Episode Summary

Our discussion today centers around a Safety Science paper from 2008 titled, “Reflexive approach to the activity of preventionists and their training needs: Results of a French study”  (Volume 46, Issue 8, October 2008, Pages 1271-1288 Safety Science by Alain Garrigoua and Guy Peissel-Cottenazb)

Episode Notes

The paper results center on a survey sent to a multitude of French industries, and although the sampling is from only one country, 15 years ago, the findings are very illustrative of common issues among safety professionals within their organizations.  David used this paper as a reference for his PhD thesis, and we are going to dig into each section to discuss.

The paper’s abstract introduction reads:

What are the training needs of company preventionists? An apparently straightforward question, but one that will very quickly run into a number of difficulties. The first involves the extreme variability of situations and functions concealed behind the term preventionist and which stretch way beyond the term’s polysemous nature. Moreover, analysis of the literature reveals that very few research papers have endeavoured to analyse the activities associated with prevention practices, especially those of preventionists. This is a fact, even though prevention-related issues and preventionist responsibilities are becoming increasingly important.

Discussion Points:

  • The paper, reported from French industries, focuses heavily on safety in areas like occupational therapies, ergonomics, pesticides, hygiene, etc.
  • The downside of any “survey” result is that we can only capture what the respondents “say” or self-report about their experiences
  • Most of the survey participants were not originally trained as safety professionals
  • There are three subgroups within the survey:
    1. High school grads with little safety training
    2. Post high school with two-year tech training program paths to safety work
    3. University-educated levels including engineers and managers
  • There were six main positions isolated within this study:
    1. Prevention Specialists – hold a degree in safety, high status in safety management
    2. Field Preventionists – lesser status, operations level, closer to front lines
    3. Prevention Managers – executive status, senior management, engineers/project managers
    4. Preventionist Proxies – may be establishing safety programs, in opposition to the organization, chaotic positions
    5. Basic Coordinators – mainly focused on training others
    6. Unstructured – no established safety procedures, may have been thrown into this role
  • So many of the respondents felt isolated and frustrated within the organizations– which continues to be true in the safety profession
  • There is evidence in this paper and others that a large portion of safety professionals “hate their bosses” and feel ‘great distress’ in their positions
  • Only 2.5% felt comfortable negotiating safety with management
  • Takeaways:
    1. Safety professionals come from widely diverse backgrounds
    2. Training and education are imperative
    3. These are complex jobs that often are not on site
    4. Role clarity is very low, leading to frustration and job dissatisfaction
    5. Send us your suggestions for future episodes, we are actively looking!


“I think this study was quite a coordinated effort across the French industry that involved a lot of different professional associations.” – David

“It might be interesting for our readers/listeners to sort of think about which of these six groups do you fit into and how well do you reckon that is a description of what you do.” – Drew

“I thought it was worth highlighting just how much these different [job] categories are determined by the organization, not by the background or skill of the safety practitioner.” – Drew

“[I read a paper that stated:] There is a significant proportion of safety professionals that hate their bosses …and it was one of the top five professions that hate their bosses and managers.” – David

“You don’t have to go too far in the safety profession to find frustrated professionals.” – David

“There’s a lot to think on and reflect on…it’s one sample in one country 15 years ago, but these are useful reflections as we get to the practical takeaways.” – David

“The activity that I like safety professionals to do is to think about the really important parts of their role that add the most value to the safety of work, and then go and ask questions of their stakeholders of what they think are the most valuable parts of the role, …and work toward alignment.” – David

“Getting that role clarity makes you feel that you’re doing better in your job.” – Drew


Link to the Safety Science Article

The Safety of Work Podcast

The Safety of Work on LinkedIn