Safety from Within

Many people do not know that severe and fatal accidents in the Netherlands are rising again since 2015. Before that, that number had been declining for a long time. Existing safety management should, therefore, be reviewed. The explanation below may turn the tide.

And that also results in pleasant side effects such as fewer accidents in general, improvement of the quality of products and services, less damage, higher productivity, lower costs, and so on. And even without this extra workforce, hiring consultancies and the like should be able to make many happy.

The four elements:

Motivation, integrating safety into company policy, the power of safety (instead of the headache file) and the importance of psychological safety.

To allow Safety from Within to grow, I mention four elements here: #motivation, integration of #safety in #companypolicy, the power of safety (instead of the headache file) and the importance of psychological safety.

These four are, of course, closely linked. What I will pass in review here is just a coat rack. The coats that are coming up require more depth, but without a coat rack, it isn't easy to hang coats!

Motivation. What moves people?

Dan Pink's TED-talk explains that clearly. You only have to watch from minute 2 to 4. Rewards are not a motivator (note: it is a dissatisfier!). And that includes punishments. An excellent example dates back to the late '90s in a daycare centre in Haifa Israel. There she faced the problem that parents picked up only about a quarter of the children after closing time. Not fun for the children, not fun for the supervisor. The too late pick-up had to change. This behaviour they sometimes tackled to impose a fine for the late pick-up of the children. She will learn that. What happened? The number of parents who came late to pick up their children ...... uhh, 😳 first rose to a third, in a short time even to 40% who arrived late. As it turned out, the parents had a moral obligation, and the financial punishment bought off the moral stimulus. Perhaps not such a direct link with safety at first glance, but read on. That link is significant!

The power of safety - from experience

Now to safety. The teachings I have learned can save some of you from going through the same (painful) experiences.

In my opinion, safety has always been high on my list throughout my career.

When I started as a Site Manager in 2010 with the realisation of a BRZO activity, I started working with the same #safetyspirit. The run-up and the construction and even the start-up, with some minor hiccups, went almost according to plan. However, shortly after commissioning, several #incidents took place. Not immediately (every new installation has 'issues' in the initial phase) but it did not take long before it started to gnaw. On a Saturday in the fall, something went very wrong but without severe consequences. However, I fully realised, and there is the luck, the coincidence, the minuscule difference between a near miss and one or more fatal accidents. Despite a thorough RCA, another incident a few weeks later, less severe, but still, too much went wrong. Luck does end at some point. So after a weekend of brooding, I decided to take the installation out of operation (for a while). Supported by the people around me, I felt that we should research the level of #processsafety of the installation. A drastic decision that caused considerable turmoil. After a 'scan' we realised that a new HAZOP study was required. As a result, we took a significant number of extra measures.

Then, while we were thinking about restarting again, still re-shaking what we had all established, a belief planted in my head: whatever goals (commercial, productivity, costs) they would impose on me, safety would always be on my list, and I vowed to myself that I would no longer be distracted by any pressure whatsoever. Of course, there is also a lot to say about what should have been different in the design phase. Because if we had done that correctly, we would never have ended up in this situation, but I will not go into that further in this argument. We were where we were, and we had to deal with those shortcomings. The installation was put back into operation, the organisation subsequently thrived, and in all activities, actions, plans, etc. with safety, based on #riskthinking. We are now several years later, and I have come to the following conclusion:

Your #safetyfocus hast to be pure and has to look at how to deals with risks. You do take appropriate measures for risky situation and activities (or to be consciously prepared to take certain risks!). Then you not only drastically reduce the number of #incidents, but also will see a contagious effect on the other interests of your company such as quality of your products or services, productivity, your uptime, eliminating bottlenecks, maintenance of the installations, your cost management, and so on!

Safety, we have since experienced, is therefore not a "headache issue", it is not a brake, it is not an obstacle, but it is a force! The most important thing is to integrate safety (#riskthinking) in all activities that you undertake.

From extrinsic to intrinsic motivation

And now, back to #intrinsicmotivation. If this mindset intrinsically 'grows' then it becomes a way of working, of thinking, of working together you embed in all your systems. In many organisations, safety is number one on the weekly MT meeting and also during the start of the day meetings. But that is a lot like pretending how important it is— #compliancemanagement. And suppose the subject of safety is the first on the list, and then often without significant issues passed. In that case, we fly as fast as we can to topics such as deadlines, productivity, too high downtime, recurring maintenance problems, the market, the turnover and what on earth to do with the (also) high costs! No, it should be on the list for all activities, not a special one or the first place. So not: safety comes first, no, safety, risk thinking, in all activities. We apply #riskmanagement thinking to all activities. What measures should we take to bring the risks we see to an acceptable level (or do we see the dangers but are willing to accept them)?

Looking at safety in this way does not mean that it will become less or more straightforward. Still, with more #focus and much more #effectiveness, one will incorporate it into the #system, it will go from the inside to the outside instead of through imposed requirements, it will become more and more intrinsically.

Having safety continuously on the list does not take away and unnecessary to mention at all. Still, I will do it anyway because otherwise I would be pointed out by many that the legal frameworks (#BRZO, #ARBO, etc.) are the bare minimum and stay, a #minimum limit and is simply a must to keep the not-safety-minded within bounds. However, those laws are imposed, are driven extrinsically and are about compliance and bring punitive work and fines if it is not in order. And also a must is a #safety management system (#VBS), preferably integrated into the quality or company system / manual. Every organisation needs structure. No self-respecting company works without VBS.

But it does not last because it is imposed extrinsically. From the inside out, intrinsically, you will over time leave those legal frameworks behind.

Psychological safety as a precondition

A prerequisite for intrinsic motivation is #psychologicalsafety. People should be able to raise and receive feedback on safety aspects or near misses without the risk of reprimand or repercussion, even if this may lead to delays or temporary shutdowns. We must create a #culture of trust and transparency. Job Groeneweg showed during his inaugural speech in January 2019 that psychological safety is the top priority when it comes to #safetyculture. And it is a critical condition for the development of intrinsic motivation!


  • See the importance of and use the knowledge of intrinsic motivation

  • Integrate safety in all business activities (and not as a separate management program)

  • Recognise safety as a strength (instead of as a headache file)

  • See the importance of and create psychological safety

In our training "Safety from Within" these themes are unravelled and explained. And with these insights as a basis, we provide tools such that these insights are untangled and implemented. A large number of companies have already embraced these insights, but many have not and are sometimes unsure how to do it or where to start. We can help with that.

© 2020 Rob Kreté, Veiligheid van Binnenuit | Illustraties Tom van Dun,