Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Theater of Safety

Have you ever used safety theater? In his Vantage Point article in the October 2013 issue of ASSE's Professional Safety, Terry Thedell defines safety theater as "safety-realted activities intended to provide feelings of improved safety that do little or nothing to actually make conditions safer or reduce the risk of injuries or illnesses." He cites several examples, such as safety poster or slogan campaigns that often only alienate the workforce and divert limited resources.

But safety theater does have a place, Thedell explains. "Under some circumstances, the perception of safety may be more important to workers than the actual level of safety. . . . Employees and the public often feel comforted by any well-meaning action that is taken in a crisis."

Before using safety theater, Thedell recommends answering these questions:
  • Is there a firm understanding of what or who you are trying to protect from a clearly defined risk or problem? 
  • What are the real safety risks? How severe are the consequences ? How often will the problem occur and to whom? 
  • How well does the proposed solution reduce those risks? Is the solution actionable? Can it be enforced? Can its effects be measured? 
  • Does the proposed solution cause any problems? Have unintended consequences been considered? 
  • What costs and trade-offs does the solution create? Are they acceptable?