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Max Geyer - Management ConsultantWhen we established Viamax, Sylvia and I wanted to base our efforts on a theme that would represent us personally and also that would represent our business to our clients...

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Do we really need One More safety brand?

Do we really need One More safety brand? I have just been reading an article by Kevin Jones of a .. read more

Building resilience trumps the prevention of harm.

Building resilience trumps the prevention of harm. The prevention of harm is about trying to see, p.. read more


Do we really need One More safety brand?

Do we really need One More safety brand?

I have just been reading an article by Kevin Jones of a “new model” of safety that the consulting firm Ernst & Young are about to launch onto the safety world.  The value of this new approach, which they have termed “Plus One”, is that it apparently takes the next step after Zero Harm.  So we may in fact see the death of the Zero movement and a move away from this dangerous perfectionist thinking that is likely causing more harm than not.

Now, apart from the harm that this will do to the “believers” that Zero Harm is the only goal we can have if we truly believe in safety, what is one more “Safety Brand” going to do that the others have not?  … The full article can be accessed here…

Building resilience trumps the prevention of harm.

Building resilience trumps the prevention of harm.

The prevention of harm is about trying to see, predict and control all things that may deliver an undesired outcome.  Society and organisations develop regulations, rules, systems, procedures, structures, training, inspections, investigations, and punishment and reward programs, in order to manage the interaction of people and work activities.  At the same time we have insurance policies, rehabilitation programs, law courts, audits, re-training programs, review and improvement programs, because of the humanness and fallibility of humans; because we know that where people are involved, not all will be anticipated, mistakes will be made, things will not go to plan and on occasions harm will result.

This paper argues that, when dealing with risk and safety, it is preferable to develop resilience than to try to prevent all harm.  It does so by highlighting the limitations and by-products enacted by attempting to eliminate all harm and then identifies the advantages of developing resilient capacity when dealing with the unexpected.

The Collins English Dictionary (2003) defines harm as ‘physical or mental injury or damage’.  A search of the top one hundred Australian listed companies will reveal many with declared values or risk and safety policies which espouse the elimination of harm and or have zero harm as a goal[2].  In relation to discerning and managing risk in the workplace, having the capacity to eliminate or prevent harm implies we would have the capacity to identify all physical or mental injury or damage associated with the operations of the organisation.  Further, having an ability to identify all harm also implies we would have a capacity to foresee all events which could bring about that harm; that is, we would be omniscient, which is clearly not possible.  The elimination of harm is not only not possible, as a negatively framed goal, it primes the organisation, its management and its people for failure (Custers, 2009).  And as a by-product, it drives a culture of fear in relation to the reporting of incidents, it restricts the individual’s ability to exercise judgement and it stifles innovation, learning and improvement (Long, 2012); it stifles what it is to be human.

The international standard related to risk management AS/NZS ISO 31000:2009 Risk management – Principles and guidelines, defines risk as the “effect of uncertainty on objectives”[1] (cited in HB 327:2010).  The companion guide to that Standard, HB 327:2010 Communicating and consulting about risk (The Handbook) warns that ‘Communicating and consulting about risk requires an understanding of the central role of uncertainty in the generation of risk.’ (HB 327:2010).  When one further examines the attendant notes to the definition from the Standard (see footnote below) Note 2 points to the holistic nature of risk by emphasising that risk is not confined to health and safety or to any one part or level of an organisation.  Indeed, in support of the view that the nature of “risk management” is a concept to be dealt with as a holistic issue, the World Health Organisation defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ (cited in Aghadiuno, 2010).

The Australian Government Comcare website points to the health benefits of work when it references some of the hazards which are to be addressed when attempting to eliminate or minimise workplace harm, when it states:

Work is generally beneficial to mental health and personal wellbeing. It provides people with structure and purpose and a sense of identity. It also provides opportunities for people to develop and use their skills, to form social relationships, and to increase their feelings of self-worth. (Australian Government Comcare, 2014, accessed 22/09/2015).

For most people their stability of employment would be a critical component of their mental and social well-being and an attack on that employment would constitute an instance of harm.  This indicates that our search for the sources of harm, and elimination of that harm would need to consider all components of the organisation, no matter how small that may impact of the success of the business and hence the well-being of its employees.  It further highlights the holistic nature of harm and the implausibility of eliminating it.

