Growing Up With Safety Culture

Life May 20, 2021

My parents had a saying: "If you're going to do something stupid, do it safely." They also told me stories from fatalgrams and taught me mindfulness. They taught me to always be on the lookout for danger, as well as for ways to improve safety and efficiency.

In my kinky life, I've also found that the "Risk Aware Consensual Kink" (RACK) framework can parallel safety culture. If you're going to do something dangerous, do it smartly! You can't always eliminate dangers, but you can take precautions and find ways to improve the experience.

However, fatalgrams and incident reports in particular shocked my impressionable young self onto the safety-conscious path. They captured my imagination and are what made safety so adamantly a core of who I am.

How many people have had their lives irrevocably changed due to a fall from three steps up a ladder?

Accidents happen, which is why a healthy and capable body is such a privilege to take advantage of whilst you still have it.

Doing your best to keep yourself and the people around you healthy for as long as possible is an aspect of safety culture.

What is safety culture?

The feelings and behaviours surrounding dangerous activities make up safety culture. In short, it's about how you handle risks.

Safety culture is most common in industrial workplaces, but safety culture can extend to communities and everyday life. My dad brought it home with him every day and shared his lessons with me as a kid. My mom's meticulous attention to detail led to one of her greatest professional achievements: she saved lives by calling a major halt at work.

It's worth pointing out that the feelings surrounding safety are a huge part of the culture. A good safety culture will feature lots of positive messaging. Stuff like aiming for zero injuries, or praising workers for halting a dangerous activity even if it loses production time. Workers should actually believe that safety is the top priority, and not feel that it's just lip service.

Good cultures are also proactive, seeking out safety problems before they become incidents. It can be small stuff like replacing personal protective equipment (PPE) before they wear out, or calling out risky behaviours, or offering lots of training and refreshers.

Contrast that with a poor safety culture, which often pressures workers to bend safety guidelines to "get the job done on time." Or worse still, one that accepts some casualties as a cost of doing business.

Poor cultures are reactive, and that can sometimes take the form of blanket blaming workers when incidents occur. Reactivity also involves only amending issues after an incident occurs, whereas good cultures will be on the lookout for ways to improve before things go wrong.

Ultimately, safety culture is the dedication of everyone involved towards living and working in a way that minimises risks. It's about treating safety as the foremost concern, and continually improving your practises.

photographed while on an assignment for Indonesia’s largest coal mining company
Photo by Dominik Vanyi / Unsplash

What are some lessons from safety culture?

For one thing, some young fools treat safety like accidents are preventable just by being fast. They think "If the belt shreds itself loose off the motor, I'll be fast enough to dodge out of the way."

Or they think "If a rock falls off the conveyor belt, I'll just notice and sidestep it." Yet in reality people die, have their shoulders broken, or are wounded for life due to crossing under conveyor belts.

The fact is, people aren't fast enough to be safe. They're not on top of the situation 24/7, they're not alert 100% of the time. What you need instead is good procedures and equipment in place before an incident occurs. That could mean a cage to contain belts flying off motors, or metal-roofed crosswalks underneath conveyor belts.

Another lesson is that there can be no room for fear of reprisal in a safe culture. Everybody must feel empowered enough to speak up when they see an issue.

That's because it's hard to convince people to take the risk of speaking up, or of halting something.

Think of it this way. If an employee keeps silent and accepts the status quo, the personal outcome is relatively predictable. They're held blameless as just another cog in a process that failed. Yet if they speak up, the personal outcome is now up in the air. Will they be revered? Punished? Ignored? Who knows!

People do not like uncertainty. It's why the status quo is so alluring. Therefore one of the biggest struggles in developing a positive safety culture is getting people to believe that catching problems is a good thing that will be rewarded.

Which has another lesson embedded in it: there is absolutely no room for negativity around safety halts. People should be praised for taking the safe option, and any negativity drastically harms the likelihood of people doing the safe option again in the future. Thus people need to speak out against negativity when they see it.

A common grumbling is that safety takes longer. Yet things will take as long as they take, and you really can't rush safety. If you believe safety is the highest priority, you won't be clamouring for things to be done faster. Slow is steady, and steady is fast. Subverting that is how you end up with disasters.

There's all sorts of little tricks you can do to systemically approach risks. You can easily take a five minute break to discuss what could go wrong, and how to mitigate it.

For instance, before starting rope play you should have at least a quick conversation covering various scenarios to ensure you know how to respond to each. Like when you need to cut the rope, or whether someone going nonverbal puts an immediate stop to the play, and so on.

Discussing risks and outcomes is an important part of communication. For instance, a play partner might not be aware of the risk of pinched nerves, nor know how to tell when that's afflicting them. Likewise, you want all parties to be working towards the same goal if there's a problem – you don't want them at cross-purposes. Scenario planning beforehand helps with that.

Another aspect of safety culture is incremental improvement. It's about noticing tiny details and having the creativity to find new ways of doing it better. It can be stuff like tweaking your routes when running errands to avoid unprotected turns.

My favourite example is how my dad handled knives in the kitchen growing up. Instead of holding them blade outwards when moving around, he would tuck the blade backwards along his forearm. This meant that if he suddenly turned around and bumped into someone, he'd only bump them with the handle, rather than the blade.

It's a tiny detail, but he is the source of countless other examples of tiny details just like that. They add up to be a sum of safety consciousness.

You should adopt safety consciousness!

Life is too short to screw it up and shorten it even further. You only get one body, one mind, one life. Do everything in your power to preserve yourself, and to preserve the well-being of those around you.

Life is full of risks, some of which you can reduce with active management. It's important to be aware of them so that you're not blind to the dangers facing you. Whether it's edgeplay that breaks skin, or simply hopping in a car every day to commute, you bear some risk.

Once you're aware of the risks, you can start isolating out specific factors. For instance there's a curved road near my house that's often blocked to become a blind corner – I factor this into my routes and behaviours when around it. I take it slow, and sometimes avoid it entirely.

Then once you're in the habit of identifying problematic areas and addressing them, the process gets easier. It becomes automatic. Safety becomes another part of your thought process.

That's a goal I think is worth having: to be a safe person. I know I strive towards it.

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Mistress

Mistress of the Home, responsible for all matters financial. A loving Domme tempered with ambition and attention to detail.

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