I noticed the announcement of this book a few months ago. I was intrigued and kept it on my watch list, because it looked promising. Now, here it is.

The back cover says: 

“Professional safety is in danger of extinction. Safety professionals have become complacent and unfocused, ignorantly relying on an 80-year-old paradigm. Lazy gimmicks are substituted for the hierarchy of controls meant to be the foundation of the profession. A $10,000 investment in posters makes zero improvement in safety; a $10,000 investment in machine guarding upgrades can save lives”.

On one side, this almost suggests more than the book delivers (no, there is not a critical review of safety theory). The second half of this announcement, however, is spot on because the author writes a great deal about the need for better and effective ways to do safety work - with the clear recommendation to go for design rather than behavioural interventions.

All in all, Scott Gesinger has delivered a refreshingly different safety book. You will find little theory here. Instead, he concentrates on storytelling, often drawing on his own personal experience as a safety professional in a variety of sectors. When he uses other sources, you can expect movies (“Jaws” as an analogy for the work of a safety professional!!), history (how is General Patton related to safety), sports (somewhat lost on me, sorry, not a clue who Vince Lombardi or the Packers are) and the odd accident (Bhopal, the Cocoanut Grove fire).

And, let’s not forget, a lot of humour which sets the book even further apart from most of what you find on the book shelves of safety professionals. In fact, I am pleasantly surprised about the freedom that the editor has allowed Scott to mix in quirky comments.

The titles of some chapters alone are an invitation to start reading. Some (not so) random examples: “Ptolemy, Freud and Heinrich walked into a bar”, “Everything I need to know about behaviour-based safety I learned from my cats” and “Safety discipline needs a spanking”. By the way, you can read them in about any order you like. Only one or two are actually connected.

I must also mention Scott’s obvious humanity. He tells about his own mistakes, emotions and mixes in hints at the ‘consumption of healthy amounts’ of beer and burgers. Safety nerds (I subscribe to that title too) are only human. He doesn’t take himself too bloody serious, but he does take his work very serious (but is convinced that you can do it with a big smile from time to time).

I have also some points of criticism. Firstly, the book is very US-oriented. That is obviously where Scott’s experiences are from, but you will have to transfer some stuff to your own situation. Secondly, the “professional safety” from the title is mostly dealt with in a narrow view of occupational safety (and health).

Sometimes, one may also be wondering what exactly the message is. On one side, this is good, because it means that you have to digest the stories and reflect upon the lessons hidden in them. Lazy readers, however, may miss them. To help them: one main element that stands out is the stress on doing safety WITH people, not TO them (although Scott describes some attempts at that too - see the chapter with the not always successful cat experiments!), illustrated with among others the importance of Gemba-walks.

But, is this really innovative, or rather an urge to finally start doing things properly? The presentation is innovative for sure, but that is the wrapping of mostly traditional approaches (compliance, root cause - in the singular no less, and hierarchy of controls) with hints of how to do it more effectively. That’s not bad for sure, but not really a ‘paradigm shift’ either.

Speaking of the ‘p’-word… Big Words like ‘paradigm’ and the APA-styled references in the text are in dissonance with the rest of the writing. Since there is hardly any real research, I would have suggested a general bibliography (or endnotes). Besides, the bibliography is a bit odd. Hardly no safety literature there, and while he recommends the works of Deming, Dekker and Geller in the text you will not find any of them in the bibliography. Anyway, I’d rather see that the author sticks to storytelling. This is where he is clearly in his element. Coming up with the python-analogy when discussing how OSHA works is just brilliant.

All in all, a recommended safety book to semi-relax and then use as a good opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of what we do and how we might do it better. And, if a chapter doesn’t appeal to you - just skip it. In most cases, it will not affect your understanding of the rest!

Enjoy! I hope Scott continues his work, maybe also as a safety blogger?

Routledge, ISBN 9781138036567