The 10 Basic Principles of Safety

10 basic principles of safety

In Dan Petersen’s book “Safety Management – A Human Approach” published in 1975 he presented ten basic principles of safety management that should be the foundation of all safety programs. However, very few organizations’ safety programs are created using these important principles.

Every operation should review these 10 basic principles of safety and incorporate them into their organization. Take it one step at a time.

Safety Principle Number One

An unsafe act, an unsafe condition, an accident: these negative events are symptoms that something is wrong in the management system.

Frank Bird’s domino theory stated that for every 600 identified unsafe acts (near misses) on average will produce one severe/catastrophic outcome.

Safety Principle Number Two

Certain sets of circumstances can be predicted to produce severe injuries. These circumstances can be identified and controlled.

  • Unusual, non-routine jobs
  • Nonproductive activities
  • High-energy sources
  • Certain construction situations

We can attack severity directly instead of merely hoping our attack on frequency will also affect severity.

OSHA’s Focus Four have not changed in over 20 years.

  • Falls
  • Struck By
  • Caught in Between
  • Electrical equipment exposures

OSHA’s Focus Four still accounts for the majority of injuries on a jobsite.

Safety Principle Number Three

Safety should be managed like any other company function. Management should direct the safety effect by setting achievable goals, planning, organizing, and controlling to achieve them.

In Frank Bird’s Dominio Theory, published in 1966 tied a workplace injury/illness to five dominoes with management being the number one domino that fails.

Safety Principle Number Four

The key to effective line safety performance is management procedures that fix accountability.

The front-line supervisor is the key person in accident prevention. Supervisors should be trained and educated in the application of safety procedures and their responsibilities to implement them.

Safety Principle Number Five

The function of safety is to locate and define the operational errors that allow accidents to occur. This function can be carried out in two ways:

  • By asking “why,” searching for root causes of accidents
  • By asking whether certain known, effective controls are being utilized

Safety representatives should be educated and trained to be coaches, not cops.

Safety Principle Number Six

The cause of unsafe behavior can be identified and classified. Some of the classifications are over-load (overexertion), improper matching of a person’s capacity with a load, traps, and the worker’s decision to take a shortcut.

Each of these causes can be controlled.

B.F. Skinner, an American behaviorist, stated that behavior that is rewarded is repeated.

Safety Principle Number Seven

In most cases, unsafe behavior is normal human behavior; it is the result of normal people reacting to their environment. Management’s job is to change the environment that leads to unsafe behavior.

Changing behavior changes culture.

According to Forbes Magazine writer Ekta Vyas, Ph.D., a member of the Forbes Human Resources Council, “All change requires leadership, and culture change is primarily about changing the basic assumptions and shared beliefs of organizational members.”

Safety Principle Number Eight

There are three major subsystems that must be dealt with in building an effective safety system: the physical, the managerial, and the behavioral.

  • Physical: Workers must be physically fit for duty.
  • Managerial: Management must be visible with the safety message.
  • Behavioral: Promote acceptable behavior and decrease unacceptable behavior.

Safety Principle Number Nine

The safety system should fit the culture of the organization.

Mixed messages from management and frontline supervisors create trust issues with workers.

Safety Principle Number Ten

There is no one right way to achieve safety in an organization; however, for a safety system to be effective, it must meet certain criteria. The system must:

  • Force supervisory performance
  • Involve middle management
  • Have top management visibly show their commitment
  • Have employee participation
  • Be flexible
  • Be perceived as positive

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, the idea is to begin with a basic program and simple goals and grow from there. If you focus on achieving goals, monitoring performance, and evaluating outcomes, your workplace can progress along the path to higher levels of safety and health achievement.

For a resource that supports Mr. Petersen’s Ten Principles, go to the following link: Safety Management – A safe workplace is sound business | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (

Be Safe!

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