The world can be overwhelming sometimes…if you let it.
Cars crash, warehouses explode, earthquakes shatter communities and destroy lives. It can feel like everything is awful, inescapable.
To be honest, when I first started writing about safety nine months ago, it was a bit overwhelming.
Writing day in and day out about deaths, injuries and destruction wore me down, turned my normally optimistic demeanor into something darker. It felt like I couldn't elude the bad news.
But, over time, I learned to adjust my frame of mind and to look at my new subject differently.
I chose to look beyond the heartbreak and sorrow in the stories I covered and instead to focus on the lessons to be learned and the safety insights to be passed on. I found the hope.
Without that, I never would have survived this beat as a safety writer. But, thanks to a change in perspective, I've been able to learn about some creative safety initiatives, meet dedicated EHS professionals at conferences and through interviews, and hopefully successfully share stories from those lessons and encounters with you.
I found a way to be complacent because that's what we, as humans, have to do every day.
Corrie Pitzer, CEO of safety consultancy SAFEmap International, talked about this during his presentation, "The Great Swindles, Scams and Myths in Safety," at Safety 2015 in June.
"The human being has a great capacity for complacency," he said. "Without it, we'd be crazy."
Every day, we get into cars even though automobiles are the most dangerous mode of transportation. We use kitchen appliances that could electrocute us. We have to accept certain risks in order to function.
We do incredibly risky things without a second thought because of risk homeostasis. It's this complacency which, when unchecked, can derail us.
Too often, we're so focused on perceived risk that we miss the risk right in front of us. We're afraid to skydive, yet we gladly get behind the wheel of a vehicle, even though it's 10 times more dangerous. We wear helmets on bicycles even though more cyclists are hit while wearing helmets than without, he said.
Instead, companies need to find ways to train people to be able to handle the unknown, able to handle risk, like the U.S. Marines do.
Things will go wrong. Plans will go awry. Systems will break. But employees need to be able to safely handle problems when they do arise because risks can never be eliminated, only lessened.
"As soon as you expect the unexpected, it's not unexpected," Pitzer said.
This is where the dangerous territory lies.
Even in my writing, it is short-sighted to always look for the positive. That's not to say that being optimistic is problematic, but rather that only looking at something through one framework instead of analyzing it objectively and as a whole creates an opportunity – even a likelihood – to miss other important details.
To truly excel in anything – in writing, in safety, in life – we need to be able to assess the entire situation objectively. We need to balance complacency – sanity – with competency.
As a writer, I need to be able to process the sad stories, register the fatalities and to share them fully, to be raw with the tales of death so that the impact of a life lost is felt beyond the victim's immediate circle of influence, far into the reaches of the larger safety world.
In our safety programs, we need to be able to be proactive, but also remain vigilant and aware. We need to realize that safety is never done, and is never measured by numbers, but rather in a team's readiness and ability.
We need to remove the delusion of safety and instead look directly into the face of risk. We need to know that everything is trying to kill us in order to be safe.