The safety advocate: Rebel renegade or courageous crusader?

April 1, 2002 By    

It’s fun to see people with passion in their eyes fighting for what they believe in (unless it happens to be a DOT Inspector and your HAZMAT files are out of date).

Most people with passion in their eyes are committed, focused and determined – everything we each secretly long to be. We all suffer from “passion envy” once in a while.

Unfortunately, reality often steps out like a Kenmore tractor and we have an occasional collision. For example, the war between operations and safety shouldn’t really exist. But let’s face it – each side is fighting for funding and resources.

Safety or profits?

The issues aren’t really that blurred. It’s just that practical application and feasibility are sometimes trains on opposite tracks. Which brings me to the point: All roads should lead to safety.

Whether you are a marketer, supplier, safety manager, operations manager, CEO, insurance underwriter, loss control consultant or insurance claims manager, everyone should be on the same page when it comes to safety.

Plaintiff attorneys (who feed on misfortune and possibly would go after their own mother if they thought they had a case) will use every opportunity to establish liability. They will feed on every mistake, every lapse in documentation and every issue that is in the neighborhood of association to a claim without regard for cause and origin.

So how do we win? We must stop supplying claimants with loopholes. We must stop giving plaintiff attorneys what they crave and need to survive – grounds for liability. The safety process is designed to close those loopholes and reinforce safe practices.

We must take care of business by caring for our customers. That’s where the safety process can impact operations in ways that protect and improve the bottom line. Think of safety as another form of insurance. As Martha Stewart would say, “It’s a good thing.”

With every CETP class taught around the country, with every PERC grant utilized, with every loss control recommendation, with every new issue of NFPA 54 and 58, with every man and woman doing the right thing in the field every day comes the promise of profits earned safely.

Business values are always courageous and sometimes undervalued as a commodity in the real world. Such crusades are met with obstacles related to awareness, complacency and changing compliance issues.

For example, look at the challenge to seek and document detailed knowledge about whether 100 percent of your customer systems are up to code.

Feasibility and “real time” constraints can delay awareness and continued delay will inevitably lead to complacency. Changing compliance codes and requirements can also bring an added sense of futility to the process. It can become an expensive, overwhelming and burdensome set of goals.

Somehow we do our best, quietly knowing it’s not fast enough to protect our exposure to liability issues in the future. That’s frightening. Thankfully we know what the obstacles are.

We should all be grateful for those courageous safety advocates in our company who consistently try to raise the bar of expectations and meet the challenges with the commitment to do the right thing for your customers and for the future success of your company.

Don’t shoot the safety advocate

When I work with clients, I am thankful to be in a position where I can afford to say what I think regarding risk management. I’m also thankful for fellow safety mentors who freely share their experience and convictions. Like many others, I stand for doing the right thing in the office, at the plant and in the field every day. It’s a great team to be on.

It is not my intention to write or interpret codes and standards. Nor do I look down on those struggling with compliance issues. My philosophies run more along the line of prevention, learning from experience and common sense. The courts determine all liabilities and clearly establish cause. There is wisdom in experience.

A true safety advocate will examine the cause and seek an appropriate solution. If a community gets sick from drinking water from its well, it determines the cause and cleans it up. If our industry is under attack from “liability terrorists” we must turn over every rock and train, educate and inform like the devil is chasing us until we have each done our best to eliminate cause and origin.

Take a safety advocate to lunch. Discuss the problems. Design solutions.

Each and every one of us must, through continuing education, learn that we coexist because of our tolerance and our mutual understanding of principles and ideas designed to help us grow and remain safe.

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