'Safety I' thinking is rooted in ideas from the early part of the 20th century. It was a very different world back then.

Safety I

For nearly 100 years, workplace safety has been based on the 'historic compromise' between (no fault) workers compensation insurance and (all fault) regulatory enforcement. No where has this duality been more apparent than in British Columbia, where WorkSafeBC has administered both functions under the same roof since 1917. 


Because the systems of work were simple (and safety standards relatively non-existant), accidents were prevented through controlling and constraining operations to be in compliance with procedures, standards, and regulations.


Some Safety I Principles:

  • The goal of Safety I is to have as few things as possible go wrong

  • Safety is seen in the absence of negative events

  • Safety is measured in units of loss and other lagging 'insurance-type' indicators

  • Safety has become a critical enquiry: inspecting, investigating and enforcing for compliance or punishment

  • People are seen as a problem to control

  • Accident causation models are linear 

  • Safety management has become a bureaucratic accountability upwards

  • Safety has become 'reactive and additive'; we react after incidents and accidents by adding rules, procedures or other constraints



Signs of the Limitations of Safety I:

  • Companies must pre-qualify for work based on very low incident rates, yet there is empirical evidence of an inverse correlation between incident rate and fatality rate in construction

  • Conventional safety management is not effective at preventing many minor and MSI type injuries (injuries to self) and yet these effect insurance and incident rates

  • Non-compliance still occurs in a time of increasing regulatory enforcement powers

  • Incident investigations are failing to provide meaningful insights

  • Organizations are increasingly becoming frustrated at their safety managers, and vice versa!

  • ROI can not be calculated when the 'return' is a dymanic non-event

  • We have become reactive and additive, reacting only after accidents occur and adding more rules/constraints/procedures; We have created a police state

  • We are now taking away knives, ladders, and even crescent wrenches from professional working adults, while at the same time making more and more PPE mandatory without exception. Where does that end?



Modern workplaces are complex, socio-technical systems staffed by informed and empowered individuals.


We believe that there is a better way.