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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.

Leveraging the whY factor to move the elephant.

Moving the Elephant

It’s all about the whY factor

sketch of an elephant and definition of purpose

Some of the most often asked questions I come across in safety are:

  • Why don’t people follow the rules?
  • Why don’t people engage with us?
  • Why don’t people use the system / PPE / safety equipment / … ?
  • Why don’t people use their common sense?

People know what to do. If they have been around for over six months, are competent and trained, they know what to do (this includes, when, where and who). They also know how to do it. The rules, procedures and standards exist.

The answer to the above questions lies in the whY factor. Once people understand and accept why something has to be done, the what and the how follow. The whY factor is what moves the elephant.

It’s not hard to do the right thing –
it’s hard to know what the right thing is.
Once you know, once you know what’s right –
it’s hard not to do it.[1]

Often, the O-generation does not understand the (wh)Y-generation = insisting on ‘knowing why’.[2]  But part of to know what the right thing is, is understanding why it’s the right thing. The whY factor is the emotional component of doing things. When one gives people einspruchsrecht, i.e. the right to partake in decisions which affect them, one inevitably provides the why.

We have to give people the purpose
in return for engagement and creativity,
even though we might argue that safety is common sense.


If you’re asking “Why don’t people … ?”, then you have a whY factor problem. You should be rephrasing your safety question to “Do my people understand and accept the purpose, the why, we have to do the right things?” This is a much tougher question, because it creates a shift from blame to action.

[1]   From the movie “The Confession

[2]   “O” = older and “Y” = younger / millenials


“Safety as a Value”

“The Best Audits”

“Safety Fever”


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