Seven plus one books every (safety) manager should read in 2020

by Arttu Vesterinen



“When you repeat a mistake, it’s not a mistake anymore. It’s a decision.” 

— Paul Coelho.

Reading and learning should be part of every safety manager’s daily habits as the world is getting more fast-paced and unpredictable. The best safety managers don’t just focus on their industry or safety-related expertise. Their work covers so many areas that they know they need to internalise multiple different topics. 

The difficult part is to choose the books to read as there are more business books than safety managers. These books, which cover topics such as checklists, learning from failure (incident reporting) and institutionalising organisational habits, are a perfect way to get started on your journey to become a more effective safety manager.

1. Black Box Thinking

All safety managers know how important incident and near miss reporting is whether they are operating in Aviation, Healthcare, Manufacturing or Retail. In Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed dives deep into why we humans find it so hard to learn from (or even admit) our mistakes. As the author explores, the biggest barriers to learning from failures are rooted in psychology and organisational culture.

Black Box Thinking

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2. Checklist Manifesto

Atul Gawande, a surgeon by profession, does a masterful job explaining from one field to another why under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success. This book will give you the reasoning why you need checklists for your organisation’s safety walks, inspections and procedures. Our favourite line from the book: checklists improve results without adding skills.

The Checklist Manifesto

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3. Adapt

Author of several bestselling books, Tim Harford shows how top-down and expert-opinion driven approach is not enough in today’s unpredictable and ever-shifting world whether the issue is climate change, safety management or poverty. Rather we must take small steps, improvise, experiment, learn on-the-go, work from the bottom up — in other words, we must adapt. All safety managers, who find it hard to engage their entire organisation to incident reporting, should pay attention when reading this book.


Get it here.


4. Power of Habit

In one of the best business books in 2014, award-winning business reporter Charles Duhigg describes how habits, either personal or organisational, get formed and why it’s so hard to change them. The book contains one of the most famous case studies ever in safety management about Paul O'Neill taking over Alcoa. Instead of satisfying the questions of Wall Street, he attacked straight away the safety practices and especially the habit of reporting incidents. By fixing this organisational keystone habit spread elsewhere and turned Alcoa from near bankruptcy to great success.

The Power of Habit

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5. Deep Work

With increasingly more distractions in the connected age, employees in almost every industry face problems with focused work. In Deep Work, author and professor Cal Newport clarifies the concept of Deep Work, the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Why should safety manager’s pay attention to this? By practicing deep work, they will be better at what they do. By respecting the concept in their coworkers, they’ll have better leverage with processes such as incident reporting, training and audits.

Deep Work

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6. Failure of Risk Management

This book is already more than 10 years old but it’s still as valid now as it was back then. In Failure of Risk Management, Douglas W. Hubbard examines why risk management is ever more important and why most of the popular risk assessments methods don’t work. All safety management involves understanding and managing risks. This is the go-to-book for getting your safety management inline with risk management.

The Failure of Risk Management

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7. From Accidents to Zero

Professor Andrew Sharman’s From Accidents to Zero, is a concise book to keep in your briefcase at all times and have great reminders of the most important concepts in health and safety. Here’s a short summary of the book.

From Accidents to Zero

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Bonus: Accidents, Causes, Investigation and Prevention

No safety manager wants accidents to reoccur in the workplace. That’s why structured learning and practice of investigating all injuries and near misses is so important. In Accidents, Causes, Investigation and Prevention, Doctor James Thornhill takes a deep dive into accident investigation procedures. Here’s a quick three-minute summary of the book.

Accidents Causes, Investigation and Prevention

Get it here.


What would you recommend your colleague safety managers to read? Let us know!

Plan Brothers provides Incident Reporting and Prevention Tools. If you would like to learn more, book a demo with us or try our 30-day free trial.

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Arttu Vesterinen

Chief Executive Officer