Australian workplace health and safety legislation acknowledges that the total elimination of risk is not likely.  Indeed, the basis of the legislation is ‘reasonable practicability’ (Model WHS Act 2011, Section 18).  In order to exercise their workplace health and safety due diligence, management are required to take ‘reasonable steps’, and apply ‘appropriate resources and processes’ in the fulfilment of their duties and obligations (WHS Act 2011, Section 27 (5)).

The methods used to identify and assess risks, as described in the risk management Standard mentioned above, are subjective in nature and not an exact science.  The identification and assessment processes are heavily dependent on: the knowledge, expertise and understanding of the people involved in the risk assessment exercise; on their knowledge and expertise related to the thing or process being assessed; and on how they make decisions.  The process is dependent on the perception of those involved, and The Handbook accepts this when it states:

Perceptions are what people apprehend to be true—particularly through reliance on their own senses, concepts, experiences, assumptions, knowledge, value sets, intuition and prejudices.

Perceptions may therefore reflect, or vary from, reality but are often a powerful element in the way further information is considered. Consequently, different individuals may view the same information differently and draw different conclusions. (HB 327:2010).

The Handbook further warns us that in consulting and communicating about risk we need to also consider ‘… a number of demographic and socio-economic determinants such as age, sex, education, social class, ethnicity and income strata also affect individual and group perceptions.’ (HB 327:2010).

We know that people have ‘bounded rationality’ (Gigerenzer & Todd, 1999) and generally make decisions as resourcefully as possible by employing ‘satisficing heuristics for searching through a sequence of available alternatives, and fast and frugal heuristics that use little information and computation to make a variety of kinds of decisions.’ (Gigerenzer & Todd, 1999).  Research informs us that when people make judgements and discern situations, which may involve risk, they take account of salience and accessibility (Hogg & Vaughan, 2010); they make decisions based on their own schemas (Hogg & Vaughan, 2010); and they apply their personal and collective biases such as: group think, clustering, confirmation bias, overconfidence (hubris), selective perception, anchoring bias and availability heuristic (Gigerenzer & Todd, 1999; Hogg & Vaughan, 2010; Plous, 1993; Slovic, 2010; Sunstein, 2004), and their intuitions or ‘gut feelings’ (Gigerenzer, 2007).  The Handbook acknowledges the humanity of people and the valuable role that heuristics play in decision making about risk when it states: ‘… Heuristics are valid risk assessment tools in some circumstances and can lead to “good” estimates of statistical risk in situations where risks are well known.’ (HB 327:2010).

The employment of short cuts, by the use of satisficing and heuristics, and the application of biases, ultimately results a great deal of ‘exformation’, that is, information which is either not considered, or is briefly considered and discarded during the decision making process (Norretranders, 1998).

Decisions and assessments made about risk are subjective.  They are as much dependent on the makeup of the cohort considering the risks, the means those involved employ to identify risks, and the means they adopt to help their decision making process, as they are on the nature of the risks themselves.  With so much subjectivity involved it is clearly impossible to identify all sources of harm let alone prevent all harm.

Another issue with preventing all harm has to do with the humanness of those involved.  Billett, Gruber and Harteis (2012) tell us that ‘… Firstly, complex problems and fuzzy rules shape an environment of human behaviour which makes errors unavoidable; and, secondly, errors can be fruitful incidents for further development.’

This leaves us with a number of challenges.  What do we do in relation to the harm that we cannot identify and/ or control?  What do we do to manage harm from events that are unexpected?  What do we do when people, as fallible humans, make mistakes?  And how can we benefit from the lessons learned in order to better prepare for the next unexpected event?   To read more of the original article check here:


[1] The definition is accompanied by four “Notes” as follows: (1) An effect is a deviation from the epected (sic) – positive and/or negative. (2) Objectives can have different aspects (such as financial, health and safety, and environmental goals) and can apply at different levels (such as strategic, organization-wide, project, product and process). (3) Risk is often characterized by reference to potential events and consequences or a combination of these. (4) Risk is often expressed in terms of a combination of the consequences of an event (including changes in circumstances) and the associated likelihood of occurrence.

[2] BHP Billiton, Glencore, Rio Tinto, Woolworths, Leighton Holdings (CIMIC), Lend Lease, Downer EDI, all have, or include, zero harm in their espoused goals as viewed on their websites.

