Recently, I discussed the supervisor’s job description that included safety responsibilities, yet required no safety skills or qualifications. I asked why and answered with……
“I believe it’s for the same reason there is no good definition of safe work practice …… Safety is common sense, isn’t it? Everyone knows you have to be safe. Yes, but does everyone know how to be safe? We’ll discuss this in another installment.”
I guess I should have said we’ll discuss it in the next installment, because that’s what I want to focus on now.
The assumption that safety is common sense (at least general safety) is not acceptable. How many times have you heard a trainer or supervisor say “you can do it, it’s just common sense?” Okay, what is common sense? As I do much more often than I did years ago, I looked it up in the dictionary. (Actually dictionary.com to be truthful.) Here’s the definition:
common sense, (noun) 1. sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence. From <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/common%20sense?s=t>
So, is safety a reasonable component of “normal native intelligence?” Not really but, that’s why it’s assumed everyone knows what a safe work practice is and why supervisors are responsible for safety, but need no safety qualifications.
Did you see how I ignored the main part of the definition to make my point? Let me ask the question again, this way: So, is safety “sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like?” Are you wired with “sound practical judgment” or is it learned? Some might say yes, to the extent that people want to avoid injury and pain. But, that assumption is contradicted by those who enjoy the thrill of risk-taking. Even if an employee has common sense, is it used? I’m reminded of a statement I’ve heard numerous times over the years….. “common sense ain’t so common.”
The idea of common sense as a reasonable expectation may be perpetuated by employees obediently listening quietly to trainers and supervisors. While important safety information may be short changed because it is thought to be common sense, employees may also be accepting information with blind faith. I am not talking about spiritual or religious faith. I mean generally as “belief without true understanding, perception, or discrimination” as defined here: From <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/blind%20faith?s=t> Keep in mind, not everyone knows they don’t understand something during training. They may be hesitant to ask for an explanation because the implication is that they should already understand. New employees may be more susceptible to this.
My point is that trainers and supervisors may inappropriately assume employees have common sense and employees are not always well-prepared to challenge trainers and supervisors for better safety information. The combination is less than ideal from a safety perspective.
The Safely Working Project is working to remove common sense from safety vocabulary and replace it with “Sensible Care*.” Sensible Care cannot be assumed because it is not “native intelligence,” it is learned. It can be achieved by providing employees with all the information and guidance needed to be Safely Working. With sound information, employees will be better poised to use good judgment so their efforts can be completed safely. Supervisors will also be in a better position to monitor and mentor employees.
Safe 6 is integral to Sensible Care. Safe 6 doesn’t assume common sense as a prerequisite. It is designed to identify the information employees need to be Safely Working with Sensible Care. All the more reason to get into detail about Safe 6….. Soon.
*Just for the sake of completeness, here are definitions of sensible and care that form the basis of the application of the phrase “Sensible Care:”
Sensible: having or showing good sense or judgment. From <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sensible>
Care: effort made to do something correctly, safely, or without causing damage. From <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/care>
©2016 The Safely Working Project & P.D. Shafer III
“Safe 6” is a registered trademark of Trailmarker Ltd.
“Safely Working” is a trademark of Trailmarker Ltd.
The Safely Working Project is focused wholly on employees and their health and well-being in the workplace. The Project promotes useful guidance that does not depend on a safety professional or staff to facilitate in the workplace.
The Safely Working Project envisions a path to workplace safety that is driven by employees and supervisors. This is fundamentally different from the traditional Safety Program where an EHS Professional manages workplace safety. So, instead of top down safety, Safely Working™ endeavors to succeed from the ground up. “We’re turning safety upside down.”