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In this series, I share with you my thoughts on Why Safety Is An Issue For Most Companies and the Things We Must Address If We Want To Improve Our Safety Performance. The “Trust Factor” is one of those fundamental things.

Lessons from Cats

(Near Hit and Incident reporting)

graphic depicting cat - trust - expose soft belly

My wife and I love animals. We have two large dogs and five cats. It is my act of love to brush the cats every Saturday. Lula, the oldest one, is full of trust and flops onto her back, exposing her soft underbelly without any problem. Pippa, on the other hand, would never do this voluntarily and will only expose her underbelly in an all-claws-out fight!

So why do these cats behave so differently? The answer lies in one word – trust.

Lula was born on our bed, showered with care and love for the entire 16 years of her life. She has no hesitation to present herself in the most vulnerable position. Pippa, on the other hand, is one of our rescue children and grew up somewhere in the gutters of Benoni. She had to fend for herself, got ‘raped’ at six months of age and was left with a litter of kittens. Who knows what else has happened to her? Her deep-rooted mistrust throws her into sheer distress when I turn her onto her back to brush her belly.

The link to safety and, indeed, leadership.

Do your people trust you enough to expose their soft underbelly to you?

By that I mean:

  • Do they trust you enough so as to disclose all the near hits, incidents, cuts and bruises, breach of rules and procedures and mistakes, not only in terms of safety, but also in quality, costs, human relations, and …
  • You expect them to report these occurrences, but what have you done to earn their trust? Is your company culture a “Lula” experience with reliable care and love? Or is it a “Pippa” experience of wariness, where people get penalised for mistakes, feel they have to watch their backs and have learned to trust no one?


  • Don’t brush this off as another sermon about the soft side of business. This is a fundamental issue. If you don’t really listen, respect, recognise, care and relate to your people, with integrity, you cannot expect them to expose their underbelly to you in full trust.
  • Analyse your emotional balance sheet – penalty vs praise. We are experts at holding up the red card and hardly ever show a green card – the pat on the back, a genuine thank you for doing the everyday things, for sticking to the rules, for ideas, for their commitment, for finishing the project, for …
  • Allow your subordinates to hold up the mirror to their / your leaders, without fear or favour.
    “The mirror we hold up to the person next to us is one of the most important pictures he / she will ever see.” — Seth Godin
    I am not a big fan of surveys, but an anonymous, simple survey might help you?


“Trust and Respect” – from the book Life EduAction by Jürgen Tietz

“Care and Growth” approach by Etsko Schuitema


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Ask me about using my ISIBOPHO Whistle and Red-Green Cards COOL TOOL™, customised to your company’s safety keypoints.


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