Safety culture irrelevant to safety

At the FMG Christmas Creek mine in Western Australia there have been two fatalities and an amputation in three incidents in the past six months.  An absence of safety: obviously.  Safety culture problem: no, apparently not.

FMG’s CEO is reported as saying that “…safety was a core value at Fortescue and he believed the culture was strong”Link.

So if the safety culture is fine and the safety obviously is far from fine, then perhaps the two are not related, and safety culture is irrelevant.

It’s time instead to get on with hazard management through design.


Western Australia’s Department of Mines and Petroleum – Regulator or Joke?

Fortescue mining resumes after death

Fortescue receives reprimand after deaths

About John Culvenor

Hi, Thank you for taking a look at this blog. I work in engineering, ergonomics, creativity, design, training, etc. Often this is about helping solve legal puzzles through accident analysis. Sometimes it is about thinking up better designs for equipment, workplaces, and systems. This blog is about good design and bad design, accident analysis and how it can be done better, and how we can make a better, safer world by design!
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8 Responses to Safety culture irrelevant to safety

  1. Mervyn Sher says:

    John, what if the design flaw is in the commercial projections, not the engineering?

    What if the engineering was built to specification based on financial budget and the commercial demand for the machines output exceeds the capability of both machine and operator?

  2. rodney currey says:

    “All is well” is the catchcry in these situations, and that is the end of the conversation, no further correspondence on the subject-or just repeat-‘all is well’!!

  3. Hi Merv, Agreed. Those decisions are among the most important aspects of design. Something similar was seen with the insulation scheme and NBN where an industry is pushed hard to deliver.

  4. Top management beliefs about safety culture are often found to be out of line with operator’s beliefs – in research and practice. Safety culture is also intimately connected with design (not least via operator involvement). Culture and design are intimately related. The problem is more likely a lack of connection between work as done and work as imagined – hence different perceptions of work at top and bottom.

    Still, see Hollnagel’s latest paper in Applied Ergonomics on why design is not and cannot be the be all and end all (speaking as a systems ergonomist/designer myself, I have to agree).

    • Hi Steven, Thanks.

      You’ve highlighted the difference – potentially – between the CEO’s view of safety culture and the view of other people. A real possibility.

      The thrust of “culture” seems to descend, even if it begins with bolder aims, toward behavioral requirements of the “people at risk” instead of the “people designing risk” – that’s the main thrust of my final comment.

      However the article in the main attempts to draw upon the CEO’s own conclusion that the culture is fine where obviously the safety is not fine. I tend to agree with him that such a thing is a possibility because of what safety culture has been taken to mean.

    • mikebehm says:

      Steven – thanks for pointing to Hollnagel’s recent paper. It is brilliant. I see him broadening the definition of traditional design (engineering and hard systems) which is so much needed in my opinion. When people hear the word design they automatically think of engineering. How untrue!! Whenever I use the word ‘design’ as in ‘safe design’, I always use both an engineering and an organizational or “other” example. Some examples I frequently use that how a supervisor can design an unfavorable work climate by not listening to his or her employees, or how an organization can design their workforce by engaging them in proper training and education to do the job safely. So many other examples and I’m sure the group has lots of them…

      For those who may not have Science Direct access…Hollnagel writes “Design should perhaps also be understood as the activity or process of designing, rather than as the design as a product or outcome. Designing means shaping or organising something in a specific way, so that it becomes easier to do.” He goes on “If HFE truly wants to take a systems approach, the purpose of design cannot be to engineer the ‘hard’ system to achieve well-defined objectives (Checkland, 2000). The purpose must rather be to tackle real-world problems where ends, goals, and purposes themselves are problematic.” I’d substitute OHS for HFE and the same holds true.

      When I talk about safe design I’ll be referring to Hollnagel and using his definition as it is very well-said. He is spot on.

  5. rodney currey says:

    why is it hard for people to say “all is not well” and to say we try hard, but this (2 fatalities, 1 amputation) is not acceptable and need to rethink what we are doing!

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