Systematic Risk Management Blog

Why "Safety Is Everybody's Business" is Bad for Risk Management

Posted by Vernon Grose on Tue, Feb 26, 2013 @ 14:02 PM

You’ve heard the old adage, “Safety is everybody’s busi­ness.”

On the other hand, you’ve probably never heard that carpentry, engineering, medicine, or truck driving is every­body’s business. Why did safety get that distinction?

Although you’ll not likely hear it said openly, that distinc­tion probably exists because no one really knows what to do for safety. So safety gets assigned to the four winds—in the hope that since everyone is responsible, no one can be blamed for accidents.

large safety is everybodys business banner
This slogan is not true and has been disastrous for classical risk management.

This is not to overlook, of course, the good intention of using the slogan as a means of getting wide involvement and motiva­tion to do things safely. But the result has been disastrous for classical risk management for four reasons:

1. Any job that can be done by everybody is judged by management as being ridiculously simple, requiring little if any talent. Therefore, safety (as an example of classical risk management) has been assigned to just anyone at all. The National Transportation Safety Board, the independent federal agency charged with investigating transportation accidents and making recommendations for safer operations, illustrates this point. The permanent staff, of course, consists of experts. But the five members, appointed by the President, are often people with absolutely no relevant experience in either trans­portation or safety—so much so that the Senate in 1975 revised the governing statute to read: “No less than two members of the Board shall be individuals who have been appointed in the field of accident reconstruction, safety engineering, or transporta­tion safety.”

2. Something that everyone is expected to do requires no budget or financial support. Safety is a “freebie”! In an economic world, that equates to zero significance.

3. Because of its apparently universal understanding, safety is not worthy of study or attention in a world that's already too busy. Therefore, few executives can imagine investing their valuable time in contemplating safety or in paying someone else to do so.

4. Because preventing accidents becomes the kind of work that anyone can supposedly do, executives are not inclined to “waste” good talent on classical risk management.

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This post is an excerpt from Vernon Grose's Managing Risk

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Topics: risk management, NTSB, accidents