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Safety II makes smart business sense – join the discussion at Safety 360

Safety II – is it really smart safety sense?

The past three years have seen a massive shakeup in health and safety with changes to regulations, attitudes and protocols handling workplace incidents. Is it time for a change in our approach to workplace safety?



Many businesses have adopted an approach to health and safety that leaves workers inundated in paperwork, protocols warning them of the risks in their job, and mandating how to deal with breaches in health and safety code. The goal of this approach is to work towards a society of zero harm, which focuses on having no incidents, but unfortunately this approach has had the unintended effect of stifling proactive thought about health and safety risk and disengaging the workforce.

This attitude toward health and safety is referred to as ‘Safety I’ and tries to deliver on the unrealistic goal of no accidents. Safety I is ‘avoiding things that go wrong’ – a challenging concept to apply to high-risk industries. There’s nothing fundamentally bad about this approach, but in reality, what this leads to is a focus on stopping small events from happening, diverting attention from critical-risk events.

A new approach

Increasingly, organisations around New Zealand are adopting a ‘Safety II’ approach to their health and safety practice. Health and safety managers are realising that the best people to mitigate risk are those who are at the coalface. The emphasis is on engaging workers and allowing them to take more control to manage, rather than completely minimise risk.

This approach can be a scary thought to some organisations – isn’t it your responsibility as a PCBU (person conducting a business or undertaking) to ensure your workers are prepared for possible risk scenarios? Does relinquishing control over your staff mean heavy penalties and a breach in compliance?

Dave Provan, a PhD candidate in Griffith University’s Safety Science Innovation Lab, describes the issue: “Organisations have traditionally desired as much central control over their people and activities as possible. This compliance-based approach may not be the best way to manage work and safety in modern, complex and dynamic environments.”

And therein lies the issue: Safety I isn’t applied well to modern environments where safety incidents fall outside the prescribed manual. The evolution of Safety I is, logically, Safety II, which applies a mindset of ‘what could go right?’ rather than detailed scenarios of wrongdoing.

“Safety II describes a different approach, one that is centred around openness, collaboration and flexibility, such that the people performing the work are enabled and supported to adapt their work as needed to overcome the gaps, challenges, surprises, multiple conflicting goals, limited resources, and pressures to always achieve more,” Mr Provan elaborates.

Safety differently

Jono Brent, CEO of utilities company Connetics, is a pioneer of the Safety II paradigm in his business – a high-risk contracting, engineering and logistics company. Mr Brent stresses the importance of being a visible leader, driving proactive health and safety through communication.

“A key factor of applying Safety II is supporting health and safety with two-way communication that allows for health and safety protocols to be continually improved, revised and supported by both management and workers,” he says.

Describing the shift from a traditional approach to Safety II, he adds: “While we have achieved great things under the Safety I paradigm, unfortunately the top-down, hierarchal approach to safety has left our staff, who are at the heart of our efforts to keep safe, disengaged with current safety practices.

“At Connetics, we have been using the philosophies of Safety II – ‘safety differently’ – to put our staff at the centre of the solution and giving them the chance to design their own solutions that drive improved culture and safety performance.”

Safety 360 returns

The implementation of Safety II can be hard – managing the culture shift to develop proactive health and safety means changing the way workers, management and boards view and talk about health and safety.

The National Health and Safety Leaders’ Summit at the Safety 360 event this March brings Safety II to the forefront of discussion. Chaired by Francois Barton of the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum and Chris Jones at the Department of Corrections, there will be an opportunity to hear from thought leaders like Dave Provan and Jono Brent to revolutionise the way leaders view health and safety in their organisation.

Safety II may not be the easier approach to health and safety, requiring engagement, communication and interaction, but it will save you in the long run, showing a return on investment, with happier workers, fewer incidents and more engaged staff.

Safety 360 will run during 27–28 March at the Ellerslie Event Centre in Auckland.



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