New Rules of Safety: The Swiss chainsaw massacre

Rule #16 – We have to give to receive

Just last Friday afternoon, sitting under a tree on the banks of Lake Geneva, eating Italian ice-cream with a German colleague something extraordinary happened. 

Clown with chainsawAs we sat in the Swiss sunshine a loud noise interrupted our conversation.  On the other side of the road, standing precariously on the top of a pile of tree branches heaped onto the back of a small truck was a man with a petrol-driven chainsaw in his hand. Whilst his hard hat protected him from the blazing Swiss sunshine, as he swung the chainsaw around – stretched to the other side of the wagon, between his legs, often single-handed whilst the other arm flailed for balance – diminishing the branches, it was clear that we were witnessing an accident in the making.

And then it happened.

Iris took out her smartphone and began to film.

We were about a minute or so into witnessing this activity, but it was already too much for me. I walked over to the other side of the street and made eye contact, asking him to turn off his machine.  With typical Swiss politeness he listened as I explained, in not-quite-perfect French, how I was sorry to disturb him, but felt concerned about his safety from what I could see from my perspective across the road.

I noticed that the visor for his helmet was turned up, presumably to stop the frayed meshing poking his eyes. He told me that he was in a rush – they needed to load the branches and cut them quickly as the refuse dump would be closed soon, and, it being Friday, he needed to get on with the weekend.  Spotting a wedding ring I asked if he was married.  ‘Yes’ with a beaming smile.  “and kids?”  ‘Yes, two boys, 6 and 9’ – again grinning.  Considering my next move, I offered “So how would they feel if their dad had an accident with a chainsaw?  And how might that affect your weekend plans?”

The smile vanished as seriousness took over his face.  Realising it was now or never I asked “What could really go wrong with the way you’re working right now?”. Within a split-second he replied ‘Well, I’m not very well-balanced on these branches, and could fall with the chainsaw, and, plus, I’m tired: it’s been a long week…’

Time for the big finish then.  “So, what could you do to ensure you go home to play with your boys this weekend and enjoy time with your wife this evening?”

Sucking in a deep breath, he climbed down from the pile of branches to the stability of the truck bed and replied ‘Well, I need to make sure I’m well-balanced, that the saw is well away from me, that I borrow my buddy’s glasses, and that I take it slowly – and that’s what I’m going to do.’

Thanking him for his time and the conversation I began to walk away, back to my friend and the ice-cream.

And then it happened.

Monsieur, merci beaucoup!”  As I turned to see the man with a beaming smile and a thumbs-up sign he added “thank you for thinking about me today; I’m truly grateful.” 

And that simple sentence was enough to make my entire week worth it.  My now-melting ice-cream just couldn’t compare!

The New Rule of Safety #16: Give to receive Andrew Sharman book cover

In a world of tell, take, push and ‘have to’ how can we make room for a little more ask, give, pull and ‘want to’?  Approaching people to talk about their safety may not be quite as difficult as we anticipate if we tie their safety back into what’s most important to them.  And we might just find that our act of giving our care and attention pays us back in a way that brightens our day even better than lemon sorbet in the sunshine by Mont Blanc.

Andrew’s global best-selling book From Accidents to Zero: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Workplace Safety Culture is available to SHPonline readers with an exclusive 25% discount. His new book Mind Your Own Business – co-authored with Dame Judith Hackitt is also out now.  Use the code SHP25 at to order your copies of both books. But be quick!


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Categories: Behavioural Safety, Blog, New Safety and Health

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Author Bio ▼

Andrew Sharman

Andrew is the CEO of RMS Switzerland, a global consultancy specialising in safety behaviour, culture and leadership. With offices in the UK, and Switzerland.  RMS has an enviable track record of improving culture and enabling excellence for NGOs and blue chip organisations around the world through industry sectors including aviation, automotive, mining, construction, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and FMCGs. Find out more at

Andrew is also Professor of Leadership & Safety Culture at the European Centre for Executive Development in Fontainebleau, France, and Professor of Risk Management at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.  He is a Chartered Fellow and Vice President of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH); a Fellow of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management; and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management.

Far from being risk-averse, he loves adventure sports including climbing, free flying, sea kayaking and swimming with sharks. He uses these pursuits to re-energise the language, perceptions and functions of safety and risk management and align the disciplines with broader organisational issues driving positive impact and enhancing the performance of individuals, teams and businesses.

Read Andrew’s New Rules of Safety series on SHP here.

Andrew’s book From Accidents to Zero is one of the fastest-selling books on safety culture of the 21st  century, find out more at and enter code SHP 25 to receive an exclusive 25% discount for SHPonline readers.

June 20, 2017

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