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Are You Running Away from Incidents or Running Towards Safety?

Toby Graham /
feet of racers running

People tend to do things for one of two reasons:
a) because they want something, or
b) because they want to avoid something. 

Mental health professionals, management coaches, and others who study decision-making sometimes define this dichotomy as “running toward” versus “running away. We run toward what’s pleasant and constructive—goals, hopes, intentions, desires. We run away from the negative and destructive—fears, anxieties, compulsions, boredom.

Organizations engage in this form of decision-making as well.
Can you guess which model leads to better workplace safety results?

As Terry Mathis, founder and CEO of ProAct Safety, explains in a recent article for EHS Today, you can’t improve safety by focusing only on the incidents you want to avoid. He writes (emphasis added):

“The average prospect I speak with has a goal to improve their safety numbers over last year. They set a numeric goal to strive for that can be considered an improvement. Since they basically measure their failures, they are striving to fail less. Without a clear vision of what success looks like, it is virtually impossible to work toward it. World-class safety organizations have a vision of success they are working toward, not a vision of failure they are working away from. When I point out this distinction, the ones excellent in safety get it and the others don’t. They often say, ‘Success and the lack of failure are the same thing!’ They think of it like a golf score. The goal is to drive the numbers as low as possible.

In excellent organizations, the majority of improvement efforts happen pre-accident. Safety is defined as positive things to do rather than outcomes to avoid. Goals are 100% safe, not 0% accidents. In others, most improvements are made post-accident as a result of accident investigation and analysis. Proactive efforts put organizations ahead of the accident curve.”

In other words, the “why” of safety matters at least as much as the “how.” Mathis expands on this theme by exploring several attributes top safety performers have in common. He found that the safest organizations tend to…

  1. consider safety metrics beyond “lagging indicators,” such as near-misses and incidents avoided;
  2. think of their workers as stakeholders, not variables to be controlled;
  3. enact rules with logical underpinnings rather than “corrective actions” based on “knee-jerk reactions”; and
  4. take EHS improvement one measure at a time by “breaking [it] down into doable steps.”

Read “The Differentiators of Safety Excellence.”

How would you characterize your organization’s EHS program: running towards or running away? See your organization from a new perspective and gain fresh insight into your safety challenges by scheduling a conversation with one of our experts.

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