Safety Revolution – Lets get started


A revolution needs a start point. Here it is. In my last blog I mentioned that I have spent the last 4 years researching how people get hurt. Spoken to hundreds of workers about how they and others have been injured at work, on the roads and at home. I’ve reviewed the many systems and processes that try to keep people safe. Been involved in early engineering designs, concept risk workshops and the like. Developed and implemented hazard identification programs that improved people hazard identification abilities.

I’ve been involved in a broad range of safety initiatives and reviews looking for commonality. Looking for that “theory of everything”  if you like.  Something that described personal injury consistently every time. Something that made sense that I could use time and again to understand incidents.

Surrounded by complexity I was also searching for the complex. It seemed like I needed to go through the multiple layers of management systems, process, procedures, designs, organisation structures, cultural and then leadership knowledge before the simple appeared. It wasn’t until a chance meeting with an old friend (and safety guru), did the light come on and its beam shine on what was so simple but yet so powerful, I couldn’t believe I missed. I’ve coined it the “Universal Law of Personal Injury” and it goes like this:

For a person to be injured, three things must be true.

1. A person is present,

2. Hazardous energy is present, and

3. The person and the hazard must come together

I can show the law with the following diagram:

universal law

This law is so simple that most people don’t recognise it nor its power (and I hope you don’t either). For me it is like E=mc2. A fundamental tenet of the universe. A law that shows us how to solve the problem of personal injury. Maybe it was my engineering background but once I could show the problem in this way, the solution became clear. Work on eliminating hazards AND those human interactions that put people in harms way. It was like a bolt of lighting.

It was then that I realised the biggest mistake that we all make (including me for a very long time) and that is we focus our energies on one part of the equation, the hazard. It seems all of our systems, processes even legislation is all about eliminating the hazard. Reducing the hazard to zero meaning the overall equation goes to zero. It permeates everything we do in safety. A noble pursuit but as many of us know, we are surround by hazards and you can’t remove them all. Therefore if a hazard exists then the equation can never be zero unless you remove the person. And this is where it got interesting for me. When you can’t reduce hazards to zero, what’s next? What do we do with the person part of the equation?

So, I have focussed all of my efforts on what we can do with the people part of the equation. I choose to look at behaviours but from earlier work that I had done, I knew any behavioural studies needed to focus on what we do unconscious not the conscious. This is where our habits play the most important role in keeping us safe. I love the old saying “habits beat intentions every time”. You may intended to eat healthy this week but find yourself dipping into the cookie jar at 3pm or I going to start running next week and don’t. The research shows that we spend over 80% of our day doing what we do habitually. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go back to bed and almost everything in-between, our habits drive most of our actions. The unconscious part of the brain (lets use Khaneman’s describe as System 1) , that requires a low amount of energy to run, is primarily responsible.

It is this field of human behaviour and actions that I have explored in an effort to come up with solutions for the person part of the equation. There is a richness of information, knowledge and solutions that I found and more to be had as research continues find breakthroughs in our understanding of why we do what we do.

So if the person side of the Universal Law interests you, then lets get started.



I recently heard Tony Robbins in an interview with Tim Ferris say “knowledge doesn’t mean shit. It is all about what you do!”…… Lets get started.


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