This brings me to the ideas proposed by American engineer, W. Edwards Deming. When I first learned about his approaches to statistical process control, I was more interested in using the techniques to measure and maintain quality products. His landmark book Quality, Productivity, and Competitive Position was the most important under-noticed book of the early eighties. As my career began to steer toward safety, Deming’s messages resonated in my attempt to manage safety as well. As it turns out, Deming’s approaches could easily be applied to the management of any measurable attribute, especially safety.
Dan Peterson, in his famous ASSP book on Techniques of Safety Management, a Systems Approach, draws a parallel between Deming’s “Obligations of Management” and translates these into some familiar safety concepts:
- concentrating on long-range, permanent solutions rather than short-term reductions in incident rates
- all injuries are unacceptable
- injuries are a function of the system at work; reduce fear in an organization by encouraging employees to point out problems that need solving
- design safety into our projects to prevent injuries long term
- eliminate incentives that inhibit actual injury reduction and examine work for accident traps
Closer investigation reveals that recent safety management innovations resonantly echo Deming’s Total Quality Management principles. What can he still teach us about keeping people safe on the job? I think it’s time for another fresh look at the management concepts that Deming taught us years ago.
David Hanson, CSP
President, ASSP – Southern Oregon Chapter
Senior Safety Management Consultant, SAIF Corporation