A Very Short History of Workplace Safety

Philip Carden
Philip Carden | June 18, 2019
Health & Safety
A Very Short History of Workplace Safety

If your notion of safety is an absence of incidents then it follows that you will focus on hazards, near-misses, and accidents. Each is an opportunity for improvement – you can analyze the root cause, make sure you understand the likelihood of recurrence and manage risk by amending procedures and ensuring appropriate training.

This notion of safety might be described as ‘traditional’.

It assumes that the situations workers will face can be anticipated and that the right course of action can be determined in advance, informed by assessment of past events.

In some cases that might be true. But we live in an increasingly complex, fast-changing and interdependent world – and the reality for many workers is that they need to adapt because the work keeps changing.

"Things do not go right because people behave as they are supposed to, but because people can and do adjust what they do to match the conditions of work."

Hollnagel, Wears & Braithwaite

This millennium has seen an increasing emphasis on ‘making things go right’ instead of avoiding things going wrong.

It’s about building a resilient organisation – one that has the capacity to handle the job, responds well to the inevitable variability and maintains a culture where work is understood, feedback is encouraged, and the people who do the work are involved in making it safer.

Safer organizations perform better. But safer organizations don’t occur by focusing on hazards and incidents. Safety is a natural consequence of focusing on resiliency.

And how does that work exactly? Stay tuned for part 2...