#TheGouge: Safety Differently with Gary Wong

Gary talks about safety through the lens of complexity – leveraging the ability of humans to make sense of patterns to reveal impending danger.

Hey, welcome to #TheGouge with Ponch and Cujo. I’m Ponch and today I’m here with Gary Wong, he’s going to give us the gouge on Safety Differently. Gary, what’s the gouge on Safety Differently?

Well Ponch, let me start back in 1931 when the book “Industrial Accident Prevention” was published by Herbert Heinrich, it was a time when people were treated as cogs in machines. If an accident occurred, the injured worker was quickly removed and replaced to keep production lines running. The book was based on the belief that unsafe acts of humans are the principle causes of accidents here.

Unfortunately, to this day, it continues to be the dominant safety paradigm. We spend a lot of time and money focusing on what goes wrong in workplaces. When an accident does occur, we immediately look for someone to blame, and then punish them through discipline or termination. On the other hand, there’s a new approach, and it’s called Safety Differently. We credit workers for getting things right. Which, when you think about it, happens most of the time. Safety Differently sees people not as a problem, but as a solution. When facing an unexpected change, people adjust their actions accordingly. In most cases, their adjustment will keep them safe. But change can also make things worse. And, if a tipping point is reached, an incident can happen.

Existence of tipping points means that safety is not something that is created, but is an emergent property of a complex adaptive system. As an example, safety rules. Safety rules are helpful because they create the conditions that enable safety to emerge. However, if management piles on too many safety rules, workers become cognitively burdened. The overloading creates the conditions that enables not safety, but danger to emerge. What are these dangers? Worker confusion, distraction, frustration.

Using a complexity-based approach means leveraging the ability of humans to make sense of patterns to reveal impending danger. These insights move us to improving systems by boosting awareness, or tipping points, and triggering alerts for emergent weak signals caused by uncontrollable and unexpected conditions. It’s an exciting time to look at safety, but I think we need to do it through the lens of complexity.

Wow, Gary, that is very insightful stuff and we appreciate the gouge on Safety Differently.


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