Making Safety Child’s Play: How embracing our inner child can make our approach to health and safety better
Many times in my role I hear Health and Safety professionals asking those within their organisation the question, ‘Would you let your son or daughter do that?’ when referring to a task they themselves consider dangerous.
The answer of course is usually no, as our natural instinct is to protect our loved ones, to keep them safe from harm and to nurture them to become better people and to ‘do the right thing’.
But have you ever considered how effectively reversing the equilibrium and looking at challenges we all face through a child’s eyes may help us to find innovative solutions to actually become better managers and to approach the tasks we do in a far safer manner?
A child and their lack of fear to question
Like many of you I have a 5-year-old son who questions everything; in fact in our house the most popular word is, and has been for a long time, ‘Why?’ – and I suspect I am not alone.
We are all born curious; fascinated by the world around us and filled with wonder about the possibilities it holds – this is why as children we love the magic of Disney and believe that mythical characters who can fly with nothing but the power of a reindeer must be real because … well why wouldn’t they be able to – after all we have seen a reindeer and we know a plane can fly so why not an animal.
Children’s imaginations seem infinite and their ability to question the ordinary, imagine the extraordinary, and learn new things is a joy to behold.
Great, I hear you say, but what does that have to do with me as a health and safety professional?
The magic word – WHY
As an adult we simply follow protocol, not necessarily that we are sheep but we become accustomed and conditioned to doing things in what is an accepted manner because of our lived experience. Now imagine if we could remove that memory and effectively start again, would we do things in the way that we do them now? Rhetorically I can answer that very simply; no we wouldn’t – we would find the most efficient and safest way of navigating from A to B – not because we were told how to put one foot in front of the other or dragged them around the room but because we used initiative that was untainted by the bitter pill of experience.
Let’s be honest, and I think we all accept this is true; later in life some of us forget about that yearning to go further and simply accept our own limitations.
But a good Health and Safety Professional shouldn’t.
Our profession is all about considering possibilities beyond the realms of current reality and how to make them real, to enable everyone to go Home Safe and Well EVERYDAY.
Just as a child rarely accepts limitations, good H&S professionals should ‘push the envelope’ in terms of challenging the commonly accepted norms and trying to, as I said earlier, find more efficient ways of carrying out tasks whilst minimising the risk.
Be curious – I dare you
Have you ever been for a walk with a five-year-old? – I do so on a regular basis with my children on a Sunday afternoon in the woodlands close to our home.
My son will relentlessly fire off questions about ‘why does that tree have a big hole in it’ or ‘what is that type of plant’ and pretty much everything and anything else they see.
Children are the masters of examining everything in the minutest detail; noticing things we would overlook; their desire to link, to see patterns and to understand is overwhelming.
As a parent their curiosity is endearing, yet as we get older, we start taking things for granted, accepting what we see and not thinking beyond what’s presented, in truth almost fatigued to experiencing new things and learning.
But in truth getting to the heart of an issue, especially when it’s unexpected, can bring a multitude of rewards and provide a deeper and more comprehensive understanding for our people and the demands we placed upon them.
Climb the wall that is the obvious – not the hard one we seek to imagine
Asking the right question is often far harder than answering it. Yet so many of us just get on with doing what a director has asked for without thinking about whether they’re asking the right question or even if the way they are asking us to work is morally correct; at times we consider the legal aspect, let those above us think about the financial but all too often forget that vital third pillar.
A good H&S Professional, much like my son, will channel their curiosity into understanding why they’ve been asked the question. Of course, this uses all our skills, particularly our ability to manage relationships and build trust.
Leave your ego at the door
Our children don’t have the ego which has become the poison to our learning. To them everything is equal and without prejudice and possibly we could learn something from this. No one likes a know-it-all, and at times let us be honest we all, myself included become far too wedded to our ideas and perhaps a little forceful in how we try and impart them.
The ability to be humble – and to impart your knowledge to others without lording it over them – is an important part of any business where asking people to buy into an idea or culture is key; as it is in Health and Safety.
We need to foster not just collaboration in everything we do but also a willingness to learn from our teams as well as expect them to learn from us.
A key part of that is sharing our knowledge and enhancing our expertise by combining it with others’ to create something far more powerful. Children play together all the time, watching behaviours and mimicking those around them to test and develop their own approaches. A good safety culture within a business will adopt many of these traits and we, as leaders of both today and tomorrow need to embrace the approach.
So next time you’re lucky enough to be in the company of a five-year-old, take some time to see the world through their eyes. Think about how they investigate, process and analyse what they see and do. Then try harnessing some of that curiosity and applying it to your work. You might find the results surprising.