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Does Safety Stifle Innovation?

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Safety seems to be a very conservative, status-quo activity.

We don't hear leaders challenging workers to innovate safety - just the same old jargon about keeping your guard up, thinking before you act, following the rules, and looking out for each other.

It's like we assume what we are doing is all that is needed, and we just need to do it better.

Often, we get fixated on small improvements to existing efforts and blind ourselves to the big, transformational improvement opportunities in new approaches.

This mindset is the biggest obstacle to further safety improvement in many organizations.

This mindset ignores that safety is a multi-disciplined activity involving cultural (behavioral), compliance (procedural), and capital (technical) elements to safety maturity.

These elements are interrelated, and approaching only one or two elements will undermine the others.

Complicating the issue is that responsibility for these elements most often falls between different departments.

Environmental, Health and Safety – which may report into legal, operations, or even finance – is responsible for cultural/behavioral elements and broad-based procedures, while engineering is responsible for safety system development and use of technology for equipment.

It’s vital that these mutually dependent organizations collaborate to help improve the safety of workers and equipment. It’s also vital that these two organizations work together to provide innovative opportunities to improve both safety and productivity.

Alternative measures to lockout/tagout (LOTO) is one clear innovative means to helping improve both safety and productivity.

OSHA’s minor servicing exception allows manufacturers to perform minor servicing activities on machinery if the activities are routine, repetitive, and integral to the use of equipment for production - provided that the work is performed using alternative measures that provide effective protection.

Considering that full LOTO can consume valuable production time costing tens of thousands of dollars in profits, it’s well worth understanding methods of providing protection for workers while reducing downtime.

Technologies include safe speed monitoring, zone control, and others.

However, making these changes requires changes to both engineering and worker procedures (compliance), changes to worker behaviors (culture), and use of new technologies (capital).

Innovation requires collaboration between different departments, and improvements in safety maturity.

When is the last time you heard of a big breakthrough in safety?

How long has it been since your organization has made a major change in its safety program?

Quite frankly, most safety programs either stifle or ignore the idea of innovation - but opportunities exist.

To learn more, download our free white paper, Design Your Safety System for Improved Uptime (PDF).


Co-authored by Steve Ludwig
Commercial Programs Manager, Safety, Rockwell Automation

Terry L. Mathis
Terry L. Mathis
Founder and CEO, ProAct Safety
Terry L. Mathis

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