Most of us know there is no off-the-shelf game-changer that will “fix safety.” It can be seductive to think otherwise, and of course there is no shortage of consultants out there who have all the answers. But the reality is that any single solution generally addresses only a sliver of the real issue. Safety performance improvement can be accelerated, but creative, innovative, hard won battles have to be fought in order to make lasting, sustainable gains.
So, how to approach it? Do we work from the inside out or the outside in? Do we gather internal resources or look for an outside perspective? Working internally often lacks a necessary objectivity: It’s hard for any organization to see itself realistically. But getting a formulaic off-the-shelf solution from the outside may not be any more helpful.
The optimal approach is to use outside resources, but very sparingly, and to require that they provide advice and consultation that is unique to the needs of your organization. This isn’t easy to do, because the sales person wants to sell the products and services his or her company has to offer. What you really need is an active collaboration that draws from the expertise and tools of the consultant, with the direction and guidance of internal experts.
What you want from the outside expert is an objective assessment of the moving parts within your safety system. That includes your safety leadership capability, the state of your organization’s safety culture, and the extent to which your existing safety systems are fully integrated and working well. What you want is the answer to the key question: “How do you balance the resources for safety improvement with your safety improvement objectives?”
This last question is the most important thing the outsider can provide. And the answer doesn’t come off-the-shelf from the sales manual. It comes from an outsider who has seen the efforts of many organizations and tracked what worked, what didn’t work, and why. Properly done, asking this question will trigger the conversations that need to happen within your organization.
Your leaders say they want to reduce serious injuries and fatalities. Do they know what it will take to do that? Can they be talked into thinking that by simply changing some worker behavior or training some managers, they will have the problem solved? What resources are really required to eliminate serious injuries and fatalities, and how should they be deployed? These are questions that can and must be answered, not by a manual on how to sell consulting services, but by a careful analysis of systems and data done in a collaborative effort among your organization’s leaders and a few experienced outside advisers.