During my time as a safety professional, I have come to the conclusion that there are no easy routes to create a safety culture. There are so many gimmicks, sales pitches, online programs, and consultants that try to sell the easy safety approach.

“Decrease recordability by 35% each year” or “The method of behavior based safety” or “Incentivize safety to reduce injuries”

The real truth is that there is not a “silver bullet” approach to creating a real safety system. Just like any other habit or any other behavior, the process has to be learned and practiced. For instance, imagine someone who is overweight and eats unhealthy food. *Can I share a secret with you? This example is me. 🙂 * It is no easy task for this unnamed person to get up one say and suddenly each healthy and workout. The first few days may have some gusto and energy, but the process has to be sustained. After a few days of going through the motions this person might think they have created a new culture. Then suddenly, someone brings doughnuts to work. Oh this person can have just a bite of one and stop. Nope! Four doughnuts later the day is lost and since the day is lost, might as well have fast food for lunch. With that complete, might as well eat out for dinner too. The next day is back to old habits. A safety system is much like this same cultural change. The early efforts are noteworthy and full of energy, but over time the old ways can have a tendency to creep back in. That is why real safety change is so difficult for many organizations. They get a few wins with a new program, and they move on to the next. All the while, the system is eroding and the culture is slipping.

I have simplified my approach to creating that safety system with the “3Cs” Compassion, Consistency, and Continuous Improvement. This post is focused on the first of the Cs, Compassion.

Honestly, without compassion the other two Cs are inconsequential. The safety process will have a large single flaw without having a sense of empathy for the endeavor. Without compassion, an organization would have to ask themselves “what are we consistent with?” Compassion is the foundation on which safety is built. Some might argue that the fear of OSHA or fines would be enough motivation for a safety system. To that I retort that OSHA’s penalty system is antiquated and most time do not affect the overall profitability of most companies. Many of the companies that do create “safety” programs just for those purposes,  the programs do not benefit those they should be protecting. It is only through compassion for employees that a real safety system can be created.

How did I come across compassion as my first key element of a strong safety program? There is a great article that was written by E. Scott Geller that was published in the March 2008 edition of Professional Safety. It was called “People Based Leadership: Enriching a Work Culture for World Class Safety” In this article, he compares traditional safety approaches with new methods of people approaches.

Traditional Safety:

People Based Safety:

In the people based safety methodology there are two terms (emotion and empathy) that both relate to compassion. It is through compassion that the foundation of a safety system can be built.

Why do we have safety programs? Because we care!
Why do we have to use the PPE? Because we care!
Why do we have to fill out these permits? Because we care!
Why do we have to lock this equipment out? Because we care!

I am not sure that there are any other good answers to the above questions. If an organization does not have compassion, the answer those questions above are a shoulder shrug and a “meh.” Without compassion a company may have instituted programs but they are followed or even encouraged to be followed. It is vitally important that compassion is a core principle of any safety system. Without compassion the safety system is paper in a notebook, not a functional program that benefits all those in the organization.