3 Things I learned about Safety from Buddhism


A recent article by Susan Zivcec, first published HERE and republished with permission:

3 Things I learned about Safety from Buddhism

what ifWhat if I told you we will never be safe? If you are a fan of Hudson’s maturity model, you will recognise this as “chronic unease” which is a prerequisite for a resilient culture. But this concept and others like mindfulness that we commonly use in safety also have a long tradition in Buddhism.

In this article I explore 3 ideas that have endured in Buddhism that are also important foundations for resilient safety culture.

1) Acceptance

From what I have learned, Buddhists believe that in order to achieve true peace and happiness, you must first accept that suffering in life is inevitable. At first, this seems contrary, but when you think about it, most of our daily torment is internalised angst from unmet expectations. Disappointments about what others should have done, or perhaps shame and self-criticism about our own actions . We blame ourselves or others for our suffering, instead of accepting it, and focusing instead on what we can do in this moment.

So how does that apply in the safety world?

When it’s been a long time since any serious incident, and nothing serious is being reported up through the ranks, management are often heard to say  “This is a safe place to work!”

What is wrong with this picture is that it describes a complacent workplace, one which is no longer able to see the danger and over- estimates the effectiveness of controls it has in place. They fail to accept that the job is never done… “we can never be truly safe”.

So, if we accept that we can never truly be safe, what should we do next?

2) Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a buzz word at the moment, but please don’t let that put you off. The term mindfulness has been common to both Safety and Buddhism for some time.

Mindfulness is the daily practice of awareness, recognising things as they are, staying in the moment and calmly taking action to address them.

Mindfulness is the antidote to rushing, and distraction. In the safety world, exercises like Take 5, JSA and behavioural observation or coaching are intended to promote mindfulness.

3) Compassion

The third element I have learned from Buddhism is the fundamental importance of compassion and open mindedness. When we can truly put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we gain insight into the actions and motivations of others. This information, shared and used wisely,  is invaluable in improving safety.  Compassion is also fundamental to building the trust required for the honest, open collaboration  required on the road to safety resilience.

So for me, resilient safety culture is possible when we can create a compassionate, mindful workplace where we accept that safety is a forever  journey not a destination. 

I welcome your insights and discussion.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below