I’m Just Not That Into Safety Anymore


By Rob Sams, Owner and Principal Consultant at Dolphin Safety Systems

I have spoken with a number of Managers over the past few months who have argued with me that ‘safety’ in our workplaces means that we must do everything we can to control people so that they do not hurt themselves at work. These people have said to me, “we can’t let dangerous things go untouched”; “we can’t let people make choices that may lead to them being injured” and “doing everything that is reasonably practical means that we have to have systems, and people have to follow them”.

These conversations typically end with something like “the law says that we need to provide a safe workplace, I’m not going to jail and risking my house just because someone doesn’t follow a rule. All your fluffy stuff about motivation and decision making sounds fine, but I’ve got to follow the law, so I’ll stick with implementing procedures, thanks anyway.”

If this is what ‘safety’ is all about, I’m just not that into it anymore.
If being ‘safe’ is all about controlling people in our workplaces, we need to be aware of the trade-off for controlling people’s behaviour and actions. We need to be aware that this stifles learning, and is demotivating for people who no longer have control over the decisions they make.

The need to control and fix people also creates relationships that are rigid, yet we want flexibility and mature judgement. The more we seek to control others the less we create ownership, and the more we create co-dependence and as we know co-dependence is a mental health disorder. The truth is that as we become rule focused, we shift away from empathy and become focused on compliance. Those who are attracted to compliance, rigidity and control tend not to be able to create wholesome relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. Instead, controllers ‘command’ others, ‘dictate’ to others and rarely listen. Anyone who treats another as an object will only use and abuse others and will never be respected in a mutual way.

So why is it that ‘safety’ has turned into an industry that is about control, rules, and process and less about people?

When I started in ‘safety’ in 1993, my motivation was pretty clear, I wanted to work in an industry that was all about people. But ‘safety’ seems to have changed over the years. Being in ‘safety’ now is often seen as being the ‘fun police’. So often people in safety are forced into policing and inspection roles, asked to report to management on violations and non-conformances. They are often asked to report on ‘safety numbers’ and trends. Then, when they provide this information, there is usually much debate and discussion about definitions of things like incidents and frequency rates. I know that these things frustrate many of my friends and colleagues in ‘safety’.

So many of the people I know that work in ‘safety’ got into it because they care about people, they are nurturing and kind people, they are engaging and passionate. Yet, the realities of their role mean that they rarely get to work with people and share this passion and kindness. They become known in their organisations as internal regulators, and people take a different view of them. For example, a friend wrote to me recently and shared this story:

When I introduce myself to people they usually ask the standard question; “so what do you do?” When I tell them I’m a Safety Advisor, it’s really not often that I get a positive response. Most of the time people’s faces change, and not in a good way. Their eyes scan me as though I am a different breed of a person. Sometimes they even step back slightly as if I’ve got some sort of highly communicable disease. Often they’ll say something like “oh, you’re one of those people”. Or “and you seriously enjoy that?” Or “that has got to be one of the worst jobs in the world” or “how do you enjoy all of that paperwork?”
-Safety Advisor from an International Organisation, 2014

I find this sad and disappointing, but I’m not surprised. It is hard when you are in a traditional ‘safety’ role to get away from the rigour of systems, process and control. It is expected of you, and even when you second-guess the value of this approach, it’s often easier to continue, than to try to break the nexus and change thinking. So how do people in ‘safety’ deal with these frustrations and concerns?

My friend who wrote to me, enjoys our regular catch up’s every few months where we share ideas, experiences and feelings. When they express frustrations and concerns, I don’t feel the urge or need to ‘fix them’, I don’t have to provide solutions. I just listen and ask questions that help them think through options, they need to decide what works best. For me, this is what being a friend is about, I demonstrate that I care without having to solve their problem. So sharing your thoughts with a friend who will listen, rather than solve, can be a great way to work through frustrations and concerns.

