Always Learning, Never Done

Tim Page-Bottorff, CSP, CIT on Importance of Continually Improving

June 30, 2021

Always Learning, Never DoneA safety professional’s work is never done. At the end of the day, after all the planning, teaching, inspecting, analyzing, and a thousand other tasks are complete, there’s still one more job to do—figure out how to do it all again tomorrow, but make it a little better.

Not all educational opportunities are the same. In fact, some don’t even look like educational opportunities at all. Here are a few overlooked areas of learning I’d like to share because they’ve impacted me personally.

Other departments. One technique is to look at other people for cues about safety and risk. This works for safety, health, and environmental (SH&E) folks too. In addition to offering production related KPIs that could be potential leading indicators for safety, managers in other departments can offer other insights you might find useful. After all, they say there’s no such thing as a new idea, just an old idea in a new context. Remember, looking at other people or departments does not give you shaming authority. Use this technique only to internalize for individual or organizational improvement.

Workers. Line workers at your company can provide insight, like how a new piece of equipment has changed people’s behavior or when production demands will cause everyone to start rushing at the expense of safety. You can learn a remarkable amount about your organization (and human behavior in general) if you gain their trust and their ear. Trust can lead to better engagement and open dialogue.

Vendors. When I first came across the concept of human factors, I never expected it to change my entire approach to safety. Yet here I am, a firm believer that managing physical and mental states is the next frontier. All because I took the time to listen to a safety vendor. Good ideas can come from the sales pitch if you’re willing to look for them, so try to have an open mind when you talk to vendors.

Safety Councils and Societies. You don’t need me to tell you that organizations like the National Safety Council (NSC) and the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) are useful sources of education for safety professionals. But I am going to remind you that the wealth of new resources they churn out offers valuable insight that can be used in all sorts of ways—from analyzing trends to building toolbox talks and safety presentations. Organizations like the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), and the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association (VPPPA) are also SH&E industry organizations that offer helpful resources for safety professionals.

Of course, reading articles, blogs, and books offer different perspectives and efficient insights by compressing years of experience into a few hours of reading time. And don’t limit yourself to safety titles; safety is as much about people as it is about your safety management system.

Let me end with a quick note on why we have to keep learning and can’t just work on autopilot. Bloomberg, a business and market news publication, mapped out what they call the CRIC cycle. There’s a Crisis, followed by a Response, some Improvements are made, and then Complacency sets in, which leads to another crisis and the entire cycle begins again.

One of the best ways to escape the CRIC cycle in safety is to be proactive and continually learn and improve every day. It’s a tall order given how full the safety plate already is, but I know that SH&E professionals will always put in the effort to keep their people safe.

Tim Page-Bottorff, CSP, CIT began in safety over 30 years ago as a marine in Operation Desert Storm, assisting contractors extinguish oil fires. Tim is a Director at Large for the ASSP Board of Directors (2021-2024), is the CEO of Total Safety Compliance, and is a Senior Consultant with the SafeStart team. Tim was awarded the ASSP Society Wide Safety Professional of the Year in 2018 and also received the National Safety Council’s Distinguished Service to Safety Awards.