When most people hear the word ‘safety’ they think of situations where something has gone wrong. It can be smaller events from their own experience, or major accidents they have read about in the news. ‘Safety’ makes us think about incidents and accidents – about (low probability) events with adverse outcomes, which is why safety traditionally is defined as a condition where nothing goes wrong as illustrated by the following typical definitions:
• Safety is the freedom from unacceptable risk (The American National Standards Institute).
• Safety is the freedom from accidental injury (U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality).
• Safety is the state in which harm to persons or of property damage is reduced to, and maintained at or below, an acceptable level through a continuing process of hazard identification and risk management (International Civil Aviation Organization).
The reason for this understanding of safety is not hard to find. It makes good practical sense to pay attention to situations where something has gone or may go wrong, both because such situations by definition are unexpected and because they may lead to harm or injury – the loss of life, materials, or money. It is therefore a natural response to try to find out why something went wrong so that steps can be taken to prevent it from happening again.