Shifting Focus: From Problem-Solving to Safety Strategy
Updated: Jul 18
As a safety consultant, I often encounter organizations seeking help to solve their safety problems. However, problems are events that have already happened and cannot be changed or improved. In the realm of safety, it is crucial to shift our focus from problem-solving to prevention and strategy. In this article, we will explore the limitations of problem-solving, the importance of safety strategy, and the need for a forward-looking approach to safety improvement efforts.
The Fallacy of Problem-Solving
Safety has a long history of investigating accidents and attempting to solve problems. We often refer to these solutions as corrective actions, assuming that they will prevent future events. However, these actions are interventions that primarily address current performance rather than shaping the future. Mistaking problem-solving for safety improvement sub-optimizes our efforts and fails to address the underlying strategies required for sustained excellence.
The Role of Safety Strategy
Most organizations lack a comprehensive safety strategy and instead rely on safety goals and programs. While these initiatives may contribute to meeting targets, they do not constitute a strategic approach to safety. A true safety strategy begins with a vision of desired safety processes, culture, and performance. This vision serves as the benchmark against which all safety programs are measured. Each program should aim to influence perceptions, capabilities, and ultimately performance.
The Balanced Scorecard for Safety
To effectively measure safety efforts, a balanced scorecard approach is essential. This approach encompasses multiple metrics that provide a comprehensive view of safety performance. By measuring the impact of processes on culture and capabilities, culture on performance, and performance on lagging indicators, organizations gain profound knowledge of the factors influencing accidents.
The Limitations of Accident Investigations
Accidents are not problems to be solved; they are outcomes of workplace risks and behaviors. Attempting to prevent accidents that have already occurred is an imprecise science. Accident investigations often rely on eyewitness accounts, which can be inconsistent and unreliable. Additionally, the process of investigation may involve individuals with inadequate training or biased perspectives. The resulting corrective actions tend to be repetitive and fail to address root causes effectively.
Embracing Safety Excellence Strategies
Forward-thinking organizations are embracing safety excellence strategies. They educate senior managers about the distinctions between the past, present, and future of safety. They leverage expertise and advanced technology to investigate accidents and determine effective countermeasures. Moreover, they adopt balanced scorecards for safety, continuously refining their strategies based on real-time insights. These organizations understand that zero accidents are a by-product of their comprehensive efforts and cannot be controlled directly.
From Reactive to Proactive
Overreliance on accident data as a primary metric has hindered progress in safety efforts. While measuring accident frequency and severity is necessary, it should not dominate our approach. Instead, we must focus on shaping the future and improving the present to create a positive safety culture. By embracing a proactive mindset, organizations can shift from reactive management to achieving sustained success.
To drive meaningful improvements in safety, organizations must transition from problem-solving to a strategic approach. Recognizing the limitations of problem-solving and accident-focused initiatives is crucial. By developing and implementing a comprehensive safety strategy, organizations can proactively shape their safety culture, enhance performance, and ultimately achieve sustainable excellence. Let us shift our focus from solving problems to preventing them and creating a safer future for all.