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Method of Safety Management as Influenced by a 20th Century Explorer

Part 1

Who was Jacques Cousteau? Jacques Cousteau is a French scientist, explorer, and filmmaker. As a pioneer, Cousteau left a legacy as one of the visionaries of exploring our oceans. His ideas on safety management and risk adversity were developed during his explorations starting in the 1950's and throughout his life.

With the invention of the Aqua-Lung in 1943, Jacques Cousteau created what is now, the modern scuba diving industry . Him and his team of explorers perfected it over 40 years. Cousteau died in 1997 at the age of 77, but not before he had given over half a century of passionate ocean exploration, exploration that changed the way we look at our world. You're likely aware of his legacy, the wealth of adventure and humanity he has shared with us through his television programs and documentary films that span over 50 years. He is also the father of underwater film and camera technology, but did you know that he was also an underwater preparedness expert? He traveled the world sharing his advice with millions of people to protect themselves from future accidents when they travel under water and who become immersed in aquatic environments.

My love of the ocean started as a young boy on weekend excursions to the beaches surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area. Those weekends were always an exploration to me, checking out the tide pools and venturing into the frigid Pacific coastal waters. That love grew into my teenage years when the entrepreneurial bug bit me. At 18 years old I started an aquarium service company and became enthralled with tropical sea life and the eco-systems that kept them alive outside of the ocean. It wasn't until recently on a trip to Asia my love for the ocean and the underwater sea life below it became an obsession. In 2014, my wife and I spent six months hopping around the world scuba diving, gaining experience and training, culminating with us becoming recreational scuba dive instructors in Puerto Rico in 2015. A joke I often share with students and friends is that I only think about scuba diving. With the love of diving in mind I recently started looking into the life of Jacques Cousteau. His ideas about risk adversity in exploration and in the development of the Aqua-Lung has inspired me to bridge parallels to another topic that I love, Occupational Safety and health.

Cousteau first identifies risk from a lesson learned on an expedition in 1952, long before safety standards were readily available regionally or worldwide. He categorizes risk as a choice that can "win me the opportunity to live, not merely to survive". and relates that to the risk benefit decision. At the time occupational safety was considered but not regarded as a benefit in all industries. Aside from the Treaty of Versailles that helped bring World War I to an end, only a handful of organizations and unions had developed safety regulations and standards, mainly in railroad, manufacturing, and mining. With the creation of the National Safety Council in 1913, the United States slowly made strides to reduce preventable injuries in the workplace. Some notable Acts came into law starting two decades later. Formal risk assessment tools and techniques were latter developed as we headed into the late 1970's and 80's with the introduction of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Early Occupational Safety and Health Regulations:

March 4, 1933, to April 12, 1945

  • Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act: Establishes minimum wage, maximum hours, and safety and health standards for work on contracts in excess of $15,000 for the manufacturing or furnishing of materials, supplies, articles or equipment to the U.S. government or the District of Columbia.

  • Fair Labor Standards Act: Establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in federal, state and local governments.

April 12, 1945, to Jan. 20, 1953

  • Federal Committee on Highway Safety: Promoted highway safety and the reduction of highway traffic accidents and encouraged federal agencies concerned with highway safety activities to cooperate with state and local government agencies, as well as nationwide highway safety organizations, that shared similar concerns.

  • Communicable Disease Center: Founded in 1946 to protect the public from diseases brought into the U.S. by soldiers returning from out of the country. Today the organization, now known as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is recognized as the nation’s premiere health promotion, prevention and preparedness agency.

Jan. 20, 1953, to Jan. 20, 1961

  • National Safety Council charter: Granted by the president in 1953, the charter dictates that the Council will further, encourage and promote methods and procedures leading to increased safety, protection and health among employees, employers and children in industries, on farms, in schools and colleges, in homes, on streets and highways, in recreation, and in other public and private places.

  • Department of Health, Education, and Welfare: Now known as the Department of Health and Human Services, the mission of this organization is to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans by providing for effective health and human services. It also fosters sound, sustained advances in the sciences underlying medicine, public health and social services.

With so many disciplines in occupational safety and health, risk assessment is considered a critical component of workplace safety. OSHA outlines specific frameworks within general requirements for these components as a part of the Safety Management System, and program development. However, OSHA is vague when it comes to risk as part of management system for developing safety culture. Cousteau saw risk as a critical leadership quality and therefore only after hours or days of planning and systematically eliminating all anticipated risk, would he allow himself and his team to proceed with his expeditions. He states "responsibility implies liability, and how could a leader be liable for the life of a human being, what money could he pay? Instead of having the responsibility of safeguarding my men I have the privilege of safeguarding them". It was Cousteau's working culture that he calculates risk, not for his or his expeditions gain, but as a human responsibility.

"I try to avoid reckless risk for the same reason I accept calculated risk. Life improving the quality of life safeguarding a single life claims supreme priority.

-Jacques Cousteau

In our next part I will outline the risk culture relationship and the steps that risk evaluation can affect our safety culture using Cousteau's ideas. How Leadership can impact culture and compliance and Safety as a Courtesy


Jon Cordoba, CHST, CIT is the President of P3 Safety Solutions and loves diving!

Still from documentary ‘Cousteau Capitaine Planète’ │ Courtesy of France2

Quotes from the Book The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World

Keywords: Jacques Cousteau, OSHA, Safety, Risk Assessment, Leadership, Culture, Diving

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