OSH professionals can learn a surprising amount from magicians

Nic Warburton is acting editor, IOSH Magazine
Acting editor, IOSH Magazine

We can all learn valuable lessons from others to improve the way we work. One of our regular contributors, Bridget Leathley, has shared some fascinating insights from other professions through her “learning from” series. 

Over the past three years, she has looked at a diverse range of professions, including behavioural economists, quality managers and, most recently, expert witnesses. But what can OSH practitioners learn from magicians? As our cover feature reveals, a surprising amount, and it’s all fascinating stuff.


Rubens Filho, director of magic at Abracademy, and one of the magicians interviewed for the article, suggests that magic opens minds and shifts perspectives. As he argues, this can be a critical part of moving an organisational culture. 

“If OSH professionals can be more curious, innovative and confident – therefore more magical – they are likely to have a much a greater impact in the businesses where they work,” he says.

Another magician, Dr Gustav Kuhn, who has been involved with the Wellcome Collection exhibition “Smoke and Mirrors: the psychology of magic”, a free event that runs in London until 15 September, adds that magic exploits cognitive loopholes, and this has an important cross-over into health and safety.

As Kuhn explains: “If you’re not aware of those loopholes, it’s very easy to blame people for mistakes. Awareness of the loopholes might help in designing systems that are more resilient to error.”

Readers only have to thumb through the prosecutions we have covered over the years to see how important it is for companies to put sufficient safeguards in place as a vital measure to prevent accidents. 

But raising awareness of the “blame culture” that can be prevalent in some businesses is only one of the “tricks” that magicians can demonstrate to the OSH audience. 

Ivor Smith, one-third of Fifth Dimension, a management training company that delivers inspirational sessions to the business world, shows how magic can be used to remind OSH professionals about the risk of complacency in the workplace and why hazard reporting should be actively encouraged.

Employees are not always comfortable challenging colleagues’ unsafe behaviour, particularly if that person happens to be their boss. There is a tendency to put unquestionable trust in people we see as being experts. 

Fortunately, there are many examples of businesses that do actively encourage employees to speak up if they feel something is not right. Take ITV and its Leading Risk programme (see our case study: bit.ly/2HQSSFs), which encourages junior staff on productions to raise concerns when they have them.

I hope the feature (and the rest of this magazine) sprinkles a bit of magic around you and inspires you to inspire others to work more safely.



 Nick Warburton is acting editor of IOSH Magazine. He is a former editor of SHP and has also worked on Local Authority Waste and Recycling and Environmental Health Practitioner

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