OHS Canada Magazine

Doing safety the logical way

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February 21, 2020
By Alan Quilley

Health & Safety Human Resources Culture Engagement Management Safety Logically

Our ability to engage people is guaranteed to get better outcomes

It’s time to start doing safety with employees and not to employees, writes Alan Quilley. (freeman98589/Adobe Stock)

I recently had an opportunity to speak to a crowd of people considered leaders in safety management.

My topic for my keynote session was focused on the need for us to manage safety logically. In fact, I’ve coined the phrase to mean exactly what it says.

Safety management needs to be approached systematically and logically. By that, I am suggesting that safety efforts need to follow the evidence to produce results. Otherwise we should do something other than what isn’t getting us the outcomes we want.

This year, I’m going to intensify the focus on managing safety logically.

Every company that tries to manage their safety excellence through implementing Edwards Deming’s “Plan – Do – Check – Act” (PDCA) cycle of continuous improvement is approaching safety management logically.


Employee and contractor engagement is always reported to be high on the list of reasons for success when it comes to the safe production of goods and services.

None of the leaders in safety mentioned doing safety to employees as a factor in their success. In fact, in my 40-plus years in the safety management business, I have never observed that to be a factor in excellence.

Most of us should be spending at least some of our time thinking and learning about how we engage employees in their own safety. Not because it’s the new buzz phrase or because books on engagement and emotional intelligence are highly popular right now.

Engaging employees

It is because we’ve historically seen overwhelming evidence that doing safety to people has failed in significant ways. Passive safety — like any kind of passive activity — doesn’t produce the same quality results that high engagement can.

Engagement is a key feature of successful enterprises and is essential to ensuring your safety culture is empowered by the considerable knowledge of your entire employee population.

Every competent teacher will tell you that to gain the confidence that students know what they’ve been taught requires engagement.

Safety guru Dan Petersen famously said: “Paper doesn’t save people; people save people.”

Our ability to engage people passionately and with sincere interest is guaranteed to get better outcomes, rather than inflicting safety onto people by overwhelming them with an endless number of written policies and procedures.

Barking orders to “comply with the rules” will never work as well as engaging the people who have to comply in the development of said rule.

People tend to comply with rules they have made with more understanding and commitment than an edict from head office.

Safety logically

So, let’s start off the new year by demanding more safety logically than safety emotionally.

Safety logically generally includes these important and interconnected tenets:

  1. Do safety with people and not to people.
  2. Don’t jump to a safety solution because it’s quick. Efficient and effective should be the desired outcome of any
  3. Use evidence to support what you do to enhance safety. You need data to make good decisions. You can see safety if you look. When done correctly, PDCA will give you a great deal of that evidence.
  4. Measure what you do — not what doesn’t happen to you.
  5. Stop relying on auditing! If you need an auditor to tell you what you are doing… you don’t know what you are doing.
  6. Acknowledge efforts to create safety over those that just celebrate non-injury outcomes. Low injury rates are great. Knowing why you have them is better.
  7. Recognize the need for the psychosocial aspects of your safety efforts. Employees are complex and our understanding of their needs, wants, fears and aspirations is essential to their well-being and the well-being of our
  8. Be patient. Change takes time — quick fixes rarely last. A new normal for your organization happens slowly.
  9. Stay connected and informed on what is new and what should be considered.
  10. Keep learning what works and let go of what doesn’t.

So, what are you waiting for?

Search “emotional intelligence” and/or “employee engagement” and start reading. You don’t really think someone is going to deliver that information to you like a pizza, do you?

In 2020, let’s explore these 10 “Safety Logically” ideas together. It may require that we let go of some long-believed myths. But that’s all right. They aren’t doing us much good anyway!

Alan Quilley is the president of Safety Results in Sherwood Park, Alta.

This Safety Management column was published in the Jan/Feb issue of OHS Canada.


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