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A first day in Berlin EHS Congress 2022

What a fun time to be back here in Berlin for the third time in person and a proud participant for the past 4 editions. Even if there seem to have a limited number of young women like me in this Congress, thinking about the future of workplaces, leadership and culture with such competent figures got me feeling very lucky and privileged so discussing if I fit in this crew of men or not is probably a subject for another day 😀

I have to say that it started in a beautiful way, with an opening from Andrew Sharman like only Andrew Sharman does and that I am sure everyone thought relevant. Are we going in the good direction with this war on error? I believe most of us will say no. Will the leaders in operational position be open minded enough to let us find the root causes of what goes well or take a look at normal work like suggested by Mr. Nazaruck to the assembly? I hope so, even if I doubt this being so easy. There is however a thing for which I don’t have hope but rather certainty: we can all be proud to invest in this reflection and be here together in Berlin, being a small part of a nice and big change.

Our field sometimes look like it is creating its own little wars: Opposition between systemic and strategic approach of safety, between technology and human, between researchers and practitioners and even, as seen last year in this very congress, between two approaches of safety that are very human oriented. Right, it would be better to move a little more in the same direction sometime. But HEY! We are moving and this is a win itself because it was not always the case.

Let me tell you a little story of something that happened here in Berlin in 2018. I was here with my dear father and founder of Perrier Consulting. He was listening to the speakers and I could see that something was not right. I asked him about it, “ Gerald, what is wrong, are you not happy to hear these awesome speakers that preach for a more humane oriented approach, that basically all confirm what you have been working on the past 30 years?” His answer made me feel good because what he explained to me was how special it was for him, to have all those speakers talking about the need to focus on real work, to stop talking too much about safety but instead to look at what’s going on in the business, and to consider safety as a business issue. So in fact, there was nothing wrong, quite the contrary actually, and I guess this special feeling was that here at EHS congress in Berlin we can find a genuine concentration of people that believe in changing paradigms in safety. It was not so common for most of Gerald’s career and preaching in the desert has been a common thing for pioneers in the field so let’s celebrate the end of this drought together.

So to come back to this Berlin 2022 day: I started the day on a lovely discussion with one of our client from Biomerieux, Mr. Dupuy and my business partner, Olivier Leroux. Only had I met with Mr. Dupuy that we were already in a discussion on safety indicators and the need for looking forward. The problem of driving while looking in the rear mirrors was discussed, and emphasis has been put on the importance of qualitative indicators. Little did we know, Mr. Hudson started the day in the same mood than us. How incredible and fun to hear all about it from someone that studied safety culture and indicators for many years.

I got lost in my thoughts at some point in his talk reminding myself of a situation where a client was talking to me about a presentation the HSE team was going to do to the all men team of directors in the mining industry(the fact they were only men is not a misplaced feminist comment, you’ll see!)He told me that they were first going to present the statistics (only lagging) and I confess to him: I have no desire of trying to understand your frequency rate because it probably excludes too much of the relevant stuff. So I asked him: What’s the last event that is part of that rate, but is, in the sense of statistics, not too bad?. He told me a young guy smashed his testicle. Yeah, you read me well, crew of probably majority of male-readers: he smashed his testicle while using a saw bench for which the protection had been removed for a long time. He was young, he was new in the place and the presentation to the direction happening in the weeks following the event was going to be“Hey, this month is going pretty well with a decrease in our frequency rate”or whatever. If we actually are so attached to talking about what went wrong, could we please be courageous enough to actually talk about what went wrong instead of discussing those ridiculous numbers, trying to look intelligent with divisions made on millions and as discussed by Mr. Clause Rose, including decimals. This “little” lost time was almost someone’s end at founding a family and caused him a great lot of pain, had to go into surgery and got colleagues to make bad jokes. But no one was to talk about it. Discussing this instead of the rates was almost seen as a potential act of militancy by my colleague. That’s a good discussion to pursued but anyone that has successfully got rid of those indicators without ever looking back, please tell us about it, for hope in the future.

So, allow me to come back here in Berlin to jump quickly to the last topic that was very key in the morning: The panel discussion. The gap between academics and practitioners. For a person like me that has been in the role of an HSE practitioner in high risk industry where everything moved so fast, that is currently a PhD student and one of the leaders of an international consultant group, the subject of this panel is pure gold. All counts done, I will have to take the PhD student hat and tell you: Go about it and actually read papers (peer-reviewed ones!!) before doing the statement of them being too theoric, already too old or too long. And to that one person who said there is not enough literature, I guess you haven’t been doing a literature review on a safety related topic in the past year to say such a thing, but if you did, please come talk to me right this minute, I want to know all about it. There is one relevant paper for every day of the year and waaayyyyy more if you want to expand to all related to real work. There is also no researcher that won’t argue with any of you regarding the focus of their research on reality. This is the whole purpose of research to explain scientifically what the hell is happening in this world and if I am not surprised that this is still questioned, I am a little sad of the recurrent image that researchers are grey, heavy, too theoretical and so on. Have you not been charmed at all by the direct and fun approach of professor Dekker, you silly people? Hehe…

Talking about it, wasn’t Sidney’s confession on the market wanting books on human error while professor Hollnagel trying to convince him to stop writing about human error one of the best thing you have heard today? I like imagining them talking about paradigms on the phone in their living rooms, each on their respective top of the planet. Anyway, the humility of these two people that succeeded at delivering an important message worldwide is very encouraging for young academics, consultant and I believe, anyone interested in the progression of good integration of safety practices to the work.

Another highlight of this day is the need of Professor Dekker for a Tik Tok account and here are my ideas on what could be his first videos:

· We could see the professor running for the toilet. And then, a short-written explanation of what “Pee in your pants management” or the transgression of rules and the general answer to it would be displayed on the screen. All of this on the Capone-Oh No soundtrack.

· Second script would be Professor coming up to a safety professional that looking very sick with a catastrophic music. The writing would specify that sadly, he is diagnosed with a pathological condition called Auditism, and has been totally isolated from what’s really happening in the workplace. It could be said that he will need to be sent home and unfortunately be part of the health and safety statistic.

Hoping that this critic, and really not exhaustive sum-up of this day had you laugh a little and I will attempt at being more serious for the next one that may be either about the afternoon workshop (that was also awesome by the way) or on my only negative critics of this congress, regarding how consultants are seen as money hungry sharks when a lot of us are really just very passionate people that actually invest a lot of time, efforts, money in the field of safety and want to genuinely support people within more than one organization on the field.

But I tell you goodnight and probably its way too late when my Canadian colleague will publish that, so, good morning instead. It was a great day and thank you again to Andrew and Aron!

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