Another thing I have found to help is that, along with a number of other friends and colleagues, we’ve formed what we call a ‘Thinking Group’. A small group of us get together every 6-8 weeks and allow ourselves time to ‘think’. During these catch up’s we don’t solve problems, we don’t develop new procedures and we don’t review trends. We just pick a topic or two, and without any specific agenda, we share our thinking. This is a great way to step outside the busyness of everyday life, and away from the constant control and process of our ‘day jobs’, and use our imaginations.
I find that these are two great ways that help with deal with frustrations and concerns.

So if you can ways to work through your frustrations, what might you be able to do differently to change the way that your organisation sees ‘safety’ and limit your frustrations and concerns?

For a start, one of the methods that I have adopted is that I no longer tell people that I work in ‘safety’. I don’t want people to think that I’m interested in controlling people, policing people and reporting violations. I don’t want people to conjure up an image that I like to walk around with a check-list telling people what they are doing wrong. I don’t believe this is how you improve safety.

Instead, I tell people that I enjoy learning about how people make decisions & judgements. My work is to share this learning and help people to discern risk themselves, not for me to do it for them. My work is to coach people and ask questions, not to control them, so that they can realise themselves that they may be in danger. My job is to motivate people by providing good information in a way that helps them learn, not just nod and understand, which is typical of how ‘safety’ training is often done.

My job is to value people, their views and opinions. This often involves me helping them to think clearly. Sure there are procedures, risk assessments, investigations, however all this is done thinking first about the people who are going to be involved, not just what the law says.

My jobs is let to people have control of their own decisions.
I wonder, if you are one of those people like my friend, who are frustrated with how ‘safety’ is viewed, whether you might be able to change the way that you go about your job? If you switched controlling to supporting, would people view you differently? I’d love it if the next time my friend goes to a party that people would appreciate what they do and, even thank them, rather than alienate them.


The Use of First Aid Kits and Fire Extinguishers on Our Roads

In Ghana, it is a requirement that all drivers (both private and commercial) should keep first aid kits in their vehicle. Also, it is a requirement for drivers to keep and maintain a fire extinguisher in their vehicles in case of fire. For these reasons, The Motor Transport and Traffic Unit (M.T.T.U) of the Ghana Police Service usually inspect these equipments in the various random check points or barriers so as to ensure that drivers are complying with these orders. People who flout the rule are usually fined or receive a warning of a certain kind.

Keeping first aid kits in a vehicle is not the problem. The problem here is; do these drivers know the reason why the first aid kits have to be kept in the car? I once had a conversation with a driver who about the use of first aid and the answers he gave me were very dangerous to say the least. I asked; why do you keep first aids in your cars?” he answered; “usually on a long journey, a passenger will complain of a headache or stomach ache. In such situations, when you have first aid, you just give the passenger some of the drugs so they can be healed.” I then asked again; “have you been trained to administer first aid?” He answered; “must one be trained before they can dispense paracetamol to someone complaining of headache? This is just an easy everyday job? These answers nearly knocked me out unconscious.

Administration of first aid is highly a trained job. When we are injured or suddenly unwell, what we want and need is someone to help us – someone who knows what to do. First aid is an emergency treatment administered to an injured or sick person before professional medical care is available. This should not be done anyhow. No untrained person has the right to attend or administer first aid to a casualty. Also, some people react badly or are allergic to certain medications as a result, one cannot administer drugs to someone without knowing their medical histories. A first aider cannot by their initiative administer drugs to a casualty. So the question is, why do we allow these drivers to administer drugs to passengers whiles on the road? Who takes care of the passenger in case the drug rather escalate the sickness or they develop a severe side effect?

In my profession as a safety officer, we are always advised not to keep oral medications in a first aid kit so as to avoid the temptation of administering it. Authorities therefore must come out clear to tell us what those first aids in our cars are for? Who is supposed to administer the first aid? What should be the content and when and how it should be administered and on whom. Until these issues are clarified and our drivers are properly informed, many people will continue to die on our roads due to mishandling and improper administration of first aid.

Fire extinguishers are also a major safety concern on our roads. Drivers keep these equipment with the view that when fire immediately erupts, they can fight it. Fire extinguishers look very simple but one has to be properly trained in its use or else risk their lives in trying to use the equipment.

