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Effective safety management comes in fours

By Mari-Len De Guzman

I’ve developed this view of safety management from seeing tens of thousands of worksites and companies. My model of safety management that I call the Integrated Safety Management System (ISMS for short…rhymes with prisms) comes from the observation of those many places, where people work and play. I didn’t invent this management system; I observed it over many years until it finally made sense to me.

Everything is connected

The most interesting thing that I’ve observed is that there are four critical factors that need to be managed and are present in every workplace and there are four critical ways in which those factors need to be managed. The success your company has in safety is linked to the degree in which you manage those critical Whats and Hows of the ISMS.

I first described this model in my popular book The Emperor Has No Hard Hat – Achieving REAL Workplace Safety Results. These factors and methods are all connected together and they have a significant impact on all of the other factors and methods we use. If we do them all in an integrated and thoughtful manner we will get REAL safety results that we’re proud of. If we do these things poorly we will be frustrated and extremely unhappy with the results we get for our efforts.

So as you join me on the journey to understand how to get real safety results, remember that all of these things are intra-dependent on each other and need to be managed as a whole. Fractionalizing your efforts will undermine them and in fact be the very reason you are reading this article. Your frustration with your lack of results has driven you to seek out a solution. Well my friends, you have indeed found it. The beauty of this system is that it is already being managed in your company. You just need to start to align your efforts in an integrated fashion.

By thoughtfully and skillfully starting to think and act a bit differently, you will see different possibilities and certainly different results. As I tell all who will listen, if you do the things in this system in the ways prescribed, and you don’t get outstanding safety performance let us know, we’ll send out a team of scientists to see how you managed to mess this up!

The Four Whats

Let’s start with the four critical things that need to be managed well to get these safety results I’m promising. Remember that they are integrated and intra-dependent on each other. They indeed all have a dramatic effect on each other so they cannot be managed in isolation. Even if you wanted to, you would not be successful. It is because these factors are intra-dependent that they are in no particular order of importance. I haven’t given them priority numbers (Figure 1). I have in fact linked them graphically because they are all very much connected. We could start anywhere so let’s start with company culture.

Company culture

Company culture is simply “the way it is around here.” It is how your company thinks and acts as a group of people. It is the result of your collective thinking and actions (in some cases your inactions).

In most companies, their desired state of culture is reflected in their Mission, Vision, and Value statements. The culture is created by your intentions and your actions. The gap between what we intend for our companies and what actually happens is manageable.

There are extremely logical and practical ways in which to manage the factors that create our cultures. There are also some very impractical and frankly highly ineffective ways in which to do this. You’ve probably experienced some of those in your history of managing safety. Always remember that the culture is there at your company.  The question is: Are you managing it with purpose and clarity?

The “safety” component of your company culture is demonstrated by what you say about how you want safety and then by what you collectively do about it. The time and money you spend on safety is a measurable demonstration of your desire to actually create safety.


Every company has an accountability system. In fundamental terms this is what is measured as important and what happens when I do or don’t do what is important. The critical question here is: What is held important to us here at our company and how am I motivated to do the important things and dissuaded from doing the things that aren’t desired by our company?

What gets measured gets done, what gets rewarded gets results. Holding people positively accountable to do the things that create “safe production” makes it much more likely that you’ll succeed in achieving world-class safety results. Managing this factor poorly will just as assuredly result in frustration and unintended results. Holding people accountable for the wrong things can get people injured and killed.

This is the fundamental reason that some companies fail to get the safety results they truly want. They have inflicted upon themselves a safety management system that doesn’t fit their culture. They have bought into an audit system that doesn’t measure how they do business. They artificially do safety tasks that are in addition to the way they do their work. Therefore, they are doomed to failure. Great companies getting world-class safety results wouldn’t dream of doing something “for the audit.” It’s silly and counter-productive. Who wants to be working against themselves? That’s what buying into an off-the-shelf safety management system does.

Safe environment

This is simple enough; the tools, equipment, materials and work environment that we supply and manage have a huge impact on what happens to us. The more we manage these things the better our results. Using the wrong tool or an inappropriate piece of machinery will predictably result in an unintended consequence.  

The materials we use in our business have a huge impact on our health and safety and need to be constantly managed. The work environment in which we do our work or provide our services also impacts our results. Managing this factor can improve our results in measurable ways. Look carefully at the hardware your company uses. If this part of the ISMS model isn’t right, then fix it!

Safe behaviours

Much of what has been written and “sold” as behaviour-based safety (BBS) is neither practical nor logical. I hesitate to use the term myself, since it’s had such a bad delivery in a lot of experiences. In ISMS, safe behaviour is not a program; it’s not a package of observation cards. It was once described to me by one very dissatisfied client of a “famous” BBS provider as the “intravenous BBS drip.” “In ten years they will STILL be here inflicting their brand of manipulating humans on us.”

Managing the safe behaviour component is as simple as developing an understanding of how humans act and why they act in certain ways. We behave, not in a vacuum, but for some very logical and manageable ways. The best safe behaviour management comes from doing this with people and not to them. Help people understand why they do what they do and to manage the factors that will help. As efficient as it sounds, to do the planning and execution of safety programs with a small group of employees without the engagement of ALL your employees and contractors, just isn’t effective.

As you can probably see, the four Whats of ISMS are forever linked. “The way it is around here” drives our behaviour; the tools and equipment we decide to use have a huge impact on the safety outcomes. What we are held accountable for drives our behaviours. These four critical factors are logically linked.

Next issue: the Four Hows we need to manage the Four Whats.

Alan D. Quilley is the author of The Emperor Has No Hard Hat – Achieving REAL Safety Results and the president of Safety Results Ltd., a Sherwood Park, Alberta OH&S consulting company. You can reach him at

Mari-Len De Guzman

Mari-Len De Guzman is the former editor of Canadian Occupational Safety magazine and
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