In the May issue of NVVK Info the review of Andrew Sharman's fine book "From Accidents To Zero" was published. Get to the Dutch version by clicking on the picture, or read the English translation below.
From Accidents To Zero, by Andrew Sharman
Don't judge a book by the cover, or so the saying goes. Well, take care not to judge some books by their title either. I was quite skeptical at first because the title of this book seems to promote ‘zero accident’ goals. A warm recommendation from my friend Pieter Jan Bots, however, and some e-mail exchange with the author saw me ordering a copy after all and I think it was worthwhile. In fact, very much so.
To discuss my initial hesitation right away: by mentioning “your journey towards zero” or similar phrases in a few of the earlier chapters it may seem that Sharman is promoting zero accident goals, but the final chapter about ‘zero’ brings a very critical view on the matter and tears the entire concept to shreds most effectively.
And somehow this is one of the characteristics of the book: Sharman wants to make you think about a couple of things in order to get something going. He has his own view on things, isn’t afraid to express these views (but not necessarily upfront) and explains them well, but he doesn’t claim to own the truth. He rather encourages you to think about things and form your own opinion.
One at a time
The book’s cover claims it to be “A practical guide to improving your workplace safety culture” and in the prologue it’s set out that the author doesn’t subscribe to the view that culture change takes a very long time. This was one of the (many) things that got me thinking while reading. Because culture change does take long, doesn’t it?!
Well, often safety culture is viewed as a result or a (desired) state. I think that what is discussed here is rather a process of improvement. Indeed I think that a culture change process doesn’t necessarily need long planning and complicated actions, but often it can build on rather simple and quick to implement elements. As Sharman says: “Culture changes one person at a time”. When we realize this and are prepared to put in the effort we can make a real difference very quickly.
In several ways “From Accidents To Zero” is comparable to some of Alan Quilley's books: it’s a slim and compact volume (only 140 pages), the various chapters are just a few pages long, every chapter more or less stands on itself, can be read in no particular order and it’s written in an easy accessible style.
Andrew Sharman has a refreshing style of writing which is spiced up with personal experiences and observations that are sometimes thought provoking, recognizable (the discrepancy between “Safety First” slogans and the actual appearance of a facility - described in the great chapter on Values) and sometimes hilarious (like his experiences on rollerblades in public to explain social facilitation in the chapter on Groups). This personal touch helps to make the material even easier accessible and more understandable.
A to Z
The author doesn’t set out to teach a lot of safety theory in depth, but he briefly discusses a wide range of subjects through the 26 chapters that bring us from A (Accidents) to Z (Zero). In the middle of the book we find an alphabet-roadmap which is freely available from the website to be printed as a poster. Subjects include Behaviour, Just Culture, Leadership, Mindfulness, Quality, Trust, Values and much more. In the course of this he touches on highlights from the work of people like Reason, Heinrich, Dekker and Kahneman.
The bite-size character of the chapters (most 4 to 5 pages long) facilitates reading the book in small, yet in themselves finished portions. I used to read one on my way to the office and another on the way back (I pity those who drive their cars to work). The subjects are described in a practical way and really easy to understand, also for non-safety professionals thanks to the absence of too much jargon.
One of the greatest elements of the book are the questions for reflection that are added at the end of each chapter. These questions will encourage you to think about the things you’ve read and how they may affect your day to day work, or how you can use them in improving safety (culture) in your work situation.
So, is it all perfect then? No, but I think that never was the intention to start with since the book is more about getting things in motion than delivering a complete picture. If you want to, you could criticize the slightly one-sided treatment of risk (discussing more clearly the positive side of risk helps understanding why people are taking negative risks, after all) and that the Safety chapter doesn’t really discuss safety, but rather some accident causation models (e.g. dominos and Swiss Cheese). Personally I’m struggling with the practical applicability of the Mindfulness chapter. But at least it made me think!
This minor criticism aside I think that the book gives the reader some great introductions to safety related subjects that then can be used as a starting point for discussions and lead to ideas for improvement. Hopefully it will also encourage the odd reader to follow up on some references and check out the work of Kahneman, Dekker and others.
Value for money and highly recommended.
ISBN 978-0-9929906-0-2 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-9929906-1-9 (e-book)
Available from: http://www.fromaccidentstozero.com/
If you place an order, make sure to use the discount code FATZ20 to get 20% off.