Health and Safety Managers and Inspectors can learn a lot from Fire Fighters, Police Officers and Military Personnel. Professions that work in high risk environments have one thing in common and that is a high regard for personal safety. It may be that in some professions risking life and risking limb does not have the same psychological impact. Whereas fire, police and military personnel equate limbs with life. A loss of a limb or injuries in public safety is a loss of life in many dimensions. Public Safety personnel feel diminished if they can’t do what they love doing. Most people in other professions regard their environments as relatively safe and their vigilance toward safety is reduced. You can see that most prominently when the fire alarm goes off and people fail to evacuate.
The focus of health and safety experts needs to shift to understanding what motivates people. Sure you need to know what actions took place before and after the emergency began but understanding why do people do what they do may get at the heart of the problem more than actions? Why do they take chances or cut corners that can result in injury or death? Talking to highly threatened people can give one insight into that which is missing from the everyday worker. Why have construction workers who die at a very high rate not improved their margins of safety overtime. Why have oil and gas workers who have very high exposures to serious risks not improved their margins of safety? Is it because these types of workers do not see that the types of accidents that occur around them do not readily appear to expose their person to life altering experiences. Is it because public safety and military personnel see so much death and destruction that these experiences have become mind and habit altering experiences?
Health and Safety Personnel should spend time interviewing people outside of their area of expertise to improve their understanding of how to better their organization’s safety culture.
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