Occupational Safety

On a shared mission for safety culture and safety leadership

A conversation between Prof. Dr. Andrew Sharman and Timo Kronlöf

8 minutes20/12/2021

HSE experts Timo Kronlöf and Prof. Dr. Andrew Sharman share a common mission: to inspire safety professionals worldwide on the topics of safety culture and leadership. One during a safety career spanning more than two decades in science and business, the other by helping companies as Head Of Business Development, Nordics at Quentic to meet the major challenges in the course of the digitalization of the HSE sector. For the Safety Management Trend Report, the two met for a virtual conversation about trends and developments in occupational safety.

Evolution instead of revolution in occupational safety

Timo Kronlöf: I think we've known each other for five or six years and you have been participating in this Safety Management Trend Report since 2016. Looking back, would you say since then things have really changed? Has there been evolution in one thing?

Andrew Sharman: On the one hand, I don't think there's been any change. Last year we killed 2.78 million people at work globally. Again. But, on the other hand, I think we have changed a lot. The OSH profession has changed. It has become more confident and thinking more about soft skills. OSH managers are now realizing the urgency and value in becoming a leader rather than an advisor. The word evolution is important to me, too. We need evolution, not revolution. It is about steps in the right direction and incremental progress. We’ve definitely been getting that. I think, if we just say, we haven’t made any change because the number of fatal accidents has been the same for some years, that’s not enough.

More enthusiasm and recognition since COVID-19

Timo Kronlöf: I think so, too. But I also see that the COVID-19 pandemic is at least increasing the pace of evolution, particularly in digitalization. And safety managers have to keep up, while they already have a variety of responsibilities. They are responsible for managing the physical and psychological health of the workers, for wellbeing and many also for quality or environment. Do you think, EHS professionals have to wear too many hats?

Andrew Sharman: Yes and no. I think it’s a wonderfully exciting role, because it is the only one that is connected to every part of the organization. I do think the pandemic offers a couple of new hats like the health expert, or the health advisor. This multiplicity of elements and aspects makes it for me the most exciting profession on the planet. And I hear many practitioners confirming: “Yes, it’s tough, and it’s challenging. But it’s also a brilliant moment, because my boss is listening to me.” I hear an excitement about the profession that I have never heard before.

Timo Kronlöf: I totally agree.

Occupational Safety Specialist in 2021

Occupational safety specialists in 2021


How do occupational safety specialists currently view their field of work? Our infographic details the sector’s current challenges, opportunities and goals.

Read now

Andrew Sharman: But practitioners will also have to make sure that they use this newly gained trust by their companies to broaden the dialogue. Despite bringing the pandemic issues under control, the situation offers great opportunity to also bring othersafety-related topics, such as mental health and wellbeing, to the table.

Focus on safety culture and psychological safety

Timo Kronlöf: That's definitely true. We have spoken about psychological safety with Amy Edmondson from Harvard Business School. What made me thinking was that Amy said, that the best performing teams may actually have poorer numbers in terms of incidents and near misses. They might report much more hazards and risks, because they feel psychologically safe to do so, whereas other teams might try to hide deviations out of fear of speaking up. I definitely see a risk that people are afraid of speaking up and refrain from reporting mistakes. Would you see that kind of risk as well?

Andrew Sharman: I think that risk is not new. The culture of an organization influences the behavior of the individuals that operate within that culture. So, if the workplace culture is negative, I am not going to step up and say “I have concerns”. But there is another psychological risk that is very present at the moment. At IOSH we have talked to OSH practitioners around the globe and 75% of them are saying, that they, themselves, have a level of anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic. These fears can be of the virus itself, but also of very substantial nature. Many are insecure about the future of their jobs and their companies. This will introduce a new way of thinking about psychological safety as well.

Timo Kronlöf: Definitely. And I think that leadership plays an important role here to provide the psychological stability for their people and accompany the changes caused by the pandemic effectively at the same time.

Andrew Sharman: Yes. And besides the organizational changes that may occur, leaders will need to look at how culture is changing and think about their roles in influencing the culture. If we accept that fear and anxiety can change behaviors and culture, then leaders
need to step up here. They have to generate trust, show authenticity and build credibility to be able to grant a level of psychological safety.

Timo Kronlöf: You talk about leadership and EHS and safety managers. But, very often these are not leadership positions. Who do you refer to when
you talk about taking leadership in health & safety?

Andrew Sharman: Leadership isn't a position, it's a behavior. Not a title. It’s what you do. We all have the potential to be leaders, because leadership is a skill. So I am talking about the need for leadership across the entire organization.

1% safer: sustainable success in occupational safety 

Timo Kronlöf: I think, you have demonstrated great leadership on many frontiers. I have been observing the 1% safer movement closely, recently. You have had quite a few projects along the time I have known you.
What is special about the new, 1% safer project?

Andrew Sharman: The thing that I really can't stand in safety is the binary approach to performance. The focus on zero accidents as a target. If you get one accident or 100 accidents – you failed the target. But, failing is not a motivator and putting that huge pressure onto people that only zero accidents are acceptable is myopic.

Now, I said earlier that we haven't really made that much progress. There are 2.78 million deaths every year related to work, that’s 7616 people every day, 317 people dead every hour, one every 10 seconds. 1% safer tries to approach this using the concept of marginal gains or incremental progress. If we can make the world 1% safer, then 28,000 people will go
home without harm every year.

So, the book, which is the spearhead of the project, wants to help organizations to not concentrate on zero as a target, but on real, sustained progress. We have 142 of the world’s leading thinkers in OSH in this book, giving their best advice to make organizations on the planet 1% safer.

Timo Kronlöf: Definitely a very inspiring project. Thanks Andrew, I hope we hear much more from this and will keep an eye on this idea.

Safety Management Trend Report 2021

Safety Management Trend Report 2021

Prof. Dr. Andrew Sharman is one of the eleven international experts who participated in the panel study for the Safety Management Trend Report 2021. You can download the full report here and obtain:

  • New perspectives: Leading experts from eight countries share their estimations of the most important trends and the effects the Coronavirus pandemic has had on occupational safety
  • Valuable experiences: For the first time, the Safety Management Trend Report includes a large survey of professionals throughout Europe
  • A view to the future: What priorities are needed to make occupational safety fit for the future? What should specialists concentrate on now?

Download now

Prof. Dr. Andrew Sharman is a psychologist specializing in safety leadership, safety culture and organizational behavior with more than 25 years of experience.

Andrew Sharman, Interview 2021
Prof. Dr. Andrew Sharman
President of the Institution for Safety and Health at Work
Timo Krönlof, Interview 2021
Timo Krönlof
Head Of Business Development, Nordics at Quentic