Carsten Busch has self-published “Safety Myth 101” – a book that is one of the most comprehensive discussions on contemporary approaches to occupational health and safety (OHS). But it is also riddled with the problems of many self-published books – the lack of a strong and tough editor, an unattractive presentation and a mess of footnotes, references and endnotes. The content is very good which makes reading this book a frustrating experience.
I can’t help thinking that the book would have been more effective in a more modern online format that would have allowed for word searches, hyperlinks and interaction with readers. In fact, a wiki may have been the best option for Busch’s very valuable content. But what of this valuable content?
Busch’s intention is to improve the OHS profession’s knowledge, its practices and its relevance. The OHS profession is at a point where it can be a joke or a serious business player in business decisions, and the option chosen largely depends on the professionalism of the professionals and the representative organisations of those professionals. Part of the reason Busch has written this book is to counter absurd safety myths but the other part is to challenge the OHS profession to think critically about its core principles and to strengthen those principles so that business leaders see the sense in them which, ultimately, will reduce harm.
Most of the myths he tackles are important but the first two illustrate the currency of his thought. Myth 1 is “Safety is about the absence of accidents” and 2 is “Safety means the absence of risk”. Currently in Australia, and likely in Norway where Busch lives, there is a “Safety Differently” movement which often uses Myth 1 to support its new perspective. Busch expands on the myth by writing that
“Safety is (often) about hazards and the effect that those hazards can have on humans (or things, or the environment, etc.) and how we deal with those hazards.” (page 24)
Busch devotes a whole chapter to myths related to culture and especially Safety Culture. He says that Safety Culture has been so misused that it has become a meaningless buzzword in many circumstances. Busch discusses the origin of current approaches and introduces his chapter with
“Eventually Safety Culture also became an easy way out for explaining things. Especially because mainstream applications of Safety Culture… fit quite nicely with the bureaucratic machinery and safety management systems. Despite what they may claim, these approaches are in essence very behaviouralist.” (page 131)
Busch discusses topics as diverse as the certification of the Safety Culture Ladder, where the shared responsibility for safety led to a decisional paralysis, and has shown me that I lean towards an interpretive approach on safety culture. I have never been convinced that a safety culture is established exclusively through executive leadership. In many instances, the leadership (or as Busch refers to it, the “functionalist”) approach seemed more about scoring a corporate account than improving safety. On the interpretive approach Busch writes:
“If culture indeed should be seen as an emerging property then it can probably emerge bottom up and does not need to come from the top. This makes sense when one looks at where the concept of culture comes from: it is about groups developing values, attitudes and behaviours to deal with the challenges they faced…” (page 138)
Busch includes “”if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” as a safety myth. It is certainly a myth that Peter Drucker said it. The quote is not really a myth. The myth comes from the interpretation of the quote as requiring numerical measurements. Busch writes that
“…qualitative measurements may seem to be less precise, but are often much more useful…” (page 148)
I agree, but the challenge is to succeed with this argument after decades of safety performance measurements that have only been numerical and that are required by government safety regulators and clients. Arguing the subjective against the objective is very difficult even when the objective perspective has shown to be less effective and accurate as promised. We must un-entrench the objective so that both perspectives are given similar weight.
The formatting of this book caused me to stop reading it through as a regular book which is a shame as there are thematic threads in the content that would benefit from a continuous reading flow. This book is perhaps the best example of a book from which the reader benefits most by dipping into; by looking up a name or a concept in the index and jumping to half a dozen pages. The fact that the book has an index is a wonder as most self-published authors cannot be bothered.
Each chapter has a Further Reading section that is excellent, partly because, forgive me for being a cultural snob, it is not dominated by American publications and articles that reiterate similar safety concepts. The freshness and excitement of the book’s content comes from Busch reading and explaining the ideological safety mavericks of Europe, Australia and America. Busch has tried to keep his writing as accessible as possible, and mostly succeeds as this example about the injury ration in Heinrich’s Pyramid shows:
“Let me say it bluntly: the ratio says diddly, so stop moaning about it being wrong or the numbers being based on flawed data.” (page 103)
Busch has written a book full of excellent safety discussions, thoughts, references and resources. But its poor presentation is a real drag on its readability. “Safety Myths 101” is highly recommended but with reservations.