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April 10, 2024

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EHS Congress

James Macpherson on risk: ‘More of the same won’t work’

For this year’s EHS Congress taking place between 22-24 May, we speak to James Macpherson, Managing Director at Risk Fluent ahead of his talk at the event. 

SHP: Hi James, you’ll be delivering a talk at EHS Congress centred around safety and risk – Could you give us an overview of what your session will cover?

James Macpherson (JM): We are planning on running an interactive session called ‘How to Rebrand Safety’ because we think it’s still needed! This workshop will be focused on delivering value to people; we don’t want to sell on stage to you; we want to give the people in the room something to take away and action regardless of whether they engage with Risk Fluent or Risk Assessor Pro.

In the spirit of Rebranding Safety, the workshop’s names and titles are a little provocative, but we are focused on providing valuable insights that people can action.

The workshop is a two-part interactive session. Part one is focused on the brand of safety, and how we can drive it forward into a core contributor to what we call ‘operational success’. We need to address that there is still a negative brand of safety and a lot of the more advance approaches to safety are not even touching the shop floor of most businesses. We are suffering from ‘Safety as Imagined’ and ‘Safety as Done’ and that is what part one will be focused on.

Part two focuses on another passion of mine, which is Risk Assessments. We will cover the Pitfalls of Risk Assessments, based on a 2003 paper by the UK HSE that is still relevant now and has kind of been forgotten about. Then, we will look at the power of cognitive diversity and inclusion through operational innovations and the role of tech in the future of positive change focused on Risk Assessments.

SHP: You mention that ‘more of the same won’t work’ in HS – what does that mean?

JM: Often in business, we solve problems with more of the same, but what do I mean by that? Well, we can see for example, that the Data Security and IT industry are making the same mistakes that Health and Safety made many years ago, in restricting people and blaming them for everything without the consideration for the context that influencing that behaviour. It wouldn’t surprise me if we were to see “Data Security differently” in a few years’ time.

A safety-specific example would be taking a form that we know isn’t working well, then implementing the same form structure, but on an app instead – however, we now consider it ok?

Risk Assessments are a great example; we talk about the Pitfalls paper by the HSE because it’s so old now and yet all the pitfalls mentioned in it, are still seen every day, however because they are now completed via an app, even though the content is still the same, we think it’s different because it’s on an app instead. We see ‘New View’ safety stuff turning into more of the same; for example, we demonise “vision zero” approaches because it’s not achievable, it’s silly, it’s an oversimplification, and it drives the wrong behaviour, and we agree.

“No blame is not achievable”

Yet, the New View movement produces the same narrative in ‘No Blame Organisations’, which is impossible because sacking someone for Gross Negligence is a form of blame; no Blame is not achievable; it’s an oversimplification of in-depth research and theory that drives the wrong behaviours.

So, we have seen essentially more of the same but really nothing is different. A rebrand of 18001 into what we think is a much better standard of 45001 is still the same, just with a different badge; unless it’s implemented in the spirit of the standard, which it isn’t a lot of the time. The tool is not the problem, its how we are using it. So after all this time, the people are the problem just not the people that you thought.

Not doing more of the same means, not jumping into solutions mode before we actually understand the problem. We all do it, we even have to stop ourselves at Risk Fluent doing it, it’s the nature of our profession I think. We are amazing problem solvers, and we love doing it because we can add such value. We can show what we are good at, but we often end up implementing more of the same with the best intentions but without truly understanding what we are trying to achieve.

SHP: What’s your view on the role of technology for risk assessments?

JM: Well, I should probably declare a bias here, we own and run a digital solution for Risk Assessments, so the view is obviously positive. However, not long before we took over Risk Assessor Pro, I wasn’t that keen on tech in safety because as I mentioned above it was just ‘more of the same’. I was a grumpy technophobe; I organised myself with Filofax, everything was written down, and now everything is run through my phone and iPad.

The one thing I could never get comfortable with in an app was a Risk Assessment because I just didn’t like most of the end results. Reflecting on it, going to problem understanding mode, I was getting too fixed on the template of the document when the point of a Risk Assessment is the thought process and the content, not the layout.

“People don’t get engaged in a Risk Assessment because we make the process so complicated and intimidating.”

So, then I started to think differently about things, and we took over Risk Assessor Pro. Now we talk about tech and more specifically, Risk Assessment tech as the solution to employee engagement, to good, valuable, and site-specific content.

If we think about it, people don’t get engaged in a Risk Assessment because we make the process so complicated and intimidating. We say things such as “This could be used in court if it goes wrong,” “The wording must be right” “The numbering must be right.” “We like numbers.” “We hate numbers.” “You didn’t identify all the hazards.” “You didn’t implement enough controls.” etc.

What tech does, (and most of the solutions are similar, but I can only really talk about Risk Assessor Pro’s methods), is take all that worrying and complication, remove it all from their brain and get them focusing on the right stuff, which is Hazard Identification, Hazard Interaction, and Interaction Management.

That’s the magic.

That’s what we should be focusing on, not all the documents etc. Tech enables all that worry to be dealt with because the safety professionals work that into the system prior to roll out. But that’s just the basics; once we really get into tech, we can build in nudges, and defaults, multiple types of media. In Risk Assessor Pro for example, you can use a photo of the site for the Hazard Identification and insert that into the document.

You can set defaults in the system for likelihood and severity to nudge choices. Moving into the future, the potential AI has really gets me excited; to have AI analyse all our safety data and risk management to spot trends, etc. is a huge potential.

So, my overall view, is excited! The potential for tech is serious, not just in Risk Assessments but in safety overall. It’s the first time in over a decade in safety where I think we could see some serious improvements.

SHP: What are you most looking forward to at EHS Congress this year?

JM: Is it bad if I say the dinner at that restaurant overlooking the city? Even though that will be cool, I am looking forward to meeting with LinkedIn connections face to face. One of our new consultants on the technical side of the business is coming with us, so I am looking forward to her going to some of the keynote and workshops and hearing her thoughts.

We are also going to be interviewing a couple of the speakers from the event at our stand, for our podcast Rebranding Safety, so I am mega looking forward to that as well. If I get time, I would like to go to a couple of the keynotes or workshops myself too.

To find out more and register your place at EHS Congress 2024, click here. 

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