You Should Actively Encourage Poor Safety in the Workplace

by Dave Collins on November 16, 2016

in Humble Inquiry,Positive Safety Stuff,Safety Culture,Safety Procedures



I was asked recently for something different that could be done for a safety awareness session. I referred the person to this article from about 5  years ago – they tried it and apparently it worked brilliantly! What do you reckon? When it was first published many years ago (I cringe at some of the things Ive written) I got an equal proportion of positive and negative feedback – both kinds are welcome – if done well.

You Should Actively Encourage Poor Safety in the Workplace

UPDATE 16Nov16 : Just found this Youtube clip showing a driving examiner telling students they had to be able to text while driving to pass – seems to have the desired effect! Is creating risk like this a good way to overcome overconfidence or “it will never happen to me” bias??

Frightened child with yellow helmet

Mention the word “safety” when the boss isn’t around or in a social setting and you know the reaction you will get!  What if we started getting a little creative and turned this current disdain and negative attitude toward safety back on itself, make it work for you? I am very fond of the saying: “If you can’t beat ’em. join ’em”

I once read an article by Daniel Pink – “A bad idea a day”. He writes:

“Many of us know that one secret to generating good ideas is producing bad ideas.  But if you look on your bookshelf or visit the best creativity and productivity blogs – or even ask Mr. Google “how to come up with bad ideas” —  you won’t find much guidance. READ MORE HERE

The theory being that if we start coming up with bad ideas then at least we have stopped saying “it cant be done” and those bad ideas may stimulate people to come up with better and more creative ones. I am sure there are plenty of bad ideas that became quite successful once they were properly thought out – I’m just stuck for an example right now (its early Sunday Morning!) – HELP ME OUT.    I think Ebay, PC’s and motor cars were once considered to be stupid ideas?

Anyway, so what if, instead of saying “please work safely today”, you said something like “I want you to go out there today and do your very best to get as many people as badly hurt as possible”? How would people react? In some workplaces they might just go out and do it, but I reckon most people would say “stuff you” then go out of their way to identify all the things that could hurt them and avoid them or fix them, flatly refusing your request by embracing safety, despite you.

Other examples:

  • “We refuse to talk about safety anymore” – perhaps that may lead to more meaningful discussions? (see: I’m just not that into safety anymore)
  • “We will stop telling you to be safe” – finally! how about trying a little humble inquiry? MORE DETAIL HERE
  • “We will not train our people anymore” – might encourage people to come up with their own training programs (which my be a lot more successful)
  • “Everyone should be injured at work” – get some crutches, a wheel chair, blind folds, crutches etc and give people an opportunity to see what it might be like to be injured.
  • “We are going to make our procedures as complicated and ridiculous as possible” – you might find that they already are
  • “We are going to try and break all Safety Regulations” – might encourage people to find out what those laws actually are (so they can break them)
  • “The only way to prevent injuries is to close the factory” – perhaps shut the plant for a day, say after the Xmas break, and have everyone come to work and focus on nothing but risk all day
  • “We don’t care about statistics and how many people are getting hurt”  – maybe you can stop fudging the figures and Supervisors can save 2 days per month not having to write stupid reports
  • “Inspectors will no longer be issuing fines and breach notices” – maybe you can stop hiding things and invite them in to help
  • “The Safety Committee now has its own huge budget” – May show them that they now have full support of the company and they will now come up with smarter, cheaper and more effective solutions to spend THEIR money on – (I have seen this work brilliantly).
  • “We will no longer issue replacement PPE” – might encourage people to look at better controls
  • “Today our site inspection will only identify things that are safe, all hazards must be ignored” – there is no way that people will be able to help themselves.  It will drive them nuts not to be able to record all the new hazards they find in the process and will identify and highlight the controls that already work. THIS MIGHT ALSO LEAD TO A FOCUS ON PEOPLE AND HOW THEY DO THINGS RATHER THAN OBJECTS

I am sure you can come up with lots of bad safety ideas – has anyone tried it before? Did it work?

Why not at your next Safety Meeting brainstorm something like “how can we make our safety performance worse” and just see what happens. I bet someone says “keep doing what we are doing”.

Please let me know how it goes

  • I think this idea is interesting, but flawed unless you work in an environment where participation is already actively encouraged. Too many work places have people just going through the motions because “someone smarter than them said it had to be done that way” and people being people are often uncomfortable to rock the boat. And similarly too many companies have management that sits aloft and never sees the coal face. My view is that if the everyone from the CEO to the cleaner can’t talk an organisation will always be missing opportunities.

    • Hah! That is exactly the environment this can work – dont need to do it in a healthy one. The people in a toxic environment cannot wait to try something new and rebel against the draconian systems – try it – doesnt take long before everyone realises that they are on the same team and actually learned something while they had a bit of fun!!!!

  • “We don’t care about statistics and how many people are getting hurt” – maybe you can stop fudging the figures and Supervisors can save 2 days per month not having to write stupid reports.

    I recall starting a new OHS job years ago. as usual i spent a while working out the systems of my predecessor. On viewing the 15 page report to the executive I decided to run a test and stopped submitting any reports at all. It was 13 months before anyone on the executive management team noticed. Their request was not to start sending reports again, but rather what stats can I provide. They were content with a single page summary and a 3 minute oral presentation.

    Life really can be simple.

    • Hah! I did exactly the same thing 20 years ago, it was a massive doc that was all done manually back then, took days and just wound up in the round draw under the desk. People are so overloaded with superfluous white-noise they will gladly dispense with most of it but most are too scared to say they don’t want safety info!

  • john staples

    odd article…would you do a risk assessement before implementing this?

    • Riskex

      Yep but with a twist – identify all the things that could go right!

  • RT @Riskex You Should Actively Encourage Poor Safety in the Workplace | Health and Safety Risk Management http://t.co/9M91DA8 via @Riskex

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  • Riskex

    You Should Actively Encourage Poor Safety in the Worklplace http://t.co/9M91DA8 via @Riskex

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