Workplace Behavioural Safety
Promoting safe behavior at work is a critical part of the management of health and safety, because behavior turns systems and procedures into reality. On their own, good systems do not ensure successful health and safety management, as the level of success is determined by how organizations ‘live’ their systems.
Statistics from the work environment indicate that in 80 to 90 per cent of all accidents, employee behavior provides an important link – the link that often paves the way for many pre-existing factors to come together in a negative event.
The safety of the workplace is influenced by a number of factors such as the organisational environment, management attitude and commitment, the nature of the job or task, and the personal attributes of the individual. Safety related behaviour at the workplace can be modified by addressing these major influences. The successful introduction of a behavioural safety process, focusing on identifying and reinforcing safe and reducing unsafe behaviour, is one means of improving safety performance.
Behavioral programmes have become popular in the safety domain, as there is evidence that a proportion of accidents are caused by unsafe behavior. Whilst a focus on changing unsafe behavior into safe behavior is appropriate, this should not deflect attention from also analysing why people behave unsafely. To focus solely on changing individual behavior without considering necessary changes to how people are organised, managed, motivated, rewarded and their physical work environment, tools and equipment can result in treating the symptom only, without addressing the root causes of unsafe behavior. Behavioral based safety programmes are probably at their best in an organization which already has a good basic safety management system
There is strong research evidence that behavior modification techniques can be effective in promoting critical health and safety behaviors, provided they are implemented effectively with continued support from management. The behavior modification programmes currently in use mostly focus on promoting safe behavior among frontline staff. Behavioral safety techniques improve health and safety risk control by promoting behaviors critical to health and safety. Behavioral safety techniques are based on a large body of psychological research into the factors that influence behavior. This research has led to the development of a range of techniques to influence behavior. Behavior modification is the psychological term for these techniques. Health and safety behavior observation and feedback programmes promote desired behaviors by introducing positive reinforcement for behaving safely. The positive reinforcement is provided through positive feedback. This approach focuses on the measurable behaviors critical to safety and recognizes workers as mature human beings with a genuine interest in their own well being and thereby can influence their own safety. Measuring ‘at risk behaviors is a proactive safety performance measure as distinct from the reactive traditional measurement of accident rates.
Typically behavior based safety systems consist of:
Identification of behaviors which could contribute to or have contributed to accidents (Agreed by management and employees).
A system of ongoing observations (as identified and defined) and feedback (intervention), typically peer to peer and employee driven combined with positive verbal feedback, information collection and problem solving to improve the identified behaviors and the management system that produced them.
Use of the information to identify corrective actions.
Behavior based safety systems are typically introduced in organiations with established safety management system committed to continuous improvement, one of their particular strengths is the direct practical and visible involvement of employees at all levels. Implementation of a system does require time and commitment and in particular strong visible management support.