The New Rules of Safety #20: life is a quotation

Andrew Sharman looks at learning lessons from the past and the ‘wonderful wisdom of words’ for safety and health practitioners.

In my books and my articles I’ve frequently pushed for us to be more forward-focused in safety.  Rather than getting caught up in trying to trying to prevent accidents. I’ve argued that an inputs-driven approach to creating safety is vital.

Over dinner this evening with a client in Louisiana, USA, my companion reminded me of the importance of learning from the past and his reciting of various quotations recalled my own passion for historical wisdom.

In this piece, I thought I’d share a few that mean something to me, in the hope that they resonate and provide inspiration for you.

What’s it all about?

In my 2016 book Safety Savvy – written with Tim Marsh – we discussed the Piper Alpha disaster off the North East coast of Scotland in 1988. 167 men lost their lives. It’s one hell of a number.

Sir Brian Appleton guided the inquiry and poignantly reminded society that:

“Safety is not an intellectual exercise to keep us in work. It is a matter of life and death. It is the sum of our contributions determines whether the people we work with live or die”. 

What a privilege we have in our work.

In recent years in safety we’ve been teased by the sexy cousin known as corporate governance.  Bob Tricker, professor of management (and regarded as the ‘father of corporate governance’), emphasises the nature of the beast:

“If management is about running the business, governance is about seeing that it is run properly.”

Feels remarkably appropriate to the work of safety practitioners, don’t you think?

But the idea of both thinking and doing ‘the right thing’ is no light matter, as Bill Clinton points out:

“No generation has had the opportunity, as we now have, to build a global economy that leaves no-one behind. It is a wonderful opportunity, but also a profound responsibility.”

This responsibility requires deep thought.

Former US Marine Jeff Cooper – credited with the modern technique of handgun shooting – was no stranger to the import of good risk management when he remarked that:

“Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.”

So let’s dig a little deeper.

Think about your legacy, you write it everyday

30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, was a money-man through and through, and considered that the “The business of business is business”, whilst ‘ethical capitalist’ Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop argued that:

“The business of business should not be about money. It should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed.”

It’s hard to disagree.

More recently, though, Canadian leadership guru Robin Sharma suggested that “the business of business is relationships”. Certainly, in my experience as an international consultant, Sharma has it right.

My favourite classical composer, Gustav Mahler, would endorse Sharma’s view, clearly appreciating the bigger picture and eluding to the power of collaboration when he said that:

“The most important thing in music is not the notes.” 

Mahler’s epigraph is: à propos of culture, which …is powerful for three primary reasons:

  1. Because individuals are settled and indoctrinated so well
  2. Because the culture exerts itself through the actions of hundreds or thousands of people
  3. Because all of this happens without much conscious intent and thus is difficult to challenge or even discuss.”

John Kotter, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, will be a name familiar to many readers. He’s rarely wrong.

The future belongs to those who prepare for it today

Then how to build a strong culture?  The author Simon Sinek offers a clue:

“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”

In the third-most-watched TED talk on the planet Sinek advocates that we must ‘start with why’ if we want to build engagement. Why?

Well, John Bargh, Social Psychologist at Yale University, in his studies of human cognition and motivation, notes that:

“We have primitive brains. Up to 95% of behaviour is caused by habit, unconscious or consciously.” 

To break from habit and create safety is key, otherwise let us not forget the sagacity of Henry Ford who famously cautioned that: “If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.”


To infinity and beyond

So, what of us as we look forward? Regarded as The Don of the art of leadership Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, counsels that:

“A leader’s job is to look into the future and see the organisation, not as it is, but as it should be.”

We shouldn’t wait as “the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it” accordingly to English Antarctic explorer Robert Swan.

Donald McGannon, an early pioneer of the modern television format, knew something about the future and the value of teamwork when he remarked that “Leadership is action, not position.

Whether in teams or flying solo best-selling cultural anthropologist Dr Margaret Mead reminded us of the importance and value people make when she said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

And so, to conclude, let’s place this all into context. According to Dr Denis Waitley, President of the International Society for Advanced Education:

“There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs – and that is the risk of doing nothing.”

So, what will you do today?

The New Rule of Safety #20: Life is a quotation

In a busy world the words of others may serve to bring focus, give reassurance or provide inspiration.   Which quotations inspire and guide you in your life and work? Please share them below this post.

About the author:

Andrew Sharman’s global best-selling books From Accidents to Zero: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Workplace Safety Culture; Mind Your Own Business: What Your MBA Should Have Taught You About Safety (co-authored with Dame Judith Hackitt); and Safety Savvy (with Tim Marsh) are all available to SHP readers with an exclusive 25% discount.

Use the code SHP25 at: to order your copies now.

Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing

Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.

This free director’s briefing contains:

  • Key points;
  • Recommendations for employers;
  • Case law;
  • Legal duties.
Barbour EHS

Categories: Behavioural Safety, Culture And Behaviours, Health and Safety Legislation And Guidance, Latest, New Safety and Health, Safety Management, Workplace psychology

You May Also Be Interested In

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Robin Stowell
Robin Stowell
2 years ago

Four traits of good leadership:
Willingness, ability and self-discipline to listen. Listening is not really a skill, it is a discipline!
Willingness to communicate, to make yourself understood. This requires infinite patience!
Willingness to reengineer mistakes. “This doesn’t work as well as it should. Let’s take it back and reengineer it”.
Willingness to realize how unimportant you are compared to the task. Subordinate individual ego to the task!

Andrew Sharman
Andrew Sharman
2 years ago
Reply to  Robin Stowell

Thanks Robin Stowell for sharing. “Where there’s a willingness, there’s a way”!

Chris Harris
Chris Harris
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Sharman

My favourite is “Research cannot be forced very much. There is always danger of too much foliage and too little fruit”
— Theobald Smith

And a personal one of my own “when I open my eyes and I am still breathing then everything else is a bonus”

Andrew Sharman
Andrew Sharman
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Harris

Hi Chris Harris, thanks for sharing. I love the first one, and your own personal one reminds me of two others:

“I gotta keep breathing. Tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring.” Tom Hanks in Castaway.

“When people ask me what the most important thing is in life, I answer: ‘Just Breathe'” Yoko Ono.

Dan Rowlson
Dan Rowlson
2 years ago

Nothing interesting begins with knowing

Andrew Sharman
Andrew Sharman
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Rowlson

I like this one Dan Rowlson thanks for sharing!

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.
February 5, 2018

Visit Safety & Health Expo, the UK’s largest health and safety event and conference

function WP_Widget::widget() must be overridden in a subclass.