The New Rules of Safety: A brave new world?

In the latest edition of the New Rules of Safety series, Andrew Sharman reflects on how the safety profession has had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic and looks forward to a ‘brave new world’ and a new normal where the health and safety of people remains the most important feature for us all.

What a year 2020 has been with the pandemic as we were all thrust into facing an unprecedented crisis. COVID-19, the coronavirus, has disrupted global networks and created new challenges within workplaces, for organisations around the world. In practice, the early stages of a crisis can affect leaders in two ways: first, there can be a perceived (or real) loss of control. Second, the events of a crisis typically outpace the response by the organisation, especially as the crisis begins to unfold. During these early days, the best leaders realised these issues and stepped forward to lead from the front as best as they could. In times of crisis the very best leaders understand that they will be judged not by their ‘bottom-line numbers’ but by their behaviour as leadership is everything we do and everything we don’t do.

OSH professionals around the world stepped forward to support their organisations, putting in place the support, controls and measures to ensure their organisations could continue to function while keeping everyone safe. Around the world OSH professionals were having conversations with Senior Leaders on a regular basis that pre-pandemic might never have been anticipated. But as the pandemic has become part of the fixtures for many of us, I urge us to ensure OSH does not slip backwards again on the agenda as we fight our way out of the grip of COVID. We must create a ‘brave new world’ and a new normal where the health and safety of people is the most important feature for us all.

My COVID experience has involved reading books – a LOT of books. One of these was Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World. An amazing story from the 1930s that painted parallels for me in where the world is now. The title Brave New World derives from a scene in William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, where Miranda declares:

O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in it.

As the extract above suggests, ultimately for me this year has forced humankind to look again at our world, and to make some tough decisions – especially around control measures in order to save lives and keep people safe, whilst knowing the economic impact and consequences that may occur. By and large, globally, the decision has been to save lives and put the health of our people first. Perhaps the ‘brave new world’ in your organisation is one where you will continue to do this – truly putting the health and safety of your people above everything else.

There is a Latin saying from more than 2000 years ago that advises: “per aspera ad astra” which translated means “through adversity to the stars”. Every organisation is potentially exposed to disasters, crises and emergencies – large or small, high-tech or low-tech, localised or global. Whether operating in oil and gas, manufacturing, commercial, education, leisure, or national authority: no organisation can escape. However, with some foresight and planning the consequences of a disaster or emergency can be reduced and the essential recovery process started. When a crisis is managed effectively it can enhance corporate reputations and provide opportunities for learning, future growth and development.

The pandemic has certainly forced us all to do things differently: whether that be more remote working, increased digital transformation of our businesses, or the humanity and authenticity that has increased as we see our leaders juggling the same challenges we have (from crazy pets or home-schooling kids or laundry mountains growing in the background). Somehow now we are all a bit more human. The pandemic has forced organisations to take seriously and rethink their approach to worker health and wellbeing recognising the centrality of this to their own success.

In my book Mind Your Own Business, co-authored with Dame Judith Hackitt, there are fiur keys areas that I think help sum up what as leaders, OSH professionals and organizations alike we can do to build this brave new world:

  1. Make Health & Safety a daily focus for everyone

  2. Drive active engagement at all levels

  3. Leaders lead the change with humility, visibility, authenticity and genuine interest

  4. The top tier involvement and focus we’ve seen through the pandemic continues

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