Safety Differently is the name given to a movement within the safety industry that challenges organisations to view three key areas of their business differently – how safety is defined, the role of people, and the focus of the business.
The term ‘Safety Differently’ was first coined in 2012 by Griffith University professor and best-selling author, Sidney Dekker. Since then, the movement has continued to gain traction, and is now backed by its own research lab, along with multiple books, and a documentary.
How do we currently approach safety?
In order to understand the theory behind Safety Differently, we must first consider how modern organisations currently approach health and safety. Dekker argues that traditional safety thinking is underscored by three main principles.
- Workers are considered the cause of poor safety performance. Workers make mistakes, they violate rules, and they ultimately make safety numbers look bad. That is, workers represent a problem that an organisation needs to solve.
- Because of this, organisations intervene to try and influence workers’ behaviour. Managers develop strict guidelines and tell workers workers what to do, because they cannot be trusted to operate safely alone.
- Organisations measure their safety success through the absence of negative events.
So is there a problem with this approach? Well, Dekker says yes. He says this line of thinking has led to a growing safety bureaucracy that is responsible for injury rates/fatality rates plateauing in recent times. And with such a heavy focus on low safety numbers, it’s possible that organisations are measuring and managing the wrong risk (Deepwater Horizon famously had a great safety record before an incident in 2010 that killed 11 people). As Dekker puts it, “if you keep people accountable for low numbers of negatives, that is what they will give you”. That is, organisations will find a way to underreport and reclassify incidents to fit the ‘Zero Harm’ agenda.
All this, Dekker says, has led to a world where people have become disengaged with health and safety at it’s core, where people fail to see its value. A common analogy for this problem is coaching a competitive swimmer. As we focus on teaching the swimmer not to drown (stay near the edge, wear a life-vest), we conflict with the overall goals of the swimmer. Rather than competency and common sense, we value compliance and control.
Safety Differently flips traditional thinking on it’s head, and encourages organisations to grow safety from the bottom, up – rather than impose it from the top, down.
- People are not the problem to control, they are the solution. Learn how your workers create success on a daily basis, and harness their skills and competencies to build a safer workplace.
- Rather than intervening in worker behaviour, intervene in the conditions of their work. This involves collaborating with front-line staff and providing them with the right tools and environment to get the job done safely. The key here is intervening in workplace conditions rather than worker behaviour.
- Measure safety as the presence of positive capacities. If you want to stop things from going wrong, enhance the capacities that make things go right.
Learn more about Safety Differently and how it works in practice
The SIA stream at the 2018 Safety Forum will focus on Safety Differently. Is there such thing as a Safety Differently Health and Safety Program? What are its components? Explore and workshop how the concepts underpinning the tagline can be practically, meaningfully, and measurably translated into the workplace environment and health and safety programs.
Featuring presentations from some of Australia’s leading safety professionals:
Drew Rae (Lecturer, Griffith University)
Safety Differently – Keynote
David Provan (Founder, Safety 21)
Safety Differently Professionals: How New Theory Might Transform Our Role
John Daly (Director, Safe Design Australia)
Safety in Design (Safety Differently)
Panel Discussion – Andrew Barrett, Deirdre Lewis, Campbell Warren, Greg Smith, Andrew Bowe
Safety Differently in Heavily Regulated Industries – Within Reach Or Are We dreaming?
Kurt Warren (Head of HSE, Laing O’Rourke)
Safety Differently – A Case Study
Christine Withycombe (Head of HSE, Essential Energy)
Essential Energy – Transition from Safety I to Safety II
Jop Havinga (Interpreter of Practice, Art of Work)
Stop Investigating, Start Learning (Learning from Normal Work)