In the beginning, Zinta Satins suggested that I should start a safety website. “Because more people could and should be part of these discussions” she explained. She and I used to have daily debates and discussions, in particular about safety in design. We were both fed up with the available boring, lifeless compliance based approaches. So we discussed, refined, disagreed, drew on paper and dreamt of a world in which safety methods enabled people to achieve great outcomes. However, we had little success in selling our ideas. Maybe we were not very good at explaining the benefits, but we were convinced we were on to something. So with little more ambition than to make available and invite others into a discussion about what could be considered an alternative perspective on safety, www.safetydifferently.com was launched in December 2012.
Soon, colleagues and contacts also took the opportunity to share their critical safety thoughts. They in turn directed their contacts to the website. And some visitors asked if they could upload their ideas. And so it has continued. More and more authors have joined, and the number of subscribers, visitors and active debaters keeps growing.
An analysis of the visitors stats shows that the top 10 countries with the most views this year (2015) are Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, France, and Finland. If people click their way to the website they come from various search engines, Twitter, LinkedIn. It’s a relatively small website.500 email subscribers, 200 on Twitter, and about 60 people follow via Facebook. In 2014 the website had 34,000 views.
However, I frequently receive emails from people who express their joy and gratitude over finding a community of likeminded people. And Tom Peters, who according to Harvard Business Review is one of the top 50 most influential management gurus, tweeted “I love twitter: safetydifferently.com is a compelling website”. So despite its relatively small audience, it seems the site fills a function.
When I go over the 100 posts over the last 2.5 years I’m amazed at the diversity that has emerged out of a relatively unified field. With the risk of reducing this diversity into blunt but cognitively economical categories, I’ve noticed that the texts can largely be clustered (with noticeable exceptions) around a few themes.
Critique: Many, if not most, of the posts take a critical stance in relation to traditional safety concepts and practices. For example Steven Shorrock’s The use and abuse of human error shows the shortcomings of human error as an explanation, Sidney Dekker raised some serious questions about Zero Harm in Zero Pessimism, and Terry Reiss posted his biographical account of the effects of safety on his work as an ecologist in Why my safety threatens the safety of wildlife. These full frontal attacks put focus on some problematic issues that have emerged within safety. Other topics have been Risk assessments, Training, Safety Journeys, Safety Culture, Safety Management Systems, and Start cards.
Creativity: Posts like Zinta Satins’ What happened to creativity?, Loren Murray’s The shop keeper, and Kelvin Genn’s Disruptive Safety, explore what happens to safety when looked at from a different field. These posts go outside of safety and then returns with a different perspective. For example, they look at education, advertising, and disruptive businesses, to challenge and explore alternative answers to current safety dilemmas. Other inspirational sources have been Punk Rock, Wildlife control, Language, The Matrix, and Goats.
Innovation: Presenting emerging practices and what follows from practising safety differently is another theme. For example, Ron Gantt’s A day in the life of, John Green’s Moths to a flame, David van Valkenburg’s recent post FRAM and system principles in practice, as well as the posts If it ain’t broke fix it anyway, and Wylfiwyf, are effectively case studies of what the authors believe it is to practice safety differently.
Taken together, these posts represent a platform standing partly in what is already going on, but also in a space of potential – what could be going on. The goal of the posts is to provide both discomfort and potential – effectively providing a position that maybe, just maybe, can help someone to think anew, and act anew.
However, the posts are little more than starting points for discussions. I’m pleased to see that over time the debates and discussions are getting increasingly lengthy and involving more and more people. This truly helps to connect people, to generate and refine new ideas and to evolve practices.
A milestone summary post like this would not be complete without mentioning the loss of two of the websites’ authors. Andrew Townsend died in September 2013 after a heart attack. Hans Houtman passed away in 2014, from cancer. They are sorely missed by many.
Change is coming. A redesign the layout of the website is currently being discussed with the goal of finding a design with a more accessible landing page/presenting the available material in a less linear fashion. And as always, there are new authors and new posts in the pipeline.
In the collaborative spirit that was behind the launch in 2012, I’d love to hear if, when, and how this website has inspired you to make a change!?
About Hans Houtman
Hans was a highly experienced aviation accident and incident investigator. After an initial career with the Dutch Police Force, Hans started working with the Air Traffic Control in the Netherlands in 2000. Since 2010 he ran a consultancy business, providing training services around Human Factors and Crew Resource Management, as well as providing accident and incident investigation expertise. Hans Houtman passed away in September 2014.
About Andrew Townsend
Andrew was a self confessed ‘late developer’. When most people were carving out careers in management he was having “more fun surfing, sailing, skiing and managing a construction site”. He attributed his instincts for protecting his workforce and his love of the English language to his schoolmaster father. When becoming physically disabled, his efforts focused on researching the link between safety and construction performance. Andrew Townsend passed away in September 2013.
As a follow on from Andrew Townend’s “Safety Can’t be Measured” I have written a book on Healthy Design And Creative Safety ( unfortunately entitled CDM 2015 A practical guide for Architects and Designers”. This is about a new creative and innovative approach to construction safety that to date has been prevented by a linear , precautionary and reductive process of Safety Risk Management. The concept of the Tolerability of Risk is explored and a new way of looking at how things go right is promoted. This has been stimulated by reference to the Safety Differently website. Thanks for all the ideas.
I’ve now (pre-)ordered your book and I look forward to reading it.
Thanks ever so much for your successful initiative.
And thanks for taking a shot at compliance based approaches.
Isn’t it too bad that most, if not all, major safety shortfalls involved either insufficient compliance, insufficient requirements, or both?
I’m still looking for exceptions.
All the best and keep going,
I think its important to recognise that “insufficient requirements” and “insufficient compliance” are categorisations, rather than explanations. Yes, you can always describe an accident as happening either because the requirements were wrong, or the requirements weren’t followed.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a helpful way of looking at things. I could equally well say that people get sick either because the available instructions for healthy living aren’t perfect, or people don’t follow the instructions for healthy living.
I think that’s one of the important contributions of “safety differently” thinking. It tries out new ways of describing things, in the hope that they will lead to better ways of doing things. One of the challenges is the certainty that people have about their current approaches.
I agree completely.
I am still concerned with events whose investigations result in onerous new requirements when prudent, businesslike compliance with the existing requirements would have prevented or mitigated the most harmful consequences.
Regulatory agencies can cover-up there own enforcement shortfalls by issuing new requirements and failing to own up to their role in the causation.
Differently is the key word. Enjoy the different perspectives and insights, keep them coming.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. Albert Einstein.
I enjoy alternate thinking. I was talking to a construction team H&S leader today. He is faced with a company that “just does not get it”. All the things that traditionally we might think would get a positive move in the right direction are just not delivering. In some cases it is not easy!
A current paradigm that is dominant tends to trample any new insights and approaches. We see this in the energy industry how oil barons try to stay on top of the heap and are attempting to crush the innovative renewables via pricing, legal, political schemes. In our world of safety, it’s clear Safety-I dominates and does not allow much breathing space for new approaches like Safety-II.
Despite the grim realization, I believe we authors and contributors can be the butterflies flapping our wings that will eventually create the tornado. When the opportunity arises, I encourage people to drop by and visit just to read something different. We don’t know where the tipping point exactly is but we do know it’s out there.