What exactly is safety – and how can we measure it?
Traditionally safety is viewed as a lack of injuries and fatalities. But let’s stop for a moment and see it for what it is – not what it isn’t.
Instead, let’s picture safety as “the presence of positive capacities, capabilities, and competences” of the people who work for employers, as Dr. Sidney Dekker put it in his talk at CHC Safety & Quality Summit in March 2014 in Vancouver.
The thought-provoking author and professor of human factors will be back on Friday, Sept. 19, at the Vancouver Convention Centre, where he’ll speak before an audience of CEOs, senior managers, and safety professionals from large corporate entities in construction, health care, utilities, transportation, forestry, and mining.
“It’ll be a rare and unique opportunity to hear him speak for a whole day!” says Jenny Colman, an Ergonomist/Human Factors Investigator with WorkSafeBC’s Investigation Division, who told me about this professional development event – A Day With Sidney Dekker – hosted by BC’s Lower Mainland Chapter of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering.
“Sidney really promotes understanding the situation in which the workers work, because those contextual factors really influence the decisions and actions of the workers. His session will ensure that participants query/question current safety practices/perspectives and extend their thinking to new dimensions in safety management.”
Here are some of the “take-home” benefits:
- Understanding of how safety is socially constructed
- Understanding of how and why work is performed
- Understanding of a “just culture” and accountability
- Better able to conduct effective incident investigations and recommendations
- Better able to understand complex systems and how risks can emerge from individual parts of a system to form new risks
Is it safe here?
One idea that stayed with me is the different ways we can look for the presence of safety at a workplace. Dr. Dekker suggested in this video that we count peer reviews, debriefings, open conversations, and a “just culture” which recognizes humans make mistakes within a larger context that includes many factors. Of course it’s important to measure what does go wrong, but let’s see new ways to measure what’s right and build on them (which applies in other areas of life, too).