InsightsThree pillars of safety at work

Working in a technical environment at airports, in warehouses and in the parcel industry often means working with equipment at height and being confronted with unexpected situations. Therefore, working safely is of the utmost importance… for everyone!

In my opinion, safety is built on three pillars: awareness, behaviour and leadership. Everything else is merely a tool to help you. This might be a bold statement, but let me explain.

I have a professional background in (industrial) climbing and canyoning. I have spent many years in a high-risk environment performing high-risk activities, both professionally and in my spare time. In this line of work, the feedback obtained from risk-taking is binary: you either live or get seriously hurt! There’s not much in between.

This creates an enormous awareness regarding safety and what it takes to keep it at a level that is both acceptable to yourself and the people around you. So, what do those three words mean to me?


Firstly, you need to understand what it is that might hurt you. If you don’t see or understand the danger, then it is just pure luck that it doesn’t grab you by the neck and take you down. “Know your enemy, know his sword.”1 


If you understand the potential danger, then act accordingly. Cutting corners just doesn’t work in a professional environment, and will come back to bite you when you least expect it. The time you think you will save is seldom a true benefit in the long term. “If you do not control the enemy, the enemy will control you.''1


To me, a leader is someone who leads by example and has the integrity to do the right thing, even when it is not popular. This has nothing to do with your formal role or hierarchy – this comes from within. “If you wish to control others you must first control yourself.”1

These are all words garnered from my own experience and a wise man from the past. However, at Vanderlande, we are not dangling from some remote offshore installation or getting ready to suit up in samurai armour for an ancient battle! We design, build, operate and maintain equipment in a controlled environment. So, how does this relate to safety in our daily business?

  • Be aware of and understand the potential danger of your surroundings and the equipment you’re handling. Remember, working at heights, moving machinery, and electricity and hidden energy, can seriously hurt you – they are your enemy at work.
  • Adapt your behaviour so you show respect for your enemy. Wear a harness and use protective equipment so you can’t fall, stay well away from moving parts and follow the correct lock-out/tag-out procedures. If you don’t know for sure: stop, think and get professional help if you need it!
  • Be a leader and act if necessary. The people around you (colleagues, managers and customers) might not be as aware as you, or might not understand the danger. Set the right example and be willing to speak up to protect others from being exposed to danger.

All the training, processes and procedures, protocols, instructions, toolbox talks and PPE are available to help you be aware, support your behaviour and give you the ability to be a leader – both for yourself and the people around you. Stay safe and nurture your inner samurai. “Step by step walk the thousand-mile road.1

1) Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy (Translated by Thomas Cleary, Boston & London: Shambala Publications, Inc., 2000)

Merijn Buitelaar
Merijn Buitelaar
Service Consultant - Member Global HSE Committee

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