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Going for effectively efficient safety management

Knowing what to do and how to do those things that make a safe work situation is a fundamental requirement of efficient and effective OHS problem-solving.

Good problem-solving requires us to be both efficient and effective. A problem solved inefficiently only causes other problems. A problem solved ineffectively isn’t really solved at all.

There are only four possible combinations of being effective and efficient. You either are or you aren’t.  No matter what state you find yourself in, there are practical things to do to improve not only your results but the processes you use to achieve those results.

Let’s examine the four states of OH&S management and see what we can do to celebrate or correct our approaches so that we’ll become efficient and effective at creating safety.

Effectively efficient: Doing the right things right

This is akin to driving a well-maintained boat with a super crew onboard with a well-defined plan to get to the other side of the lake. We’ll not only accomplish our goals but we’ll do it in record time with few problems, if any, to resolve along the way. The plan is solid, we have the right people in place, and we just need to execute the plan. Then of course, we need to celebrate our accomplishment!

In managing OH&S issues, this means that your own evidence tells you that you are managing safety in a way that results in the creation of safety. You can see the evidence of safety when you look. Workers are working without taking unnecessary risks. You can observe workers following work procedures that they helped develop and are wearing proper protective clothing and equipment. The safety rules make sense to the people who need to follow them and the safety culture is observable. It feels good to be safe. Safety isn’t a “program”. It’s the way that your company does its work.

Effectively inefficient: Doing the right things poorly

This is like owning a boat in very poor running condition, having one broken paddle as an emergency backup, with a great navigation plan to make it across the lake: “We’ll get there ... someday.” We’ll breakdown along the way, we may hurt some crew members because we don’t have the proper tools to repair the boat, we may even get to the wrong point on the lake before we finally reach our correct destination. There could be some time wasted just drifting aimlessly. Team members will be unhappy and a tad frustrated. Success of getting to where you are going will be less than satisfying because of the negative experience.

In OH&S management, we are often doing the right things to make it safe; we just aren’t very efficient at them. We have safety meetings for example, but the participants think they are a waste of time since we’re having very poorly developed meeting strategies. There are good things happening at the meetings; they just aren’t happening quickly enough.

Ineffectively Efficient: Doing the wrong things very well

In this state we’re really good at what we are doing, we’re just doing the wrong things. We have a great boat in great condition travelling in circles. We’re randomly reaching unplanned destinations that we never really intended to go to. If we reach the goal, it will just be because of luck.

Unfortunately companies stuck in traditional approaches to safety are in this state, they are very efficient at orientations, for example, but the process isn’t getting the correct results. All their staff have watched the orientation DVD, they just haven’t retained any of the information.

Another common example is passing the same audit annually for several years. Let’s face it: you aren’t learning much by asking yourself the same questions you asked yourself a decade ago, even if the audit is done in record time.

Ineffectively inefficient: Doing the wrong things poorly

This is akin to driving a motor boat with a poorly performing motor and no rudder on a lake. You will slowly and with a great deal of noise go around in circles...and never really get anywhere. If you do get to the other side of the lake, it could be the wrong destination altogether. If you happen to get to where you wanted to be, you’d have to admit to yourself that it was mostly luck that got you there.

This state or your OH&S effort usually presents some, if not all, of the following observable symptoms:

•    No safety processes defined

•    Working on the typical myths of OH&S management

•    We offer to fire people for safety violations, but don’t tell them they are doing a good job when they do

•    We efficiently hold safety “telling” meetings where there is no interaction

•    We have rules of safe behaviour but never actually check to see if they are being followed.

There are certainly other areas of concern with ineffectively inefficient management. The key is to find out from others the successful ways to get you out of this state.

What state are you in?

If you find yourself in the effectively efficient state, then please keep doing what you are doing. Continue to strive to do the right things right. Start to measure not only your activities to make it safe but the outcomes of those activities. Make sure you celebrate your successes.

If you find yourself in the effectively inefficient state, then work on your processes. Refine how you are creating safety by reducing unnecessary steps in your plans and procedures. Engage the people that actually do the work to help you define the steps to efficiently get things done.

If you find yourself in the ineffectively efficient state, stop the focus on how you are trying to create safety and think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Challenge your current practices. Look for evidence-based solutions. Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing.

If you find yourself in the ineffectively inefficient state, then just quit — just kidding! Immediately start with finding out what to do, then think about how to do it in your culture. The road to excellence will be hard work, but rewarding.

Remember that every company is in some state of your OH&S management development and delivery evolution. Components of what you are doing to create safety may very well be in a variety of states of both efficient and effective.

There’s nothing wrong with being where you are ... unless of course you don’t do anything about it!

Alan D. Quilley is the author of The Emperor Has No Hard Hat – Achieving REAL Safety Results and president of Safety Results Ltd., a Sherwood Park, Alberta OH&S consulting company. You can reach him at

Mari-Len De Guzman

Mari-Len De Guzman is the former editor of Canadian Occupational Safety magazine and
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