can impact.  In order to be useful, I felt we should place these challenges into separate categories that can then be addressed with either serenity or courage.   

The first category is those that should be approached with “Serenity”.  This isn’t to say that as a safety professional you can only sit helplessly while these events move by you.  I am saying that for most of us our best course will be to watch for an opportunity to constructively respond to circumstances that are not otherwise in our control.

  • Silver Tsunami – retiring older workers with limited succession planning 
  • The volatility of the market, which creates the need for continuous hiring of inexperienced personnel 
  • Stability in an unsure environment 
  • Apathy across the board 
  • Hiring qualified people for what they are worth rather than underpaying.  Underpaying leads to an inadequate safety culture as people are unhappy 
  • We cannot find people to work. Thus, we are working overtime. Our people are experiencing fatigue. 
  • A rapidly aging workforce and the inability to hire employees.  Relying too much on temporary workforces.   
  • A lack of significant measures taken to respond to natural and manmade threats.  This can range from rising sea levels to insider hostile actions.  
  • Succession planning and diversification of white, older male EHS professionals.  
  • Lack of gender and racial diversity and equity; and lack of focus on mental health as a part of health/wellness.  
  • Companies that emphasize profit over safety 
  • Insurance coverage is more expensive and fewer vendors are providing reasonably attainable safety resources 
  • Budget and resources to meet growing requirements 
  • The introduction of non-English speaking workers in the US workforce, especially in the construction disciplines.  Many of these workers have no prior safety education or training, which creates communication difficulties. 
  • Upcoming budget cuts as business struggle(s) to stay afloat in economic recovery.  Sadly, safety is one of the first things to get cut as “overhead”.   
  • Mental health contributing to safety incidents (distraction, lack of awareness, etc.). 
  • Keeping employee’s mind on task.  There is way too much multi-tasking.  
  • Competing interests with high-pressure growth combined with less resources, which typically compromises safety 
  • Measures of business success (EBITDA, Total revenues, Total costs) are disconnected from safety.  We need better and more accepted methods to make safety part of SEC reporting.  

Now, here is the “Courage” category.  I am not saying that these are always easy to address – there are a number of these issues that may require a safety professional to step up to the senior management table and build a case for action.  Which brings me to the compensation portion of the survey.  The
average annual salary of the respondents was just over $93,000.  A company doesn’t normally pay that kind of money to hire Permission Police – they pay that kind of money for people who can constructively solve problems and contribute to the healthy operation of the organization.  These issues become your chance to show your stuff.    

  • Companies that still measure safety performance by TRIR 
  • People who are afraid to report near misses and unsafe conditions 
  • Outdated regulations and standards. Things need to be update with current more recent data and information 
  • Always coming up with something new to increase employee engagement 
  • New grads lacking the hands-on skills, and people coming back rusty 
  • Correcting the culture from “Safety working against us to “Safety works for us” 
  • Finding good resources to comply with the plethora of regulations 
  • Finding the ability to open a dialogue with workers to hear their recommendations on improving safety and identifying the risks 
  • Siloed thinking 
  • Growing with the needs of the industries they serve.  Many companies have not updated the way they monitor the effectiveness of their programs 
  • The same it’s been for the last 25+ years: A lack of understanding EHS staffing number needs.   
  • People seeing something – and saying something 
  • Actually integrating safety as an organizational value rather than paying lip service to it.  Management understanding that working safely is a minimum standard; working unsafely is the deviation and externalizes the cost (risk) to workers and/or the public 
  • Effective collection and use of data 
  • Safety being used as a policing tool to remove people from sites.   
  • Getting buy-in from all levels of employment 
  • To keep safety always in the front of everyone’s mind. 
  • Too many muddled responsibilities in EHS.  We are juggling too many disciplines with unique needs.  Security is sometimes added to the role as well as HR functions.  I believe that large companies need to invest in more EHS professionals to suffice (sic) the amount of people it covers. 
  • Safety awareness and on-going development of a safety culture.  
  • Safety buy-in from middle management.  When safety is not around, they do not seem to support the efforts the safety team puts in place.     
  • Overcoming the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality.  
  • Heat stress 
  • Soft tissue injuries 

Action Steps
These are my ideas – yours may be different, in which case you should go for it.  My only guidance is be realistic.  There are limits to what you can accomplish, and you will be most effective if you start with those topics that you can truly impact. 

I have two suggestions to frame your actions:  

  1. A safety management system as outlined by standards such as ISO 45001 provides a framework for addressing nearly all of these challenges, so that is a good starting place to get organized.  You don’t necessarily have to earn full certification, but you can start with the major concepts.  
  2. There are safety software systems that you can implement to leverage your skills and experience, saving significant time and providing objective, actionable data.  These systems cost far less than a full-time resource if your organization is limiting hiring – a good way to do more with less while providing the data needed to prove the value of your program.   

And remember, if it was easy, your organization would not have needed to hire you – let us know if you would like to talk about these ideas.  

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