Professor of Safety of Hazardous Materials in the Safety and Security Science research group. He is also a professor at the HUB campus of the University of Leuven and a guest professor at the University of Antwerp.
Tell us about your personal life
'I was born in Brussels in 1974 and now live with Carmen and our daughter Kari in a village north of the city, called Relegem. I enjoy reading, always non-fiction, with a preference for professional literature, especially literature about engineering, (safety) management and economics. Psychology also interests me: how do people make choices? Knowledge about this can provide interesting insights into how people deal with safety. Sport is not my hobby, although we sometimes go for a walk or go cycling, especially when on vacation. I'm passionate about travel, though. Before Kari was born, Carmen and I had already travelled to many distant places, from the United States via Africa to Australia. We also like to go skiing for a week every year, usually in France. In addition, I listen to a lot of music and have accumulated a comic book collection that takes up a room and a half. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of time, or even space, for that these days.'
What has been the highlight of your career
'There have been a few important steps in my career. One of these was earning my doctorate degree in 2006 on 'clustered safety culture in the chemical industry'. That moment, when something you have worked on for years receives praise, gives me great satisfaction. It is a sign that you have made a creative contribution to science. Another highlight is naturally my appointment as full professor at TU Delft. Additionally, it is always very nice to see a book or article I've written published. I really get a kick out of that.'
'That would be getting people in the industrial sectors to proactively and strategically cooperate and share information with regard to safety. In the chemical sector, for example, you have chemical industrial clusters, in which the companies that are part of these industrial parks pose a threat to each other. Right now, the companies in these clusters are still islands next to each other. With regard to safety, they only work together at the operational level, and then usually reactively. For example, information about accidents is sometimes shared. The way I see it, it is better to cooperate and think about the best way to invest in prevention together. Think of a shared pot of money, optimally distributed over the cluster on the basis of a mathematical model by an independent, coordinating advisory body. The common interest would be the guiding principle here. If it were up to me, the chemical clusters of the future would be a lot more integrated than they are now. This is already the case with regard to the environment, but there is still a lot to accomplish with regard to safety.'
What do you enjoy most about your work
'All kinds of things, really. I enjoy teaching, which I do often in Antwerp, Brussels and Leuven. I teach subjects ranging from Organic Chemistry to Welfare and Prevention Management. I also like to think a lot about current issues or problems that you might not be aware of at first, but which do exist. After all, just because something is going well, doesn't mean it's excellent - and that's what is really important. Another attractive aspect is working together with others, with people from the industrial world and with colleagues, including those from other disciplines. Safety is pre-eminently a multidisciplinary subject. I specialize in engineering, management and economics, but in the case of subjects like philosophy, psychology, sociology and law, I seek out the respective experts to inform me. I consider that an enrichment.'
'TU Delft has an excellent reputation in the research community, and that also applies to the Safety Science group (as it was formerly named) of Professor Andrew Hale and later Ben Ale. Therefore, when I heard about the job opening for professor of Safety of Hazardous Materials, I immediately applied. It is a great honour to be allowed to hold this chair. The way I see it, there are good universities and excellent ones, and TU Delft belongs in the latter category in many respects. It gives me great satisfaction to be able to contribute to our university's excellence in the field of safety and security.'
What is your best character trait
'Perseverance. I always persevere until I succeed, especially if I'm convinced of the excellence of an idea. This is not always easy, and this characteristic can also simultaneously be a disadvantage. I am also flexible and have an open mind, but those are characteristics that go with being a good researcher. Being too self-confident is not a good thing, by the way. You have to find the right balance between your own ideas and the input of other people.'
What is your worst character trait
'Perseverance also involves stubbornness. I personally don't consider myself stubborn, but perhaps I am in certain respects. Another trait that should be included in this list is my tendency to work too hard in relation to my family. For me, the work always continues. I do try to maintain the balance between work and family, but I don't always succeed. Not only because I want to get certain things done, but also because I love my work.'
What subject do you think should be high on the political agenda
'Science in general. In the words of the Swiss sociology professor Dirk Helbing, who was recently a speaker at the 172nd Dies Natalis celebration of TU Delft: the academic world should be the fifth independent discipline influencing politics. Science, more than anything else, can supply politicians with information on current issues in a neutral way. This does happen, but not nearly often enough. Politicians should realise that this is in their own best interests. After all, they would be able to make better decisions, which would be better for society and therefore also for politics. My field, safety and security, is already high on the agenda and rightly so. Nevertheless, there is still room for improvement in this area too. For example, I am in favour of making 'safety and security' a subject to be taught in primary and secondary schools. This will eventually lead to better managers and safety managers, who will make better decisions.'