14th Jul, 2020 Read time 9 minutes

A summary of the key takeaways from Tim Marsh’s Safety Thoughts series

Getting the behavioural safety strategy aligned with any changes to procedural changes is essential when it comes to getting buy-in for new practices. Different experts have different views on how organisations can enact behavioural changes, and in February we were privileged enough to welcome Dr Tim Marsh into the HSE Network studio to film a series of short videos looking at behavioural safety through a variety of different lenses.


  1. The power of culture and how to create one that supports safety

Culture influences all aspects of an organisation from both a business and a safety perspective. Whilst it may seem like an insurmountable task to enact wholesale changes to your safety culture, there are some documented ways that it can be done.

Here Tim Marsh breaks down 3 key questions to ask yourself when looking at your businesses culture.

Tim Marsh

“And the great news about a strong culture is it impacts on everything. It impacts on quality, it impacts on mental health and well-being as well as safety. Really my model of culture is based on Arjun’s classic model, which talks about norms, unspoken assumptions and so on that have an impact on people on a subconscious level.

And all that stuff about nudging and front brain, back brain, thinking fast, thinking slow is relevant. But really there are three elements of a culture that determine those norms, those unspoken assumptions. And the first one is, do you have a good learning culture? But you know, Andrew Hopkins articulate this really well when he talked about the mindful safety concept where he said that all organizations are full of problems.

The better organizations are going out and finding out what those problems are. Weaker organizations wait for the problems to find them. The second element as I’ve already said, is have you actually got good systems and procedures? Have you hit diminishing returns with that? And the third one is, have you got transformational leadership for empowerment?

Not engagement. Engagement isn’t the same thing as empowerment. Engagement is, I’ve had an idea of what you think? Empowerment is a much more dynamic, interactive process. And so, if you’ve got those three things firing on all cylinders, diminishing returns from your systems are really good approach” to learning and really good transformational or sometimes people call it servant leadership, you’re fine.”


  1. Heinrich’s Principle in a behavioural safety context

The second video from Tim Marsh focused on Heinrichs Principle and the learnings it illustrates from a safety perspective. In the video, Tim gives an interesting example of how a change in behavioural safety can lead to a big change in organisational safety performance.

The impact of holding a handrail is well-documented however compliance with this basic safety practice is often found wanting in many organisations. Including behavioural safety cues whether that be through signage, positive reinforcement, or the development and empowerment of safety leaders are all areas which can be looked at when it comes to influencing human behaviour.

For the process safety-minded person with a focus, say stopping a serious oil rig disaster, it may be difficult to understand why getting people to hold the handrail contributes. However, the main aim of a handrail is not to stop a serious platform disaster, but to workers falling down the stairs. Leading on from this if one of the lives saved happens to be, say, a critical process safety engineer, then a more holistic picture can be drawn.


Tim Marsh

“Very simple example from the offshore industry. We know that the likelihood of falling down the stairs if you’re not holding the handrail, about 100,000 to 1. On a typical platform, the stairs will be used a million times a year. So if nobody holds the handrail, then you’re looking at 10 accidents, give or take. If we can get 90% to hold the handrail, then an accident, give or take. And if we can get 99% to hold the handrail, then an accident every 10 years or so.

And that fabled zero harm actually becomes a reality because so many accidents that we have are about moderately dangerous but frequent events, like walking up and down the stairs, like driving a car. So, obviously, for, you know, holding the handrail, isn’t necessarily going to predict process safety issues unless there’s an overlap in general culture and safety excellence.

But the sorts of things that do predict process safety issues are things like the quality of a shift handover, the number of times a permit to work is signed off blind, and so on. So in the world of cultural empowerment, you know, the quality of our transformational leadership really is determined by how many transformational leadership behaviors we undertake: how many times we praise rather than criticize, how many times we coach rather than tell, how often we lead by example in a good way, how many times we communicate in a really impactful way.”

  1. The tale of 3 boxers, a look at wellbeing in behavioural safety


The last video from Tim Marsh looks at the different case studies from 3 boxers and how a holistic wellbeing approach connects to behavioural safety.

Wellbeing is crucial when it comes to putting your business in a good position for developing good behavioural safety practices. Tim looks at 3 different boxers, Muhammed Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazer. The 3 boxers end up in 3 different positions, and Tim suggests that it could be due to the different approaches they had in terms of wellbeing at the different stages of their career.

The key takeaway is that whilst both Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazer had their successes in their professional life, the lack of self-care in the long run led to them being miserable. George Foreman, on the other hand, took steps at different stages of the career to safeguard his wellbeing, and in the end retied a very happy, healthy and wealthy man.

But what does this mean from a safety perspective? Well, it illustrates that wellbeing is woven into everything we do in the world of safety. If someone is meeting the key areas of wellbeing like health, happiness and job satisfaction, they are much more likely to feel empowered in their workplace to take charge of their own behavioural safety and that of their colleagues.


Tim Marsh

“George Foreman is really interesting in this respect. He suffers the worst defeat in the history of the sport. Muhammad Ali is the most popular, successful sportsman you can imagine. And at the peak of his powers, he fights Foreman, who’s a massive underdog, and wins. So, you can argue that Foreman has suffered the worst defeat in the history of the sport to lose to the great Ali, even though he was the overwhelming favourite.

As you can imagine, it breaks him. He fights a couple more fights but his heart’s not in it. He retires. He’s gone from the sport at 25. But in time, he finds religion and that gives meaning to his life. And to try and raise money for a youth club, I think in Galveston, Texas, certainly Texas somewhere, he’s suggested that he boxes again. And he doesn’t want to.

He says, “That was 20 years ago now. I’m in my 40s now.” But he’s persuaded to take low-risk fights, and he keeps winning. So in due course, he finds a guy called Evander Holyfield. His nickname was actually “The Real Deal.” And obviously, Foreman can’t win this fight. But he does much better than people thought. It was kind of a TV gimmick, really.

But he does much better than people thought. So in a couple of months, when Holyfield has an off night against a young man called Michael Moorer, Foreman is watching this in Texas and says, “Well, I could beat him. I’ll wait for him to get tired. When he gets tired, he might make an amateur mistake, and if he does, I’ll chin him.” And he does.

That’s exactly what happens. The guy is miles ahead on points, gets tired, Foreman wins. At this point, he’s a really nice man. Everybody loves him. He gets the endorsement to make some grills. They sell fantastically well. I think he got $183 million when he sold out in his shares.

And somewhere in Texas tonight is a really happy, really healthy, really rich, really popular man called George Foreman. And the whole story, I think, begs two questions. The first one is, you know, “Who won?” And I want to ask the grandchildren, you know, for their answer to that, because I want to suggest, of course, that in the long run, Foreman won.

So with that story of the three famous boxers, that takes us full circle. You know, we get out of life, on balance, what we put into it, whether it’s safety culture, whether it’s cultural excellence, whether it’s well-being, mental health. We can have an impact on what the outcome will be.”


Find out more about how to influence behavioural safety in your workers

The videos provided by Tim Marsh help to illustrate some of the challenges that are present when organisations are trying to improve behavioural safety. The key takeaway is that a holistic approach is needed with good wellbeing strategies at the heart of any behavioural safety changes.

If you want to take a look at the full videos the article is based on, the talks on culture, Heinrichs Principle, and The Tale of Three Boxers are all available on the HSE Network.


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