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Safety has a bright future...

Safety is changing. We believe it is for the better. But the changes require us to also think differently on safety topics. 

HOPspot is a series of topics we need to be aware of and re-think when adapting to HOP, Safety Differently and the future of safety.


Is HOP more than principles?

HOP is short for “Human and Organizational Performance” which is an operating philosophy that combines insight from Human Factors and Organizational Psychology. HOP is based on five principles:.

  • Human mistakes are normal - people make mistakes
  • Blame fixes nothing - but may make things worse
  • Learning is vital - mostly before incidents happens
  • Context drives behavior - not competence, attitude, procedures, etc. 
  • How we respond to mistakes and failure matters

These five principles may seem simple and straightforward. But they have widespread implications which will be discussed in more detail in the following HOPspots. The HOP principles are sometimes presented as a guide for safety professionals. But we think it should be at the heart of the company culture. What do you think?

Suggested reading: Conklin, T., The 5 Principles of Human Performance: A contemporary update of the building blocks of Human Performance for the new view of safety, Pre-Accident Investigation Media, New Mexico, 2019

#2: How you define “safety” matters!

Many companies still refer to safety as prevention or absence of unwanted events, bad outcomes or harm. This reactive definition is widely used, but fails in recognising what it is that creates safety. Hence, several safety experts reject this definition and instead prefer the definition “Safety is having the capacity to make things go well.” 

Does it matter how we define safety? Yes indeed! Departments and organizations demonstrating a lasting good safety record have some unique capacities. The first capacity is a diversity of opinions. Hence, it involves voicing opinions which rely on 'Psychological safety.' In addition, this capacity reflects diversity rooted in multidisciplinary, gender, age, and so on. In SAYFR this capacity is covered by the Leadership Behaviors “Trust” and “Speak-up.” 

The second unique capacity is to not take safety for granted. The workforce keeps discussions about safety alive and does not wait for inspections to reveal improvement areas. In SAYFR this capacity is covered by the Leadership Behavior "Openness." 

The third unique capacity is pride and ownership of the work. The expertise of the workforce is appreciated and actively used in decision-making. In SAYFR this capacity is covered by the Leadership Behavior “Care.” 

Suggested reading: Dekker, S., Conklin, T., Do Safety Differently, Pre-Accident Investigation Media, New Mexico, 2022

#3: Is the term "Root Cause" dying?

Todd Conklin dedicates a full chapter in the book «do safety differently» to how we need to stop thinking in terms of “root cause”. The critique is that there exists no single common root cause behind all direct causes. Because major accidents involve an interplay of multiple causes which may be independent with different underlying causes, there is no point in trying to find their common “root cause”. 

It is healthy to critically discuss how key concepts and methods are used. It does not make sense to search for one common root cause behind a major incident. When we in SAYFR use the term “root cause” it is in plural “root causes” under the pseudonym "underlying cause". Instead of addressing the observable symptom (e.g. a shortcut),  the underlying cause of this might be time pressure (among other causes). Instead of addressing the symptom, we address the underlying core problem. But there are of course multiple underlying (or root) causes. If there are different interpretations - should we stop calling it root causes and switch to something else? "Underlying causes"? "Basic causes"? What do you think? 

Suggested reading: Dekker, S., Conklin, T., Do Safety Differently, Pre-Accident Investigation Media, New Mexico, 2022

#4: End to Zero Harm?

The core reason to engage in safety is to avoid harm. However, according to many HOP professionals, ZERO Harm can be a counterproductive goal. There are many reasons for this.

The first reason is related to logic. We all make mistakes that may involve minor harm, like a cut in the finger or a bruise on the leg. If we want to enable sharing and learning from these mistakes, we must create an environment where this is acceptable. A goal of ZERO is not ideal in creating that space for sharing and learning.

The second reason is related to false causality. Some claim that the Accident Ratio Studies imply that disasters are preventable through eliminating trivial injuries. There is no such causal relationship. Preventing a ship collision is not through averting a cut in a finger in the galley.

The third reason relies on empirical evidence from construction, aviation, and healthcare that demonstrates that companies with goals of ZERO harm actually have a higher frequency of serious injuries relative to their peers.

Are you ready to scrap ZERO harm?

Suggested reading: Lloyd, C., Next Generation Safety Leadership; from Compliance to Care, CRC Press, 2020

#5: Trust is the foundation

All HOP literature have one thing in common. They all refer to high Trust as one of the capacities needed to be safe. To truly implement the five HOP principles (HOPspot #1), there needs to be a certain level of Trust towards colleagues, leaders and the safety systems. This Trust provides a psychologically safe environment and purpose to adhere to the safety systems. 

SAYFR has surveyed several hundred thousand employees, where Trust is one of several cultural factors. Through advanced Structural Equation Model (SEM) analysis, we find Trust to be the foundation for other cultural factors. Low Trust will impact Care and Openness. Hence, it does not matter how much we preach about speaking up if there is no Trust. We have seen that companies and teams with low scores on Trust have much higher risk of major incidents such as accidents, injuries and non-compliance. We have also seen that high Trust alone is no antidote to accidents. High Trust can be an excuse to avoid dialogue with colleagues. The crux is to combine Trust with other cultural factors such as Care, Feedback and Speaking-up.

Suggested reading:

Edmondson, Amy C., The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth, Wiley, USA; 2018

Lloyd, C.,Next Generation Safety Leadership: From Compliance to Care, CRC Press, 2020

Grant, Adam, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know, Viking, USA, 2021

To be continued....

Torkel Soma

Torkel Soma

Chief Scientist and co-founder