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.

January 28, 2016

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John Green: safety differently, a vision for the future


2016: looking at health and safety in a different way

By John Green, director HSE, Laing O’Rourke Europe

In most large organisations safety is touted as the ‘number one’ priority: the issue that transcends all others in the organisations search for perfection.  As accident numbers fell it became increasingly difficult for companies to show that performance was improving through the traditional medium of falling incident rates.

The ‘safety differently’ movement was formed fundamentally out of frustration. A frustration borne out of the inability of safety to respond to the challenges of the modern world of work.

Safety has always been presented in terms of numbers: the lower the number the better and, if at all possible, aim for the nirvana of zero. This seemed to those who gathered in Melbourne in 2012 to be ridiculous. Safety had become the absence of something. Good safety was now measured as the absence of accidents. Our future seemed bleak…

Vision for the future

So, rather that construct a future based on a numerical outcome, a narrative was built around the current characteristics of traditional safety and building an alternative version that was more suited to current practice and thinking. This framework took the form of three principles:

  • people are the solution, not the problem;
  • safety is about positives, not about the absence of negatives; and
  • safety should be an ethical responsibility, not a bureaucratic activity.

Traditionally, people are seen as a risk to control in organisations. They are controlled by limiting their choices and behaviours or by placing constraints between them and the actual work. People are responsible for all your problems and if we could only get them to follow the perfect systems that we have created then all would be well. What would happen if we saw people as part of the solution?

Why can’t we see that people are responsible for success far more often than they are involved in failure? They close the gap between work as done and work as planned successfully every single day and yet the only time work is examined or analysed is when things break down.

Safety cannot be about the absence of something but about the presence of positives or capacity of an organisations to operate within a framework that is resilient and capable of responding to change.

Resilient organisations do not invest in fine-tuning their lagging indicators of negatives (weak signals), but rather invest in identifying and bolstering their strong signals of resilience—the ability to keep harmful influences at bay without knowing in detail what those might be or when and where they might appear.

An over-burdening bureaucracy has been created in the name of safety. Not only does this do nothing to actually make work safer, it also creates a huge performance drag in organisations making them inefficient and cumbersome. Safety needed to return to being an ethical responsibility for those doing work. We needed safety and not liability management.

Making it a movement

Over the years this philosophy has gained ground both in Australia and now here in Europe. A view that sees these three principles as continuums and not simply binary statements – allowing organisations to position themselves where they are comfortable as well as charting a challenging route to success.

The discussions in a backroom in Melbourne 5 years ago have now become a movement.

We need a new era in safety, a new era where human beings create safety. Continuing to do what we have always done is not going to lead to different outcomes and it is unlikely that we can break through the asymptote on safety progress with them. We should not of course simply abandon everything we have done so far; much of it has been highly successful and productive in reducing unnecessary injury and whatever we do moving forward cannot be at the expense of increasing injury rates. But we must realise that that it will do little more than hold us steady.

New technologies may hold the answer but they also run the risk of introducing more complexity. But there are also other avenues that will allow us to govern safety differently.

This new era then calls for a form of governance that sends power over many decisions back to the shop floor, back to the projects. It realises that people exist as a source of diversity, insight and wisdom about safety, not purely as sources of risk. It calls for governance that trusts people and mistrusts bureaucracy. It will take time. We are part of a larger system that feeds the bureaucratic beast. But it is something that has to be done.

It is only right that the profession should examine and assess the tools that it has at its disposal and if these tools are no longer appropriate for the challenges that we face we must have the courage to leave them behind no matter how well they may have served us in the past and move forward with a different approach.

Anything less will see safety becoming increasingly irrelevant and marginalised as the industrial world moves forward and we will still be focusing exclusively on the negatives for decades to come, wondering why we have not made the differences that we all wish to make.

A0001_ac8_green107John 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 currently the Director HSE for Laing O’Rourke Europe and Global major projects.







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TonyDoes health and safety need to work out its why? : MyPreciousArrivalAndrew SharmanJohn KerseyRay Rapp Recent comment authors
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vincent holloway
vincent holloway

Thanks =D

Keith Lyall
Keith Lyall

Interesting that IOSH class this as a “Top story” without any debate, according to John we have an “over burdening bureaucracy” that “does nothing to make work safer”, not only does he contradict this statement later in this very article, but I would argue is incorrect. “Red tape” and “burdens” are not statements which help in the bigger argument of educating business to actually engage and want to have a safe workplace, this argument and language certainly does not come from the thousands killed, injured or made ill by working each year and I suggest a full and proper debate… Read more »

