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What is Safety?

Posted by Beth Lay, Director of Safety and Human Performance on Jan 10, 2019 7:00:00 AM

A new view of safety in vegetation management

Safety is often defined and measured more by its absence than by its presence.  — James Reason (2000)

Imagine trying to drive a car by looking in the rearview mirror. 

Traditional safety spends a lot of effort looking backward and counting and analyzing incidents.  Traditional safety is defined by the actions to avoid.  All the good work – the normal day to day work – is mostly ignored.

Think about all the work we do: all the miles we cover, all the trees we take down, all the days we work…what percentage of the time do we have incidents?  Maybe 1%?

Does it make sense to focus only on accidents in order to understand a lack of accidents?

Some folks are challenging this view of safety.   In a new view of safety, a lot happens during normal work: figuring out the best way, adjusting to conditions, skillfully using tools…  In this new view, we want to share good practices and lessons.  We want to be expert in using our tools.  We want to be good at anticipating what might happen next.   We want to learn everything we can about how to work successfully.

A broader view of safety

Safety is sometimes defined as being related to harm or loss beyond injuries.  This broader definition of safety makes sense when you consider that the same actions can result in a person being hurt, equipment being damaged, or other forms of loss and it may be somewhat by chance which occurs.  Loss is defined as the avoidable waste of any resource.

Another consideration is whether safety is an input or an output…an action or a result.  When we talk about creating safety, we are talking about the actions that we take to produce good work and avoid loss.  This applies to all our business, what happens in the field and the office.

Topics: safety, total safety culture, disruption, learning culture