What is holistic safety?

Learn about holistic safety through our fact sheets

Holistic safety basics:

Human aspects:

Organisational aspects:

Technological aspects

What is 'holistic safety'?

Holistic Safety is a best practice approach to safety management. It focuses on managing the safety of technological, human, and organisational aspects—making sure the technology (plant, equipment, tools, apparatus, machinery, etc) is safe to use; people perform tasks safely at work; and the organisation overall is managed safely. Importantly, it is also about ensuring that the interaction between these three aspects is appropriately addressed e.g. how people safely use technology, and how the organisation provides training to people and ensures the technology is safe to use. Managing these three aspects together as well as their interaction and interdependence separates Holistic Safety from other approaches to safety management.

Why is holistic safety important?

Holistic safety is a way of more thoroughly and comprehensively managing operational safety. Organisational safety performance is analysed by examining technological, human and organisational aspects including the complex interrelationships and interdependencies between these three aspects. Such an approach allows the organisation to better understand and manage the key factors that can affect the safety of day-to-day work. A holistic approach captures key aspects of safety that might otherwise be missed, and helps analyse and identify weaknesses and strengths in work procedures and practices. Other approaches often focus only on the technology—equipment or machinery—or on documentation—policies, procedures or work instructions, and place less importance on other key aspects such as human and organisational factors, e.g. safety culture.

Many organisations have learned the hard way the importance of appropriately managing key safety factors. Both major and minor incidents and accidents in Australia and overseas have brought into sharp focus the importance adequately managing human and organisational factors such as: leadership, safety culture, training, safety review and assessment, and organisational learning. These factors are amongst the common contributing causes of accidents that repeatedly emerge from accident investigations.

Adopting a holistic approach is way of helping prevent these incidents and accidents as well as other benefits such as:

  • safer and more secure operations – reduced risks through more comprehensive understanding of operational risks
  • greater resilience – including the ability to cope with unforeseen threats and adverse events
  • better integration of operations and technical systems, with financial and human resource management
  • greater efficiency – including more productive operations, higher staff morale, lower staff turnover, more efficient and effective control measures
  • greater ability to identify weaknesses so that they can be actively corrected to deny opportunities for accidents to happen.

Where did holistic safety come from

Early safety management focused primarily on the safety of the plant and equipment (the technology), while subsequent practices also considered human operators (human factors) and more recently, the overall management of the organisation (organisational factors). The current approach to managing safety adopted by many operators worldwide addresses all three aspects—the technology, the human, and the organisation—and the complex interaction between them (the holistic approach).

Learn more about the History of safety.