The social psychology of risk (SPOR) represents a new way of practising, being aware and thinking about risk and safety in the workplace. In their outstanding new book, It Works!, Dr Rob Long and regular SHEQ Management contributor Brian Darlington explain how some of the fundamentals of spor work and provide examples of how organisations can put this philosophy in place.

Darlington says that the book was born out of an ethic to tell a new story. “After completing my master’s study in Social Psychology of Risk, my mentor, Rob Long, and I decided to write the book, because we felt it would be a huge benefit and support to companies,” he says. It Works! is a natural progression of Long’s series of nine previous books on SPoR, which document the journey away from traditional approaches to safety to one with a more people-centric approach. When asked about the book’s title, Darlington says, “It (SPoR) makes sense, and we know it works!”

Traditional safety mostly focuses on the physical controls and physical aspects of safety, such as risk assessments, checklists, work procedures, engineering controls and training. SPoR shifts the focus from these workplace controls to the people involved. “We put more of a focus on the psychological elements of safety – what we call the Headspace – and the social or cultural elements, referred to as Groupspace,” explains Darlington. “We’re not advocating getting rid of traditional approaches to safety, but it is important to find the right balance between Workspace, Headspace and Groupspace. As we mention often in the book, there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater!”

The social psychology of risk is a wide-ranging subject, so rather than attempting to cover all aspects of SPoR, Darlington and Long decided to focus on some of the foundational and core concepts. “As well as the focus on Workspace, Headspace and Groupspace, we talk about some other fundamental concepts, including ‘One Brain – Three Minds’, semiotics, engagement and ‘iCue listening’, amongst others,” says Darlington.

The book begins by telling a number of personal stories – some of them emotional – and takes the reader on the authors’ journey.

It Works! introduces a number of ideas for initiatives that are central to the drive to implement a more balanced approach to safety in the workplace. The last two chapters provide guidance and support to companies looking to make this transition. The traditional, mainly object-focused, approaches of the past must be complemented by strategies that promote the personhood and culture elements in risk and safety.

The chapters explain why the SPoR approach “works”, and Darlington reveals a new tool that the authors developed, which is based on using role-play cards in training exercises.

This is an excellent book, which should be at the top of every health and safety manager’s reading list. Michael Kruger, VP, HSE at Borouge in Abu Dhabi, notes in the Foreword: “I cannot think of people more qualified than Brian and Rob to describe why and how SPoR can make a profound practical difference to the tackling of risk: Brian with his immense experience in the field and Rob with his deep understanding of the essence of being human in a world of risk. Every corporate leader should read this book and break the ‘Groundhog Safety Day’ we live in.”

Patrick O’Brien, registered psychologist and manager of research, learning and development at Guide Dogs Queensland, Australia, speaks equally highly of the book: “For 15 years I’ve worked as a psychologist in various organisational settings. I’ve found SPoR to be the most interesting, the most practical and the most effective way for developing culture, increasing leadership capability, enhancing decision-making, and managing risk and safety. This book has provided me with further insights, guidance and motivation for continuing this work. I hope it does the same for you,” he notes in the Foreword.

It Works! is being distributed simultaneously from Australia and Europe and can be ordered through, where you can also find previous books from the SPoR series by Robert Long.

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