Risque! As they say in France.

What is risk?do-not-touch

Depending on your dictionary of choice, the definition goes something like;

Risk as a noun, a situation involving exposure to danger.

Risk as a verb, expose (someone or something valued) to danger, harm, or loss.

When do we experience risk?

We experience risk in pretty much everything we do, from the moment we wake up till the moment we fall asleep, and of course, we are still at risk while we are asleep.

Are there different types of Risk?

Some might argue, but there are many types of risk, I believe there are four areas that are of particular interest when we think about safety in the workplace.”

Latent risks, are of a quality or state that exist but as yet, not developed or manifested.

For example; the result of a lack of maintenance could be considered a latent risk.

Quantitative risks, are the frequency at which an individual may be expected to sustain a given level of harm from a specific hazard.

For example; the number of journeys by car before you are in an accident that requires hospital treatment.

Physical risks; these are probably the most commonly understood type of risks as they are tangible.

For example; an unguarded pinch point, trash on the floor, loud noise, contact with chemicals, over exertion, etc.

Human risks, these are risks associated with human beings.

For example, competency, complacency, detachment, fatigue, decision making, human interaction, fallibility, etc.

Edward Norton (actor/director) from such films like The People vs. Larry Flynt and Fight Club  said “Life, like poker has an element of risk. It shouldn’t be avoided. It should be faced.”

Is understanding risk a better way to think about safety?

In an excellent article “Stand Behind The Yellow Line – Do Engineering Controls Affect Risk” on SafetyRisk.net, Gabrielle Carlton wrote and questioned how our understanding and perception of risk potentially changes our actions.

The example she uses is as follows;

“People jammed in along the whole platform and only a couple of feet away from potential death. Because lets face it if you ‘accidentally’ fell off the edge and met with an oncoming train there is no turning back.

So as I stood there contemplating the yellow line I thought why do we not have more incidents amongst this seemingly non-regulated process? People are being easily distracted by other means; phones, conversations, children, marketing posters and worst still rushing for trains and yet minimal incidents occur.”

An engineering control should reliably minimize our exposure to the hazard, physically or geographically. It is hard to say that a yellow line is a Engineering control by simple definition.

Surely the yellow line would be an example of an Administrative control because the hazard itself is not actually removed or reduced, they are not a reliable way to reduce exposure. This said, given the frequency, exposure and severity of the hazard, it is remarkably effective.

So if we look at this example, it goes against most of what we are told and taught in the Hierarchy  of Controls. So why is it so effective?

It is fairly obvious. Most people can draw upon their own experiences and education to determine the risk and possible outcome, therefore they obey the expectation. I would suspect, even if you took someone who had never seen a train arrive at a platform, they would probably obey the expectation, if only from the social/crowd clues given.

Therefore, is one answer to improve safety, to educate people on understanding risks and outcomes rather than trying prevent them from being able to come in contact with them? Sure, it is relatively easy to design Engineering controls that would achieve the same results as a yellow line.

Why do people circumvent controls put in place to protect them? Because they do not understand or respect the risk or the outcome.

I freely admit, this approach may not be viable for all situations, but I do believe that it should not be discounted when designing and planning processes. I may even go as far to suggest that it is added to the Hierarchy  of Controls as an alternative to Engineering controls.


I would put a picture here but it would just distract you!

images (1)As you are no doubt aware, traditional safety has been about rules, discipline and pyramids of power (the high up the ladder the more you know) and pyramids of data (Heinrich’s Pyramid). The new, (well it’s not really new, safety has always been about behavior) Behavior Based Safety (BBS) is about pretty much the same, with added personal responsibility, risk, expectations and a two way flow of communication.

Is SAFETY 3.0 going to be Social Psychological Safety, taking Behavior Based Safety to next level?

No, for a couple of reasons! Firstly, some may consider that Behavior Based Safety has its roots in Talyorism, which is control based. Social psychology is about understanding people and our fallibility, and how the social environment and construct has heavy influences on what we do, particularly decision and judgments and our unconscious. I am not suggesting that Social Psychology will ever replace any part of existing safety practices, only potentially enhance them. In this litigious world, the paperwork trial is only going to continue to increase. What I am suggesting is that maybe Social Psychology will become another facet of safety, much the same as BBS is to Process Safety.

