Do we really understand where we are in health and safety?
There is a not so famous Churchillian quote that “A nation that does not understand its history has no future”. Winston Churchill was first and foremost a consummate historian. He used his knowledge of the trend of events in the past to predict future events. He wasn’t perfect at it and he got some things wrong (Gallipoli, the independence of India and the UK’s National Health Service) but he correctly foretold the expansionist behaviours of Nazi Germany and Japan that led to World War II. As a keen student of history I believe that safety should be examining its history for trends and at least trying to use that study to identify the challenges it may have to face in the future.
But few in safety stand back from their involvement in the here and now to recognise that things are changing. If they did they might be alarmed. They would see that the original theories of Heinrich and Bird do not match modern standards of research. They would see new theories being formed and then challenged by even newer theories: Heinrich and Bird have been overtaken by Rasmussen and Reason and they in turn are being challenged by Dekker and Hummerdal et alia. They would see a growing disillusionment by businesses big and small about the bureaucracy of safety. They would see that world-wide the regulators and service providers have been unable demonstrate just how much their efforts have reduced injury and fatality rates. They would see regulators around the world having their budgets cut. They would see a growing public and media disquiet about health and
safety. They would see a small number of adventurous thinkers exploring different ways of thinking about safety and trying to understand the masses of data that was previously not available.
Like Winston Churchill the health and safety communities may not be able to predict the future exactly. But at least Churchill was aware that the world of the 1920’s and 1930’s was undergoing a cataclysmic change. The world of health and safety is undergoing cataclysmic changes but most of those involved in the professions of safety are blissfully unaware of it.
It is time for H&S to wake up otherwise it will either have no future or the future that does happen will not be to its liking.
The image and text below relate to the comments after the post.
Preliminary quantitative data from the WA government resources database shows a strong correlation between increased mining output and decreasing fatalities (the coefficient of correlation is 0.8 – anything above 0.9 is considered a perfect correlation) This is similar to in house studies done on construction and minerals extraction in the UK. It suggests that the reduction in fatality rates is business related. This conclusion requires further qualitative research to identify the drivers for increasing output. As a general principle regulators rarely become involved in driving commercial decisions.