The Ten Basic Principles of Safety

Article by Bob Lapidus, CSP, CSMS

Dan Petersen, Safety Management – A Human Approach
Aloray, Goshen, NY

In Memoriam: Dan Petersen (1931-2007)

Out of the ten basic principles of safety compiled by Dan Petersen, #7 and #8 are two of the most intriguing due to their psychological and managerial foundations.

Principle #7

In most cases, unsafe behavior is normal human behavior; it is the result of normal people reacting to their environment.  Management’s job is to change the environment that leads to the unsafe behavior.

This principle is stating that we, as human beings, naturally make mistakes.  We are not perfect.   Consequently, management needs to provide a safe work environment.  It is the job of management to reduce risk to the irreducible minimum, to create work places that are forgiving of mistakes.

The mission is to prevent catastrophic losses even in the event of a human error.  That goes along with the idea that management should be spending its time on preventing serious injuries rather than on all the minor ones that occur day by day.  Individually, we can live with minor cuts and bruises.  It is the major injuries that will take us out.

It is somewhat circular reasoning:  Most major injuries are caused by unacceptable risks, and unacceptable risks can lead to major injuries.  Certain activities fall into this category such as working in permit-required confined spaces, or at heights.  Hot surfaces and chemicals can be extra hazardous.

To reduce the chance of severe risks leading to severe losses, management purchases machines with built-in safeguards, creates safety procedures, trains the men and women doing the work, and ensures everything is maintained and being done correctly.  The organization creates a safe place to work.

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Principle #8

There are three major subsystems that must be dealt with in building an effective safety system:

  1. The physical (Conditions)
  2. The behavioral (Acts)
  3. The managerial (What management does or does not do to ensure a safe work environment)

Many organizations only target unsafe acts and unsafe conditions leaving the managerial aspects of causation out of the picture. Yet, oftentimes, the failure of managers and supervisors has a direct link to why problems occur. Merging principle #7 and #8, we create safe conditions, ensure employees work safely, and integrate safety into everything in the organization.  Nothing is left out of the attempt to do things right.  Steady as she goes, the old naval saying helps us keep our lives in perspective, seeking to maintain a determined effort to make correct safety performance matter on a moment to moment basis.

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For More Information:
To become part of discussions on topics like the one above, go to www.safetycenter.org to obtain information about Safety Center’s Safety Management Specialist Certificate.

After completing this nine-day program, graduates may take the exam to achieve the Certified Safety Management Specialist (CSMS) designation. Once this certification is achieved, successful candidates keep it for the rest of their lives without any additional requirements or fees.

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