By Sharon Hilts
WHILE EXCITING INNOVATIONS ARE CAPTURING PROGRESS ALL AROUND US, approaches to workplace safety have stagnated due to a focus on compliance. The mediocre results are costly, in many ways, for injured employees, their families and employers.
Break out of this humdrum routine by using innovation to invigorate safety systems and achieve unprecedented levels of performance. With innovation, we can foresee an organization where safety incidences are a circumstance of the past and employees are passionate about staying injury-free.
Stephen Johnson, author and host of PBS’s “How We Got to Today,” has explored the environments where innovation flourishes. Johnson discovered that great innovation occurs when a successful technology or methodology used in one field is borrowed, possibly enhanced, and applied to another field.
With regard to safety, look to the fields of Quality or Lean Manufacturing. A defect in a product is very similar conceptually to an employee getting injured: both are the result of a failure in a supporting system. Quality gurus addressed these failures by developing Six Sigma methodologies. Couldn’t these be applied to reduce injuries as well?
Consider standardized work, used in Lean Manufacturing, which combines specific, concise instruction with pictures. Apply this methodology to safety tasks to minimize confusion in executing job tasks thereby reducing injuries. Standardized work may be used for lock-out/tag-out equipment-specific procedures, for charging forklift batteries, or for performing proper lifts.
This interdisciplinary borrowing of ideas can expand the possibilities of what may be achieved.
Looking for the Adjacent Possible
Another of Johnson’s findings echoes that of Stuart Kauffman’s concept of the “adjacent possible.” This phrase encapsulates the concept that systems evolve over time. At any given point in time, only a finite set of ways that a system can transform itself exists. This set of changes is the “adjacent possible.” These possibilities expand over time as new ideas are implemented the adjacent possible is expanded.
To be innovative with workplace safety, constantly look for the adjacent possible. Incremental improvements, small or large, can be made to safety systems to make them more robust. Opportunities that use new technologies, such as eLearning, are surfacing every day. ELearning, which allows users to obtain on-line instruction, has been incredibly successful in providing safety training to contract workers. Contractors receive safety training compatible with their schedule, in their own designated learning environment, at their own pace, and prior to arriving at the work site. Only when eLearning was developed in the IT world did this type of training become an adjacent possible of workplace safety.
Johnson also discovered that innovation occurs in environments rich with a diverse range of expertise and in those that are densely populated, and ripe for collaboration.
This year’s Western New York Safety Conference is the ideal environment for collaboration within the discipline. Learn how other organizations are being innovative in their safety programs and share your successful ideas. Erik Wahl will inspire you to bring your authentic creative abilities to work to generate innovation.