Reviews
Professor Erik Hollnagel, Routledge, £24.99 paperback, £95 hardback (eBook also available)

Safety-II in Practice: developing the resilience potentials

“As a safety manager at a large factory site, today’s been good for me. No one’s been trapped by machinery, crushed by a forklift or fallen to their death through a skylight. In fact, we haven’t even had a cut finger. On the health front, no one’s been diagnosed with asbestosis, hand-arm vibration syndrome or Legionnaires’ disease, and no one’s been off sick with stress or a back problem. It was the same yesterday; hopefully, it will be the same tomorrow. Just one worry: will I be promoted because my preventive work is so effective or selected for redundancy because I’m clearly not needed?”

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Though the quote is fictitious, it does highlight one of safety and health management’s most glaring conundrums: in our world, success equates to… well, nothing. In Hollnagel’s vision, this is the result of what he would call “Safety I” thinking. He argues that such an approach leads to a dead end; it prevents us tapping into the very information and resources that would help us to make our organisations truly resilient – that is, best placed to adapt to and confront current as well as future risks.

Hollnagel covered this ground in his earlier writing (Safety I and Safety II: the past and future of safety management) but here he recaps so that readers fully understand the context. In chapter 4, though, he moves on to look at the four resilience potentials: this is the core content (as indicated by the book’s sub-title “Developing the resilience potentials”). These potentials represent the four resilience foundation stones as well as key areas for action to increase organisations’ resilience.

Chapters 5, 6 and 7 develop these themes in greater detail before, in chapter 8, Hollnagel steps back to give an overview of safety and health’s changing face. There’s an appendix with more details on the functional resonance analysis method as well as the usual list of references, index and a short glossary.

A truly original world-class thinker, Hollnagel’s work should be heeded by every safety and health professional. It’s hard going at times, as he profoundly challenges the traditional ways in which we understand and manage safety. But he does offer a new vision that is potentially very valuable to practitioners. In particular, Safety II could help us to revolutionise how we view accident and incident data (and the use we make of this information) and position ourselves as risk managers, not just as safety and health specialists.

This approach could also give us powerful new leverage with directors and senior leaders – by changing the agenda from how we can meet the minutiae of safety and health law to how we can best work together to ensure our organisations survive and thrive.

Routledge (www.routledge.com)

 

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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