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November 10, 2014

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Behavioural Safety

Behavioural safety information and resources

Behavioural safety plays a significant role in helping avoid accidents and ill-health at work.

Behavioural safety is the application of behavioural research on human performance to the problems of safety in the workplace.

Behavioural safety is changing unsafe behaviour into safe behaviour

Everybody who works to reduce accidents in the workplace is concerned with human behaviour as, according to the HSE website, up to 80% of accidents are often attributed to human error.‟

Two approaches to behavioural safety

There are two basic approaches to improving the human factors in safety: 1) changing the way people think and feel to change behaviour; or 2) directly address the behaviour to get people to do the right things at the right time. The first is encapsulated in ‘hearts and minds’ campaigns, while behavioural safety processes address the second. Many believe the issue is binary: adopt one or the other.

Which works best? No quantitative evidence is available to show the hearts and minds approach positively impacts safety performance. Conversely, numerous published studies show quantifiable impacts on injury reduction from behavioural safety approaches.                    

Both approaches attempt to engage employees in safety. Engaged employees are five times less likely to be hurt, and seven times less likely to experience an LTI[i],[ii], however, changes in a person’s values, beliefs, and attitudes have to come from within. Based on a person’s self-evaluation showing the tangible effects of desired outcomes, this is uncertain and takes a long time to affect behaviour[iii]. Depending on the person’s commitment to change it also takes between two to eight months of consistent performance for behaviour(s) to become a habit[iv]. Importantly, engaging work-groups in safety, rather than individuals, leads to greater behaviour change and incident reduction

.

Regardless, many safety professionals fail to consider the power of the prevailing situation when attempting behaviour and attitude change[vi]. In safety, this often means the presence of human error traps[vii], system faults, physical hazards, poor communications, lackadaisical safety leadership, etc. Optimising the situation optimises behaviour. For example, there is compelling evidence that completing corrective actions to eliminate hazards (i.e. change the situation) leads to an average 21% change in people’s safety behaviour[viii]. In turn, the behaviour change can be the precursor for belief and attitude changes[ix],[x].

Scientific research shows that any safety improvement initiative is doomed to failure if it does not concurrently address: 1) the way people think and feel about safety; 2) people’s safety behaviour, and 3) the prevailing situation. So the question arises: why does a large portion of the safety profession ignore the opportunities presented by this tri-partite approach?

Behavioural safety articles

[i] Harter, J K., Schmidt, F. L. , Killham, E. A., & Asplund, J. W (2006). Q12® Meta-Analysis. Gallup Consulting;

[ii] Lockwood, N. R. (2007). Leveraging employee engagement for competitive advantage: HR’s strategic role. HR magazine, 52(3), 1-11.

[iii] Rothman, A. J. (2000). Toward a theory-based analysis of behavioral maintenance. Health Psychology19(1S), 64.

[iv] Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C.H.M., Potts, H. W.W. & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 998–1009.

[v] Cooper, M.D. (2009). Behavioral Safety: Process Design Considerations. Professional Safety, 54 (2), 36-45.

[vi] Cooper, M.D. (2000). ‘Towards a Model of Safety Culture’. Safety Science, 32 (6), 111-136.

[vii] Cooper, M.D. & Finley, L.J. (2013). Strategic Safety Culture Roadmap. BSMS, Franklin, IN

[viii] Cooper, M.D. (2010). Safety Leadership In Construction: A Case Study. Italian Journal of Occupational Medicine and Ergonomics: Suppl. A Psychology, 32(1), pp A18-A23.

[ix] Pettigrew, T. F. (1998). Intergroup contact theory. Annual Review of Psychology, 49(1), 65-85.

[x] Cooper, M.D. & Phillips, R.A. (2004). Exploratory analysis of the safety climate and safety behavior relationship, Journal of Safety Research, 35, 497 – 512.

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