Skip to Content, Skip to Navigation

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Dekker the disruptor

Dekker the disruptor
Article Type:
Publication Date:
New Zealand

People in charge of health and safety continue to focus on supposed behavioural misdemeanours instead of studying the workplace to reduce opportunities for error, according to international safety star Sidney Dekker.

Speaking at the SIA National Safety Convention in Melbourne in late March, Dekker continued to develop the theme he expounded at the Safeguard conference last year: to stop obsessing about "safety" and instead to look carefully at the way work is actually done.

Head of the safety science innovation lab at Brisbane's Griffith University, he told delegates there were OHS consultants who sold a hearts-and-minds approach, which he scorned as still targeting the presumed "deficit of the worker".

The problem, he said, is how to tackle the plateau we have arrived at, where the rate of workplace fatalities and serious injuries has declined but is now flattened out. "Doing more of the same will get us more of the same."

He suggested three approaches to get the curve trending down again. First, organisations which are "near-zero" are able to show great safety performance by citing statistics showing low numbers of relatively trivial incidents. The problem, says Dekker, is that they still have surprising numbers of fatalities. He suggested that lost-time injury graphs would be better named an LGI Index - the "Looking Good Index".

"You are counting, but you may not be counting what counts."

Second, an unexpected fatality at an otherwise low-injury site is likely to signal that it is the victim of a "drift into failure", where safety margins are gradually eroded over time due to production pressures. Most of the time the organisation gets away with it, but this drift is not flagged by incident reporting systems.

"We have incident reporting systems with no productive value for showing how we might kill people," said Dekker, citing a recent construction fatality in which none of the many incident reports of the previous two years bore any relation to how the person was killed. "The little daily work-arounds become normal work just to get the job done."

Third, the rise in what Dekker called the bureaucracy of safety. While this has led to an increase in resources devoted to safety, bureaucracy has a tendency to divide staff into safety people and "non-safety" people. The result is that the safety bureaucracy becomes located away from where the work is actually done, and the chance of picking up daily work-arounds is reduced.

The solution, he said, is to visit workplaces and ask: what do you have to do every day to get this thing to work? Workers will bring fresh viewpoints and allow a cross-calibration to compare what is expected - rules, procedures - with what actually happens.

"Do the people have the capacity to say no? The real capacity to say no comes from leadership and great relationships."

People Mentioned:
Sidney Dekker
Reference No:

From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Table of Contents