You are responsible for your safety and that of others. Think for yourself!

Posted 11/17/2015

Organizations often put great effort into ensuring their workplaces are safe. But, workers can’t solely rely on their organization and others to ensure their safety—workers must also take personal responsibility for their safety and the safety of others. However, some workers are more rigorous at thinking through safety issues than others. For workers to identify and predict hazardous situations, they need both knowledge and a structured critical thinking strategy to apply that knowledge. Safety training often focusses on knowledge (and sometimes skills) with the belief that the workers will effectively apply the knowledge in the workplace. Some workers will apply the knowledge effectively, others will not.

A structured critical thinking strategy ensures that workers will be more thorough when assessing the workplace to identify and predict hazards and the conditions, actions, and events that can create or lead to a hazardous situation. The beauty of a cognitive approach to safety is that the strategy is in their heads, they can’t leave home without it. They can use the safety strategy anywhere, any place, and any time, at work, while driving, at home, and on vacation. With SafeThink™, a structured critical think strategy, workers remain vigilant throughout the day.

Being thoughtful involves not only taking the time to think through safety issues but also requires applying quality thinking strategies.

SafeThink is a structured thinking strategy that everyone can use on the fly to be thorough at identifying and predicting hazardous situations.


The SafeThink strategy helps people to be more flexible in applying their thinking to many different tasks and work environments. The agents of cause (hazards) are grouped into six general categories. Each categories is then further divided into specific generalizations (e.g., rotating equipment) to identify the hazards.

Just because a hazard exists does not mean workers are at risk. If a toxic and flammable liquid is stored in flame-proof cabinet in the original containers, workers in the area are not at risk.

However, if a worker removes the containers and walks to the work area, there is a possibility a container could drop and break. It was the conditions, actions, and events that interacted with a hazard (e.g., source of ignition, poor ventilation) in the area that creates the hazardous situation.

Having identified a hazard, people using the SafeThink strategy then ask, Are there any conditions, actions, or events that can create or lead to a hazardous situation? If the answer is yes, then they ask, What are the consequences? What can I do to prevent illness and injury?

SafeThink requires people to ask themselves questions. When people ask themselves a question, it tends to beg an answer, contributing to a more thorough analysis of the work and work environment. SafeThink also advocates using structured What if . . . ? questions to identify potential changes in the workplace.

                                                              When workers use SafeThink, we probably won't have to ask ourselves after an incident, What was that person thinking? 
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When people learn to SafeThink, they personalize the strategy—they own the strategy and are more likely to promote the strategy. Collectively, when a group identifies with SafeThink, they can shift individual worker attitudes significantly.

More than 6500 hours of R&D were required to develop SafeThink. Industry contributed an additional 2500 hours refining the strategy. The above explanation is very brief—there is a lot more to the SafeThink strategy. To learn more, go to

What are your thoughts about cognitive-based safety?

Gordon Shand is President of HDC Human Development Consultants Ltd. He has 35 years of experience designing and developing educational and training programs that have excellent practical value and contribute to the customer’s business success.