Identify your organization’s safety paradigm

by Decebal Leonard Marin

In the projects that I have carried out in the last decade for production companies in Romania, I have frequently encountered the situation where, from a legal point of view, the companies are 100% in order with all the documents. Despite all this, accidents happen with an alarming and unacceptable frequency, and as can be guessed, most of them are not reported.

Paying attention to their approach and talking with their managers, I noticed three major paradigms in which these organizations operate:

  1. COMPLACENCY COMPLIANCE – mix of legal-engineering and organizational approaches,
  2. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – vision zero accidents approach,
  3. DECODING HUMANS – mix between behavioral based safety, the human-centered and the psycho-social approaches.

If you are interested in understanding the safety paradigm in which you operate, below you will find a practical exercise, that can help you quickly understand the frame of mind in which management decisions related to safety are based.

The exercise is inspired by the discussions within SPoR – The Social Psychology of Risk, the learning program developed and conducted by Dr. Rob Long and the comparison he made in this regard to the different schools of thought Risk and Safety – see below.

The language that people use reflect their worldview and gives us valuable clues about their beliefs and the philosophy behind the way they face various daily challenges. 

Through the exercise I propose you’ll be scanning the specific language of each approach composing these paradigms and you will get clues about how your company management is perceiving safety.

Let’s get down to business, below is the text we’re working with. 

Whether you print this material or copy it into a word document, all you must do is underline in the text below the words and expressions that you see written or hear most frequently at work, when it comes to safety.

After you do that, I invite you to count them. The presence of many words in one or more of the categories below gives you valuable insights into your management focus, culture type and safety challenges. 

Let’s start:


The legal – engineering approach

Process design, safe equipment, preventive maintenance, certification, compliance, rules, penalties, control, consequences, monitoring systems, checklist, audit, inspection, hazards, risks, mechanical barriers, Bow Tie analysis, logic, methodology, Hierarchy of Controls, Swiss cheese model, statutory training, regulations and legal obligations, pollution control, fire prevention, PPE, SSM-SU, occupational medicine, individual training sheets, PPP, IPSSM, duties and responsibilities, risk matrix, sensors, LO-TO, ISO 14001, metrics, maintenance.

The organizational approach

Compliance, systemic error, method, process design, system leaks, legislation, organization policies, production process, production objectives, budget, standardization, reporting, measurement and review, control, measures, organizational structure, Swiss cheese model, Bradley curve, Hierarchy of controls, The Risk Management Process Model, The Risk Matrix, Injury Ratio Pyramid, Swiss Cheese Model markings, indicators, cleanliness, internal standards, safety induction program, first aid courses, behavioral based safety training, rapid reaction plan, evacuation exercises, safety day, training program, ISO standard, safety reporting platform, risk management, safety KPIs, SOPs, systemic error.


Zero accident approach

Zero accident vision, zero accident goal, all accidents, illnesses and injuries are preventable, there is a perfect world where we can control everything, objectives and compliance indicators, Heinrich’s pyramid, people can be perfect, safety is a choice, 7 golden rules, safety target, health and safety system, leading indicators, zero spirit, 1% safer, performance, measurement, indicators, we believe in zero, all causes of accidents can be eliminated, data, statistics.


Behavioral Based approach

Heinrich’s pyramid, observing behaviors, identifying critical behaviors, check list, feedback, cause-effect relationship, surveillance systems, prevention, number of mistakes, BST, SPS, STOP, consequences, rewards for compliant behavior, penalties, validation, training, unsafe behaviors, observing workers, consequence management, company culture is the way we do things around, accident prevention, addiction, behavior control, safety is a choice, people can be objective, negligence, non-compliance with rules, skills, people are the cause of accidents, others are to blame, the victim is always to blame, extrinsic motivation, targeted checklists.

The human-centered approach

Holistic approach, background checks, health, wellness, wellbeing, relationships with colleagues, mental health, work life balance, care, human error, managers and employees, psychological safety, just culture, risk identification, leadership, people are complex beings, as people we are all different, our state influences the way we make decisions, personality, stress factors, introvert, extrovert, respect, rest, ergonomics, good physical and mental condition, professional knowledge.

The psycho-social approach

Risk and culture are wicked problems, intrinsic motivation, active listening and dialogue, learning through engagement, brain, neuroscience, unconscious, subconscious, ethics, power, critical thinking and autonomy, leadership, intrinsic motivation, managing organizational relationships, people are not perfect and make mistakes, social relationships influence the way we make decisions, language, gestures, rituals, symbols, heuristics, emotions and feelings affect people’s perception and behavior in the face of risks, behavior is the result of the context in which we live and work, care for people, learning, compassion, help.

Although in practice we encounter a language that mixes the mentioned concepts and styles, you will easily notice which of them predominates. 

Now that you have an idea where is the focus of the managers in your company when it comes to safety, a good question is where is this approach driving you in one or two years and what kind of culture is this promoting? 

I invite you to use the results of the exercise and to engage your managers in a conversation about how you can improve thinking about safety and increase the effectiveness of safety prevention measures.

If you have become curious and want to understand more, you are welcome to have a coffee together and let’s talk.