What is Safety? The World’s Hardest Question?
I’ve been asked to resurrect this article which did generate some interesting discussion a while back……..
This article provides probably the best answer: Safety should not be about Safety
Someone asked me the other day: “What is Safety”? Damn good question…….They say it is critical for most people in deciding where they go, what they buy and what they do, consciously or unconsciously. But I’ve never really thought much about it. Is it just is what it is? If you can answer that question quickly and succinctly then I guess you haven’t thought much about it either! It is bound to be a different thing for different people – Its a bit like asking “what is Love”?
If you are a Safety Manager then what are you managing if it cant be properly measured, understood or defined? Are you managing things (hazards), statistic, systems, behaviours, feelings, thoughts or perceptions? If you are a Zero Harm Manager – do you manage nothing?
Helen Keller once said something like: “Safety is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
Someone once said to me: “Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.”
Is safety something you do or part of what you do – drive safely, what does that mean?
Is Safe something that you be – I promise to be safe – that will sound good but what does it really mean?
Is safety something you take – Take safety precautions, take safety seriously?
Is safety something you ensure – Ensure the health and safety of others, how do you do that?
Is Safety a place you go to – The children were taken to safety, is it really safe?
Is Safety a more short-term or external physical thing as opposed to Health?
Is Safety a real thing or do you just feel it – It looks safe, or does it feel safe?
Is Safety something you think or actually are – I’m worried about my safety but am I really safe here?
Is Safety something that just exists when you aren’t in danger – The workplace is safe because it is hazard free?
Are Safety and Danger things that are mutually exclusive or is protection from danger called risk management - I have protection so it will be safe?
Is it something that is always 100% guaranteed as some Zero Harm proponents would believe?
What about when something is called “the safest” or "the safest way" – is that a perception, has worked before or based on fact and data?
Is Safety First or should it be just part of everything we do?
Is Zero Harm the new or better term for Safety? I hope not!
Now I’m totally confused!!!!!!!
In researching this topic I came across a website devoted to the question: www.whatissafety.com/. This is a website for travellers and asks the questions “what is safety for air travellers” and “what is safety for hiker”. They mention that “safe” and “safety” are in the top 2000 words in the English language?? Not much of use there
Let’s look at the definitions of Safety, official or otherwise:
From the most trusted Source, (Wikipedia):
“Safety is the state of being "safe" (from French sauf), the condition of being protected against physical, social, spiritual, financial, political, emotional, occupational, psychological, educational or other types or consequences of failure, damage, error, accidents, harm or any other event which could be considered non-desirable. Safety can also be defined to be the control of recognized hazards to achieve an acceptable level of risk. This can take the form of being protected from the event or from exposure to something that causes health or economical losses. It can include protection of people or of possessions.”
Definition of safety: noun (plural safeties)
1 [mass noun] the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury: they should leave for their own safety, the survivors were airlifted to safety
2 [as modifier] denoting something designed to prevent injury or damage: a safety barrier a safety helmet
3 [count noun] North American short for safety catch.
Or, for a simplistic definition from www.Ask.com
“Safety means keeping yourself and others free from harm or danger. It means taking care not to fall or bump or run into things. It also means to avoid accidents by being careful with what you are doing.”
Of course any word so popular and powerful is going to be abused and Rob Long explains in his recent article “Safety Justifies Anything and Everything”
Isn’t it strange how the quest for safety is used to justify all range of unethical practice. As long as we put the intention and words of safety in front of some practice or some idea, we are somehow allowed to bully, intimidate, manipulate, overpower and say anything offensive, as long as we speak the sacred unchallenged words of safety.