On February 6, 2005, exactly 13 years ago, the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl by beating the Philadelphia Eagles. I remember that day because I was flying from Montreal to Vancouver for a business meeting the next morning, and I could see the Rocky Mountains from the plane window when I flew over Western Canada. Philadelphia is also the city of the film character Rocky Balboa, and since I was flying over the Rocky Mountains, I was thinking in a fun way that it was a sign the Eagles would win. Wrong! My plane landed and I got to my hotel just in time to watch most of the game, and to see my bizarre and amusing theory completely fall apart.
Thirteen years later, with the same two teams appearing in the Super Bowl but with a different result, there is a small parallel with that story for EHS managers.
Before the big game two days ago, most people assumed that the Patriots would win because: 1) New England’s recent Super Bowl wins (2 out the last 3 years) clearly showed a trend; 2) They had the better quarterback, the one with the most experience and better record, and the same who had beaten Philadelphia 13 years ago; 3) The Eagles’ star quarterback was injured and the team had to rely on its replacement quarterback.
Now imagine an EHS manager at a facility trying to determine if he should continue with the same safety budget and initiatives, or if he should reduce costs because he feels that things are going well. Just like those who predicted the Patriots would win two days ago, or even me when I predicted that the Eagles would win in 2005 (but based on wishful thinking), the EHS manager can also be wrong in taking anything for granted. Just because a facility has a stellar safety record, it is wrong to assume that things will continue the same, and therefore that safety efforts can be scaled back to save money.
Imagine if you’re the EHS manager of the facility, and you assume things are so well that you can afford to scale back safety efforts, only to see safety get worse and an incident occur that leads to litigation. While it may be a challenge for the plaintiff to prove in a court of law that there was a direct link between the reduction in the safety budget and the incident, things can be very different in the court of public opinion.
The reverse is also true. If a facility has a high number of incidents, an EHS manager may assume that her efforts are not being successful. But incidents are a lagging indicator. To have a better idea whether safety is improving, the EHS manager should look at leading indicators. If more observations of unsafe behaviors are being reported, more workers are completing new and refresher training courses, and more audits and inspections are being completed, it is a sign that safety may be improving and future incident rates could reflect the improvement.
The big lesson from Super Bowl 52 for EHS managers is to never take anything for granted. Safety performance can easily change, in one direction or another, regardless of what the past looked like. After all, the Italian Stallion won a rematch even though he wasn’t 100% fit. Luckily he didn’t have to wait 13 years like Eagles fans!
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