"It is best to do things systematically, since we are only human, and disorder is our worst enemy." - Hesiod
These days, companies have more occupational health and safety program elements to choose from than ever before: audits, poster campaigns, hazard identification programs, engineering solutions, safety gear, behaviour based safety, etc. etc. etc. Right now, we have more components - more tools - in our safety arsenal than at any other time in history. Yet in most cases, accident rates remain high. Why?
The closer you look, the more obvious it becomes that most companies are overlooking one key principle in their safety programs:
EVERYTHING IN HEALTH AND SAFETY IS CONNECTED!
A bunch of isolated elements does not equal effective safety management. Consider the human body. Along with a lot of other pieces, it has lungs, a heart, kidneys, and a digestive system. Scientists study these organs separately, and we think of them as independent entities. In fact, doctors build entire careers around treating just one organ.
Yet in reality, these organs are not independent at all. For example, the heart muscle depends on the lungs to deliver oxygenated blood, the digestive system to deliver food, and the kidneys to take away waste. Without these other organs, the greatest doctor in the world could not make your heart function normally. It would die.
Similarly, the lungs can't live without blood pumped by the heart, food from the digestive system, and waste removal services provided by the kidneys. And the kidneys need the heart, the lungs, and the digestive system. And the digestive system needs the heart, the lungs, and the kidneys. Although we usually think of each of these organs in isolation, the truth is that they are completely interdependent. Each needs the others to live and thrive.
It's the same with OH&S: everything is connected. Yet we rush off after elements, as if doctoring our OH&S programs with that perfect individual piece will make our accident rates go away.
Of the available OH&S elements, many can be viewed as a key to safety, but none of them is the key. The real key, as I see it, is to fit some essential pieces together into an integrated whole - to create a unified theory of health and safety excellence, then use that theory to create OH&S systems that live and thrive.