Roz Sanderson
Roz Sanderson

Hi Keith,

Thanks for your comment – although just to clarify that SHP is an independent news site, and as such we like to publish articles that will inspire debate and discussion! Thank you for getting this started!

john green
john green

Keith – thanks for the comments. Please don’t think that I am suggesting that all paperwork is bad but that we now seem to have a tendency to hide behind it replacing the opportunity to get out and see exactly how messy (in systems terms) the world of work really is. In my experience of working with the frontline I have found a discontent with complex, remote systems. People tell that work is never performed the way that it was planned and that we need our systems to be more dynamic and adaptive – less rules more flexibility. Unless we… Read more »

Bob Wallace
Bob Wallace

I think John is preparing for life as a politician. A well written article, with a word which I had to look up and as such, shows he’s an intelligent man; but ultimately doesn’t explain how we achieve the perfect world of “human beings creating safety”. The paradox is that it’s human beings that create the unsafe conditions and take the unsafe actions which lead to the issues we deal with daily. I agree wholeheartedly that the H&S professional needs to ensure a positive approach to the safety message is reinvigorated, given incentives and initiatives which allocate responsibility and ownership;… Read more »

john green
john green

Bob, dream job – Australian politician!!!!!!! unfortunately 500-800 words is not enough to give the idea justice and I want to reassure you that this is not simply some academic waffle but a very real programme that has a whole suite of practical tools sitting behind it. Some of which are being used. albeit tentatively, in some Australian mining companies. Similarly I am not suggesting that we throw away the rule book and allow chaos to reign, rather that we should listen to our people more and rely less on the systems. Our people close the gap on work and… Read more »

Bob Wallace
Bob Wallace

John, Sorry mate, but I work in Africa and as such, only get to Oz occasionally to catch up with the head office personnel. I agree it’s the people that need to lead safety at the sharp end, but they also need the proactive support from their supervisors (primarily) and management, as detailed in my comment. I’d love to attend the Webinar, but am working in Burkina Faso and won’t have the time. Perhaps a follow up article after the Webinar to explain in greater detail. As I said, I am an advocate of positive reinforcement and am pushing that… Read more »


More thoughtful than many ‘top stories’. Only a small glimpse of ‘safety differently’ principles & philosophy, perhaps why the discordant comments. Looking forward to the webinar! I want to be in this club! A real recognition that we have reached a plateau in H&S advancement, and seem unable to go beyond keeping doing the ‘same old, same old’, could bring us out of our little world of accident rates, audits and ‘compliance’, and start creating a more positive and trusting environment. Judith Hackett also says some SPs create a H&S burden, and I agree. It is probably a personality thing… Read more »

Gary Magee
Gary Magee

I read this article and then immediately read it again, slowly, line by line. I agree with every word and found it interesting and mentally challenging to the same degree. I have copied the three principles and now have them as a screen saver to keep the idea top of mind. How do you change this mindset without throwing out the progress to date? I do not know but I am going to be seeking out big and little ways to do so.

Great work.

john Green
john Green


I’ve sent you a LinkedIn request. Happy to discuss tactics further


Ray Rapp
Ray Rapp

I can’t disagree with anything the author has written but, what’s the solution?

I and many of my colleagues have been arguing for years there is too much bureaucracy (paper safety) and not enough empowerment of people. Anyone who has dealt with incident investigations will know the causal aspects are many and varied, but often emanate from poor planning, supervision, management, etc. That said, in my experience the biggest risk to any project I havew orked on is the client – who are King in industry. We all know the problems – it’s the solutions we are looking for.

John Kersey
John Kersey

Enjoyed the webinar – is there a link to this please? We are already UBM subscribers

Andrew Sharman
Andrew Sharman

Great article John, and judging by the comments, one that’s got folks thinking. I share your view that ‘what got us here won’t get us much further’. Of course thats a generalisation, and some organisations (and their leaders, and even possibly their health & safety practitioners) may not be ready for such a leap forward in either thinking or in cultural step change. And that’s cool, as, even so, these organisations and their leaders (and H&S people) can use this article to stimulate further thought about what the future may look like. In my book From Accidents to Zero I… Read more »

Does health and safety need to work out its why? : MyPreciousArrival

[…] isn’t new. Laing O’Rourke’s John Green (a pivotal personality in Safety Differently) has for some time been articulate about returning […]


“Zero Harm suggests every damaging occurrence is unacceptable from a Class I fatality to a Class III paper cut. The inevitable and logical conclusion of the Zero Harm proposition is that resources will not be allocated appropriately.”

Or “Managing the many Class III Minor damaging occurrences does not manage the few Class I and permanently life altering damaging occurrences.”

Google search “AWHS026-Kahler_Roger.PDF” for the full submission and another angle on this issue.