• Published
  • AETC director of safety
Babies born into the world have pretty clean records. Absent are predispositions to commit crimes, establish bad habits or take unnecessary risks such as driving a vehicle too fast. However, as these infants grow into men and women, temptations may lead to badness; and in some cases, the badness turns into madness!

Pick up a newspaper, watch the news, or read a mishap report. You probably will see many "babies-gone-bad" stories. Consequently, car accidents, DUI convictions, hefty fines and lost-time injuries can be maddening for family members and coworkers, not to mention the people who make the poor decisions that lead to negative events in the first place.

Why don't these malcontents just accept blame and then stop their badness and all this madness?

Dr. Thomas R. Krause, author of the book Leading with Safety, suggests that while fault-finding and demonizing people are natural reactions, these
approaches are counterproductive because they lead to blame. And when people are threatened with condemnation, their defense mechanisms go up and bad behavior may, in their minds, be rationalized or even justified. ...

Thus, the madness continues.

In reality, most men and women who make imperfect decisions that lead to mishaps are not malcontents. And while there will perhaps be a need for punishment following an event, leaders should still embrace a safety focus, versus raw blame, in an attempt to determine cause and prevent future mishaps.
In fact, Air Force safety instructions challenge mishap investigators to avoid projecting blame. These investigators are trained to steer clear of the entanglements associated with scolding, and instead, identify exactly where corrective action is needed. In line with this guidance, Dr. C. Ray Asfahl, author of the book Industrial Safety and Health Management, suggests hazard avoidance should not center simply on guilt, but may encompass enforcement, psychological and engineering approaches. Finally, Dr. Krause opines, "The useful question is not 'Who was at fault?' but rather 'How can this injury, and others like it, be prevented in the future?' "

Leaders at all levels should stop madness, by abating badness, while shaping a culture of compliance, accountability and safety. As such, a combination of "carrot and stick" methods can be used to generate this culture, but finger-pointing should be set aside. Blame brings pain and is a backward-looking exercise. Finding the cause of a mishap, as an emotionally-neutral exercise, must be focused on preventing a similar mishap in the future.

By embracing a safety culture, you can help stop the badness ... and avoid the madness!