How Safe Is Safe Enough? Leadership, Safety and Risk Management

Lynda Holyoak (University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 1 July 2004




Holyoak, L. (2004), "How Safe Is Safe Enough? Leadership, Safety and Risk Management", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 479-480.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This compact volume is written by a US Air Force colonel with a responsibility for safety in that organisation; he also teaches on safety and other topics on a number of programmes. The book is designed to be an overview for organisational leaders of what is involved in safety management.

In 11 short chapters, Greg Alston gives readers a taste of a number of topics, attempting to bring together material on a number of safety and risk issues (such as understanding probabilities, risk management at different levels in the organisation, and designing safety programmes) to give organisational leaders an insight into the scope of the problem, but also its manageability. Many of these topics are dealt with in other books in more detail, but it would seem that the aim of this book is to raise awareness among those at “the top”, without whose support safety programmes will have only limited success.

I was keen to read this book, but I came away somewhat disappointed. Although it does cover some topics well for a novice reader (for example, going back to the basics on probability), I thought the relative superficiality of the book went against it at times, especially when in many ways it seemed to be offering organisational leaders a step‐by‐step guide to sorting out safety in the organisation. The text contains many errors which indicate that insufficient care was taken in its production (e.g. talking about someone being given a “free reign” rather than a “free rein” and being unable to decide on the spelling of a researcher's name) and others that suggest a lack of understanding: in Chapter 10, Alston describes questionnaires about individuals' perception of risk as objective data, when clearly they are not. I am unsure about how well his advice transfers from the US military to non‐US and non‐military settings. The advice on getting employees to manage their safety while not at work is an example of this. Whilst young airmen may have a notoriety for taking risks and may be being more likely than the average employee to kill or injure themselves while off duty, I do not think I would like to follow practice used for them and be issued with a safety checklist for leisure activities prior to going on my summer holiday. When I got to the question in the personal safety guide which asks “would I do this if my mum was here?” I could not stop myself laughing out loud. On a serious note though, I hope that this is not an indication of the creep of Big Brother into life in organisations: Alston writes quite forcibly about how remiss it is of people to get themselves killed during their time off and I would be worried if organisations were to go down the line of dictating what we can and cannot do when not at work. Finally, many readers might weary, as I did, of its constant repetition of the message of the title, and the militaristic vocabulary.

On a positive note, the book is bang up to date, with very recent examples included. The speed of getting it published may explain the silly errors. The inspirational tone is reminiscent of an expensive seminar on the topic, with the advantage of a huge cost saving by reading a short book rather than spending a couple of days at a swanky hotel. However, I hope that anyone thinking of implementing the advice given in How Safe Is Safe Enough would take their information seeking a little further than just this book.

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