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The Journal for Employee Protection
The Journal for Employee Protection
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…(as measured in fatalities and serious injury rates, for instance) despite a vast expansion of safety investment, compliance and paperwork.
The cost of compliance and bureaucratic accountability demands are mind-boggling
with every employee working on average 8 weeks (!) per year just to be compliant.
It has also stopped progressing safety.
‘Safety differently,’ an approach developed by Sidney Dekker, is about halting or pushing
back on the ever-expanding bureaucratization and compliance of work. It sees people
not as a problem to control, but as a resource to harness.
Today’s standard model of safety, systems are already safe and need protection from
unreliable human beings? Sidney says that’s an illusion.
It’s not true that the only thing we need to do to make systems safer is to provide more procedures, more automation and tighter monitoring of performance. Emails from managers imploring people to stop making errors. Imploring people to follow the rules. Saying ‘if we just ask everybody to try a little harder, we’ll have a safe system’.
“Safety is not the absence of errors and violations”
Sidney says what you need to do is to invert the perspective. Safety is not the absence of
errors and violations. We need to see safety as the presence of something. Presence of
When you get into the messy details, what you see is under difficult circumstances
people can still make things go right because of their adaptive capacity. Resilience is this
people’s adaptive capacity. Resilience is the ability to bounce back. To accommodate
change and to absorb disruptions without catastrophic failure.
Recent research back this up: the risk of fatalities and life-changing events hide in normal, daily routine practices.
The ‘Safety Differently’ movement views accidents like the BP Deepwater Horizon as too
much focusing on near misses instead of critical issues, and so finds fault in Heinrich’s
idea that minor accidents predict major ones.
Safety should be rather an ethical responsibility for people, assets and communities,
instead of a bureaucratic accountability to managers, boards and regulators.
Safety Differently doesn’t just want to stop things from going wrong, but is curious about
discovering why things go well and helping organizations enhance the capacities in their
teams, people and processes that make it so.
Watch ‘Safety Differently – The Movie’ for an online snippet at http://sidneydekker.com/safety-differently-movie/
According to Sidney, organizations looking to excel at safety must do the following:
Erik Hollnagel, approaching from a different perspective – health, points to a key
distinction of ‘Work as imagined vs Work as done’ and how Safety-I is out of date and
why we need to switch to Safety-II.
Safety efforts usually aim to eliminate or reduce unacceptable risk and harm. According
to this definition, called Safety-I, a system is safe if as few things as possible go wrong. A
problem with this approach is that safety management is based on evidence from
random snapshots of failed system states.
Resilience engineering argues that safety should be viewed differently with emphasis on
things that go well. According to this definition, called Safety-II, a system is safe if as
much as possible goes well. Safety management and the understanding of safety should
be based on a systematic understanding of how performance succeeds, rather than on
how it fails.
According to Erik, Work-As-Done focuses on how people adjust their work so that it matches the conditions. Instead of only looking at the few cases where things went wrong, we should be looking at the many instances where things went right and try to understand how that happened.
“We need to stop solving problems in isolation”
We need to stop looking at problems in isolation. We need to stop using separate
vocabularies, models, methods, organisational focus and organisational roles for each
problem. This is the situation now with safety, quality, and profitability as examples. It is
convenient in the short term but detrimental in the long term. We need to stop solving
problems in isolation.
What caused a particular accident is not answered by listing things that would have
prevented it. Erik founded the ‘Developing the resilience potentials’ idea digging deep
into Safety-II, when a system is safe if as much as possible goes well similarly to Sidney’s
‘Safety Differently’ thematic but through different perspectives.
Sidney, founder of the ‘Safety Differently’ movement, world-class expert on human factors & safety and Professor of Psychology at Griffith University in Australia, will be flying to Europe to present at the 2020 EHS Congress next April along with Erik Hollnagel, authoritative voice on human reliability analysis, author of more than 500 publications and Professor at University of Jönköping in Sweden.
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