Author Bio ▼

  John Green has worked in the oil, gas, petrochemical, electronics, heavy engineering, construction and aviation sectors and has 38 years’ experience of industrial safety. He is recognised and respected as someone who does safety differently and as major force for change in how industrial safety is delivered. He has spent periods living and working overseas with in the UAE, Iran, Europe, Hong Kong, parts of the USA and has recently returned from a 4 year spell in Australia covering Laing O'Rourke operations in the southern hemisphere. He has held senior positions with Motorola, British Airways and Board level positions with Alfred McAlpine and Laing O'Rourke. He is currently the Director HSE for Laing O’Rourke Europe and Global major projects. John holds qualifications in Occupational Health and Safety, Integrated Pollution Mgmt, Risk Mgmt, Change Mgmt, Psychology, Law and Philosophy and is currently studying towards a LLM. He is an advocate of doing safety differently and challenging traditional or orthodox thinking. He spends any spare time that he has climbing in Europe and scuba diving across the world or any other pastime that requires exceptional risk management skills.
March 27, 2017

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The best of SHP in 2017: How safety became all about negatives – and how to do it differently

sign-1732791_640By John Green, Laing O’Rourke

I don’t know when it happened but it did.

Sometime, somewhere safety became all about negatives, all about bad stuff and stopping bad stuff happening and about nothing else.

I say this for a number of reasons. Firstly safety is linked to unwanted outcomes, when we ask our people to discuss safety they think about accidents, incidents and breakdowns or malfunctions. We this frame safety not in terms of what we want but in terms of what we don’t want. Safety then is the absence of something – normally accidents.

We then go on to describe and examine the precursors to these events – errors, mistakes, shortcuts, deviations, breaking the rules or non-compliance.

Then we select from the vast array of tools at our disposal the means with which we will prevent these bad things happening – more rules, procedural compliance, barriers, limitations on behaviour, etc, and then we ask people to engage with this programme….. Really?

What this means for organisations

This view of safety as a means of managing deficits becomes increasingly problematic for successful organisations as over time they will have increasingly less and less to remove. Fewer accidents means fewer learning opportunities and organisations get locked into managing past deviations as a means of ensuring future success. This further deepens the negative view of safety.

I have absolutely no doubt that every safety professional approaches his or her task with the best intentions, that each one of us has the good of the organisation and everyone that works for it at heart. But surely our role has to be about much more than simply controlling and constraining work activity against some predetermined notion of what is right or normal?

We need to manage safety differently and this means a fundamental shift in our definition of safety, our view on the role of people in creating safety and how safety responsibility is organised and discharged within an organisation.

We need to see the purpose of safety as being to enable things to go right as often as possible. This is how excellence is built, on understanding and recreating the conditions for success under a variety of conditions. Some people call this resilience but I believe it is much more than that.

Our people complete difficult tasks every day. They have to navigate the competing and often contradictory values of the organisations on a daily basis and somehow in spite of the difficulties that are placed in front of them they create success at an exceptional rate.

Yet the only time we display any interest in the way that they work is when something unexpected happens. How fair is that? Should we constrain and control this innovative and adaptive capacity in our workforce or should we try and figure out a way of supporting and investing in the ability of people to achieve desired outcomes?

None of this requires that we abandon our traditional safety efforts but it does require that we look at what and how we create safety through a different lens.

It requires us to suspend the notion that our role is to have all of the answers but that the skill is in the ability to ask better questions. Questions like “tell about when work is difficult around here”? or “what changes in the last year have you found helpful?” or “If there was one thing you would like the person who wrote the method statement for this job what would it be?”. These questions and the resulting dialogue open up a world of possibilities.

Safety differently represents the opportunity to develop alternatives to the traditional paradigm of control and constraint and to see safety, once again, as a positive force in organisations. As an aspect of success.

This year many more organisations will be shifting their safety paradigms from seeing people as a problem to acknowledging that people are a  source of innovation and insight into how safety is created and will be examining the performance drag created by an over burgeoning bureaucracy in favour of an approach that appreciates and harnesses the possibilities and contributions that happen every day.


john-green-circleJohn Green is HSEQ director for Laing O’Rourke

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Michael
Michael
3 years ago

This article does not go in to enough detail to be of use to anyone. I’m tired of seeing these shallow articles from consultants and businesses. I’m interested in evidence based approaches, or what my peers consider worthwhile (I’ll keep an open mind though). I suggest a better article would be a case study, or presentation of research. Otherwise It is just advertisement / marketing, and I do not want to come onto this website for that purpose.

