Years ago, safety in the workplace wasn’t taken anywhere as seriously as it is nowadays. This is true whether you go back 5 years, 20 years or 100 years. It’s a known fact that many industries suffered what would now be classed as wholly unacceptable accident rates. This situation is hard to prove though, because of the poor or even non-existent record-keeping. This combined with a general reluctance to report any accidents or incidents for fear of repercussions led to a need for change.
Over time, industry in general has learned that bringing accident information out into the open can only be good for the workforce. It gives the opportunity to find out WHY the accident happened and to take measures to try to prevent something similar happening again.
Changes in Attitude to Safety
I worked for many years in a senior position in the marine side of the offshore oil and gas industry after working my way up from an apprenticeship at sea on many different types of ships. In that time I saw huge changes in attitude. Initially, safety management was seen by many as an inconvenience; a distraction from ‘getting the job done’. People used to say that they didn’t need all that rigmarole as it was common sense anyway. Actually it is common sense. 99% of jobs complete without incident by using common sense. But when you look at accident statistics, it’s that 1% that teach the most useful lessons.
Very often an accident is the result of failure to recognise the consequences to others. You might be competent and confident in your ability to do your own job – but how will it affect what others are doing, or planning to do?
One particular aspect of safety management that has seen some of the biggest changes is dangerous environments. On ships it was tank entry, where the risks were manyfold. There was asphyxiation risk in water tanks, toxic risks from sulphurous gases in others and explosive risks in cargo or fuel tanks. Even as recently as the 1980s there was a very gung-ho attitude to tank entry and working inside steel tanks. Even during my early days at sea I read many reports of fatalities. Often this was due to workers entering tanks without taking the proper precautions.
I’m glad to say that things have improved so much nowadays. It has resulted primarily from lessons learned over time by studying incident reports and analysing trends. But there’s also been a huge improvement in technology, allowing a much better management of safety in dangerous environments. Industries now have so many tools available. There is EX lighting for flammable gas environments, portable and fixed gas detection and analysis tools for H2S and O2 monitoring. In addition there are now much safer and more efficient ventilation tools too.
The change in attitudes now means that the workforce itself drives safe working practices. It’s now seen as PART of a job and not an unnecessary evil as it once was. Who knows what the next 5, 20 or 100 years will bring to our industries. If the improvements are as significant as the last few decades have been then we can look forward to our children and grandchildren working in safety no matter where they work.