May 10, 2019

Top 2 Safety Models

Role (Safety) Model

Did you know there are two main models of safety? If you’re confused about Safety I versus Safety II from a practical perspective, here’s a simple summary to consider. Hale, Borys and Else, 2012, provide these definitions of the two models in their paper, “Management of Safety Rules and Procedures: A Review of the Literature”:

  • “Model 1 is the classic, rationalist view of rules as constraints on the behaviour of those at the sharp end of operations imposed by experts situated higher in the hierarchy and removed from the day-to-day work. Following rules is seen as the best way of behaving in all situations that can be envisaged, while rules constitute constraints on the errors and mistakes of fallible operators, who are portrayed as not having the time or competence to come up with those rules. This is an essentially top–down view of a static set of rules that should not be violated.”
  • “Model 2 emerges from sociological and ethnographic studies and from management science, and focuses on predominantly complex, high-technology operations. According to this model, rules are socially constructed patterns of behaviour, deriving from experience with the diversity of reality. Rules are local, situated and have many exceptions and nuances. The experts in this paradigm are the operators, and this view is essentially bottom–up and dynamic. This model sees written rules as necessarily simplified abstractions of this complex reality, to be used as generic guidance, but adapted to each different situation in real life.”

Top-down vs bottom-down approach

From experience I’ve drawn the conclusion that both a top-down and bottom-up approach are required because:

  1. Without leadership commitment, achieving buy-in at the operational level is very difficult. In addition, if safety is relegated by production/productivity/schedule pressure, OHS efforts will be eroded by perceived operational necessity.
  2. The bottom-up approach enables the workforce to own operational deliverables for safety, productivity and quality. As the organisation matures, the OHS management system can progressively become more ‘decentralised’ whilst the OHS team retains oversight, facilitates change/improvements and monitors safety critical controls and performance.
  3. The bottom-up approach is required to ensure that the OHS management system, particularly procedures and operational practices, reflect ‘The Work’ rather than how the work is considered to be done by those who don’t actually do it.
  4. The top-down approach is unavoidable in large organisations that have a corporate head office that sets standards and requires consistent information/data across all operations, for instance for board reporting purposes.
  5. The OHS management system should mature progressively to facilitate a multidisciplinary approach to risk management to take advantage of synergies across functional areas eg environmental, quality, security and human resource management.
  6. OHS information including procedures, should be readily available to those who work to them, should be easy to read and follow, and should be improved if they’re insufficiently prescriptive in high-risk critical areas or overly prescriptive for low-risk tasks ie ‘right-sized’ for practical use.

It’s tempting when vigorous debates are occurring in the professional space to feel the need to take a particular stance. However, objectively, all the contributions made by various commentators have some merit, even if it’s to make us think/re-think our own values and professional drivers.


A cautionary word should be given though to remind ourselves that we shouldn’t let the ‘noise’ get in the way of doing the job, and that is to prevent fatalities, serious injuries and debilitating illnesses, including those related to mental health.

Talking about mental health, let’s not forget that culture is critical. Review your management systems and practices with a sense check to ‘decriminalise’ non-compliance. If an incident occurs start with, ‘How could this happen to the competent, conscientious worker/s involved?’ Food for thought!

Tania is an international author, technical writer and change agent specializing in managing risk to improve productivity, quality work and HSE performance. She has extensive experience in Australia across diverse industries.

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About Tania and ALIGN Risk Management

Tania Van der Stap is the Founder and Principal Director of ALIGN Strategic Management Services Pty Ltd established in 2002, after having Productive Safety Management published internationally by Butterworth-Heinemann. The publication presents a strategic, multi-disciplinary management system for hazardous industries that ties safety and production together.

From 2002 to 2012, Tania provided HSE consulting services to Chevron’s Gorgon Project, Monadelphous, Baker Hughes, Fortescue Metals Group and Worley Parsons. Thereafter for 5 years, Tania took a HSE Manager’s role with AngloGold Ashanti Australia where she made significant improvements taking the department from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘proactive’ on the HSE journey.

In late 2016, her company was rebadged to ALIGN Risk Management specialising in HSE Consulting and Risk Leadership Programs for managers, supervisors, HSE professionals and workers. Her chapter on ‘Risk Leadership – A Multi
-Disciplinary Approach’ has been accepted by the American Society of Safety Professionals and will be published in Safety Leadership and Professional Development ahead of the ASSP’s 2018 Safety Conference.

In addition to Productive Safety Management being a substantial, refereed publication, Tania’s credentials include academic qualifications in Commerce and also Public Health and Safety.


Hale, Borys and Else, 2012, “Management of Safety Rules and Procedures: A Review of the Literature”

Mol, T. 2003. Productive Safety Management. Butterworth Heinemann. Oxford. (Note: Tania Van der Stap is the author of this publication)

Van der Stap, T 2018. ‘Risk Leadership – A Multidisciplinary Approach’ in Safety Leadership and Professional Development. American Society of Safety Professionals. USA.

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