Generative HSE
Safety beliefs, standards, leadership & performance


The Overprotected Child - The shift from 'protective' to 'productive' safety

In the 1940’s Lady Marjory Allen of Hurtwood inspired a host of adventure playgrounds in the UK. The idea was that kids should face what they perceive as ‘dangerous risks’ and conquer them alone. The playgrounds would build self-confidence and courage and help them learn boundaries while risks are of a manageable size.
Filmmaker Erin Davis recently released a short documentary about the nature of play, risk and hazard set in ‘The Land’, a Welsh adventure playground similar to those developed by Lady Allen. At The Land children climb trees, light fires and use hammers and nails in a play-space rooted in the believe that kids are empowered to manage risks on their own.
Penny Wilson, author of ‘The Playwork Primer’ defines play as ‘A set of behaviors that are freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated; it is a process, not a product. We have to learn to trust the
innate wisdom of children and allow them to get on with it.’
The documentary challenges many current middle class parenting norms with the principle of ‘playwork’. Many helicopter parent would be aghast at the thought of their children building fires and rigging up their own flying fox; The very thought of an adventure playground such as ‘The Land’ popping up in our neighbourhood is almost absurd.
The concept of ‘Playwork’ is not dissimilar to ‘Productive Safety’ and challenges us is a similar fashion. For a long time safety has been defined as ‘the absence of something’ like an incident, accident, injury or illness. We have spent a lot of time and money building systems and processes to manage risk and to stop these events occurring. The question lies as to whether this is the best definition of safety and whether we could see improved safety and productivity outcomes with a more pragmatic approach to managing risk.
Professor Erik Hollnagel from Denmark suggests that it’s time for organisations to consider shifting from ‘protective’ safety to ‘productivity’ safety. He believes that it’s time to start investigating why things go right, instead of why they go wrong.

In our experience, the key to ‘Productive’ safety requires more mindful tactics, prompted by three interlocking questions: ‘What is being done well?’, ‘When is work difficult to do?’ and ‘What can go wrong?’. These powerful questions can help leaders shift from a single reliance on ‘protective’ safety to a more pragmatic approach to risk management. Whilst we’re not advocating an irresponsible disregard for systems and processes that play an important role in managing critical risks in particular, we believe it is time to start asking questions about whether there is a better way to manage safety?

Watch an excerpt from the documentary 'The Land' by Erin Davis at


About Generative HSE

Generative HSE is one of Australia’s leading providers of safety and risk solutions providing a range of innovative, evidence-based WHS consultancy, training and facilitation services. Our work results in visible, sustainable improvements to safety and risk performance, as well as increased productivity, quality and profitability.