ISHN - September 2013
By: Shawn M. Galloway
Practices to improve safety performance and culture have and will continue to evolve, due to advances in thinking born from a continuous pursuit to challenge the status quo. But who should own these advancements and what rights will exist to modify and improve upon them? When an organization is hindered in the ability to internally train and modify, or evolve methodology and programs, it creates an unhealthy dependency on external organizations, slows the rate of continuous improvement and ultimately creates a barrier to safety excellence.
The safety industry, along with the rest of the world, is quickly approaching a new industrial revolution, observed by the increase in do-it-yourself and internally-led projects, a significant rise in independent consultants and the mass and rapid spreading of new ideas. And it's all available with a simple search within your favorite web browser. Operational and safety improvement concepts previously resided in only those with the time to file a patent and the capital and resources to mass-produce. The world is changing, both in the ability to innovate and also in the way innovation must be utilized for the global advancement of safety.
Industrial Revolutions and the Impact on Innovation
Between 1750 and 1850, the world and basis of societies changed like never before, moving from a culture centered on manual labor and farming to machine-based manufacturing. Large-scale innovations (e.g., roads, mining, metal manufacturing) were created to support the changes in living arrangements and spending habits. This time period (The First Industrial Revolution) was appropriately dubbed the Capitalist Economy.
The Second Industrial Revolution (Technological Revolution) occurred between 1867 and 1914, resulting in the invention and exploitation of new technologies (e.g., electricity, internal combustion engines, chemicals) facilitating mass production. Still to this point, much of innovation was largely controlled by growing corporations and supported through the creation of management and organizational sciences.
Over the past couple of decades, control of idea-ownership and even employment has moved from large to small employer, and even self-employed. Today in the U.S., the small businesses combined have become, by far, the largest employer.
In his new book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, bestselling author, Chris Anderson, calls the third revolution "the industrialization of the Maker Movement" (p. 46). While the book was primarily a sequel to his first book, The Long Tail, Anderson predicts the increase of a greater, amateur, do-it-yourself (DIY) movement, facilitated by an increase in capability of creative digital and personal manufacturing. He points out how much easier it has become to imagine and then produce something innovative. While the book is slanted more towards technological innovation, it is important to recognize the same themes are becoming more obvious in the safety industry.
Today, a reader can explore any major source of social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) with the search term "safety" and new innovative ideas, products, methodologies and tactics are quickly discovered. This new idea-manufacturing capability is now facilitating organizations on the continuous journey to safety excellence, as they evolve past the "find and adopt a best-practice" thinking and recognize there is always a better way. Moreover, these same companies seek outside ideas to prevent the not-invented-here occupational hazard Lisa Gansky calls "breathing your own exhaust" (Pink 2012).
The capabilities and control of idea manufacturing and proliferation has expanded beyond large conglomerates dominating the methodology marketplace to today's melting pot of potential approaches. For companies to progress and continuously improve, the internal capability must exist to make the methodology of change fit the company culture, logistical challenges and operational realities.
When ideas to improve safety are regulated by a pay-me-first requirement, profit is being put in front of safety, which slows the advancement of safety excellence cultures. "I can appreciate trademarking terms, software or specific detailed methodologies for the protection and continuance of the business and individuals who create them. I, too, participate in such things. After all, without the revenues derived from such developments, businesses would not be able to afford the capital needed to test and discover such advancements. However, protecting new ideas behind offerings where learning can only occur after payment is received, is placing profit in front of safety" (Galloway, 2011).
The safety profession should encourage the advancements of ideas and idea ownership, but there needs to be a healthy balance on availability and flexibility of usage. Additionally, it is not as simple as moving from one polar end (It is mine!) to another (open source). Consider how iTunes has changed the way music is consumed. Not too long ago, an entire album was purchased for the benefit of a single song. Now, the customer can select this single song based on preference and value, which enables the artist to focus on individual value-add with each offering, rather than lumping non-value-add to fill an album revolving around a hit single.
Ideas to advance safety must progress similarly, based on value, and should not create dependency between vendor and client. Further, methodologies must be internalized to facilitate sustainability. Many organizations, the safety industry included, have grown in size due to this dependency and funded by the umbilical cord of royalty or program-for-rent payments. From a business perspective this makes sense, especially if shareholder value and profit growth are the underlying reasons, but certainly there must be a better way.
This complicated issue is not solved through a single article, nor is this the intent of this piece. However, there are questions that have served well to determine value, flexibility and longevity of idea acceptance. Whether innovator or potential consumer, consider utilizing these questions as decision filters:
1. In practice, how will this further the journey to an incident-free workplace and Safety Culture Excellence?
2. Will this further the ability to internally improve and sustain results, or create dependency?
3. How flexible is this for internal usage regardless of culture and operational reality?
4. How effectively, yet quickly, can internalization occur?
5. How does this further the ability to execute the safety excellence strategy?
6. Does the acceptance of the idea provide more long-term value to creator or consumer?
Safety excellence isn't just about achieving results; it is also about sustaining them. With the global recession of the past several years, several organization of all sizes regressed in their safety performance due to the inability to pay licensing or royalty fees. While creators and owners of ideas should be compensated based on value, we must further examine and agree on the reason for advancements in sciences, technology, programs and tools in safety. If the creators are mostly driven by profit, barriers to safety excellence will be experienced by their consumers. If, however, the creator and client collaborate to experience and focus on value and equitable compensation, justified by the furthering of safety performance and culture, everyone wins and the question of who owns the ability to advance safety becomes clear.
Anderson, Chris (2012) Makers: The New Industrial Revolution New York, NY: Crown Business
Pink, Daniel H. (2012) http://danpink.s3.amazonaws.com/FLIP-Manifesto.pdf (accessed 8 May 2013)
Galloway, S.M. (2011) Safety Ideas: To Share or Not To Share? Canadian Occupational Safety