We know that psychology has been used in advertising for a long while but the use of psychological principles and theories are also commonly used to overcome problems in real life situations. mental health, organizational psychology, business management, education, industrial and organizational psychology, legal psychology, neuropsychology, occupational health psychology, human factors, forensic psychology, engineering psychology, school psychology, sports psychology, traffic psychology, community psychology, product design, ergonomics, and law are just of the areas that have been influenced by the application of psychological principles and findings. The one that I find particularly interesting in the context of safety is Social Psychology.

Social Psychology ; “Branch of psychology concerned with the personality, attitudes, motivations, and behavior of the individual or group in the context of social interaction. The field emerged in the U.S. in the 1920s. Topics include the attribution of social status based on perceptual cues, the influence of social factors (such as peers) on a person’s attitudes and beliefs, the functioning of small groups and large organizations, and the dynamics of face-to-face interactions.” (Source http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary).

You only have to conduct a brief study of some of the forming principles of Social Psychology, for example, Conformity (Asch, Bystander effect), Obedience (Milgram’s experiment), Cognitive Dissonance (Festinger), Power & Authority (Stanford prison experiment), Heuristics (Scott Plous and Kehneman,  availability, representativeness, anchoring) and Priming (Bargh) to see how these could be influencing or undermining safety in your workplace. Note: YouTube is a good and easy source of information on the above principles, I mention this only because a you may need to spend a little of your own time viewing some of the above before you start to understand the importance of the unconscious in decision making.

Personally, I was amazed by some of these early social psychology experiments carried out in the 1950’s and 60’s. These type of experiments would never be allowed to be conducted in today’s world, and rightly so! That said, Derren Brown (see YouTube or http://derrenbrown.co.uk) still conducts some pretty amazing demonstrations on the power of the mind (both conscious and unconsciously). I expect many of you reading this may have heard of, or remember some of the above principles from a semester of Psychology at college, but then it was buried by a lot more information you were supposed to learn.

In an ever increasingly diverse and complex workplace (and home life, because we are talking about risk, and the line is often blurred). Social psychology will provide some answers to increase our understanding of how people make decisions and judgments. With an increasing number of Generation Y (“Millennials”) join the existing Generation X and Baby Boomers within the workplace, and with all these groups having their own set of attitudes and work habits that needs to be incorporated within the company culture. It would be nice, if in fact there was an underlying common denominator shared by all these groups.

In a recent paper by Hayden Collins (au.linkedin.com/pub/hayden-collins/50/912/2b), submitted as part of his study for the Graduate Certificate in the Psychology of Risk.

Hayden states that, “Experiments show that consciousness’ capacity is smaller than that of unconsciousness. Unconsciousness processes 11 million bits of information per second. In contrast, consciousness processes 40 bits per second. Consciousness is limited to the amount of information it can process, meaning actions are determined by information of which we have not been consciously aware. The decision is made before we can consciously rationalise it. Without unconscious processing, swift decision making would be difficult. If consciousness initiated action, it would take approximately 4 years to process information that unconsciousness could process in 10 minutes.

The full article can be read here – http://www.safetyrisk.net/how-is-the-unconscious-in-communication-critical-for-understanding-and-managing-risk/

If this is showing that our unconscious mind is making automatic decisions governing us in the workplace without our knowledge then it is entirely possible that after an incident or negative event, when you ask “What were they thinking?”, that they most likely, weren’t thinking at all. Well, not consciously thinking that is!

These unconscious thoughts do not only govern our actions, but they can influence our thoughts without you even knowing it. The decisions we make can also be influence by a multitude of factors, motivation, group opinions, what we see or hear, etc.

A good example of the unconscious power of the mind was given by Ash Donaldson during a TedX talk (http://youtu.be/NqONzcNbzh8). When an airplane pilot starts training to fly using instruments only rather than the more novice, visual flying. When this lesson is taught the majority of pilots end up, within a very short period of time, spiraling to their deaths. Well they would, if it was not for their instructors. This is not because they are inexperienced at flying. It is because their intuition (brain) convinces them that the instruments can not be correct, and it provides reasons why these instruments have failed. The pilots quickly abandon what hey know to be true and end up ignoring their ‘working” instruments and resort back to flying by intuition. And they do this time after time, even after they understand what is happening in their minds. It is that powerful. Start to consider what is happening within the brain in this, potentially life threatening example, and how our conscious thoughts are totally overpowered by our unconscious thoughts. If a well trained, intelligent, well functioning pilot can be repeatedly overcome by this disagreement of what they know and what their unconscious is telling them, then a similar scenario could be present in your workplace, processes and employees.

