One of the things that plagues the safety industry is that safety professionals will often give an opinion rather than taking the time to look up the facts.
In some cases, this manifests itself in the acceptance of a lower standard that is permissible. For example, say you are asked your opinion on a set of stairs that are 5 risers high, and if they are legal. If you just have a look and say it looks reasonable and move on without researching, you have given an opinion rather than a fact. What does your manual say? What does the client specify? What does the local OHS legislation say? Unless you absolutely know what all those sources clearly state, you are potentially putting your workers, company, and professional credentials at risk. The shortcut is never worth it! It is far better to tell someone that you are going to research something rather than to make a snap decision that may or may not be the correct one.
The opposite effect is also true, exceeding existing standards can cause potential pitfalls. Imagine that you are working on a project that defaults to the Provincial Standards of a 3m tie off. If you were to unilaterally decide that this standard does not provide enough protection, make changes, and start enforcing it, there could be unforeseen effects. If contracts for your project are already confirmed, your contractors and subcontractors may consider that a change to their contract and your company might see claims for extra work, schedule extension, cost of fall protection, cost of training… the list goes on. I am not telling you that you should never exceed minimum standards, but that it should be a reasoned decision with project management. You need a good understanding of all implications, advantages, and disadvantages.
As a safety professional, you need to know your stuff, understand your scope of work, and do your homework! After all, the paycheque you receive is in return for your advice as a subject matter expert! Here are some practical steps you can take:
- Keep your education up to date! Go back to university or to your local safety association periodically and upgrade your skills
- Know your regulations. Stay up to date with changes, research the regulations when you enter a new jurisdiction. I would recommend you read the regulations cover to cover, once a year.
- If you work for a single company, make sure you know your own safety manual better than anyone. Seriously… That is what you are paid for. Get your highlighter and sticky pads out and get reading!
- Know the client’s manual better than anyone. Again, yes, I am being serious! Get their manual, get your highlighter and sticky notes, and highlight anything that exceeds your own systems. This should be easy, because you followed the bullet point above and know your own systems like the back of your hand!
- Finally, be humble. If you are not sure, just say you would like a bit of time to make sure you give the best answer and go look it up. This is where having a network of other safety professionals is beneficial. If you are struggling with an answer, phone someone who is more familiar with the work involved.
To sum up: know your stuff. Deliver the facts vs your opinions. You will improve your confidence, make better decisions and you become a more valuable safety professional for it!