Newequipment 73 Plant Operations Workers Assembling Train

Safety Problem-Solving: The Incredible Effort to Improve the Past

Dec. 16, 2014

Organizations constantly ask if I can help them solve their safety problems. Think about this: Problems are things that already have happened. They cannot be changed or improved.

Yes, past problems, if not addressed, potentially can repeat, so preventing their repetition certainly is a worthwhile pursuit. But trying to solve problems is like trying to prevent accidents that already have occurred.

Herein lies the problem: Safety has a history of investigating accidents and "solving problems." We often call these solutions "corrective actions" and assume that they will prevent future events. In truth, these actions are designed to affect further performance, or in other words, they are "interventions." 

Problems are what happened in the past. Interventions are what we do in the here and now. Planning is what we do for the future. Mistaking one for another sub-optimizes safety improvement efforts. All these activities work best when they are guided by an overarching strategy for safety.

Read more on safety problem-solving on EHS Today.

EHS Today is an NED companion site within Penton's Manufacturing & Supply Chain Group.