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Safe by Accident (Also Called Being Lucky)

By Bryan McWhorter
Published: September 27, 2017 | Last updated: July 31, 2022 08:05:00
Key Takeaways

Knowing why you're having safety successes is critical to ensuring you continue having them.

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How is your worker safety program doing?

If you’re not having any incidents (injuries, near misses, property damage), do you know why? To what do you attribute your success? Do you have a robust safety culture and safety management system, that is proactively promoting safety?

Or are you being safe by accident, just being lucky?


Luck's great. But there's a problem with luck: it runs out.

We can’t sustain success unless we understand why we are successful. We do incident investigations when things go wrong, but how about when they go right? Success leaves clues; we need to pay attention to them and understand today’s safety success so we can leverage it for tomorrow’s.

(See these 6 Important Incident Investigation Tips)


You have more control over safety than you may realize.

I worked for a company that was experiencing as many as three accidents per week in one of their facilities. It had been that way for as long as anyone could remember. We worked with glass, heat, and high-speed equipment – all real risky stuff – and injuries were viewed as normal. This factory had been in operation for over 40 years and it was due for a change. We needed to prove to employees that it was possible to work accident-free.

I did some digging and found that some of the employees had worked at this same facility for over 30 years and had never once had an injury. Naturally, I interviewed them and asked to what they attributed their safety success. Each person I interviewed had one thing in common: they gave extra attention to safety. They saw it as part of their professionalism. They took pride in being safe.

We thanked these employees for working safely and shared their success. This dispelled the belief that getting hurt was normal and inevitable. We duplicated their success with others. As we progressed with our safety campaign, we gained momentum with driving safety. We had one entire shift go over a year with no OSHA Recordable injuries. And then another. And within three years we went from having the worst safety record in the company to being the best. We were presented a global safety award.

We learned that we could control safety. It was within our power to eliminate injuries.

(Learn more in The Journey to Zero!)


Mechanisms for Driving Safety

What mechanisms must be in place to improve safety and reduce incidents? Here is what you need to implement a successful safety culture at work.

  • Management Commitment: Management must commit to safety as the number one goal. Safety first means employees come first. This is how management shows they value employees. Without management commitment, your safety efforts will fizzle before it begins. Employees that don’t feel valued are more likely to take risks to protect their jobs.
  • Employee Commitment: Employees need to believe they can work accident-free and agree to strive for zero incidents as the goal. They must commit to putting safety first.
  • Safety Training: Employees must be taught about the hazards they could be exposed to and the control measures in place to keep them safe. Training must be viewed as important and continuous.
  • Proactive Safety Activities: Mechanisms for driving safety must include a way for employees to flush out and address unsafe conditions and behaviors. This includes activities like 5S+1, safety audits, and hazard assessments.
  • Consistent Communication: Management needs to use every available opportunity to promote safety. We made safety the first agenda item for all meetings in our facility. Safety was promoted on team boards and with newsletters. You can’t over-communicate safety. Safety meetings are a must.
  • Safety Rewards: Employees know management recognizes and invests in what’s important to them. No rewards and recognition for safety mean it’s not important.
  • Good Incident Record Keeping and Analysis: Incident investigations need to be thorough, timely, and include root cause analysis. We need to recognize trends and understand the cause.

Proactive Safety

Safety is either proactive or it’s inactive. Your safety initiatives need to be continuously monitored and promoted. These activities serve as leading indicators towards safety success. When you see effort diminish towards any of the programs listed above, you can bet incidents will rise. These are the mechanisms driving safety.

We love wins at work and in life. Make safety one of them. I would rather spend time promoting safety than doing accident investigations. Build on the safety momentum you get by thanking employees for working safely and reinforcing that this is no accident. (No pun intended.) They are safe by following safe work habits.

(But see Your Incentives Are Compromising Safety Culture for advice on doing it right)

We never want to be simply "safe by accident" – lucky. Analyze why you’re having safety success and leverage it. Employee and management confidence will grow as they uncover the correlation between safety efforts and outcomes.

To your safety success!


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Written by Bryan McWhorter | Lead Safety Advisor, Author, Writer, Speaker

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Bryan McWhorter is a safety professional with eight years of experience in driving and teaching safety. Bryan gained his knowledge and experience as the safety officer and Senior Trainer for Philips Lighting. Philips is a strong health and well-being company that promotes a safety first culture.

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