What is a safety culture?
I guess, it is a culture of safety – a place where safety is the norm.
The two questions stemming from that are, first, ‘What is safety?’ and secondly, ‘How is, whatever safety is, achieved?’
We assume that safety is a desirable state – somewhere we want to be; none of us enjoy experiencing a lack of safety – even during times that we perceive ourselves to be in jeopardy, for example, on ‘The Smiler’ at Alton Towers or climbing a rock face in the Cuillins (Nick, I still haven’t recovered…), we do everything we can to ensure our safety, whether this is making sure the fairground staff are paying attention or the weather conditions are appropriate.
So, safety, is, I guess, ensuring that whatever I am about to do, be it flying in a plane, deep-sea diving or having my tonsils removed, is undertaken with the least possible risk – whether through my immediate death – falling-off the mountain, or long-term complications – dying of multi-organ failure after a botched anaesthetic.
Safety, therefore, I believe is ensuring that what we want to happen, happens, with no surprises, no red-herrings, complications or unscheduled stops. In essence, we hope for security, we hope that things are boring – predictable, that the terms and conditions of sale are as described, not something else.
Most of us, no matter how intrepid or adventurous, gung-ho or spontaneous, hope for safety in what we do – driving to work, walking in the park, eating a slice of toast. It is as if the cost of Western Civilization – the order, the consistency, the routine, is contractually offset by ‘safety.’
How do we achieve this state, this place of sobriety, linearity, and balance?
I cannot begin to describe how safety is ensured in the multitudinous industries that are human endeavour; I have an inkling of how to approach this in healthcare.
The answer is strangely un-technological, sophisticated or complex – listening, appreciating, respecting the opinions of others, making room for differences of opinion, varying points of view, appreciating the contribution of others and, most of all, smiling, laughing and enjoying.
That is the essence; allowing the humanity, the quirks of human folly to emerge from our interactions; accepting the limitations of our planning, scheduling, imagination and thought; brushing-aside the mistakes, the slip-ups that are inherent in our lives, in our being human;
Only if we relax, only if we breathe easy and one step at a time, acknowledge the absurdity of life, the preposterous nature of safety, surety and organisation, can we hope to join-together, collect our impressions, consciousness and ideas, towards something that can help us move forwards and realize that even though we are not halfway-up a mountain, sky-diving or deep under the sea, everything is precarious, everything is dependent of a skein of trust and hope that rests with our humanity.