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Seductively Simple Safety

“Accident proneness” has been a popular concept in many organisations. Let’s face it; it is seductively simple. As a lapsed organisational psychologist, it is also attractive and could almost be explained by Darwin’s principle of the survival of the fittest. Identify the characteristics of individuals likely to have accidents and do not hire individuals who are considered high on those characteristics! There is an alternative strategy of course; identify those characteristics that are most highly correlated with accidents and attempt to change them in individual workers. The latter strategy is a training approach based on the measurement of individual differences and underpins the behavioural approach to safety.

It is the “seductively simple” aspects, however, that do seduce some organisations. It is easy to dismiss the propensity of certain individuals to be involved in incidents almost as an accident of birth. The attribution of accidents to certain individuals, followed by a shrug of the shoulders and a statement of “oh, not him again” is not as uncommon as we might like to think. Such an approach seemingly absolves management of responsibility and the need to investigate and discern patterns associated with training, equipment, behaviour and supervision. It is the easy way out.

As safety professionals we do need to appreciate that this attitude is still present in many organisations and we need to develop strategies and approaches that will enable us to change behaviour not just in the workforce, but in management as well. We often talk about safety culture in organisations; it should not surprise us just how one dimensional that culture can be!

Brian Nimick, IIRSM Chief Executive

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