Answer to Matt

Hello everyone, especially Dave Collins, at Safety and Risk Management website (link to a book review) by Dave Collins. I’m having trouble getting back to the website right now. Seems your server is especially busy. I will try to answer some of the comments here and link back to them later. Thank goodness I asked for emails when we received a comment on your site. This is a very exciting conversation. Thank you.

Let’s get started.

Matt commented on New Book–Safety Under Construction in response to riskex. He said, “What absolute garbage!!! How do we innovate, become better people, improve processes, improve technology etc? It all comes from learning from mistakes! I am sure you Dayna have made a mistakes and learned from it! This how we move forward! Once you remove risk you stifle leaning. Would love to see how many mistakes and risks you take in your life outside of work, I’m sure there is plenty, and hey I guess you probably learnt from it!”

First, let me thank you, Matt, for your comment. I love the passion and your point is exactly right on. In fact, it is one of the foundational contradictions with trying to “solve all safety issues and get rid of risk”. That is one of the things we also discovered. Or should I say “rediscovered” because there are people in the industry who already knew this. In the book for engineers we have a sub section called “Safety vs. Risk – A Major Contradiction to Manage”. This is how we introduce the subject.

Some people are hard-wired to take risks. This is a fundamental paradigm that many people hold. Safety and Risk are sometimes at odds with each other and thus represents an important contradiction to manage.
First we need to explore our assumptions. Are we sure our objective in safety is to reduce risk? Let’s examine the whole notion of risk as undesirable. What are the positive sides of risk? What would it look like if risk was not an issue? Risk has some positive things to give to our workers, the project, and our company. When we take a risk and succeed we gain a benefit. So if risk is not necessarily a problem, then what is a more precise statement of the problem?
What we really want to avoid are the negative consequences of risk and danger. For  example, we don’t want someone to take a risk and get injured or die. But we also want the benefits (or positive consequences of risk). We want to find a new way that is faster, safer, provides better quality, requires fewer resources, etc.
Hey, if we are perfectly honest, we also sometimes want the positive consequences of danger. That thrill of beating the odds is exciting. It is why we ride roller coasters or gamble or work high in the sky or with explosives. Some people need that adrenaline rush in their lives. 
It is typical in innovation that a more precise definition leads to better understanding. And once you have better understanding of the reality of the situation, you are better able to address the underlying issues. What we need to do in order to continue in this vein is to break down ‘risk’ in general and each specific risk.
We must break down risk into more basic components of benefits and costs depending on the risky activity we would like to address (height, falling objects, over extension, committing an unsafe act, penalty caused by missed milestones that puts pressure on people, and other financials, etc.). You may recall that the ratio of  benefits versus costs is called “ideality” and so risk is deeply and fundamentally related to problem-solving and the solutions to any type of risk are available through inventive thinking. In other words:
Risk is an inventive opportunity to reach new levels of performance and safety…

Your comment, Matt, shows an important level of sophistication in your thinking. How are we going to solve the problems of accidents when it is so important to keep the benefits of risk?

That is the problem to solve!! During the writing and researching phases of this book series we spend quite a bit of time discussing this exact issue. Who should solve this problem? How does a person solve this problem? It seems impossible. And that is exactly when we realized that we would have to break a new trail, go pioneering, head off into the uncharted frontier because this solution is not already known.

What most people do at this point is compromise. They think, well, we will have to just accept some “collateral damage” (death!) to reach new levels of performance. At that point, instead of solving the problem, the person decides to think that the issue is too entrenched, that you can’t have both more positive consequences (more of becoming better people, improving processes, improving technology and learning from mistakes!) and simultaneously achieve lower negative consequences (more safety). And that is a cop-out.  We must have both. And that is when we kept moving on with our innovation process.

We were going to title our book based on the idea of “removing risk to improve safety”. Once we rediscovered this contradiction, well, you can see why we had to change the title.

Now I understand that you may be concerned that this topic is not in this particular book for workers. But we received a lot of feedback that workers would not read a 400 page book on safety so we took out some of the foundational thoughts and presented it more as solutions and quick overviews of ideas. We kept the whole foundational innovation process in the book for visionary leaders and engineers, though. (This is the category that I think you fall into).

In your opinion, do you think this was a mistake to remove it from the worker’s book? In your opinion, do you think we should add it back into the second edition (which will not be even begun for a few years)? Thank you again for your insightful comment. I believe it adds a lot to the safety community.


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