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Navigating the balancing act: How safety professionals reconcile competing priorities

Posted by Robert O'Neill on Mar 21, 2023 6:28:00 PM
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professional with a set of scalesSafety professionals play a critical role in ensuring the well-being of employees and the public and compliance with regulations. However, the job of a safety professional can be challenging. One of the biggest challenges is reconciling competing priorities, such as safety and production or safety and financial objectives. In this article, we will explore how safety professionals navigate this balancing act and make decisions that prioritise safety while also considering other important factors.

Navigating the Balancing Act

One way safety professionals reconcile competing priorities is through the use of "sacrifice judgments." This approach acknowledges that there may be situations where trade-offs between safety and other goals are necessary. For example, a construction project may need to be delayed to address a safety issue that has emerged. Safety professionals can facilitate these decisions by providing guidance on different actions' risks and potential consequences.

Another essential aspect of reconciling competing priorities is the development of contingency plans. This can include identifying sources of operational uncertainty and having flexible resources to address potential safety issues. Safety professionals can also play a critical role in ensuring that these plans are communicated and understood by all stakeholders, including employees, management, and regulators.

In addition to facilitating sacrifice judgments and contingency planning, safety professionals can promote a "just culture" within their organisation. This means creating an environment where safety is prioritised over other goals, but employees are not punished for accidents or near-misses that occur despite their best efforts. A just culture also means that employees feel comfortable reporting safety concerns without fear of retaliation.

Ultimately, the safety professional's role is to provide a safety lens over the entire system in a way that promotes a 'devotion to safety' alongside other system and organisational goals. This means balancing safety considerations with production, financial, and other essential objectives. By utilising sacrifice judgments, contingency planning, and promoting a just culture, safety professionals can effectively navigate the balancing act and make decisions that prioritise safety while also considering other important factors.

Incorporating Multiple Perspectives

It is also important to note that safety professionals should not monopolise safety expertise. The input and expertise of front-line employees, practitioners, and subject matter experts should be valued and incorporated into decision-making processes. This helps ensure that decisions are based on the best available information and that all perspectives are considered.

Furthermore, Safety professionals should not base external perspectives on safety on relationships rather than expertise. For example, regulators should not be given more weight than contractors regarding safety issues. Safety professionals should be impartial and evaluate all perspectives based on their relevance and expertise.

Adapting Safety Decisions

Another vital aspect is that safety decisions should not be binary compliance requirements but should be revisited and revised with new information. Safety professionals should be aware of recent developments in their field and adjust their decisions accordingly.

Lastly, Safety judgements should not focus solely on the safety issue alone but should also consider the broader operation. The safety professional should be aware of the impact of their decision on the organisation's production and financial objectives and should balance these with safety considerations.

Conclusion

In conclusion, The role of a safety professional is complex and multifaceted and requires a holistic approach to decision-making. Safety professionals should consider multiple perspectives, including the input of front-line employees, practitioners, and experts. They should also be impartial and evaluate all views based on their relevance and expertise. Additionally, safety decisions should be revisited and revised with new information, and safety judgements should be sensitive to the broader operation. By taking these considerations into account, safety professionals can effectively navigate the balancing act and make decisions that prioritise safety while also considering other important factors.

At Work Safety Hub, we understand safety professionals' challenges in navigating the balancing act between safety and other priorities. Our team of experienced consultants can help your organisation improve its approach to safety management. We offer a wide range of services, including:

  • Identification of sources of operational uncertainty and implementation of mechanisms to gather more information
  • Promotion of a just culture and the creation of a safety-centric organisational culture
  • Assistance with compliance and regulatory requirements
  • Training and education for employees and management on safety best practices

Don't let the balancing act between safety and other priorities hinder your organisation's success. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help you improve your approach to safety management.

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