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Why strive to be the best when good enough is good enough?

I encourage my daughter to try her best at everything she does in hopes that she becomes the best.  After all what parent wouldn’t want to see their kid standing on the podium at the Olympics with a gold medal hanging around their neck?  But what’s the cost of becoming the best, and isn’t it ok to just be “good”?

In safety the same question is frequently asked.  What is the cost in taking a company’s safety performance from “good” to “great,” and why should we do it?  “Good” keeps us compliant and doesn’t get in the way or ask too much of our employees. What’s the return on the investment of working really hard to improve the safety mindset and output of the entire workforce?

Smart owners understand both the human side and business side of safety and loss (injury) control.  A safe and compliant operation adds to sustainability.  Workers don’t like to go to work where they are more likely to get hurt and employers know that injuries result in higher work-comp insurance premiums, reduced productivity, and OSHA citations, and can even generate  bad publicity.

The business case for improvement can be a tough one though, especially if improvement is difficult to measure.  Few businesses adopt new safety practices just because “It’s the right thing to do”.

Most often a new or changed process must be underwritten by a measurable return on the investment and must add, not detract, from productivity (and profitability).  For example, if an employer would like to adopt several new safety industry best-practices but those practices would result in staff feeling too imposed upon, with a certain result of valued staff choosing to leave, will the practices be implemented given this likely outcome?  A balancing act describes this situation the best.

How much safety is enough or too much? How important is safety when it comes to the inconvenience factor, or productivity loss, or culture interruption?  Those are tough questions that are typically left to the senior leaders of companies.

Where do you want to be—standing pat at good enough or striving for greatness?  The following chart shows the activities and condition of safety programs that identify as “good” v.s. “best-in-class”.  Check out the chart below to benchmark and identify where you are at and where you want to be on the journey to safety excellence.


safety, Dan Hannan,

Source: Dan Hannan, Merjent.

I think we’d all like to be great, standing on a podium or in the spotlight to showcase our efforts in front of our industry peers.  The hard question is what’s the motivation for getting there and is it worth the cost?  These decisions don’t come easily. The best way to approach any type of change is to get a sense from all stakeholders how it may be perceived– before making the leap.  Remember that change is best served when it occurs slowly and the reason is clearly communicated.  Sometimes, however, the reality is that good enough is all we can do.  My daughter is likely not destined for the podium at the Olympics, but I’m proud of her accomplishments, nevertheless, and I’m OK with her being just “good.”

Dan Hannan, safety professionalAbout Dan Hannan: Dan Hannan is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and has been practicing safety for twenty-four years.  He is presently the Safety Director for Merjent, an environmental and social consulting firm serving the world’s leading energy and natural resource companies. Merjent  consultants have decades of specialized experience on pipeline projects, including planning and feasibility, environmental permitting, construction compliance, operational compliance, third-party analyses, stakeholder engagement, and technology solutions.  Dan can be reached at dhannan@merjent.com.


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