In the last issue of NVVK Info, we had the spotlights on Australia. This time, we also stick to the southern half of the globe. Craig Marriott is a safety professional with 25 years of experience, mostly in nuclear and petro-chemical industry. Originally, Craig is from the United Kingdom, but a few years ago, he relocated to New Zealand. He has been active on international professional forums for a while, runs his own website SafetyQuo.com and recently, he published his first book.
This is a translated version of the review I wrote for NVVK Info 2018/02 (May 2018).
The first thing that meets the reader is the play of words in the book’s title, and the name of Craig’s website. In the man’s own words, it is a “site for safety thinkers” and only the title already gives food for thought. Craig aims (as the title of his book suggests) to challenge the status quo within safety, which he calls the ‘safety quo’. According to him, this is necessary when we want to achieve real progress.
Apart from that, the word ‘quo’ means ‘where to’ in Latin. Therefore, one could see SafetyQuo as the question about what direction safety is heading in. It may be an invitation to reflect critically about this. After all, we see that many do things the way they have always done them within safety, and one may wonder whether it isn’t about time to change that. Change might be needed in order to progress. This may require to leave some worn-out practices behind and adopt new perspectives. The book and the website want to contribute to this progression.
The book is divided into three parts. The first 20 pages (four short chapters) are intended as an introduction. Who are the “players” in the field, and what is the role of “maturity” within safety management. In the latter chapter, the safety culture ladder is discussed, but in a pleasantly nuanced way with the remark that this is merely a model that one shouldn’t adhere to too strictly. Also, one can be on several “steps” of the ladder simultaneously. As closer of the first part, Craig discusses the need for a changed view on safety: less absolute, not as a “thing” but rather as a “flexible, context-dependent, multi-facetted concept”.
The second, and largest part of the book (80 pages, 11 chapters), deal with “Truths, half-truths and plain myths”. Here a number of subjects passes along that are to be expected: Heinrich’s triangle, zero visions, human error, priorities, focus on numbers and indicators and the (non)sense of attempts to measure safety.
The titles of the chapters are creative and hint at the contents, for example “The safety separation” about how safety often gets a ‘status aparte’ - while speak of integration in the everyday work all the time. One reason for this may be that safety practitioners take over responsibilities from managers, or because safety has to be the first item on every agenda - instead of being a natural part of other issues.
This connects also to “The priority confusion”. Safety is important, all right, but should it really have top priority? How useful is “Safety First”, or the slogan “I work safely, or I do not work at all”. And by the way, a very important question: what actually is safety? In the almost last chapter of Part 2, “The systemectomy” (a really nice play of words) Craig challenges the urge to regulate. Instead of trying to make systems “fool proof”, created condescending rules and mindlessly strive for maximum compliance, we should maybe try to do things with less paper and bureaucracy and rather work on professionalism, craftsmanship and culture. Too many rules and focus on compliance is also killing for innovation.
Throughout the entire book, you will find suggestions for better, practical approaches. The third part takes this to your own domain and is therefore titled “Your Context”. It is essential to go for a bespoke approach, something that fits your organisation. Not an approach that you have copied from another company. To make this happen, it is important to involve managers and employees, ask good questions, to have good dialogues and to listen well.
Subjects from these final nine chapters include leadership (two chapters even), drivers of motivation (according to Daniel Pink: autonomy, mastery and purpose), culture cascades, systems and how to look at the human factor (is he/she the problem or a solution). Finally, Craig also discusses the resistance that you can expect; and how to deal with this.
A couple of appendices with examples and checklists conclude the book.
As far as I am concerned, Challenging The Safety Quo is one of the best safety books that I have read recently. The main point to improve from my point of view: some more deeper discussion of sources and references for those who want to study some further. Apart from that, I can warmly recommend this book to everyone who want to expand his or her professional horizon a bit - preferably with a practical and accessible approach.