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.
September 3, 2021

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The New Rules of Safety

The New Rules of Safety: Safety is a virus

In the latest edition of the New Rules of Safety series, Andrew Sharman looks at what we have learned from the coronavirus pandemic and how those learnings can be applied to safety.

coronavirusWell, we’re 18 months into COVID-19 and things still seem quite uncertain, don’t they? Variants and vaccines, rules and requirements, this way or that way… It seems like there’s still lots we don’t understand about the coronavirus.

So, what do we know? Well, we know that it spreads person to person. It’s infectious. We catch it from others. And I reckon this could be an interesting way to think about safety.

Emotions are infectious

When a friend suffers a loss, it’s hard for us not to become bound by the same feelings as we empathise and grieve with them. As you gather round to watch a relative blow out the candles on their birthday cake, you can’t help but feel her excitement and smile too. What’s happening here? At the University of San Diego, James Fowler and Nick Christakis found that emotions are infectious – just like the coronavirus. For example, if you have a happy friend, the chance of you becoming happier when you’re around them jumps by nearly 25%.

And behaviours are contagious

The same San Diego study revealed that if you have an overweight amigo, your chances of reaching for a Big Mac rise when you eat with them. But if a buddy signs up for a local fun run, it’s more likely you’ll also sign up. And towards the end of an evening out we’ve all felt the pulling power of the phrase “one for the road?”, right? These are all examples of what scientists call ‘social contagion’ and it’s likely that it stems from our intrinsic desire to want to ‘fit in’ and ‘go with the flow’ – particularly with those we hold in esteem, such as family and friends.

But does this social contagion operate in the workplace? In the Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman present results of a study that reveal 30 different behaviours can be actively transferred from leaders to managers to employees. They found that positive behaviours – including integrity, honesty, decisiveness and cooperation – can be directly passed from person to person.

Leadership is everything you do…

Unsurprisingly, negative behaviours like poor communication skills, selfishness and dishonesty can also trickle down individually from level to level of an organisation’s hierarchical structure. The report found that senior leaders doing a sub-optimal job erode not only the engagement levels of direct reports, but also the engagement of those working for them. Fortunately, the opposite also holds true: if you’re a great leader, your positive behaviour engages your team and your team’s team. It’s a win-win-win. This study reinforces a message we often share with our clients: “Leadership is everything you do, and everything you don’t do”.

In safety we may often wonder whether we are truly making an impact. Remember that behaviour change is often subtle and occurs over time. Time to think about your own behaviour for a moment: maybe there’s one or two aspects or bad habits you’re not especially proud of or feel embarrassed about. And which behaviours might you wish to demonstrate in order to create social contagion and positive emotions?

The New Rule of Safety #28: Safety is a Virus

In my book From Accidents to Zero I call this social contagion when applied to workplace H&S ‘viral safety’. Your challenge then, as a great safety leader, is to choose the positive behaviours you wish to infect your peers and stakeholders with, build your safety culture contagion, and drive excellent performance.

Read more of Andrew’s New Rules of Safety, here

Professor Dr Andrew Sharman is the 53rd President of IOSH, teaches at leading executive business schools including INSEAD, IMD and CalTech. Through his practice ( he consults to top-tier leaders at Fortune 500 corporations including Apple,IKEA, Heineken, Mercedes Benz, Tata, and more He’s the author of 10 books on safety leadership, culture and wellbeing, and the Founder and Chairman of the One Percent Safer Foundation, which strives to make the world of work a little bit safer each day, see for details.

Sharman’s best-selling book From Accidents to Zero is available to SHP readers with an exclusive 25% discount. Use the code SHP25 at to order your copy now.

Safety & Health Podcast

In this episode, Andrew Sharman shares his experiences of lockdown and talks about his latest book, One Percent Safer, described as an ‘anthology of the world’s best thought leaders, all in one place’. It contains 142 chapters, written by 142 different contributors, each one giving their best nugget of wisdom to make your organisation one percent safer.

Subscribe and tune in the Safety & Health Podcast to discover the latest issues facing the health and safety profession, and stay on-top of the developments affecting your role, from working at height, lone working and common workplace hazards, to safety culture, behaviours, occupational health and mental health and wellbeing.

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