Today, most drivers keep fire extinguishers in their cars for the sake of conformance. Knowledge on its use is very little. Even most of our enforcement officers have very little or no knowledge on the use of fire extinguishers. I once observed a police officer inspecting a fire extinguisher that has been out of service for a very long time but did not even realise it.

The use of fire extinguishers have to be part of the trainings the drivers go through before they are issued driver’s license. Among other things, the drivers should exhibit competency in all areas of firefighting before their licences are issued out to them. By so doing, drivers will know how and when to fight fires and when not to risk their lives trying to put fire off.

Achieving zero incidence on our roads should always be the target of the National Road Safety. To achieve such feat will not come on a silver platter. Both road users and enforcement agencies will have to be committed to working towards the achievement of zero incidence.

Permit To Work Systems


The Permit to Work (PTW) system is a formal documented process used to manage workplace hazards, by ensuring all safety measures are in place before work is permitted to commence. It involves various levels of personnel, from workers, supervisors, safety assessor and authorised manager.


Some hazards, such as fire, dangerous substances, buried services, confined spaces and electrical equipment are difficult to control under normal circumstances. The Law requires that Employers provide a safe place of work, safe systems of work, evaluation of hazards and written action control measures to minimise those hazards. In these cases, formal written procedures are used to ensure that there is a safe place and system of work.  This is called a Permit to Work System.  A permit has two main purposes:-

  1. It authorises a named, trained person to carry out an activity.  That person should have the permit with him/her until it expires.
  2. It provides a mechanism of checking before the operation starts, that all the precautions and safeguards are in place.

In hazardous working operations, the lack of a permit system can lead to very serious consequences.  For example:-

  • A lift engineer was decapitated when the counterweight of a lift came down in the shaft he was working in.  His employer was found guilty and fined £10,000 and costs for failure to provide a safe system of work.
  • A ground worker suffered burns and later died of heart failure after his pneumatic breaker made contact with an 11 KV cable.
  • Two men died of suffocation when they entered an underground tank because no one had checked the atmosphere first.
  • Many fires occur on sites from uncontrolled burning operations.
  • These are real examples and were all preventable if a Permit to Work System had been in place.


Stage 1-Highlight Potential Hazards:  Workers guided by the Supervisor highlight potential hazards and implement all necessary safety measures according to the PTW requirements. But work is not permitted to commence until Stage 4.

Stage 2Application of Permit:  The Supervisor applies for permission to start work on a prescribed form and submit the application of the PTW to the Working at Height safety assessor only when all the conditions in the PTW have been fulfilled. The Supervisor has to indicate in the PTW that risk assessment was conducted for Working at Height and the safety measures to be implemented.

Stage 3-Evaluation of Permit:  The Working at Height safety assessor will evaluate and verify that all safety conditions specified in the PTW have been fulfilled and adequate. He may also recommend additional measures in the PTW when necessary. He will need to inspect the location of work where the PTW has been applied for, with the Supervisor during this process.

Only when all safety requirements stated in the PTW are fulfilled, the Working at Heightsafety assessor will then endorse the PTW form and forward to the authorised manager

Stage 4Approval of Permit: The authorised manager may approve and issue the PTW only when he is satisfied that:

1. Proper evaluation of risk and hazards for the work concerned has been conducted

2. No incompatible work will be carried out in the same time and location of the PTW, which may pose a risk to the persons at work.

3. All reasonably practicable safety measures have been taken and all persons involved in the work have been informed of the work hazards under the PTW

Work is permitted to commence upon issue/approval of the PTW.  The supervisor will then clearly post a copy of the PTW at the location of work stated in the PTW. The copy of the PTW will not be removed from the location of work until duration of PTW has expired or work stated in the PTW has been completed.


Permit to Work Systems are required for:-

  1. Work on electrical equipment that could give rise to risk of injury or death, including commissioning and work involving exposed live conductors.
  2. Welding, flame cutting and work involving a risk of fire or explosion.
  3. Work in a confined, poorly ventilated space where there may be a risk of toxic/flammable gases, fumes or vapours or oxygen deficiency.
  4. Excavations
  5. Access control to restricted areas.
  6. Any other dangerous circumstances e.g. radiography.