Another example of now the brain automatically provides answers to something we know is not good for us, is smoking. We know it is bad for us. We know the cost, the associated health problems and even cancer, but smokers generally find a plausible to them excuse, to rationalize their behavior with their knowledge. For example; it helps me keep my weight down, Obesity is a far bigger health problem.

Now, if I was to suggest that maybe the way you think about processes, maybe the way you design, was flawed or interfered with by an unconscious thought, I am sure you would refute this statement. Is this the same reasoning that we have just considered with the airplane pilot? In the same way that people justify smoking, can they also justify ignoring a safety rule or taking a short cut?

How about training? Maybe we should adopt the same manor that is used for training Instrument flying. It has to be reinforced in the pilot before they overcome their natural instincts. Maybe we need to train our employees in the same manor. Design the training and reinforce it until it overrides there natural intuition or pre-existing nature, and becomes an subconscious action. This might prove useful if you are dedicated to achieving a zero injury culture. This is why the subject of Social Psychology becomes interesting and potentially rewarding, both personally and professionally.

It is too early in my knowledge of the subject to make any determinations, as social psychology challenges many of the traditional safety rules and thinking at their sources. For that reason it will be hard for the majority of safety professionals to accept social psychology principles, even if they are believers in Behavior Based Safety. By being a little more open to things we don’t know and educating ourselves, we may be able to alter our existing safety policies, practices, training, etc. to be stronger, more flexible and more targeted. Given my brief exposure to the social psychology, I wonder whether a deeper understanding of Human Biology and Anthropology may also give us insights into how and why humans do things.

I doubt that using social psychology in post incident investigations will prove to give any useful insights though. This assumption is based on some research that shows how and why “eye witness” reports can and have been so unreliable. It’s due to the way the brain collects and stores information and can be fairly easily corrupted. You might find, that you may learn more post incident details, because social psychology is focused on developing and enhancing relationships between people, along with trust and understanding which will improve your company culture.

One of my personal interests in this subject is to add some further insight and explanation into the Behavior Based Safety term “unsafe act”. This is an unexplained catch all that covers a multitude of potential causes that are, yet to be understood. Is carrying out an incident investigation, and concluding just one thing was the root cause, a little too easy and neat? Does this highlight a human desire to derive simple answers and solutions? I believe it does. Very little in the modern world is simple, and to attribute an incident to one, easily identifiable cause or act is doing us, employees and Safety Professionals an injustice.

Social Psychology certainly has some interesting thoughts on how and why our conscious and unconscious thoughts affect our decisions and judgments and therefore the behaviors of others as much as how our social situation influences our lives and thoughts. It also requires us to learn and understand that people are complex and, we are not problems to be solved.

The purpose of this article is not to suggest that we have been doing it wrong all these years, but to ask, in the realms of Continuous Improvement, if this is a subject worth further exploration and learning. It is certainly a subject that I personally intend to study a little more deeply, if it has any potential to keep employees from harm.

Taking a New Look At Safety

After a week of writes block, Phil La Duke produces another great insight.

Phil La Duke's Blog

fresh look

By Phil La Duke

 Let me begin by thanking all of you who voiced your support for me over the past week. As you may have surmised I get frustrated from time to time, mostly because so many safety practitioners still don’t get it—despite cognizant arguments (I’m not talking about what I have been saying, I’m arrogant but I’m not THAT arrogant) made by really smart people so many in the field of safety cling to shear stupidity. Arguing a point that should have been conceded long ago gets exhausting and it got to me. Add to that a moderate case of writer’s block and it’s been a rough couple of weeks.

But enough about that, some time ago I posted an article that postulated that safety in itself wasn’t something we should be managing, that safety is an outcome not a priority or a factor or…fill in the…

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Mind your Mindset: Safety-I and Safety-II

Humanistic Systems

Photo: Steven Shorrock CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/p4jhb6 “We need self-awareness to recognise our own mindset, wisdom to see its limits, and mentally agility to choose another when appropriate.” Photo: Steven Shorrock CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/p4jhb6

During the last few years, different ways of thinking about safety have challenged prevailing worldviews in safety-related professions. Many of these ideas actually have clear roots in writings going back into the early 1980s (particularly by Jens Rasmussen, Erik Hollnagel and David Woods), and much earlier if we go outside of the safety domain. But the ideas have only gained traction more recently via particular thinkers who have managed to make a broader connection, outside of the bounds of academic journals and conferences. If Kurt Lewin’s epigram There is nothing more practical than agood theory(1952, p.169) is true*, then there is little more tragic than a good theory ignored. It appears that safety theory might be helping to rescue safety…

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Is your company culture based on a banana and 5 monkeys?

