Your Organization's Safety Immune System


Have you ever considered that organizations in many ways are like living organisms?  While there are obvious differences between organizations and living organisms, the metaphor can be helpful in understanding how to keep people safe in the workplace.  Like a living organism, organizations are made up of complex, interacting components and systems that allow the organization to survive, flourish and grow.  One of those systems in a living organism is its immune system which is needed to help it fight off external and internal attacks.  Organizations also need an immune system to help it defend itself from danger.  An immune system is composed of many different types of barriers against disease, some static and some dynamic.  Your body’s immune system includes static components like your skin, blood vessels, thymus, spleen, bone marrow, liver, etc., each designed to act as a barrier to defend your body against various dangers that could cause damage to you.  Organizations also rely of various static barriers to defend themselves against injury.  These include rules, policies, procedures and various mechanical safeguards, such as personal protective equipment, machine guards, etc.  While unquestionably useful, these defenses are also inherently insufficient.  No matter how well designed or assimilated, these devices simply cannot prevent all incidents in complex workplaces because they are static and slow to change.  As such, there is a need for something different.  Something more naturally suited to mitigate risk in our highly complex work environments.  Something that is more agile than our usual tools.  Something ubiquitous, reactive and creative.  The immune systems of living organisms contain something that is more agile than the static structures and barriers listed above.  They include white blood cells that move around the body and create various types of antibodies needed to fight off invaders.  Our organizations also have “white blood cells”…. the people that work there.  The individuals that are moving around, observing and intervening to activate safeguards or remove others from danger.  The difference between the white blood cells of our immune system and the people in our organizations is that white blood cells “naturally” intervene when danger is observed.  People on the other hand don’t necessarily always intervene.  White blood cells have the natural ability to detect danger and intervene.  Most people on the other hand don’t have the natural ability to intervene and as we have discussed in other articles (Hardwired Inhibitions), they are actually predisposed not to intervene.  To overcome this inhibition people have to be trained.  They have to learn how to not only recognize hazards but how to effectively speak up and also deal with the possible defensiveness that can arise when they do so.  Is your organization's immune system fully functional.  Do your organization's “white blood cells” know how to intervene.  If not, then your organization is very possibly at serious risk of injury.