Your employer is aware of the Permit requirements on this site.  If in doubt about whether you need a permit, ASK.

The Permit will state:-

  1. The “authorised” person who is trained and competent for the task
  2. Limitations on the person/s and activity and the precautions to be taken
  3. The Supervisor in charge and his signature.
  4. The specific area to which it relates and the exact nature of the task.
  5. The period for which the Permit is valid.

On completion of a task, the Permit must be signed off and its validity terminated. Look out for signs showing “Permit to Work Area” and make sure you are in receipt of a valid permit for any of the above circumstances.



How To Identify Workplace Hazards


Employers have a responsibility to protect workers against health and safety hazards at work. Workers have the right to know about potential hazards and to refuse work that they believe is dangerous. Workers also have a responsibility to work safely with hazardous materials.

Health and safety hazards exist in every workplace. Some are easily identified and corrected, while others create extremely dangerous situations that could be a threat to your life or long-term health. The best way to protect yourself is to learn to recognize and prevent hazards in your workplace.

There are four main types of workplace hazards:

Physical hazards are the most common hazards and are present in most workplaces at some time. Examples include: frayed electrical cords, unguarded machinery, exposed moving parts, constant loud noise, vibrations, working from ladders, scaffolding or heights, spills, tripping hazards.

Ergonomic hazards occur when the type of work you do, your body position and/or your working conditions put a strain on your body. They are difficult to identify because you don’t immediately recognize the harm they are doing to your health. Examples include: poor lighting, improperly adjusted workstations and chairs, frequent lifting, repetitive or awkward movements.

Chemical hazards are present when you are exposed to any chemical preparation (solid, liquid or gas) in the workplace. Examples include: cleaning products and solvents, vapours and fumes, carbon monoxide or other gases, gasoline or other flammable materials.

Biological hazards come from working with people, animals or infectious plant material. Examples include: blood or other bodily fluids, bacteria and viruses, insect bites, animal and bird droppings.

How Do I Identify Workplace Hazards?

Good hazard scenarios describe:

  • Where it is happening (environment),
  • Who or what it is happening to (exposure),
  • What precipitates the hazard (trigger),
  • The outcome that would occur should it happen (consequence)
  • Any other contributing factors.

To perform a job hazard analysis, the following questions have to be asked

What can go wrong? The worker’s hand could come into contact with a rotating object that “catches” it and pulls it into the machine.

What are the consequences? The worker could receive a severe injury and lose fingers and hands.

How could it happen? The accident could happen as a result of the worker trying to clear a snag during operations or as part of a maintenance activity while the pulley is operating. Obviously, this hazard scenario could not occur if the pulley is not rotating.

What are other contributing factors? This hazard occurs very quickly. It does not give the worker much opportunity to recover or prevent it once his hand comes into contact with the pulley. This is an important factor, because it helps you determine the severity and likelihood of an accident when selecting appropriate hazard controls.

How likely is it that the hazard will occur? This determination requires some judgment. If there have been “near-misses” or actual cases, then the likelihood of a recurrence would be considered high. If the pulley is exposed and easily accessible, that also is a consideration. In the example, the likelihood that the hazard will occur is high because there is no guard preventing contact, and the operation is performed while the machine is running. By following the steps in this example, you can organize your hazard analysis activities.



Safety is More Than Common Sense


Safety is more than common sense

[Written by Allen D. Quilley, CRSP, courtesy of cos-mag.com]

When I’m speaking at conferences or conducting training sessions, it’s not unusual for me to meet frustrated managers and safety folks who are beside themselves with their lack of results in reducing injuries. They are frustrated because their current method of keeping their employees safe isn’t working. It’s from some of these folks that I hear statements and questions like, “Why don’t people use more common sense?” or, “Safety is only common sense!”

I’d like to explore this strange beast some folks believe is the secret to safety: the all-too-rare common sense.