So the story goes;

5 monkeys


I believe the above was extracted from the more formal works of G.R. Stephenson. Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys (1967).

So does this story explain your company safety culture?

Does your company do things the way they have always done them? You may be in compliance with the government agency controlling Workplace Safety. You may even have incident rates below average for your industry.

So whats wrong?

I’m not advocating change for change’s sake, but people, like companies, products, services and even your customers change, develop and evolve. The culture within your company needs to keep pace.

Whether you like it or not, your workforce is changing. The influences of technology, social and economic conditions, not to mention the growing number of Millennials in the workplace.

It’s time to have a long hard look at how you do things! Why you do things! Do they work? How can we doing things better? Are you employees engaged?

The best part about this re-think is it doesn’t require the hiring of an expensive consultants. All the experts you need are most likely already employed by you. Your employees are the job/task experts, all you need to do is extract that information.

Once you start down this path, your company culture is going to evolve, if you are honest, open and respectful, then it should be for the better and then benefits will be felt across all facets of your business.


Because in my opinion safety is just a word, the same as quality or production. If you employee is engaged and 100% focused on the task at hand, this will not only impact safety, it affects quality and production. It becomes Operational Excellence.

Is not a productive, safe, defect free workplace the Holy Grail?


You can’t cure stupid?

Ignorance can be cured, but stupidity is forever – Aristophanes

I think most people have heard a variation of that phrases at some point or other during their lives. Mostly, I think it is used when making fun of someone’s ill thought out actions. We see it every day, plastered across social media, usually accompanied with the word “FAIL“. Sometimes you can’t help yourself, and laugh at the stupidity. For many of these 20 second celebs, it is a lucky (for more than one reason), once in a life time appearance.

Now on the serious note, lets look from the Safety view point!

What if their whole life is actually more like a compilation of these events.

What if you work along side someone who is “stupid”?

At this point lets take a look at a couple of generalized definitions.

stupid  (ˈstjuːpɪd) 

 — adj

1) lacking in common sense, perception, or normal intelligence.

 2) having dull mental responses; slow-witted.


ignorant  (ˈɪɡnərənt) 

— adj  

 1) lacking in knowledge or education; unenlightened

2) resulting from or showing lack of knowledge or awareness


I am fairly confident that most people can work out for themselves what might be an appropriate course of action.

Yes, your correct. Lets educate the ignorant, lets coach them and lets mentor them into the employees we need. Remember, once you were ignorant of how to tie your shoe laces.

As for the stupid, personally I think it is OK to make them someone else’s problem!

So far, in my experience, I have found that there are only two groups of professionals that disagree with me, company attorneys and company HR departments. One is afraid and the other is well meaning, but both are ignorant of the need to remove the “stupid” for the safety of everyone.










Who talks about Safety in your Organization?

It’s a big question really!images 480 x 480

The whole culture of the organization is impacted by the answer.

I’m sure your answer is “I do”, but do you really?

It depends on your job title, right?

Manager? Supervisor? Safety Coordinator?

If you are answering “yes” to any of these then you are both Right and Wrong. Sure, the Manager’s and Supervisor’s should be talking about safety at least on a daily basis but they should also be promoting an expectation about “safety conversations” among other employees.

These “safety conversations” do not have to be drawn out and they certainly do not need to be a negative experience. A positive conversation about safety is at least as powerful as a negative conversation, if not more powerful.

It can be as easy as giving an employee a “pat on the back” for using a correct lifting technique.

These “safety conversations” influence behaviors for many reasons, they let employees know that their behavior is being monitored by not just their line managers but by fellow employees, They promote an air of openness and equality in the workplace as far as safety goes. Lets face it nobody is prefect when it comes to safety. Just because you are a manager or supervisor or safety coordinator, it does not make you safer, a job title can’t do that.

These “safety conversations” build relationships between people to look out for each others safety, to become “your brothers keeper”. They communicate to everyone that “safety” is important and taken seriously at this company. This is turn, influences other aspects of business, the employee’s families, customers, contractors and suppliers. It builds a positive reputation.

But the #1 reason for these “safety conversations” is that it keeps safety in the forefront of peoples minds and hopefully that will mean they go home in the same condition that they arrived and just maybe a little bit richer.