Using Games to Improve Safety Culture

Jun 19th, 2013 | By | Category: Health and Safety

EHS Journal - Game Board by Workz

Most organizations that deal with hazardous operations have rules, procedures, and training in place as part of their efforts to minimize workplace risk. However, experience shows that rules and procedures are not enough to achieve changes in behavior among the employees and subcontractors whose lives and health are most at risk when things go wrong. To improve safety performance, organizations must also manage and improve their overall safety culture.

Danish Railways (DSB) is one organization that is seeking to improve its safety performance by going beyond rules and procedures. For DSB, the ultimate objective of its safety program is to avoid or minimize the impacts of the next train accident, which statistically will happen. To achieve this goal, DSB has implemented sophisticated safety systems, but it’s also constantly working on the human factor in safety: the DSB safety culture.

“As our safety systems improve, it is the human factor that increasingly causes accidents,” said Carsten Sønderbo Jacobsen, DSB’s head of safety. “So we have to persistently work on influencing the culture that is behind the safety systems. In the end, it may well be the common sense of employees that can prevent a fatal accident.”


How Games Improve Safety Culture

To encourage its employees to become more active in improving the company’s safety culture, DSB used interactive games designed by Copenhagen-based game design and management consulting company Workz A/S.

“We let game mechanisms steer a dialogue,” explained senior consultant and game designer, Svend Ask Larsen. “When we use a process tool to simplify very complex matters, something very special happens to the dialogue. The game mechanism forces participants to take a stand on the issues. And when you get the issues a bit away from yourself while you talk across a game board, it is much easier to talk about the things that can be difficult to talk about in your daily work.”


Facilitated by Local Leaders

The process was designed so that local leaders could facilitate a theme day on safety with their staff. This allowed managers to take ownership of the process, enabling them to facilitate a constructive safety dialogue with their teams. The process was supported by an introductory film, in which DSB’s area managers presented current safety facts related to DSB’s operations.


How Does It Work?

Each employee selects five cards from a set of cards with printed dilemmas on them. A game board is placed on the table. The cards need to be placed either on the green half (It’s O.K.) or on the red half (It’s not O.K.). 

One card, for example, reads “I know what the train signals will be in advance, so I think it’s safe to talk on the telephone while I’m driving.”

In this case there is no doubt — the card goes in the “red” category because this behavior is not acceptable.

Another card with the words, “We don’t confront colleagues who break the rules” caused an intense debate. Some of the participants believed that rule breaking should be handled informally within the team. This led one of the managers to say, “So you don’t say anything, if a colleague walks between two carriages that are approaching each other to connect?” The answer within the team was “no”; most people on the team wouldn’t confront their colleague, a breakdown in safety culture that could result in serious injury or death.

“If your little boy at home crossed the street on a red light,” the manager continued, ”you would interrupt, wouldn’t you? To keep him out of harm’s way? But at the same time, you don’t care if your colleagues get hurt between trains?”

A pointed question, but that is part of the purpose of the meeting. 

After the participants have placed all of their cards in the “O.K.” or “not O.K.” piles, they need to discuss for each card whether the content of the card happens often or happens rarely in their group. The final step of the process is to formulate an action plan for each card designated as “not O.K.” and “happens often.” What will they do about it? What are the next steps?

On the other hand, with cards designated “O.K.” and “happens often,” there may be reason to celebrate the parts of the safety culture that work well.



More than 1,500 DSB employees have used the dialogue tool since 2011, and the company has already noticed a decline in unsafe behaviors. DSB is planning to expand use of the tool to other parts of the company and also wants to repeat the game with the first 1,500 employees to remind them of the importance of good safety culture. Also, because DSB recorded where each group placed its cards the first time, repeating the game will enable them to check whether actual changes have happened in the safety culture by tracking whether things that were “not O.K.” and “happens often” the first time have moved to “happens rarely.”


About the Author

Terkel Skårup is a partner in Workz A/S, a Copenhagen-based consultancy that supports change management, strategy implementation, and the development of organizational culture within large businesses and public authorities. The company’s strives to achieve active participant involvement using games, tools, simulations, film, and involvement process tools as a supplement to its consultancy services. The same tools are used by partner companies in Sweden, France and Germany. Click here for more information.

Photograph: Game Board by Workz A/S.


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3 Comments to “Using Games to Improve Safety Culture”

  1. Nice use of games in safety training. Well done.

  2. RS YADAV says:

    Can you give a budgetory offer for conducting Behaviroul Safety programme in India for Refinery Employees.Depending on the course contents and budget we may consider.However at this stage it can be in proposal form only.

    RS Yadav

  3. Pernille Rechenbach says:

    As former program leader for safety culture I had the pleasure of having 1500 train drivers playing this game. It is a fantastic game that frames interesting and productive discussions and captures the participants in real life like scenarios.
    I can truly recommend it.

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