Tim Marsh, Routledge, £24.99 paperback, £75 hardback

A Definitive Guide to Behavioural Safety

Why do firms launch behavioural-based safety programmes? A common reason is that businesses work hard to meet basic legal requirements and then introduce systems-based safety management, only to find that the resulting reduction in accident rates stalls. A new initiative is sought to re-energise safety and take performance to the next level.




A different, but just as common, rationale comes from accident investigation. Here, scrutiny of one or more possibly serious accidents reveals that behaviour – what people did or failed to do – was crucial to the chain of events that unfolded. This behaviour needs to be challenged to convince senior managers that effective action has been taken to prevent a re-occurrence.

This book provides the first short, accessible and easy-to-read guide to the principles and practice of behavioural safety. The first section covers why people take risks, safety training, the Heinrich principle and safety leadership – or, to be precise – what happens when it’s lacking. The second, which focuses on behavioural safety solutions, covers planning, identifying risks/pitfalls, generic skills and impact measurement.

A few factual errors have crept in. For instance, the Hawthorne Electrical Company study –celebrated for revealing, quite accidentally, that paying attention to employees improves their productivity – started with changing the factory lighting, not the colour of the walls. However, the errors are a minor quibble. What Tim Marsh is good at is picking out the salient points from the various research studies without getting bogged down in unnecessary detail: the mix of quoted research and personal anecdote works well.

He also keeps the focus broad – this is not just about preventing accidents but also safeguarding health, including mental wellbeing. Marsh writes in a chatty and engaging style with only the very occasional lapse into psycho-jargon. The book is written from the perspective of someone who has implemented numerous behavioural programmes across a range of industries, so the reader is presented with valuable proven insights into what’s likely to make a programme work in practice. Also, Marsh never allows the focus on employee behaviour to let senior management off the hook: prime responsibility for the corporate culture must, legally and practically, sit with them.

I have one small issue with the title: behavioural safety is a developing field (as the book reveals) and Marsh describes the text as “an attempt to provoke a debate”. In the light of this, and the diversity of human behaviour, I can’t see how any book could ever be a definitive (defined as conclusive, final, ultimate) guide. This is essential reading for anyone embarking on, or relaunching, a behavioural safety programme. But go for the softcover version: it’s one third the price of the hardback.

Routledge (


Paul Smith’s career spans enforcement, consultancy and the power industry. A former Health and Safety Executive inspector, he’s now a specialist writer on safety and health topics.

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