Book Offers Scientific Solution to Workplace Safety

Safety experts Judy Agnew and Aubrey Daniels say behavioral science, not just engineering or physics, holds key to improving workplace safety.

ATLANTA - 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.

In Safe By Accident: Take the Luck Out of Safety: Leadership Practices that Build a Sustainable Safety Culture (November 1, 2010), authors Judy Agnew and Aubrey Daniels argue that the solution to improving workplace safety 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.

Agnew and Daniels identify what is missing in safety leadership, particularly around accountability, and explore seven widespread safety practices that waste time and money, such as incentive programs, safety signage, and punishment.

"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."

Read more about five construction safety tips Agnew offers to create a safer workplace.