I ordered this book based on the title, expecting a book with reflections or discussions to find out about what risk is acceptable. Well, spoiler alert, the book answers the question by stating “leaders need to take every necessary measure and their organisation should not take unnecessary risks.” I am paraphrasing, but this is what the book ends up with.
Instead of reflected discussions, this book brings us “old school” safety management and leadership, founded on things like “all accidents are avoidable” and “zero the ultimate goal” – these are the first of seven “truths” that open the book. (as a side-note, I wonder how “safe enough” matches with “zero” – it does badly in my head).
It is all crafted in language that fits the author’s military background, conveying certainty and direction that surely goes down well with a certain audience, but for me ends up in a prescriptive series of lists of things to do. Awareness, motivation and commitment (sure enough, important things, but maybe a bit overstated) are presented as essential factors in “winning the risk game” (this imagery of winning/losing appears on nearly every page). And then there are phrases like “Safety must span all corporate levels because it provides the common thread that ties all activities together to enhance the end game.” (p.7). What does that even mean? After two more pages of “Achieving buy-in” and “Accountability” I started skipping through the book. Lots of command and control, top-down feeling stuff alternated with (if you have been in safety for a while) known subjects as probability (actually, I rather enjoyed that chapter, apart from the emphasis on numbers), risk management (yup, matrices), design, policies and so on.
Is this a useless book then? Wouldn’t say that. As much as I dislike it, I think if you are at the start of implementing safety management in your organisation it might be worth a peek. If you are a blank slate so to say, there will be a couple of useful practical suggestions to be found. Which also other books provide, but the advantage here may be the compactness of this book (110 pages). Even better, by just reading Chapter 11 which sums up everything, you get a good idea of what you have to do, according to Col. Alston. Very handy for busy managers.
Alston, G. (2003) How Safe is Safe Enough? Leadership, Safety and Risk Management. Farnham: Ashgate.