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Safety I vs. Safety II: They’re better together, say speakers at NSC conference


Rosemont, IL — Over a span of months before their May 15 keynote presentation – The Battle Between Safety I and Safety II: Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong? – at the 2024 NSC Spring Safety Conference and Expo, SafeStart senior safety consultant Tim Page-Bottorff and Corrie Pitzer, founder and CEO of Safemap International, used debate to find common ground.

“We are pretty passionate about learning from each other,” said Page-Bottorff, whose safety career has been heavily influenced by “traditional” safety concepts that are hallmarks of Safety I. “It wasn’t that we were conceding. It was, ‘Oh, I didn’t see it that way.’ We have a common goal: We’re trying to protect our people from harm. I think we can all agree on that.”

That focus drove Page-Bottorff and Pitzer to discover commonalities among the two approaches, which are often vigorously debated.

The launch of Safemap International was rooted solely in Safety II, or “safety differently,” a proactive approach.

“The most important aspect that Safety II brings about is that it broadens the focus from creating a safe work environment to creating an environment in which safe work can be done,” Pitzer said. “But I have to confess, I have introduced programs that were classic [Safety I] in organizations, as well.

“I have a foot in both camps, so I can speak with two tongues in this regard.”

Among the key questions Page-Bottorff and Pitzer examined (and their conclusions) were:

  • Is Safety II really new? In safety, yes, but not in management.
  • Is Safety I really old? Yes, but it remains alive and well and still valid.
  • Is Safety I wrong and should it be abandoned? Definitely not.
  • Is Safety II the only way forward? Simply put, no.
  • Is Safety II making an impact on safety performance? It’s most definitely impacting safety, but its impact on performance is still to be determined.
  • Is it possible to integrate these approaches? “I don’t think we can integrate them,” Pitzer said, “but we can align them.”

One example of where the two approaches align is in the U.S. Marine Corps, where Page-Bottorff began his safety career.

Pitzer explained that the Marines achieve this through various characteristics, such as always being ready and training members in mindfulness skills (Safety I); training with a focus on loyalty and trust in each other (Safety II); a singular focus on performing activities safely (Safety I); building skills in risk-taking and not risk avoidance (Safety I); leaning on the power of values (Safety II); having an “improvise, adapt and overcome” approach (Safety II); and operating under the motto of “No one left behind” (Safety I and Safety II).

“In this one organization, these principles and these divergent views are actually living together,” Pitzer said.

The Marines can be a model for safety professionals and organizations using different tools from both approaches.

“If you want to view safety – as fragile as it is at times – look at it as an egg,” Page-Bottorff said. “Let’s say the yolk is Safety I and the egg white is Safety II. Ultimately, what we end up doing in our businesses is scrambling the two together. It’s still an egg.”

Hear more from Tim Page-Bottorff

Check out the April episode of our On the Safe Side podcast to hear more from Tim on how employers should use assessments to find out where they are in the Safety I or Safety II spectrum – and more. Listen now.

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