Book Review: Next Generation Safety Leadership: From Compliance to Care

Article by Grant Wellwood CEng FIChemE

IF YOU are not part of the solution you are part of the problem, and the problem with current approaches to OH&S is that people continue to be harmed unnecessarily. If you’re interested in being part of an enduring solution (as we all should be), or if your organisation’s approach features the term “zero harm”, then Next Generation Safety Leadership is for you.

Drawing on his career in OH&S viewed through the lens of organisational psychology, Lloyd’s tightly-written and engaging book makes a compelling case for cultural change to improve safety, supported by case studies and high-quality references (just the way I like it).

One area which Lloyd identifies as being critical is line management, an important rite of passage for many chemical engineers. Our top concern whilst occupying these important leadership roles should be the safety of those who rely on our judgement and decision making. When it comes to the safety of our process designs, we are well versed and feel professionally empowered to take the lead. In contrast, when it comes to OH&S most of us emerge less prepared and we can’t afford to learn by making mistakes on the job.

As a consequence, we often don’t feel empowered to lead and simply default to the prevailing OH&S culture, based on rules and procedures accumulated over the years (typically reactions to historical events). As an inquisitive cohort specialising in dealing with unique situations by understanding and applying the underpinning principles to create unique solutions, rote learning simply isn’t enough, we want (need!) to understand the “whys”. The first step in any change process is to recognise that there is a problem.

“When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. This is why so many corporate OH&S cultures, devised by generations of well-meaning engineers, resemble the process engineer’s old friend, the feedback control loop. This strong metaphor (summarised in the table) provides a useful framework to help us understand why we need to heed the author’s call to approach OH&S differently.

Article by Grant Wellwood CEng FIChemE

Principal Engineer, Wellwood Associates

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