Last week I travelled to London to attend the launch of the Art of Work London office. For those
of you who may not be aware, Art of Work is a company which promotes Safety Differently as a
new way to go about managing safety within organisations. The reason for encouraging Safety
Differently is that a growing number of business leaders health & safety professionals believe that
the methods that were developed for yesterday’s needs are inadequate in today’s complex
workplaces. To date Art of Work have been operating from their base in Australia, so last week
was a significant milestone in the Safety Differently journey thus far, with a new base now in
Europe. In attendance at the London launch were a small group of Safety Differently fans, and the
intimate setting over dinner led to some really enjoyable conversations.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Safety Differently, it advocates that our current way
of managing safety has served us very well until quite recently, but appears to have plateaued in
relation to injury and fatality rates, and if anything is leading to performance drag. It advocates
that to bring safety to the next level we need to bear in mind that:
- people are the solution, not the problem;
- safety is about positives, not about the absence of negatives; and
- safety should be an ethical responsibility, not a bureaucratic activity.
Safety Differently contrasts ‘work as imagined’ (detailed in procedures) to ‘work as done’ (how
workers actually go about their work). For more see www.safetydifferently.com or this video by
Prof Sidney Dekker outlining its main principles.
At last weeks launch in London we heard of challenges faced when introducing some of the
Safety Differently approaches to various industries and settings, and also of some of the many
success stories to date. To hear first hand from two of the founders of the Safety Differently
movement (John Green and Daniel Hummerdal) of how Safety Differently was conceptualised and
brought from theory into practice was really interesting. It transpires that the Safety Differently
movement was formed fundamentally out of frustration. This frustration arose from the inability of
safety to respond to the challenges of the modern and complex world of work.
John and Daniel explained that a small group met in Melbourne in 2012, and although they strongly
believed that Safety Differently was needed to bring safety to the next level, they foresaw that the
road ahead wouldn’t be without its obstacles. They recounted as to how they weren’t exactly met
with open arms for challenging the then status quo of safety. No invitations ensued to speak at
safety conferences on Safety Differently, and they just had to keep applying the Safety Differently
approach and hope that the safety world took notice eventually. Fast-forward seven years, and
how encouraging it is to see John being lauded as the most influential person in Health & Safety
circles by SHP magazine (Safety & Health Practitioner). This endorsement emanates from Johns
practical implementation of the principles of Safety Differently, within large-scale Laing O’Rourke
It was so inspiring and motivational to be in London amongst such great company, with likeminded
advocates and practitioners of the Safety Differently approach. After landing back into
Cork Airport, very enthused & still dwelling on the talk from the night before, I had a thought while
going through the Immigration Police section. It occurred to me that the old approach to safety
could be likened to the ‘Imagination Police’, whereby frontline workers are asked to ‘just follow
the procedure’. (I once overheard a manager say to a frontline employee “leave your initiative
outside in the car park & just follow the procedure”). This curbs employees appetite to voice (let
alone use) their initiative, or to come forth with innovative ideas to improve how their work may be
done. If they feel that no value is placed on what they have to say, that can lead to
disengagement and over time a dip in morale; this can negatively impact the organisation as it
sets in and lingers. The further the divide between ‘work as imagined’ v’s ‘work as done’, the
more the imagination & innovation of employees is stifled and business suffers.
In contrast to the ‘Imagination Police’, I believe that Safety Differently can be seen as the
‘Imagination Alchemists’, whereby using the Safety Differently approach we can turn innovative
ideas brought forward by participative and engaged employees into organisational gold. By
involving frontline workers in decisions made about how they go about their work we can improve
engagement, innovation, morale and in turn help our businesses to thrive.
John, Daniel and all others around the table last Thursday night, in my opinion can be regarded as
‘Imagination Alchemists’ of organisational culture (into which safety culture feeds). This group
have shown their skills at transforming disengaged work cultures into organisational gold, helping
businesses to go from strength to strength. This is achieved by valuing and respecting the input
of colleagues at all levels of the organisation, and by acting on those valuable shared insights.
Who leads the way in your organisation – the ‘Imagination Police’ or the ‘Imagination Alchemists’?
If you would like to hear more about how the Safety Differently approach can help your
organisation improve efficiency, engagement and safety, please give us a call on (087)6409975 or
drop us a line at info(at)upstreamhealthandsafety.com, we’d love to hear from you…