Business and health: Have you heard of the Ferron curve?

All EHS managers know about the Bradley curve. But it’s not always used in the right way. I’ve often seen it portrayed as a set of stages leading to excellence in OHS (occupational health and safety). Bradley refers to organisational culture, focusing on individual behaviour and its four categories: reactive, dependent, independent and interdependent. The above could, of course, be related to OHS-related performance, but it’s rather a peculiar and partial perspective.

Marc-André Ferron’s criticisms

Marc-André Ferron is a Canadian OHS professional. He makes a number of criticisms of Bradley’s approach, pointing out several inconsistencies, particularly:

  • Incompatibility with the legal provisions on OHS. The interdependence advocated as the ultimate goal by Bradley may lead to the impression that employers can release themselves of their primary responsibilities.
  • The origin of the Bradley curve is based on the stages of individuals’ development. But OHS is, first and foremost, a collective issue.
  • In the legislation of most developed countries, the behavioural dimension of OHS is a secondary objective that only becomes important when the collective provisions have been implemented (cf. the nine general principles of prevention).

Moreover, the theoretical bases of Bradley’s vision are not guaranteed and merit discussion in the light of other personality development theories.

Ferron’s proposal

Given these remarks and with the knowledge that prevention initiatives must be organised and prioritised in successive stages, M-A Ferron proposes a curve that I’m not allowed to reproduce here, although you can find it at:

In his opinion, companies concerned about OHS should begin by focusing on the working environment, equipment and materials. The primary objective is to eliminate the hazards at source.

Having completed the above, they should implement a management system that includes responsibilities, roles, rules, standards, operating procedures and other essential aspects. Only then it is reasonable to turn to individual behaviours.

A chronology of effectiveness

The Ferron curve proposes a series of coherent steps to achieve maximum effectiveness in the prevention of occupational hazards. Does this approach have the scientific properties attributed to it by its author? We can’t say so in the absence of any genuine studies to validate these steps.

However, from a pragmatic standpoint, Ferron’s approach is certainly a rational one that constitutes a reasoned guide for progress towards a kind of prevention that mobilises technical, organisational, social and human processes.

Given the importance of managerial involvement for effective prevention, a factor I’ve already highlighted in several posts, it would be useful to specify the managers’ role in each of the stages. One might imagine that this role increases as we move towards the right of the curve. This is a point worth debating more broadly.

Finally, let’s remember that, in Ferron’s view, organisational behaviours determine individual behaviours: “Employees will always adopt behaviours that reflect organisational behaviours. Absences of consistency, thoroughness, structure, training and evaluation […] will always have a direct impact on individual behaviours.”

In other words, when it comes to OHS hazards, there are never purely individual causes. The organisation is always involved. This is a fact that HSE managers should tirelessly strive to convey.

William_DabWilliam Dab is a Professor and Health and Safety Chair at Cnam – France, where he trains specialists in occupational health and environmental risks, notably through an engineering course in risk management. He is a doctor specialised in epidemiology. His career has been entirely devoted to health and safety, whether it be developing tools for risk assessment, monitoring and management. As a former Director-General of Health, he was a member of the WHO Executive Committee and Chairman of the European Environment and Health Committee for the WHO European Region. He has also published a number of books related to health and safety

If you have any questions to William Dab and the Red-on-line team, please leave them in the comments section, or you can get in touch with us on social media via LinkedIn and Twitter: @HSE_Rol and @DabWilliam.

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