What is safety? The answer is freedom. It’s not freedom in the traditional sense of the word. It’s not financial freedom, freedom from tyranny, or even the freedom to do as we please which some would see as absolute freedom. Safety is the freedom from risk. Is this possible? Perhaps, but no one is absolutely free from risk. There could be a natural catastrophe, or a rogue comet out in space hurling towards our celestial home, or a microscopic danger manifesting itself deep in the heart of our very own body.
While these are risks yes, they are not the type of risk we need to worry about on a daily basis or lose sleep over because, for the most part, we have no control over them. We must control what we have the power to control. Our commitment must be to minimize risk in all ways possible. That is the true commitment to safety. In order to achieve freedom from risk there are rules we must follow. Nobody likes being toldwhat to do. It’s human nature. Rules are in place however for our own good and for the good ofthose around us. Without rules, life would be, in the words of the famous philosopher and historian Thomas Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.
Rules maintain order in thecivilized world. We must all follow them if we are to minimize risk and have a fulfilling, long, productive life. While there are rules for virtually everything, safety rules are important because they insure that we, and those around us can return to our personal lives at the end of the day. Just like our governmental organizations, schools, and churches; companies must have an established set of rules. Operational rules must be in place to run a profitable, efficient, yet low risk operation; even if operations take place in a high risk work environment. Without these rules, the company will see lower production, higher risk to personnel, and lower profits, resulting in the possible failure of the the business.
Personnel are the heart of the business andmust be protected at all costs. Companies spend billions on safety training annually and strive to instill this mentality into their company culture. That is why employees must follow the rules set by safety professionals in order to become safety professionals themselves. This is a matterof discipline. Personnel must be disciplined enough to follow the safety rules even when their position allows for autonomy.
This is not meant to make the work environment more difficult. The rules insure that personnel return home to their their personal lives at the end of their shift. It also prevents loss of bystanders nearby company operations, and assets such as equipment and resources. How can high risk companies such as those involved in industry or transportation, insure that their employees and assets are protected? They must establish a culture of safety which includes harsh consequences for failure to follow those rules.
These consequences can be anything from verbal warnings up to and including termination of employment. While the later may be a last resort, employees who don’t heed verbal or written warnings, learn best from theirmistakes when their personal life is made more difficult. The inability to pay bills due to lost income ring loud and true for most people. This loss and financial turmoil may also cause problems in relationships, not to mention the feelings of shame and failure resulting from the inability to provide for those counting on the employee.
With that in mind, employees can look at such reprimand as a wake up call if they fail to follow the rules. They will think twice before they make bad decisions such as failure to buckle up or reach for an electronic device while driving. While the loss of income is painful, it is usually temporary. The loss of limb, life, and love of family can be a permanent pain that never heals. To insure the later does not become another dire statistic; as professionals, we must always put safety ahead of all else. We must minimize risk in a truly high risk world. We must do all we can to gain freedom from risk and insure that we and others may return home at the end of the workday.