Written by Steve Hudgik
What is Safety? Safety is about controlling recognized hazards, avoiding unfavorable outcomes and defining an acceptable level of risk. Acceptable risk is defined by the individual, the group, the organization, the company. Someone who enjoys base jumping off a cliff to free fall hundreds of feet prior to pulling his parachute at the last moment has assumed a much different acceptable level of risk than a young mother nervously pushing her infant stroller through a busy intersection.
Insurance companies are in the business of capturing metrics on acceptable levels of risk, then setting rates to charge for what is safety, whether it's risk of natural disaster, personal injury, or even getting hit by a golf ball at a golf tournament. In the workplace, acceptable level of risk is defined by employee tasks and responsibilities, productivity, profit margins, insurance rates, and organizational culture.
Workplace safety relies on organizational culture which can be defined as a complex whole that includes knowledge, laws, customs, capabilities and habits. More simply put, workplace safety is consistent patterns of thinking, performing and behaving by all participants in that culture.
Exactly what is safety is defined by the patterns necessary to achieve acceptable risk for organizational balance. Patterns necessary to achieve acceptable risk are going to be much different for a foundry than they are for an accounting firm. In the foundry acceptable level of risk may include minimizing severe burns from molten metal. In the accounting firm what is safety may include a warning about food from the microwave being too hot or ways to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
In all workplaces, the level of risk, or exactly what is safety is maintained by the culture of the organization and proactive management and implementation of the safety program by the leadership.
How many hours of their work week do fire fighters actually spend fighting fires? On the average, just a fraction. The majority of their time is invested in training, maintaining equipment, performing inspections and teaching what is safety in the community.
We've all seen the clever safety messages on posters, outdoor signs or bumper stickers. "Stay alert don't get hurt." "Accident prevention is your #1 intention." "Ignoring a warning can cause much mourning." While these earnest messages do catch our eye, there are compliance standards for identifying workplace risks and hazards that are quite serious. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) are the institutions primarily responsible for standardizing, implementing and monitoring safety message compliance no matter the type of work environment. From pipe marking and arc flash to hazardous chemical identification, lockout-tagout and more, there is a label or sign with a safety message defined by strict codes and standards.
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