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Safe Path: a safer future

Craig Marriott Service Line Lead

Craig Marriott | Principal and Global Safety Consulting Service Line Lead | 31 July 2017

The world is changing. Technology is developing at a rapid and unprecedented pace, with the internet of things, driverless cars, big data and wearable technology all shifting the way we live our lives. Work is no different.

Today’s workplace is more diverse, collaborative, virtual and socially aware than ever before. Contractual and business models, employment agreements and working conditions are subject to the same wave of innovation  who knows what the future workplace will look like.

In this world of exponential change, where do our safety practices and performance sit? How are they responding to the new models of work and changing demographics?

At the moment we have advanced safety programs in place and are investing more time, effort and money in safety. According to Lux Research, oil and gas companies’ spending to ease concerns on health, safety and environment (HSE) will balloon 60% to $56 billion in 2030, up from $35 billion in 2011, as heavily publicised environmental disasters have increased regulatory scrutiny.1

But is the content of these safety programs changing with everything else or is it more of the same? And ultimately, what difference is it making?

We see numerous celebrations of millions of hours worked without an injury. Lost time injury rates and recordable cases have shown a sustained and dramatic reduction to a fraction of their level a few years ago. But what of the more serious cases? Those that really matter – the disabling injuries and fatalities? How did Deepwater Horizon explode immediately after a period of ‘exemplary’ safety performance?
Evidence shows that serious injury and fatality rates are not achieving the consistent reduction shown in other injuries. Data from the UK (consistently one of the lowest work-related fatality countries) shows workplace fatality rates have been effectively constant since 2009.2 Yet time and again, we try to fix issues by applying more of what we have done before – more audits, more rules, and more awareness campaigns. Traditional safety approaches have reached a plateau. In keeping with broader workplace and social change, we need a new direction; a shift in our way of approaching safety in the workplace.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

Albert Einstein

Current thinking

Current thinking in safety covers a wide range of approaches and issues often not considered in the workplace. It brings in concepts from psychology, Systems Thinking, Complexity Theory and other organisational disciplines.

Theory: Safety I vs Safety II

Coined by Professor Erik Hollnagel, ‘Safety I’ refers to the traditional approach to safety – taking accidents, finding out what went wrong and not doing it again. ‘Safety II’ is an alternative, more positive view that works by understanding the things that lead to success and doing them more consistently.

What this means…

Treat people as a solution to be harnessed, rather than as a problem to be fixed. Search for and identify positives and improvements, share them and spread their use.

Theory: ETTO

Also from Hollnagel, the ‘Efficiency-Thoroughness Trade Off’ (ETTO) suggests that there are always competing demands in people’s actions. More efficient work reduces thoroughness and vice versa. One of the key management failings in accidents is an expectation that thoroughness can be maintained when increased pressure is applied for efficiency.

What this means…

Recognise that perfection is not realistic and understand the impact when conflicting demands are placed on workers.

Theory: Use of rules

Rules are a cornerstone of traditional safety management. But rules are absolute. They are black and white in a world of grey. Rules presuppose that we know what the most important activities to be done are, and leave no room to respond to local conditions that may render the rule unnecessary or even increase risk.

Rules can be useful in certain circumstances, but they reduce autonomy, motivation and innovation and so must be judiciously applied.

What this means…

Command and control is not an effective mechanism for optimal performance in modern, complex work-places. Maintain rules only where risk is high and execution is difficult.

Theory: Transformational leadership

Safety leadership is simply leadership. There is nothing special about it. Leaders need to be properly informed of the safety issues, but the leadership concept is unchanged. Transformational leadership is extensively covered in business literature and training – it is people-centric and collegiate, open and empowering, and visionary and strategic.

What this means…

Lead for safety in the same way for any other performance. Stop separating safety out and treating it differently or it will never become part of the routine.

Theory: Local rationality

When we investigate accidents we apply a filter of rationality to the decisions made by people at the time. But our filter is based on our view of the situation, supported with the benefit of the knowledge of what actually transpired.

We expect people to make consciously thought-through decisions based on risk factors. But unfortunately, people don’t think like that and don’t make decisions in that way. The vast majority of human decisions are made based on heuristics and rules of thumb; based on what has worked successfully in the past and are in response to the local context.

What this means…

Recognise the reality of how people make decisions in context and make systems and processes to accommodate.

Theory: Emergent property

Safe operation can be viewed as an emergent property of a complex system. It is very difficult to identify individual components that make it up. It must be viewed in its complex context, considering all the interactions holistically. The various players need to be given the means to input into the system in appropriate ways and adapt as required to the local situation. This is the exact opposite to the way in which most safety is currently done. We see an incident, break it down into its component pieces and try to fix them individually.

What this means…

Consider the whole system when understanding safety, rather than trying to pinpoint specific issues to fix. View the worker as the sharp end of an entire organisational tool that the business uses to get the job done.

A safer future

These are simply a selection of the many theories, ideas and proposed approaches that are currently being developed. Some build on existing approaches while others replace them. Some are fine in theory, but are too complex to implement on the ground or require too much specialist knowledge to be practically applied.

However, the single common thread running through the majority of the current theories is that people are the solution - not the problem. They are a resource to be harnessed, rather than a place to lay blame.

The journey to this people-centric approach is different for each business. Everybody begins from a different place and has different needs. But it consists of four key steps:

  • Leadership - ensuring full alignment and genuine understanding across the leadership team
  • Diagnosis - understanding where your problems lie and, just as importantly, where your strengths can be harnessed
  • Improvement - making practical and effective improvements to sustain better performance
  • Safe operation - keeping safety as business as usual by reviewing, monitoring and continuously improving

safe path

We call this your Safe Path. The journey is different for everybody, but the destination is the same – a safer future.

Safety is about people, enabled by processes – not processes stifling people. We’re changing the safety leadership conversation from compliance to commitment; from imposing to involving and from controlling to caring.

Craig Marriott, Advisian Global Lead – Safety Consulting

Advisian’s consultants combine the technical understanding of these concepts with real-world experience of implementation. We have distilled the key considerations into easy-to-understand models, supported by detailed tools that can be customised for local conditions.


Craig Marriott Service Line Lead

Craig Marriott

Principal and Global Safety Consulting Service Line Lead

Craig has 25 years’ experience managing health and safety in high-hazard industries. He now focuses primarily on providing senior strategic, governance and leadership safety advice. His aim is to grow the level of capability, critical thinking and aptitude for safety across industry; to do safety differently by making it an enabler rather than a handbrake. His experience spans both occupational and process safety, having worked in both corporate management and technical specialist roles, including the development, project management and implementation of safety cases for some of the world’s most hazardous processes.