John White, CRC Press, £43.19 paperback *

Health and Safety Management: an alternative approach to reducing accidents, injury and illness at work

John White is a mountaineer, nature lover and former national park ranger. He sets the scene for this book by describing an accident he had, to show how complacency, distraction and poor risk perception can endanger life. 





The next section treads a well-worn path: after covering OSH law and noting that accident rates have plateaued, he argues the focus should now be on safe behaviour and hazard awareness. White makes special reference to dynamic risk assessment, which he calls free-thinking hazard identification, and offers a detailed review of human error, drawing heavily on the HSE’s HSG48 Reducing error and influencing behaviour.

The rest of the book is shaped in part by White’s background in farming, forestry and national park management as well as his exposure to serious risk through solo rock climbing.

He explores themes that you are unlikely to find in standard OSH management tomes. For example, how we can benefit from the marginal gains approach found in world-class sport; the role of physical fitness in performance; and the importance of nutrition in improving workers’ health and focusing their concentration for completing tasks. I like his concept of “start line” – the point at the beginning of a complex and potentially risky task when you need to have 100% concentration and risk awareness. (As a climber, this is when he clips into his harness; for me, as a motorcyclist, it’s when the key goes into the ignition and the lights come on.)

White uses case studies drawn from his personal experiences in sport and adventure activity to underline his musings.

By highlighting serious accidents caused by errors of judgement made by those directly in charge, White explains there are often assumptions that it will be safe to repeat these tasks because the activities have been completed before without incident. It’s the common pitfall that “it’s safe because we haven’t yet had an accident”.

Another recurring theme is the failure to recognise that changes (such as drops in temperature and increases in river flow) can transform safe fun activities into life-threatening disasters.

The book does have its flaws: there is no index or list of references. White uses phrases such as “several studies suggest…” and “most studies show…” but often fails to quote a source. Many of the illustrations have poor resolution and there are a few minor legal errors.

But as a personal view from someone who has faced death and lived to tell the tale, the book offers new, fresh and valuable insights to improve how we perceive and manage risk.

CRC Press |

 * price correct at the time of review


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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