The ultimate goal: beyond the theories

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In 2015/16, 621,000 injuries occurred in the workplace and in the same year, 30.4 million working days were lost to work-related illness or injury.

These statistics are concerning, highlighting the importance to implement programmes that will protect employees and contractors while benefiting the business.

The topic of prevention is heavily debated and despite the evolution of different theories, each goal ultimately remains the same: to protect the workforce from illness and death. So, how do they differ?

Simon Olliff, managing director, Banyard solutions

Such theories about safety have evolved over time from Herbert Heinrich, one of the first workplace safety pioneers, to Safety I, Safety II and now, Safety Differently.

As one of the first workplace safety pioneers, Herbert Heinrich identified there could be an existing link between no injury, minor injury and serious injuries and this approach formed the foundation of health and safety programmes worldwide.

In The science of prevention Heinrich advocated the mathematical relationship between different accident types, and believed fatalities didn’t occur as standalone incidents. In his 1941 book, he wrote “the unsafe acts of persons are responsible for the majority of accidents”, reflecting widespread thinking at the time where employers believed employees were the issue.

Heinrich identified that five factors had to be present for an incident to occur, including ancestry and social environment; fault of person; unsafe act or mechanical or physical hazard; the accident and the injury. Finding an immediate method to solve this through controlling individual activity, it became evident a longer term strategy of a training and education process was vital.

Safety I and Safety II

In 2014, Professor Erick Hollnagel, one of the leading European experts on industrial safety wrote Safety I and Safety II, a book analysing past and future safety management practices, focusing on the differences between traditional approaches and more modern perspectives.

Safety I, the traditional method, focuses on incidents lacking in safety processes, reviewing hazards and previous accidents, in a bid to improve overall standards. It seeks an immediate cause for an incident that can be instantly controlled through procedures.

Once such procedures are in place, if followed correctly, the outcome will always be positive. Called “freedom from unacceptable risk”, this approach focuses on unsafe system operation rather than safe operation.

Safety II looks at what happens when things go right, and tries to build this activity.  More in line with overall business and board level goals, it encourages senior levels of an organisation to reflect and adjust activity accordingly all the time.

Variability and an inherent understanding of everyday functioning of the business is key. Instead of creating process that must be adhered too, it encourages systems that can adjust to changing outcomes. He describes it as “defining safety as the ability to succeed after varying conditions”.

Safety Differently

In 2005 Sidney Dekker, the founder of Safety Differently said: “Safety has become a bureaucratic accountability rather than an ethical responsibility.” Dekker believed that with traditional approaches, employers simply wanted to show good numbers – staff were always the issue, with all efforts focused on intervening in their behaviour. With one resounding message that ‘accidents are inevitable’, he called for the abolishment of zero-harm policies and attempts to make all accidents preventable.

The theory goes that all employees should be seen as the solution, relied upon to do the right thing, and that a positive approach is essential in changing figures. Safety Differently has since been implemented in the UK at Laing O’Rourke, led by John Green. This was only implemented at the beginning of this year and so overall success is still unknown.

Pick of the best

Organisations must design a health and safety programme and accompanying processes that will support overall business strategy and employees alike.  They should also have an element of their compensation strategy linked to health and safety outcomes.

Systems should be set up so that they are adaptable to changing situations, and time needs to be taken to ensure all employees are informed and involved in such a programme. This will create the health and safety culture that can really change outcomes irrespective of the theory that an individual might like the most.

Only luck separates a near miss from an incident and so time still needs to be taken to review all incidents, otherwise, how can businesses track overall success and identify potential gaps?

Simon Olliff is managing director of Banyard Solutions.


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