Willem Top is kind of a legend in safety - at least in The Netherlands and Belgium. When I started in the safety profession in 1992, my first major course was Safety Auditing and an induction in the International Safety Rating System (ISRS) from DNV. At the course I was given two books, “Risk/Loss Control Management” and “Safety Auditing”, both written by Willem Top and both of which have been used from one time to another during the past 20 years of my professional career.

Now Willem has collected some of the knowledge and experience he has gathered in his long career as a professional and bundled it in this e-book. I’m no particular fan of e-books (love to read from paper and highlight/comment on the printed version) but at least this saves some space in the bookshelf.

On 200 pages Willem delivers an easy to read, practical and rather unpretentious view on how a management system (regardless the scope, even though he comes from a safety background the book is rather holistic) can be built with the help of a number of basic elements/principles. Willem himself calls it a “travel guide” rather than a “cook book”.

At first one may get a perception that Top concentrates very much on avoidance of losses, reading on in the book one discovers that he very much promotes the use of positive drivers, call it leading indicators if you want, in order to reach this goal.

Some people will criticize the culture-as-system approach that seems to be promoted on page 29, but Top is quick to apply an important nuance. He knows his limitations, being a chemical engineer and no psychologist and he stresses some of these limitations throughout the e-book.

The proposed elements for the management system sound sensible. Sure, I would have made a slightly different cluster than Top’s 17 steps, but that’s quibling over details in definitions. The elements discussed are essential. On a critical note, the PLAN, TRAIN, DO model that Top promotes does in fact contain check/evaluate and improve steps, but these are a bit hidden in the model. I would propose to follow Deming’s PDC(S)A.

What I like is that Top stresses the fact that a management system can be written down, but in some instances also done orally, or just through actions and giving the example. This might be an eye opener for quite a few. Especially with the ISRS in the back of my mind which I always perceived as very solid and complete, but also as very bureaucratic. Willem Top addresses another drawback of the ISRS (without actually naming the ISRS) namely the rating, which may become a goal in itself, thereby prioritizing elements that gain points and neglecting essential elements that create control. He does propose an alternative rating for his 17 step approach as a measure for implementation.

A benefit of this rating system is that Top listed the desired state properties of the various steps (at least some of them) which guides the assessment further than just a simple yes/no tick-list-of-requirements. And whether you use the rating or not, it is a fine (check)list of points to consider when building and implementing your management system.

You can order this e-book directly from the author. Check Willem Top’s website.

(Postscript: in the meantime it has become possible to order the book as an ordinary 'old-fashioned' book. Way to go, Willem!)