After recently reading some works by Sydney Dekker, I have been having a mini rant at the Culture of “Elf n Safety” and how it needs to change (and no I’m not talking about safety culture here, I am talking of the “culture of safety” which in my opinion are two completely different things).
My first thought about a new paradigm for “Elf n Safety” is about the bureaucracy we have built into our safety departments; in particular the data that we collect in order to show how effective we are. You know… all those lagging statistics with which we attempt to prove that all is well with the safety regime and the bosses can, rather foolishly, relax and not worry about the safety of the work place because the data is showing “how good we are”.
Now one thing we have to remember is that data in not intelligence and intelligence is not knowledge and a manager using data rather than knowledge is treading a dangerous path.
So let’s get this clear, data is simply “raw information’ which needs to be scrutinized, contextualized and assessed to turn it into intelligence, which then becomes knowledge when it is shared between those on the “need to know list”. From there we can use the Knowledge in meaningful and hopefully constructive ways to learn and clarify current situations, progress etc. and thus to make informed decisions.
Let’s take the example of Injury Frequency Rates, we count all the injuries for the month, week by week, and we add them up – This is Data!! Then we do a mathematical calculation to get the frequency rate but we still only have data! (I know what you will say and yes I know we need to compare apples with apples)
But when we begin to look into those injuries and their causes and the nature of injury then we can begin to call that intelligence i.e. it has been scrutinized and contextualized. This intelligence then has to be communicated to people who require it and becomes knowledge.
Of course this communication is not so simple either; it has to be accomplished in a manner which makes sense to the recipient and who can then further evaluate the facts according to their experience and perception and ultimately take informed action or make decisions.
Further to the above, the Knowledge gained has to be managed properly; but that is a large subject in itself which I will cover as some further point.
So let’s sum up this topic, the next time you put up that PowerPoint slide in your next monthly safety review, make sure you are not simply showing off useless data which makes the department look good, or worse, that the boss may experience a baseless “warm feeling” about the great “elf n safety” on in his company.
If we as Safety Professionals cannot unilaterally make this paradigm shift then our bosses and company executives should be insisting that we make the change and begin by supplying them with knowledge and not data; believe me they would not accept that from their accounts department.