New Book Offers Scientific Solution To Workplace Safety

August 1, 2011

A new book says that science could have helped prevent everything from the BP oil spill to the recent recall of salmonella-tainted eggs, but not the science that requires microscopes and lab coats.Screen shot 2011-07-19 at 2.59.30 PM

In Safe By Accident: Take the Luck Out of Safety: Leadership Practices that Build a Sustainable Safety Culture (, authors Judy Agnew and Aubrey Daniels argue that the key to improving trucking and fleet safety (among other workplaces) lies not just in the latest engineering, physics, or chemistry advancements, but in the science of human behavior.
Based on decades of research and work with many of the world’s leading corporations, Agnew (Removing Obstacles to Safety) and Daniels (Bringing out the Best in People) reveal how many companies are “safe by accident” because they focus too heavily on lagging indicators, such as low incident rates. According to the authors, going a month, a year, or even several years without an incident is more likely a function of sheer luck than a predictor of a safe organization.

Moving beyond finger-pointing, the authors reveal how behavioral science, specifically behavior analysis, can help organizations eliminate counterproductive practices and foster a company-wide culture of safety — from the boardroom to supervisors to employees on the front lines.

In the new book, the authors explain that many widespread practices, such as incentive programs, safety signage, and punishment, not only waste time and money, but also fail to increase safety.

To help trucking and fleet companies create a “culture of safety,” Judy and Aubrey have identified science-based solutions for what to do instead.

5 Steps Companies Can Take to Increase Trucking Safety:

Don’t base safety incentives on incident rates

Having zero incidents is the ultimate goal of safety, but this flawed system unintentionally rewards luck, can encourage employees to not report incidents to avoid losing the incentive, and may result in reinforcing unsafe and unethical behavior. Instead, an incentive system should be based on motivating employees to engage in pinpointed safe behaviors.

Understand the value of near misses

Whether on the road, in an office, or in a factory, there should be a prescribed way to conduct work in a safe, efficient manner. Any deviation from that should be classified as a near miss. Encourage employees to observe deviations in their own behavior and that of other employees. Near misses provide valuable information about training, supervision, and teamwork.

Mistakes should not be punished

Employees often fail to report safety concerns because they fear reprisal. Punishing unsafe behavior creates a culture of cover-ups where employees play the blame game.

Understand that checklists are not full-proof

Checklists can become an important tool for developing sound behavior and producing long-lasting change, but sometimes people assume the very implementation is all that is required to change behavior – it will only result in temporary change. Items should be observed apart from the checklist to ensure quality and safety. In addition, modify your checklist by conducting post-mortems on projects and procedures to pinpoint tasks, roles, and responsibilities more specifically than before.

Ditch inspirational safety signage

Without the clutter of signs that have no meaningful information, employees may be less likely to ignore important signage. In order to maximize effectiveness, use only compliance signs that direct specific behavior (“Shut Off Engines. Set Brakes. Chock Wheels.”) and informational signs when appropriate and relevant.

“At a time when recent workplace accidents have resulted in injury, death, and untold environmental and economic damage, we need to rethink our safety practices using science and proven systems rather than questionable conventions,” said Agnew, a workplace safety and behavior expert with more than 19 years of consulting experience. “Companies that fail to take a scientific approach to human behavior are gambling with their futures and putting the lives and livelihoods of their employees and communities at risk.”

Safe By Accident

Take the Luck out of Safety – Leadership Practices that Build a Sustainable Safety Culture is available for presale at

The hard cover books sells for $ 21.95. You can also follow the author on Twitter: