Most, if not all, people want quick and easy solutions. For safety professionals, this solution is called a Silver Safety Bullet or SSB. The problem with SSBs is that they rarely work. Leaders need to know what silver safety bullets are and be wary of using them. Knowing more about SSBs will prevent an organization’s leaders from becoming seduced by quick fixes that can cause more harm than good.
What are Silver Safety Bullets?
Silver Safety Bullets (SSBs) are simple solutions assumed to be the perfect solution to all company problems. SSBs are usually brought over with new company leaders and put into practice because they worked at the leader’s last company. New leaders tend to transfer what worked at another site to the new one without considering that the safety culture is different.
Examples of Silver Safety Bullets
- Anything that promises or guarantees to have all the answers and more
- Statements that seem to be too good to be true
- Prepackaged solutions designed for a generic audience (one-size-fits-all)
Silver Safety Bullets appeal to both new and seasoned leaders. The reason leaders feel drawn to SSBs is because they are frustrated and unsure of what to do next. Some leaders believe they have tried everything to no avail, and under this added pressure, they fall prey to finding shortcuts and magic solutions.
Silver Safety Bullets are Not the Answer for Everything
Although we all love quick fixes and simple solutions, SSBs can cause more harm than good. They can cause good safety leaders to lose credibility. Oversimplifying safety in any workplace or industry erodes trust, builds skepticism, and detaches workers from taking their safety seriously.
Even SSBs that are internally developed may not transfer to another plant or department. There may be too many differences in department culture and management style for a previously successful SSB to work. In some cases, it is like transplanting a tulip from a wintry environment where it thrives to a hothouse where it can’t survive no matter how hard you try.
Simplicity can be alluring when you don’t understand the intricacies of a fast-paced or high-volume work environment. It can be difficult to see from a bird’s eye view how small changes can have an alarmingly dramatic impact on safety and performance.
Most commercially available quick-fix SSB products in the marketplace sell the promise of dramatically improved safety records. But, current safety research does not back up those sellers’ claims. Some of these products may be touting
outdated strategies that would not work in a modern workplace.
Another issue regarding Silver Safety Bullets is that they waste valuable resources, such as time and money, that could be aimed elsewhere. Silver Safety Bullets build up people’s hope and then leave people feeling deflated with thoughts that things will never improve. This can break down morale, causing people to lose faith in their leadership teams.
SSBs Can Have Hidden Value
For the most part, SSBs are harmful. However, some positive things can come from SSBs. For example, when people within a company start speaking up about SSBs, this means they agree there is a safety problem, and they are ready for change. So when people start mentioning SSBs, they open their minds to talk about safety solutions. SSBs spur thinking, which leads to more thoroughly evolved approaches.
With more people on board with change and finding safety solutions, leaders can start questioning what they can do differently. Peter Drucker, a famous leadership expert, once said, “The important and difficult job is never to find the right answer; it is to find the right question.” Drucker has helped leaders understand they should be asking and drawing out responses instead of giving solutions to people and telling them what they should do to solve problems.
Using these techniques of inclusive planning and surveying employees on their ideas and opinions can have some of the same results that safety professionals are looking for in SSBs. Namely, speed of implementation and tangible improvements in safety scores. The more employees are involved in the development process, the more likely they are to buy in and embrace the roll-out process. They will have skin in the game and a high desire to fine-tune the new safety process to make it work.
Strategies for Achieving Breakthrough Change
Leaders can break away from SSBs and lean more toward practical problem-solving by applying some of the tips below.
- Plan wisely and apply continuous actions even if it requires more time and effort.
- Avoid simplistic advice (examples: think before you act, just pay attention, be safe, always watch where you’re going, safety is number one).
- Remind people who love the potential of SSBs that their implementation always comes at a price.
- Recognize and remind people that the process comes before the product.
- Don’t entrap yourself by holding onto the possibilities of SSBs.
- Practice what you believe, and don’t get sucked into rosy reports of accomplishment.
- Set realistic expectations to help others move away from “miraculous fix” thinking.
- Collaborate with others pressuring for SSBs, avoid disdain, and see if there’s any way to incorporate the SSB but with modifications.
- Salvage or build onto current SSBs as it may just need tweaking rather than complete abandonment.
Today’s safety problems come from yesterday’s solutions, which are results of past SSBs. Often the easy way out will lead you back in. For example: applying comfortable safety solutions even when they don’t deliver the results you need. Leaders must never forget that fast changes are not sustainable.
Creating Lasting Change in Safety Performance and Culture
Chasing after SSBs erodes safety culture and paints leaders as incompetent at leading. Lasting change requires leaders to stop falling for quick and easy fixes and redirect their team towards solid planning and sustainable efforts. The process is what matters, not how quickly we find the solutions to our safety problems.
High-quality leadership is the true silver bullet to making lasting improvements to safety culture and performance. Leaders who have good listening skills, are skeptical of quick fixes but open to new ideas, and are dedicated to their teams’ long-term safety and well-being will find success, not overnight, but over time.
Miller, A., Pater, R., Creating Lasting Change Beyond Silver Safety Bullets Professional Safety
Pandemic Workplace Safety Updates:
What Purcell Enterprises wants you to know
I attended an auditor refresher course yesterday and in 2023 it looks like we will go back to regular health and safety auditing and visit employer worksites to conduct documentation, interviews and observations in Alberta. BC requires in-person observations so in-person health and safety audits are a requirement there and will continue to be so in 2023. Saskatchewan, like Alberta, will go to in-person auditing in 2023 as the pandemic becomes endemic.
The audit documentation and observations now require the number and type of documentation/persons/situations observed to better quantify things. For example, you must verify your observations by stating that 80% of the employees were wearing PPE—8/10 had positive observations as 20% were not wearing safety glasses. Even if the documentation is 100% you must state how you verified this score: 17/17 inspections had management BBS observations so full marks were awarded. This requirement does not apply to interview questions because quantification of interview results can point to a particular employee’s response—so confidentiality of interview results must be maintained.
Both federal regulations (Canada Labour Code Part II) and OH&S regulations in Alberta must be considered now—it used to be the federal legislation defaulted to the provincial legislation but you must know whether federal or provincial legislation applies to your Company (interprovincial trucking, banks, radio stations, railways, pipelines are often federally regulated). Interestingly, depending on the nature of your work—interprovincial moving company/bottle depot—the company may fall under both regulations.
For HSC meeting members and cochairs—in-house training in HSC/HSR roles and responsibilities can take place. Use the legislation as a guideline to know what topics must be covered in your in-house training so it meets legislative requirements or continues to train your members/co-chairs through your Certifying Partner. Now—HSC members, as well as co-chairs, must be trained.
For complex sites—the head office location need not be sampled in maintenance years although senior management still needs to be interviewed. An interpretation is forthcoming soon.
Remember when in-person auditing occurs—COVID protocols still apply—social distancing, hand sanitization and the use of masks and the use of questions to determine if persons have been exposed to Covid still apply but in 2023 may be more optional depending on the type of variants present.
I hope you enjoyed the rest of the newsletter and Happy Mother’s and Father’s day and a very merry unbirthday or birthday to you!