New Rules of Safety: Apocalypse, now?  Don’t believe the hype!

ApocalypseIs there really a need for a radical safety revolution? Andrew Sharman assesses the apocalypse. 

To be honest, I’m tired.  Really tired.  Is this what ‘The End of The World’ feels like?

Every day for the last couple of months my Inbox has been bombarded with the ‘latest updates’ from safety journals and online forums, on receipt of each I have felt a little more dejected.

It seems we face the apocalypse. Time has become timeless.

The speed of life

Our world is spinning too fast. On the one hand, this speed is attractive, in the sense that it drives progress and affords us convenience (workplace projects, performance scorecards, 24-hour supermarkets, and self-service gas stations, for example, all work blindly in the face of time passing). But this timelessness affects our work in safety too.

Just this week a large global multinational client called for support to implement a culture change, stipulating that the change ‘had to be fully embedded before Christmas’. Organisational culture change, done and dusted in 3 months?

There’s a point missed here, right?

Proliferation of negativity

Organisations are driven by time, that’s clear.  There’s always a milestone, always a deadline.  The common question linked to any enquiry we receive now is ‘How soon can you get here?’ – swiftly followed by ‘How quickly will it have an effect?’.

Turbo-driven beyond belief, it seems many people have missed the point – that safety culture comes by evolution, not revolution.  I guess they are not to be blamed – the proliferation of negativity in safety can only inspire panic and fear.

Counting up a total of 97 articles coming into my inbox this week, my analysis shows that a full 96% of them lead with negativity.  From massive fines, to prison sentences, from safety being ‘broken’ to the necessity for doing safety ‘differently’ there’s an abject urgency that’s clearly hard for many to resist.

Misguided revolution

These calls for revolution in safety are not only unfounded, they’re misguided too. For many nations around the world now enjoy unprecedented levels of safety – whether you measure accident rates, legislative compliance, employee engagement, organizational investment or indeed any other metric.

Darwin’s theory of evolution spoke of the importance of adapting to change. We don’t need to throw everything away and start over.  The apocalypse is not upon us. I prefer revelation to revolution.

We don’t need to revolutionize the way we do safety, rather we must reveal the good habits, practices, leadership and cultures that surround us – and emulate, adjust, apply and implement these.

Learning surrounds us!

Rocked confidence

Confidence in safety, it seems, has been rocked. And the media hype continues to rattle the cage. But true confidence can never be instantaneous. It must be built, earned, over time. Instant confidence – like instant faith – never works.

Philosopher and learned professor Jean-Pierre Dupuy suggests that “Our power to act infinitely exceeds our power to feel and imagine.” I can’t help but agree.

Do we really need an apocalypse, now?

The New Rule of Safety #18: Don’t believe the Hype

When we stand back, we see that the urgency to act in safety is driven by the media-spun rhetoric.  This fear is a deadly assassin: whilst it does not kill it prevents us from living.

We need to stand up and be counted in safety, push back the tired tide of dismay and celebrate the victories we achieve day after day around the globe.   Yes, there will always be more to be done, but by constantly being open to the evolution of our art, our science, our practice we will get there.

Here’s how:

Step 1: Don’t believe the hype, it’s not the apocalypse now.

Step 2: Stand up and share a good news story today.

Step 3: Hashtag #SHPonline @RMarshSharman on Twitter and LinkedIn and we’ll reward you with a free book for every positive story you post.

Andrew Sharman’s global best-selling book From Accidents to Zero: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Workplace Safety Culture is available to SHPonline readers with an exclusive 25% discount.

His new book Mind Your Own Business – co-authored with Dame Judith Hackitt is also out now.  Use the code SHP25 at http://www.fromaccidentstozero.com to order your copies of both books. But be quick! 

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Categories: Culture And Behaviours, New Safety and Health, Safety Management


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Liz Skelton
Andrew – I am so glad I read this! You echo my feelings exactly. I have been saddened by the tidal wave of media hype and this urgency for the need to change all that has gone before. We don’t need revolution – we need to adapt and be agile and work with the changes and challenges our organisations are experiencing. We need to learn the skills of communicating about safety meaningfully and engage people effectively. We need to share and celebrate successes and support our organisations to learn from both positive and negative experiences rather than sniping from the… Read more »
Andrew Sharman

Liz, thanks for your comments here. Pace, agility, flexibility, positivity – all absolutely what we need!

Vince Butler
Absolutely agree – the bulls**t, drivel and complexity coming from some purporting to be H&S experts is becoming truly dreadful, negative and complicated. It is definitely turning otherwise interested and passionate people off. Keep it simple – simple uniform language – simple concepts – simple solutions: relevant | specific | valuable | proportional (RSVP) – the way health and safety should be…. In relation to, and in the context of working people, doing a work activity, in a work place, using work assets (i.e. at work), there are 7 H&S words and phrases whose meaning in the ‘at work’ context… Read more »
Andrew Sharman

Vince, great additions thank you! Really like your question set – thanks for sharing.

