The integrity of safety

January 1, 2003 By    

We often take for granted the aspects of our lives that depend on integrity. Meanwhile, we trudge straight ahead into the future assuming all is right with the world.

There is an old Norwegian lumberjack proverb, of sorts, which I’d like to share:

“It’s up to me to see that my partner’s axe head is on tight. After all, it’s my head.”

Self-reliant, motivated integrity is the best kind. Or at least that is what we each secretly appreciate and admire in others. Deep down, we know that we have our own integrities to maintain and our own assets to protect. It’s called survival.

Ask any veteran of U.S. military service about the importance ­ no, the necessity ­ of integrity in terms of team survival in combat. (By the way, veterans, please accept my deepest thanks.)

The problem is, we are not perceived to be “at war” regarding safety compliance and communications. Therefore, safety issues are relegated to emergency status priority. We all know that it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. The problem is, not all wheels squeak.

I have often compared what we don’t know about in the field to high blood pressure, the “silent killer.” We all need to acknowledge, visualize, accept and be aware of issues that can harm our loved ones, our customers and our business livelihood.

By protecting the stakeholders in the process, we protect our jobs, our way of life and our peace of mind.

Integrity is defined as uprightness of character, honesty or high moral standards as shown in business dealings, the condition, quality or state of being sound, complete and undivided.

United we stand; divided we fall. I believe we must be undivided on the subject of safety integrity.

If lack of safety integrity is also “the silent killer,” how do we measure something that is hard for us to see? What does integrity look like?

After a recent propane incident, a marketer was able to pull records that included a gas check on the system, documentation of safety material dissemination and comprehensive employee training records.

This tragic incident proved to be related to someone else working on the system. It was the documentation of sound work that protected both the marketer and the integrity of the system. It was the customer’s failure to adhere to warnings that created the problem.

That’s how you measure safety integrity.

A few months ago, I wrote a newsletter article on safety success stories. One of the stories involved a new customer hookup where the pressure check would not hold. When all was said and done, they identified leaks in the underground line and installed new piping.

A few weeks later, the homeowner met the serviceman in the grocery store, and the homeowner said, “You know, Brian, ever since you fixed that line I don’t get that funky smell in the basement closet anymore.”

Safety integrity looks a lot like that.

Now is the time to re-examine the safety integrity of your organization. Discuss the problems. Design solutions.

We maintain safety integrity because it’s the right thing to do.

P.S. Keep an eye on your competitor’s axe head.

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