Sometimes military strategy teaches us a lot about how to manage or not manage safety programs. A recent project revealed that the “Fire and Forget” strategy does not work well to accomplish the systems management required to sustain a safety culture and OSHA.
In military terms, fire-and-forget is a type of missile guidance which does not require any further effort after it is launched because the missile has an internal guidance system that tells it where to go. The launching personnel can just run and hide. This is an important property for a guided weapon to have, since a person or vehicle that lingers near the launch site vulnerable to detection and counter-attack.
But fire-and-forget missiles also have the tendency to be deflected by soft-kill systems, that is, the self- contained guidance system in the missile can be jammed by electro-optical “dazzlers”. Since there is no additional direction by skilled personnel who can re-direct the missile past these distractions, the missile can go off course and never hits the target.
A recent experience demonstrated how this fire-and-forget approach failed to bring about the desired safety results. The situation worked like this; the top executives of a construction firm issued a directive that sounded something like this “…our company will make safety a core value where we will be in OSHA Compliance and where no one gets injured…ever”. Then a site safety guy was hired.
This company had essentially “ launched” a self-guided safety missile at the target of OSHA compliance. Having done the company management went on to focus on other issues. After all, isn’t that how a fire and forget system works; you launch a well-made and expensive missile, walk away from it and everything works out just as it is supposed to.
Sounds good but; all companies are made up of people and people get distracted, re-directed and sometimes just plain confused. With no additional input, people just often go astray from their original direction. This situation ended like many others with the safety person getting fired for not meeting expectations and the organization never getting any closer to accomplishing OSHA compliance or adopting safety as a core value.
Efforts as complex as trying to establish an organizational culture of safety and accomplish OSHA compliance require a continuous process of interaction, evaluation and adjustment. OSHA Standards such as the one in 1926.20(b)(2) "...frequent and regular inspections of the job sites...by competent persons..." are referenced in several subparts including Subpart P, Excavations, and Subpart X, Stairways and Ladders. This phase “frequent and regular” means that a constant investment of time and resources must be made in order to accomplish safe work conditions.
Unlike missiles, the “fire and forget” approach with safety initiatives means missing the target.
Robert Baldwin is a principal of Risk Solutions Group. He has been a safety professional for over 35 years focusing primarily in the construction industry. For a personal profile and a list of services that may be useful to your company in creating a culture of common sense safety and OSHA compliance visit his website www.occrisk.com