Safety Management: A Human Approach, Third Edition

By Dan Petersen

I've heard it said that we recognize brilliance in others when we agree with what they are saying. This is largely the case with Dan Petersen's handling of the vast array of information in this updated version of his classic book. Safety Management: A Human Approach is a volume I recommend equally to seasoned safety professionals and newcomers to the field. The work is an appropriate and enlightening selection whether you are a CSP, an executive, a manager, a supervisor with safety responsibilities, a line worker involved in a safety committee, a student or a "civilian" who seeks to better understand the evolution of this important aspect of organizational culture and business success.

This well-organized book is divided into eight parts.

Part I is concerned with where we are and how we got here. Armed with an impressive knowledge of the subject, Petersen traces the development of safety management and summarizes its history, highlighting the theories that led to the practices, as well as the old axioms and new principles that replaced them. He capably brings us to the present, describing the principles of some of the more-recent behavioral approaches to help improve performance.

Part II addresses the front line supervisor, while Part III looks at top and middle managers, as well as safety staff and how their words and actions influence safety performance.

Part IV discusses climate and style, the relationship among workers, supervisors and management, and the influence of these relationships on the success of safety programming.

Part V looks at building a safety culture, why safety programs succeed or fail, and what motivates workers to become involved and responsible for their own success. Petersen also explores "high-performance organizations," group dynamics and some important principles of communications.

Part VI examines building safe behavior and includes chapters on attitudes, the individual employee and how traditional training and behavior modification can help bring about change and improved performance.

Part VII reviews some current trends, while Part VIII is a new and valuable section that focuses on where most companies are today in terms of occupational safety. It also explores how GAP Analysis can be used for improvement opportunities, addresses issues of accountability and concludes with a look toward the future.

Throughout the book, Petersen raises important issues for examination, as he asserts that accidents and incidents are caused by the "error-making human being," and the fact that to date, engineers have been unable to design a "fool-proof anything." He includes relevant information regarding the "human factors" at the root of accidents and incidents. However, the need to address "loss of focus" and skills to do that could be covered in greater depth. Also, Petersen leaves out environmental incidents, which I believe are essential to include in any improvement process. In my experience, most environmental incidents are caused by the same management and line employees attitudes and behaviors that result in accidents and injuries.

Petersen points out that many managers approach safety differently from the way they approach other business functions, such as quality and production, and he identifies various barriers to safety excellence. In his discussion of the role of attitudes and behaviors, he includes management's attitudes and behaviors as well. I concur with this viewpoint; many approaches, including some behavior-based ones, focus on the line employee only without fully addressing the role of management attitudes and behaviors. I also support Petersen's view that management and supervision at all levels must be directly involved, and must motivate and support any safety effort for it to be successful.

He provides the theory, excellent exhibits and checklists, as well as practical guidelines and activities to help safety leaders at all levels evaluate their roles and performance, and develop strategies and action steps for culture assessment, change and safety improvement.

Petersen also addresses how job and personal stresses, as well as various psychological factors can affect accident causation, and how stress-management, wellness and substance-abuse programs are essential for a "holistic approach" to accident prevention. These topics resonate for me, as I believe this is an area that is not addressed adequately in most safety programs. In my experience, this is one area that is essential to safety success. As we move forward in the 21st century with our quest for excellence in safety, health and environmental excellence, a failure to address these factors will certainly impede progress in preventing incidents of all kinds.

The book's primary shortcoming is Petersen's treatment of how to change attitudes through direct intervention rather than through evolution. This important methodology is not addressed in the chapters on attitudes and behaviors, nor does Petersen provide a description of proven techniques to alter unsafe attitudes and beliefs as a precursor to behavioral change. There are simple, practical awareness and cognitive methods using experience-based techniques to teach people to be self-observers able to recognize what is "unsafe" in their own attitudes, beliefs and thinking, gain insight into how these unsafe attitudes can cause injury, and influence their ability to replace unsafe behaviors on the spot.

Though the behavior-based methods described by Petersen are useful to support newly developed safe attitudes and behaviors, they are not the most contemporary or effective means to short- and long-term change. Without a fundamental change in safety attitudes and beliefs, people may not generalize their behaviors to areas other than those in which they were trained, nor may the change be long-lasting.

In sum, I find Safety Management: A Human Approach to be a comprehensive compendium of safety, from history and theories, to methodology and future trends. Petersen deserves to be acknowledged for providing a valuable, educational experience for those interested in gaining knowledge of this vast subject, and those who seek to be challenged and motivated in the process.

Michael D. Topf, M.A.
King of Prussia, PA