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June 04, 2018
Safety 2018: A new name and a unique challenge
By Timothy P Fagan, Senior Legal Editor - EHS

The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) kicked off its annual Safety 2018 Conference and Exposition in San Antonio, Texas, by unveiling its new name. Formerly known as the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), the organization elected to change its name to reflect the growing diversity of safety professionals, which now extends to many disciplines beyond engineering.

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Many of those safety professionals were welcomed to the conference this morning with a keynote address from Polly LaBarre, co-author of Mavericks at Work, who challenged the large audience to “walk in stupid” and “ask more questions.” These simple concepts are meant to challenge the traditional controls of business; to foster new ideas and find ways of releasing the creativity of the workforce without losing control. In the world of workplace safety, this can allow the safety professional to adapt and innovate, ultimately allowing safety to move beyond just compliance.

To help implement these concepts and help create a flexible, forward-thinking organization, LaBarre offered these ideas:

  • Lead without authority. Power and influence should not be a function of title or position, but rather should be based on contributions. Those that can inspire regardless of position are the leaders that can foster change.
  • Encourage the idea that everyone has a stake in success, what LaBarre refers to as “building an architecture of contribution.” In most organizations, the vast amount of ingenuity within the workforce is not being tapped. In most instances, the most vocal, dynamic personalities are the ones that drive the ideas, but organizations must identify ideas from the unlikely places, and seek out the “quiet genius”
  • Make decisions by experimentation. Typically, organizations spend large amounts of resources on planning before implementing or testing ideas, but experiment with ideas first. These experiments will drive the decisions and form the plan. To do this means accepting failures and inefficiency as part of the process.
  • Start where you are. Initiate change from the bottom up by empowering workers to be activists for change and experiment with ideas. As LaBarre stated, “you don’t need to control the system, to change the system.”
  • Learn as fast as the world is changing. Allow yourself to “be stupid” and be open to possibilities and ideas. Encourage ideas that push you outside your comfort zone, and relentlessly ask Why? Why not? and What if?

On a larger scale, these ideas can shape how companies operate, but they can also be effective within the smaller realm of workplace safety. For the safety professional, compliance is very often about controlling the process and orchestrating the plan. But to truly move workplace safety beyond compliance, to innovate and develop a positive safety culture within your organization, safety professionals may find that challenging the process is the more effective path.

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