John Green
John Green
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael

Michael
More than happy for you to come and see how this works in practice at LOR

Gladwyn Isaac
Gladwyn Isaac
3 years ago
Reply to  John Green

Hi John,
Thank you for the article which talks about the application of different leadership styles in this modern business setting. I wuld like to explore on your experience in engaging people on safety. Would you please give us your contact email, if it’s fine with you.
Gladwyn Isaac
Ontario, Canada

John Green
John Green
2 years ago
Reply to  Gladwyn Isaac
James Evison
James Evison
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael

Hi all, thanks for the comments. It is worth pointing out that my door is always open for debate, if you would like to formally respond with your own opinion piece on this – or indeed any other – topic. Email me on: james.evison.com. Thanks. James Evison, Editor, SHP.

David Mitchell
David Mitchell
3 years ago

I do agree with Michael to a certain extent. There was a very similar article on the 20th relating to Fear of Failure. H&S professionals tend to work at a metaphorical coal face and not from a desk where we seek to invent new ways of looking at old issues. If I’m honest, I look to articles such as this to see if a) I’m doing my job correctly; b) the article gives me any definitive advice on how to do it better. Sorry to be negative John but any H&S article that includes the word “paradigms” is unlikely to… Read more »

Colin
Colin
3 years ago

I think the opening sentances about the negativity of safety and safety controls is a good point. It is difficult to motivate people into doing their job the hard way in the name of safety and I agree about people being innovative. However, I am struggling to see how enforcing (negative word there) safety systems can be done in a way that makes people happy unless we go down the road of monatory reward for zero accidents and we all know where that will lead.

John Woodrow
John Woodrow
3 years ago

It’s true the article doesn’t give the all answers required to fully embark on this journey . But to say it is of no use is a bit harsh. I’m always on the lookout for leading indicators, collecting them like an avid philatelist, but this in itself doesn’t make my organisation safer. “Safety II” or “Safety Differently” is a paradigm shift and will take time to evolve and embed – all safety professionals can help advance this field of learning. My personal view is that positive safety draws a lot of parallels with Martin Seligman’s work on Positive Psychology (research… Read more »

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Occupational Safety and Health Resource Guide – Resource Guides
3 years ago

[…] how to do it differently. Retrieved 2017, March 27 from Safety & Health Practitioner website: http://www.shponline.co.uk/how-safety-became-all-about-negatives-and-how-to-do-it-differently/ This article examines how OSH has become a negative culture in companies, which has led to the […]

Steve
Steve
3 years ago

My first time on the website and was very interested in reading this article. I then moved onto the ‘In Court’ section. Where I found that Laing O’Rourke have been fined £800,000 for a death at Heathrow Airport. Safety differently indeed.

Marshel Rozarionpvb9
Marshel Rozarionpvb9
2 years ago

This article provides a good overview and prompts further research or questions to practitioner. Short and punchy. Those expecting indepth research article maybe looking at the wrong place.

Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
2 years ago

Surely, all we are talking about is, the “Mind-set” between being pro-active -v- reactive in terms of, sort of, addressing or using past incidents as a reference or president in risk assessment process rather than being future present in prevention and mitigation allowing for the human factors ? What do I mean by this ? Well, human resources are vulnerable to sub-optimal working environments and conditions that manifest when planned or routine maintenance is neglected, exacerbating the degree of work-stress, perceived or real especially, when poor control over work and ambient day lighting, fresh air / ineffective conditioning, lack of… Read more »

Kirk
Kirk
2 years ago

I agree on the principle, that there is too much dogma in safety in general. A simple way of putting it, for me, is rather than always just highlighting the problems, identify the solutions! That’s why so many risk assessments fail, because they just look for the problems rather than finding the answers. I’m in the unfortunate position of having to deal with a Union Shop Steward, who thinks his job is to find reasons to stop work from happening, and someone else’s job to find the answers as to why it shouldn’t. Steve, Don’t judge people by the fact… Read more »

 

 

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