In order to consider occupational safety in the context of systems, one must first have some understanding of what a system is and how systems operate, interconnect, and adapt in light of systems of interest within an operating environment. While an in-depth analysis of systems would take several of these papers, Professor Derek Hitchins sums up systems as follows:

Essentially, the [systems] approach considered a system-of-interest (SOI) to be open, dynamic, to exist in an environment, to interact with — and adapt to — other systems in that environment, and to form part of a larger, wider system. The systems could be of any kind, but are generally characterized as functional, i.e., the systems, subsystems, containing systems, etc., all perform functions and exhibit behavior (D. Hitchins, 2016).

In our application to Occupational Safety, this basic definition fits perfectly. The system is the organizational function and the systems of interests (SOI) are the specific operations of those organizational functions. For example, production would be a system, but breaking down production further would uncover SOIs, subsystems, and containing systems that are interconnected and must adapt to the overall system. Such systems could include purchasing, supply chain, human resources, accounting, and of course safety. However, in the organizational structure we know these SOIs are often free standing systems on their own with their own sets of SOIs and subsystems. Think of this in terms of interacting systems and SOIs contained within an operational environment.

The Problem

We see that many in the safety profession battle to find their place within this operational environment. We regularly hear safety professionals lamenting operational focus at the "expense of safety"; so they assert their authority from the periphery, often controversially, sometimes disruptively. One of our earliest memories of ASSE as new members was a first chapter meeting. Sitting silently, we listened to a group of five "seasoned" safety professional discussing the various processes they "shut down" that past week in response to management's "lack of regard for safety".

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.