Safety in the workplace: my analysis
In the past two years I have had the opportunity to find out more about safety in the workplace, and in particular, the world of advisors and companies that make the world of safety in the workplace a business. It was a strange journey, made up of discoveries and misunderstandings, of new ways of thinking and speaking. But let’s start from the beginning.
How it started
Towards the end of 2015, I was asked to carry out an analysis of a new software for safety in the workplace. For years I have carried out analyses of new software, sometimes directly, other times as a consultant/advisor only supplying contributions to analyses carried out by others. According to the cases I work on I usually ask for the support of colleagues according to the jobs assigned to us: only analysis, analysis and coordination, analysis coordination and development of the solution.
Over the years we have carried out analyses for many companies in the area of finance, on systems of varying levels of complexity. I can easily say that the greatest difficulty is not in the domain of the problem, but in communication with the client.
Understanding the language they speak and translating it into something feasible often requires many meetings and some confrontation. Our job is not to do what they ask but to help them ask the right questions.
Imagine going to the doctor and telling him what you need is a painkiller. If he is polite he will ask you how you feel and what your symptoms are, his job is not to give you a painkiller, but to understand what you really need to get better. If he is not polite … well I will save you that, but it is not difficult to imagine.
A “strange” world
We have nearly always worked with very structured companies, which produce hundreds of software applications (banks are the biggest software houses in Italy). Their communication is nearly always simple and structured, and involves people who are used to producing requests with a certain level of coherence and detail. This however does not mean that there are not frequently contradicting and ambiguous requests. But this is our job. We are paid to unravel the knot.
The world of Safety in the Workplace is a completely different kettle of fish. If in the other sectors we have had to fight, in this one it was full blown war. The complexity and the complete lack of coherent models is overwhelming. Everything has to be invented, everything has to be built.
We spent a lot of our time trying to understand and model a world which presently is not standard, does not have patterns, and whose terms are often used in an incoherent way. Each individual working in the business is convinced of what they say, but they themselves are often not sufficiently precise in the definition of certain terms. The words and their definitions are the starting point for a good analysis. If we cannot agree on the meaning of danger, or what damage is, etc. then we cannot get anywhere. It is not as if they are not defined but they cover such a vast area that they embrace too many concepts. They must therefore be declined for each individual case and analysed each time.
Once the words and the concepts they express has been clarified, it is necessary to understand how they are related to each other and the rules which govern them. Some would think this means applying the norms, but in reality this would cover less than 10% of the functions which the software has to perform. The rest is common practice and common sense all contributing to produce coherent systems in principle and function, as well as a lot, a huge amount of personal opinion.
The next step concerns all things which are not connected to the world of safety in the workplace: how a good software should function. A clear and uniform interface, which help govern the complexity (which cannot be eliminated).
If in the first part, what is and how does safety in the workplace function I found lots of different and often opposing views, regarding the way to work – I found absolutely nothing. Try asking sector professionals how their work is organised, you will discover that most of them are not organised at all, some organise their own work but no-one works as a team.