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Don't Bring Safety Training to a Safety Design Fight

Updated: May 15, 2023

What Do I Mean by This?

Many of you have probably heard the phrase "don't bring a knife to a gun fight". This is a major inspiration for the title of the blog. What the phrase instills is a certain level of woeful inadequacy of bringing certain weapons to a fight where a much superior weapon is involved. I see the same thing with safety. And I see some companies doing exactly that.

The phrase of not bringing a knife to a gun fight illustrates that, barring a lot of luck or a miracle, the person with the gun can take out the person with the knife long before the person with the knife can close the distance on the person with the gun. The fight is analogous to problem solving. The problem requires one thing. But you brought something that isn't up to the task. That's the link between the phrase and the post title. Let's dive into it.

Safety Training is Inadequate to Solve Safety Design Issues

I don't want anyone to misunderstand. I absolutely think safety training is quite valuable. There are many things that need good safety training as well as good safe operating procedures. But training is lower on the effectiveness tier for controlling hazards. This is because designing a work area to be safe on its own is going to be more effective, overall, than attempting to change employee behaviors.

More Safety Training Just Makes Employee's Work Plate Fuller

For instance, you hire employees primarily to do a non-safety related job. You definitely want them to work safely, not get injured, and not damage property. But that is ancillary to their primary job. Just look at the makeup of many industrial companies. There usually are a lot of people dedicated to some form of production or operations. There are far fewer people dedicated to occupational safety management.

To further illustrate the point, the primary job already has a lot to know and understand. To add a lot of safety procedures, tasks, or other things to remember will often mean employees either take short cuts with safety to get the job done, or the job is done much slower. A slower job means less productivity, which tends to mean less profit. Any business will take note of that and be naturally hesitant to slow down. So, training or other behavior changes will often not be able to solve problems like design changes can.

Safety Design Changes Can Make You More Productive

Safety design is a multifaceted method to make the work area or work tasks safe all on their own. And then they look to things like training or procedures. The potential for improved employee performance can be staggering if you design safety into the work they do. How about an example?

You have old, semi-worn out equipment that requires employees with special knowledge and skills to work on. Typically, such employees will be members of maintenance, who already have multiple things to know, do, and do in a short time frame. But then you update the equipment such that it doesn't take such specialized knowledge to use it in most cases. Sure, you may sometimes need your maintenance staff to come in and do some work. But most things can be done by the employees assigned to the area and the equipment.

Maintenance is often exposed to many different hazards, and because so many things aren't quite routine for them, they can be at the highest risk of making a safety error. But with the updating and redesign of the equipment, the area is much safer on it's own. Additionally, you reduce the exposure of maintenance to making an error by allowing the area operators and employees to take care of the simple, routine stuff. This has the benefit of giving maintenance more of the precious time they need to get the stuff done that truly warrants their attention.

A simpler way to look at it is this. If you make the work area or work tasks designed to be safe, that frees up more time for employees to be productive in their primary jobs. Taking the safety training route by default will just mean that the employees have to know their jobs AND the additional safety requirements. It's more of a mental load and no person is perfect. The cost of a safety error may be nothing at all or very minor. But in some cases, it can mean a catastrophe such as a death or burned down facility. And there are plenty of unpleasant outcomes in between minor and catastrophic to consider.

The Verdict

Just like a knife is useful in many situations, so too is training. No one's saying that you should abandon safety training. There are plenty of situations that require extensive training. But, if you utilize effective safety design, then you won't need as much training, and the training you do have won't need to be as long. At least this can often be the case.

If you want your business to be as productive and profitable as it can be, take a good look at designing safety into things. Look at it as an investment into controlling your costs and maximizing your human resources. The better and more efficiently they can do their jobs, the more productive they can be. Safety design helps achieve this. When you've taken all of the feasible safety design measures you can, then look at administrative controls and personal protective equipment for the remaining hazards. To sum everything up, don't bring safety training to a safety design fight!

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