WHS Legislation is NOT about Safety it’s about Culture

WHS Legislation is NOT about Safety it’s about Culture.

I asked a couple of managers the other day what they thought the WHS legislation was about.  You see, my client had asked me to make sure that their managers knew of their legal compliance obligations – a fairly typical request often from senior management.  So, I thought I’d start with what the managers already knew, or thought they knew, by asking a few questions.

Funny, a few years ago I would have gathered my computer and PowerPoint presentation and launched into a lecture on the Act and the Regulations and Codes of Practice and Standards and penalties for breaches etc. but these days I’m happier having conversations and asking questions – turns out it actually generates better understanding – who would have thought, but I digress.

So, I simply said to them, “… can you explain to me what you think the WHS legislation is about?”  Their collective response didn’t surprise me; it came after a bit of shuffling of feet and some murmuring about how “it is complex” and “it depends on what you are looking at” and “it depends on what the job is” and “it depends on what industry you are in” and “it’s about making people safe” and so on; but eventually they agreed that they didn’t really know or understand what the WHS legislation was actually about.  Now, given that these people were experienced operators; had completed some tertiary education, had been in industry for quite some time and in some fairly high risk industries including, heavy engineering/ manufacturing and aircraft maintenance among others; many people would have been surprised by that.

Why was I not surprised?  The simple answer is that my experience tells me that most people have been so flooded by the volume of words surrounding the legislation and that they have not been able to pick up the intent of it.  So, what IS the intent of the legislation?

The answer isn’t in the title of the legislation.  In fact the titles (Work Health & Safety Act and Work Health & Safety Regulation) may be causing some of the confusion.  The titles are about health and safety, when the Act is actually about RISK.  How can I make that claim?

Well, the clue is in the bit of the Act that the Inspector from the Regulator will use to assess your compliance when there is cause for them to visit.

You see the Regulator won’t be asking questions about safety management systems and inspection systems and safe work method statements and such; even though that is what will most likely be presented to them.  They will be asking questions related to your Risk Culture.  They will be interested in what you understand about your responsibilities, what your business is about, what you understand can go wrong, what you are attempting to do about what can go wrong, what resources you invest in managing what can go wrong, how well those resources are being applied and how you know that things are going as well as you are hoping they will (given your efforts).

These are all risk questions based on the Due Diligence requirements from the Act (Division 4, Section 27 (5)) and given that those requirements include terms like “reasonable”, “generally” and “appropriate” there will be a reasonable (that word again) amount of subjectivity to their questions, your answers and the degree as to their satisfaction with your answers.  Essentially they will be asking about your risk management culture and as we know from an understanding of social psychology, culture is a broad and complex “thing”.

So, why do we talk about safety when the legislation is about risk?  What is your risk management culture?  How risk savvy are your people?  What sort of conversations do you have at your workplace regarding your risk culture as opposed to safety?  What language do you use when talking about the impact of your operations on your people?  Because that is the real guts of the legislation; it is about the impact of your operations on your people.

In another conversation, at the previously mentioned client, I asked some of the blokes what the impact might be if we stopped talking about “safety” and instead used different language when we really mean to be talking about looking out for each other.  I asked them what would happen if we instead used the term “wellbeing” instead of safety.  Well, what a difference that made!  The conversation then opened up to include other risks besides the risk to people and the possibility of personal injury.  It included risks related to the quality of their products and services, risks to the environment, to sales, to their standing in the community, and so on; eventually we found we were discussing a more holistic approach to the impact of the operation on people, we found that we were considering risk related to everything which impacts on the success of the company.

We agreed that the company’s main priority is not safety; its number one priority is its continued success, which is very much linked to the “wellbeing” of the employees.  After-all, people out of work, with bills to pay and no money coming in and limited chances of new jobs, is a recipe for all sorts of by-products for those concerned (stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, excessive drinking, potential for spousal and child abuse and violence etc.) none of which (since they didn’t happen at work) are workplace “safety” issues – but they are obviously people “wellbeing” issues related to the operations of the business; and in the long term societal issues.  So what can be done?