Karl Spencer
Andrew, I like your article, but I must say I think you are wrong (or am i being too negative) You state “We don’t need to revolutionize the way we do safety, rather we must reveal the good habits, practices, leadership and cultures that surround us – and emulate, adjust, apply and implement these” I disagree, we do need major improvement; 1, companies are told in order be a safer company they need to implement safety management schemes and smaller companies follow the lead from above and feel as they have that badge they are safer, a ridiculous perception. 2,… Read more »
Andrew Sharman
Hello Karl, thanks for your comments. I’m a little confused with your disagreement when you say ‘I disagree, we do need major improvement’. To be clear, I believe we still have a way to go and need to continue to make improvements – both major and incremental. But let’s not cast aside the fantastic work that’s been achieved in many countries – especially in the uk – in recent years. Let’s look at your 4 points now: Point 1 – about companies getting ‘safety badges’ – i agree with you here, not something I endorse. Point 2 – the world… Read more »
Karl Spencer
Andrew So many thanks, sorry, maybe my heart takes over my head, I am not the most grammatical when writing. I do not disagee with Leadership, its just not enough, still problems will and do occur. A worker before signing in to a job needs to be checked they are competent, they understand the task in hand and they have specific training suitable including skills decay. If any of the elements are not correct, then they cannot sign in to that job. Managers and leaders need to get essential safety and wellbeing alerts to their workers. Currently a very high… Read more »
Andrew Sharman
Hello Karl, Thanks for coming back on this one. And please don’t worry about ‘heart taking over head’ (it’s probably another post sometime, but I feel strongly (heart!) that we need more passion in safety!) Your example is helpful – though my view is that there is a mix of leadership and management in the story that you share here. In simple, quick terms I see leadership as setting the tone, direction and standard – and management ensuring that what needs to happen happens. I agree with your final point about technology – there is some terrific stuff coming out… Read more »
Phil Douglas
Having spent 30 years in the health and safety world. I don’t think there is a health and safety apocalypse occurring. The information we receive in various formats, which let’s face it, is doom and gloom is no different from any other period in the last 10 years. The difference is we have more exposure to this data through internet, e-mail and social media. That is if we choose to subscribe! This situation isn’t unique to health and safety. Unfortunately doom and gloom grabs attention and makes headlines more than positive news. Where health and safety is concerned, it’s the… Read more »
Andrew Sharman

Phil, thanks for your comments here. The idea of a ‘moral revolution’ made me smile – indeed I can think of several organisations that could be in line for this!

I agree that speed plays an issue – the ‘everything now’ mentality that has grown in recent years – at work and beyond – is perhaps not such a good thing…

Please to hear that you agree that it’s evolution not revolution we need – I talked about this in my recent TED talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7-DQFvD5ck).

Cheers, Andrew

Tony Cartwright

Andrew, I can’t say I’ve heard any of these so-called revolutionaries calling to scrap the old in order to bring in the new. I’m hearing that we need to evolve our thinking, our mindset, build on & improve what we’ve already done and there’s plenty of credible people providing valid arguments from within & out of the health and safety profession.

Andrew Sharman

Thanks for chipping in Tony. How do you think we bring in more valid arguments from outside the profession? Where do you see the biggest opportunity for us to learn (positively)?

Nick Bell
Hi Andrew I completely agree that we need to be more positive about health and safety and I fully endorse your view that it relies on real leadership. However, that will mean different things to different people (I’ll explain later). Just as one example of negativity, there was an article/video not so long ago warning us that positive people were dangerous! (https://www.shponline.co.uk/culture-dispelling-the-myth-positive-people-are-not-safer-people/) . The take home message for me was that we ought to ignore workers’ mental health, wellbeing, resilience, optimism etc. which had the effect of leaving me quite flat (but apparently much safer as a result!). I also… Read more »
Andrew Sharman
Hi Nick, thanks for your thoughts here. I’m not sure Tim was meaning to say positive people are dangerous, and I’m certainly not saying that a the core message of safety differently is all doom and gloom, but i certainly am reacting to the myriad negatives news stories – and the general assertion that we need revolution in safety. I’m glad you agree we don’t! Like you, I’m also seeing safety people trying to look more broadly beyond the domain to bring in fresh thinking and that’s great to see – more please!! A question I’ve been asking H&S practitioners… Read more »
Dominic Cooper

Hi Andrew. It would help if the powers that be (i.e HSE) would stop exaggerating the size of a problem based on dodgy data, especially when the contrary data to their public positions is on their own website in the form of actual records. It is about time they stopped with the doom and gloom hype and focused on reporting the real data in a matter of fact way.

Author Bio ▼

Andrew Sharman

Andrew is the CEO of RMS Switzerland, a global consultancy specialising in safety behaviour, culture and leadership. With offices in the UK, and Switzerland.  RMS has an enviable track record of improving culture and enabling excellence for NGOs and blue chip organisations around the world through industry sectors including aviation, automotive, mining, construction, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and FMCGs. Find out more at www.RMSswitzerland.com

Andrew is also Professor of Leadership & Safety Culture at the European Centre for Executive Development in Fontainebleau, France, and Professor of Risk Management at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.  He is a Chartered Fellow and Vice President of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH); a Fellow of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management; and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management.

Far from being risk-averse, he loves adventure sports including climbing, free flying, sea kayaking and swimming with sharks. He uses these pursuits to re-energise the language, perceptions and functions of safety and risk management and align the disciplines with broader organisational issues driving positive impact and enhancing the performance of individuals, teams and businesses.

Read Andrew’s New Rules of Safety series on SHP here.

Andrew’s book From Accidents to Zero is one of the fastest-selling books on safety culture of the 21st  century, find out more at www.fromaccidentstozero.com and enter code SHP 25 to receive an exclusive 25% discount for SHPonline readers.

August 31, 2017

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