Some universal truths: Humans don’t know what they don’t know. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? We only know what we know, so how do we learn things? No matter how much we want it to be true, humans do not have the ability to “just know” about anything, including safety.

For example, there is no gene in human DNA that makes it natural to know that ladders need to be tied off to make sure they don’t slip. The common sense 4:1 ladder angle ratio is not somehow imprinted in our human DNA.

As a young man, my father — a machinist by trade — taught me about carpentry. Dad is an excellent hobby carpenter and, over his lifetime, has built many things from furniture to garages. His instructions included how to safely use the power tools in his garage, including a table saw and a radial arm saw. I learned how to safely use these devices through his instructions and my hands on practice. I am the hobby carpenter I am today mainly because of my father’s mentoring.

Not long ago, my eldest son called to ask if he could drop over and use my table saw. Without hesitation I told him that he could. While I waited for his arrival I went out to my attached garage and started to position the saw so that there was room to cut full sheets of plywood. I started to wonder how my son gained the knowledge needed to use a table saw. He certainly hadn’t shown any interest in using one as a kid, and now that he was a man working in the fitness industry, there wasn’t any reason for me to believe he would know very much about this particular kind of power tool.

When he arrived, as I suspected, he told me that he had never used a table saw before. He had never taken a course, or even paid much attention to all of those renovation shows on TV. It was crystal clear that common sense about table saws didn’t exist — and frankly, why would it?

If I had let my son use the table saw assuming he just knew how to use it because of course “everyone knows about table saws,” it could have had disastrous results. I helped my son cut his sheets of plywood using some of the training techniques my father had used on me. I know with some confidence that when my son one day teaches his son about table saws that there won’t be any assumptions of common knowledge about these potentially lethal machines.

It’s impossible to know what another human knows without communication. I meet a lot of people in my travels and there is no possible way that I can know how extensive their knowledge about a subject is, without engaging them in a conversation.

The life experiences and formal education make every one of us uniquely different. This is a very good thing. Imagine if we all knew exactly the same things and had perfect replicas of each other’s life experience. After-dinner conversations would be pretty boring now wouldn’t they?

“Did you see the new superhero movie?”

“Yes I did, as did you…in fact everyone we know has seen it!”

“Did you like it? I did!”

“Of course I did…everyone liked it; we all have the same experience!”

Obviously this is a silly example, but no sillier than the concept of common sense. It just doesn’t exist.

When I hear those frustrated individuals use the term common sense, there are a few responses I use to try to get them to reflect a bit:

“Common sense is a myth propagated by those people who don’t remember where and from whom they learned what they know.”

“Having common sense is the art of knowing something that someone else believes you should know with or without the opportunity for you to actually know it.”

“People who believe in common sense can’t, by definition, have any because, logically, that would make anyone believe that everyone knows everything.”

“Only someone without any common sense would believe there is such thing as common sense.”

Finally, some common sense! You don’t have to answer these questions for me, but answer them for yourself because I, for one, already know the answer.

Have you ever:
• Used the wrong tool for a job (knife as a screwdriver, wrench as a hammer)?
• Stood on a chair to get something?
• Forgotten to wear a piece of safety equipment when you should have worn it?
• Driven your vehicle while you were distracted or tired?
• Forgotten to tell someone you were working with a critical piece of information?
• Driven faster than the road conditions/speed limit?
• Used a tool for the first time without reading the directions?
• Paid interest of over 24 per cent on a credit card?

I could go on and on. These are all common sense things to avoid aren’t they? Smart people wouldn’t do ANY of these things. Unfortunately, very smart people do most, if not all, of these things. Usually, people do these things for no greater reason than to save some time or to be more comfortable. Sometimes the pull to take risks we don’t have to is overwhelming. We need to help each other resist the urge to take these all-too-common risks.

Let us not rely on something that doesn’t exist. In a “practical based safety culture” we know what our people know and do because we’ve engaged them in the process of creating safety. Training and mentoring are based on evidence — not some belief that our employees must know something because, after all, it’s just common sense, isn’t it?

Keep smiling! It’s a common way to stay happy.