I believe that a change in the language of safety is needed in order to lead people to think differently about how we care for our people.  I believe that conversations in the workplace, which use language focussed on the “wellbeing of our people” and an understanding that innovation and improvement can only come through our acceptance of risk, and an understanding of how people make decisions, is a better way of developing better “safety” conversations.  In fact I agree with my friend and colleague Rob Sams from Dolphyn, I’m not into safety anymore; I much prefer to concentrate on peoples’ wellbeing, though encouraging risk discernment, and building a Rysk Savvy culture.  It has a more holistic view and asks questions that go deeper than just workplace safety; AND by the way, it also meets the intent of the legislation, which is where we came in.


I welcome your comments and thoughts and maybe a chat about being “Rysk Savvy ™” and meeting compliance obligations.


Author:  Max Geyer

Phone:  0419 143 457

E-mail:  max@viamaxconsulting.com

Web:  www.viamaxconsulting.com

“Sticks & Stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” – Think Again – Words Matter

“Sticks & Stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” – Think Again – Words Matter

It is high time we understood the symbolism and impact of the words used when dealing with people.  In this essay Hayden Collins (Risk Intelligent) highlights and explains the difficulties for people who are attempting to “be normal” as they recover from illness or injury and what the injury management industry does, or rather does not do to help.  Read on…

Talking Risk Video–The Unconscious In Communication

Video – The Unconscious In Communication   This is one of the “Talking Risk” series of videos hosted by SafetyRisk where Max chats with our good mate Rob Sams, about the perils of attempting to change a habit, or non-conscious automatic practice, with a conscious process.  The importance of recognising this as an issue in the workplace is critical if we are to attempt to introduce new practices or to replace/ change established processes.  The video is based on the article The Unconscious and the Soap Dispenser.

Book Review. Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious

Book Review: “Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious

So, “Intuition”; that’s just a female thing; right? – wrong.

Diligent research will always deliver a better decision than relying on a gut feel; right? – wrong

You would think that if a baseball player ran as fast as they could straight to be in the area that a high ball was going to land, that the player would have greater success at catching the ball than running at a slower pace with their eyes on the ball; right? – wrong.

You would think that a group of American students would be better than a group of German students at picking that Detroit has a larger population than Wilwaukee; right? – again you would be wrong.

How can a bunch of Turkish people, living in Turkey, who do not avidly follow the English Football Association (FA Cup) competition be as successful, at picking the winners of 32 games in a round of an FA Cup season, as a similar bunch of English people who do follow soccer?

You would expect that doctors in an emergency department would be expert at separating people who need to be admitted to a specialised intensive care cardiac unit (with limited beds), as opposed to a more readily available/ accessible (and less expensive to run) observation unit; BUT they are not.  Why is this the case?

These questions and others related to how we make decisions (including the best way to pick a stereo) are explored by Gerd Gigerenzer in his excellent book Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious.  Gigerenzer says that ‘… intuition is the steering wheel through life’ (p. 16).

Gigerenzer’s easy writing style leads us through the complex realms of unconscious decision making and helps us to make sense of what many of us will commonly refer to as our “gut feeling” or our “intuition”; the power of which by the way, although used slightly differently by the sexes, is apparently shared evenly by both men and women (pp. 69-73).

Gigerenzer opens the discussion of how our gut feeling, or as he terms it our ‘Unconscious Intelligence’ (pp. 16-19) can be developed and used to assist when making complex decisions, particularly when time is of the essence.  For example he talks about developing intuitive decisions into a science by replacing complex statistical systems with ‘fast and frugal rules of thumb’ to assist in the training of medical students.

Want some more?Ok:

  • Being forgetful can help you make better decisions;
  • Having a moderate knowledge of a subject can give you an advantage over an expert;
  • One good reason (to do something) can be better than many; and
  • ‘When you buy a stereo, choose the brand you recognize and the second-least expensive model’ (p. 112).

I have no hesitation in suggesting you take an adventure through ‘Gut Feelings’ however, Gigerenzer does warn us that ‘… some of the insights we’ll find on our trip conflict with the dogma of rational decision making.’ (p. 19)


Gigerenzer, G., (2008)  Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, Penguin Books, London, England.

Its All in the Sign

Did you ever wonder how you manage all the complex tasks that have to be performed each day?  What about the complexity of just driving a car safely?  Well here is a bit about what is going on and how our unconscious is actually doing most of the work for us.  Its All in the Sign