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The Break Room: The Long and Winding Road

Oct. 5, 2012
Safety is not a single destination.

At our America's Safest Companies Conference in Chicago last month, former OSHA Administrator Ed Foulke said: "Safety is a series of destinations, but we're on a continual path to improve safety.  You never get to an end goal."

I've been thinking about Foulke's words since I returned to my regular work duties following the conference. Just as safety might not have one set and final goal, neither does my job as an editor of this magazine. There are always more articles to write and edit, more blogs to post, more breaking news items that demand attention, more social media platforms to update ...  I could go on.  Whether you're a safety professional, an industrial hygienist, a human resources manager, a wellness provider or a CEO, I imaging your work never is done, either.  And that includes fostering a safe, healthy and sustainable workplace.

Striving for Zero

Many companies set the goal of experiencing zero injuries or illnesses in the workplace. This is an admirable goal to have. It's also a no-brainer: Why would any EHS professional ever want a single employee to face an injury,  no matter how minor? If the right systems, culture, engineering controls, protective equipment, training and leadership are in place, perhaps zero can become a reality.

But that doesn't mean that "zero injuries and illnesses" is some mythical destination waiting on the horizon. You can't make it to a certain spot down the road, set down your gear and declare your mission a success.

No. Even if you achieve your goal of zero, you still need to carry on. Your work is never over. No matter how many pizza celebrations you host for a job safely worked, or how long it's been since anyone so much as received a paper cut on the jobsite, that path to safety continues.

Over the years, we've presented our America's Safest Companies award to workplaces with zero-injury initiatives and goals. But while these companies were striving for the big zero, they didn't rely solely on lagging indicators like injury rates. They also worked to improve their safety culture, engage employees in safety, effectively communicate their safety and health policies, reach out to at-risk workers, continually examine their workplaces for potential improvements, make the business case for safety at the highest levels of the company, mentor and train both new and veteran workers and so much more.

In short, we're on a long and winding road. The goal is not to achieve one moment of absolute and perfect safety, or, in my case, to put out one killer magazine issue or host a successful safety conference. Instead, the goal is continuous improvement, incremental change and transformation – all while striving, over and over, to reach the best of what we are capable of becoming.

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