The Ten Basic Principles of Safety, Principle #1

Based on Dan Petersen’s Safety Management – A Human Approach
Article by Bob Lapidus, CSP, CSMS

In Memoriam:   Dan Petersen (1931-2007)

My mentor, Dan Petersen, was one of the prime guru’s in the field of safety management from the 1960s into the early 21st century.  He was a prolific writer taking ideas from many fields and incorporating them into safety.  His books are still read today.

In Dan’s text, Safety Management:  A Human Approach, the first edition first published in 1975, he presented ten basic principles of safety that should be the foundation of all safety programs, the problem-solving structure (paradigm) from which all safety programs build upon.  Nevertheless, very few organizations’ safety programs are created using these important fundamentals.

May I suggest that you review these ten basic principles and seek to incorporate them into your organization’s safety program.  Take it one step at a time.  Sell management on how they can enhance what you already have in place.  Let us review the first principle:

An unsafe act, an unsafe condition, an accident:  these negative events are symptoms of something wrong in the management system. 

Historically, after an accident happened, safety people would target the specific unsafe act, and/or unsafe condition.  If they could only find out what the unsafe act and/or unsafe condition was, they would take action to rectify that act or condition.

Such an investigation was not sufficient, but they did not know that.  They thought that once they knew the unsafe act and/or unsafe condition, that is all that was needed.

Why was just knowing the unsafe act and/or unsafe condition insufficient?  Such knowledge did not go far enough.  The unsafe act and/or unsafe condition were simply symptoms of the real causes.  As many of you already know, we need to ask questions such as:  Why the unsafe acts and/or unsafe conditions occurred?  Something causes these events or allows them to happen.  Our job is to find out why unsafe acts, unsafe conditions, and accidents are permitted to occur.  It is not just one cause.  Many factors are involved.

We need to dig down.  We need to uncover why the employee worked unsafely or why the unsafe condition existed or was allowed to exist.

Such research needs to be done while doing both investigations and inspections.

Staying at the symptom level does not permit us to get down to the real reasons why our problems are occurring.

For More Information:

To become part of discussions on topics like the one above, go to www.safetycenter.org to obtain information about Safety Center’s Safety Management Specialist Certificate.

After completing this nine-day program, graduates may take the exam to achieve the Certified Safety Management Specialist (CSMS) designation. Once this certification is achieved, successful candidates keep it for the rest of their lives without any additional requirements or fees.