The Safety Profession can be like a Priesthood

Lincoln Eldrige, who probably wouldn’t want to be called a ‘safety professional,’ suggested to me some years ago that the safety profession is like a priesthood. I have always considered this an intriguing assertion, and finally decided to dig into it a bit more. What I found was fascinating parallels between belief systems that manage anxieties and hopes even a post-secular world, and the credentialism of a new priesthood that is (self-)ordained to assuage and inspire those … Continue Reading ››

In Defense of the Mayor of Amity Island

Photo taken by and courtesy of Daniel Hummerdal
Jaws is the reason I have to give myself a pep talk before going in the ocean.  The 1975 movie shows what happens when a huge, psychopathic shark with a taste for people meets a small tourist island off the coast of Massachusetts (Spoiler – it doesn’t turn out well for some unsuspecting swimmers). The movie is credited for making the fear … Continue Reading ››

The original hearts and minds campaign, and the dereliction of behavior-based safety

In 1960, shortly after his election, President Kennedy asked Robert McNamara to become secretary of defense in his new cabinet. McNamara, known as a star and a whiz-kid, had been president of the Ford Motor Company for all of five weeks, so it took a bit of cajoling. But he eventually joined the administration in 1961, taking with him the modernism of Ford’s production lines. A few years into his tenure, with Vietnam taking up ever more resources and … Continue Reading ››

Danger in The Guise of Safety, Today

In his seminal book The Limits of Safety, Scott D. Sagan contrasted two schools of thought to assess the safety performance of the United States nuclear weapon system during the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis: High reliability theory and complexity theory. One of the basic tenets regarding high reliability organizations is that they are able and willing to learn from events. Sagan, however, found that oftentimes, the U.S. military failed to learn from the incidents they … Continue Reading ››

‘Bureaucratic entrepreneurism’ and the growing ‘mental health crisis’ at work

Remember when you could go on company travel and just book the trip? Not anymore. You probably have to do a seven-page risk assessment (whether the trip takes you to the next town over, or to central Africa), which will have to be approved by the next three levels up, and get signatures from all those levels. It is an example of what has sometimes been referred to as ‘bureaucratic entrepreneurism’ (Dekker, 2014). Bureaucracies tend to grow … Continue Reading ››

Just culture: Who are we really afraid of?

When we think about just culture, we usually think about accidents and incidents, associated ‘honest mistakes’ and ‘negligence’ (by whatever name), as well as official responses to these, at company and judicial level. The notion of just culture is driven partly by fear; fear of being judged and blamed, especially fear of being blamed unfairly. The fear is felt most strongly by operational staff, who are at the sharp end of organisations and have sometimes faced disciplinary … Continue Reading ››

Understanding and Adding to the Investigation Toolbox

For the last century, the evolution of accident investigation can be tied to research and the scientific advancements in how we view our work systems[1]. Three major lenses of scientific research emerge as we begin to examine key influences on accident investigation processes: Classic mid-century faith in engineering was termed, Scientific Management, which was followed by Systems Thinking and, ultimately, an emerging understanding of Complex Adaptive Systems.   Continue Reading ››

Why focus on conditions?

We have long struggled with trying to capture the facts associated with an accident in order to prevent the next one. This has been largely effective when applied to machines. In mechanical systems things are measurable, observable and more objective. The information we get from people is always subjective. There are always issues of memory, shame, fear and politics that influence the ever-changing stories we tell. If you think about it, you have probably altered a story to … Continue Reading ››

Innovative and critical safety thinking

Skip to toolbar