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Knowledge at Work - UL Workplace Health & Safety

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Workplace Safety

Needed: innovative employee safety professionals

October 08, 2013 - Posted by Eric Glass

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While traveling to meet with a company in Denver, our flight attendant announced Wi-Fi was not working on the plane. With a smartphone and laptop charge below 10 percent and worthless without connectivity, I picked up a magazine, hoping I would find something to captivate my attention.

Flipping through the pages, a familiar green frog puppet held by a skinny bearded man caught my eye. I was scanning the article when a lengthy excerpt from "Jim Henson: The Biography" by Brian Jay Jones grabbed my attention.

The excerpt explained how Henson had no idea what he was doing when he first entered the puppeteering business. In fact, he had never even picked up a puppet until his mid-‘20s.

But Henson was an innovator and did it his way. He viewed failures as learning opportunities. By learning from failures and replicating successes, he helped create one of the most recognized characters in the world.

"I think if you study – if you learn too much of what others have done – you may tend to take the same direction as everybody else," he is quoted as saying.

So true, Mr.Henson!

Forging Your Own Path

Our professional ranks are filled with exceptionally talented individuals. However, year after year, I witness many creative safety professionals succumb to routinized approaches that engineer imagination and innovation out of workplace health and safety efforts.

Whether taking small sips of philosophical Kool-Aid at national trade shows or swimming in a pool of it in specialized training, it seems some safety professionals are looking to have someone tell them what they need to do rather than figuring it out in their own.

I am not saying that information exchange is not beneficial; it is. That feeling of optimism and motivation you get after attending a conference cannot be discounted. However, it appears to be difficult for the imagination-challenged safety professional to distinguish between philosophical opinions and innovations and what would work in the realities of their workplace. They return to home enthused about their new found knowledge, only to force duplication of ideas down their organization's throat. Under these circumstances, more often than not, broad application of philosophy or innovation that has worked elsewhere fails when it is not creativity tailored to the specific situation.

The imaginative safety professional uses discovery as a starting point. My first supervisor (who later became my mentor) told me something on my first day that I will always remember:

"Being a good safety professional is not about following a path forged by others. Being a good safety professional is about surveying the direction of that path and building your own concrete super-highway on top of it. At the end of the day, it's a road and no one remembers the path."

I'd love to read your thoughts on how innovation is helping drive your safety program.

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Topics: workplace safety, Featured