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Smith is also a regular prize winner, the latest a literary award she received in Berlin two days after Donald Trump was elected the next president of the US -- and she reflected on this in a speech reproduced in the New York Review of Books. She lamented that these were the "darkest political times" she had known, as "President Trump rises in the West and a united Europe drops below the horizon".
She went on to discuss how she had heard many people longing for the past, describing present failures and despairing of the future. But this sense of gloom and foreboding doesn't seem strongly rooted in reality.
It's true that, except for the rich, there is a general decline in prosperity in the high-income economies. A loss of momentum in economic growth has caused working people's incomes to stagnate or fall since the banking crisis, and the pain that this has generated certainly helped both Trump and the Brexit campaign to find a wider constituency.
But surely these are not the "end times" beloved of latter-day millenarians. Most people in the West have material security and social support such as health services that were unimaginable 100 years ago -- in the UK, the state pension only started in 1908, and the NHS is less than 70 years old.
Smith argued that the lessons from history include the fact that failures and setbacks can prompt the next level of improvements because, while we may never be perfect, we can make incremental progress.
Setbacks can prompt the next level of improvements because, while we may never be perfect, we can make incremental progress
Arguing against revolutionary change, the target of small but consistent improvements sometimes involves compromises and working even with those we disagree with on many issues. In other words, just like a good football team, the occasional defeat is inevitable -- even Arsenal's "invincibles", who uniquely avoided losing a Premier League game for a whole season in 2003-04, failed to win the FA Cup or Champions League that year. But the key is to learn from each defeat to improve the next performance.
Zadie Smith could have been talking directly to me and my fellow safety practitioners. We may wish for zero harm, because to do otherwise is to countenance accidents that can and do hurt people, but the reality is that nobody's perfect.
What matters is how we use every incident, near-miss and accident to learn how we can be safer and healthier tomorrow. Getting it wrong is terrible: it can cause injury or worse and result in a corporate and professional loss of confidence. But getting it wrong in the same way twice is unacceptable.
Preparing for such eventualities, not only with emergency plans but with robust investigations, honest appraisals, learning and communication to improve performance, is a trait central to health and safety practice. Perhaps the wider public and certainly our political leaders need to consider how they can do this as well.
That way we can turn even temporary setbacks into success.
Teams of researchers set about trying to lift the lid on a world of work which you, as a reader of this publication, are very much a part of.The book provides a fresh and current perspective on OSH, recognising it has a rich and colourful history that has increasingly been shaped by public perception. For me, the research enabled us to explore how the OSH professional can confidently respond to these changing needs to shape the future. Adaptability, it seems, is key.
Negative headlines, fines, problems and inspections all focus on what is wrong or what people can’t do. These begin to follow us around like a negatively-charged dark cloud. Perhaps we should reflect on our own behaviour because our words and actions can have a profound effect.Positivity is infectious; it’s motivating, engaging and it makes people feel better about themselves. Negativity makes people switch off and turn away. Let’s encourage what people can do rather than say what they can’t.
In recent years, UK governments have questioned the role of OSH legislation, the safety and health culture that has developed since the Health and Safety at Work Act and, of course, the work of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Although the rearguard action mounted by practitioners’ bodies to argue the value of improvements in safety performance has been largely successful, it has had an unintended consequence of uniting the whole health and safety “community” as HSE supporters, almost as flag wavers from the sidelines.
One of the major lessons that should have been absorbed from the Aberfan disaster 50 years ago (see p 17) had to be restated forcefully in Lord Cullen’s report on the Piper Alpha drilling rig explosion and fire which took 167 lives. That lesson was that when a regulator gets too close to the industry it polices there is a high risk that its regulation becomes slack.
We are all part of a storytelling revolution and most of us haven’t even noticed.For two millennia, stories have been told that have shaped our identity and culture. They are part of the fabric of our lives, providing a valuable reference point so that we are able to make sense of what is going on around us. Today, the relevance and value of storytelling as one of our engagement tools is being challenged. This is both a significant risk and a huge opportunity for us.
In most cases a push for supply chain improvement, whether it was cutting energy and materials use or pollution control, balanced the stick with the carrot.Suppliers might be advised they would be expected to cut waste by a set percentage or to achieve accreditation for their management system by a certain date or they would lose a contract. But the client organisation often provided encouragement and advice to help them reach that point by the deadline.