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June 3, 2020

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Social Safety

Using social safety to drive behavioural change

Are you one of the growing number of organisations applying behavioural safety principles? Have you checked that the behavioural principles you’re applying are based on the most up-to-date evidence? Or are they based, as too many are, on Pavlovian theories of reward and punishment developed a century ago by studying dogs salivating for food?

The UK Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) has looked at the evidence for behaviour change, and has summarised what works in the EAST framework. ‘E’ stands for Easy, and ‘A’ for Attractive. We don’t like hassle, and we are more likely to do something that our attention is drawn towards. When given choices we usually take the easiest and most attractive options. ‘S’ stands for Social. We are more likely to do the right thing if we see other people doing it, and when we feel engaged in the decision-making process. ‘T’ is for Timely, and is about providing people with the information they need, when they need it. As we have all experienced, too much information, or information at the wrong time, can be overwhelming.

In November 2019 BIT published a report on how to apply EAST to health and safety. Reviewing it, Engage EHS CEO Darragh Geoghegan and his colleagues noticed that this summarised exactly the approach that they had been working on. In this article, Darragh explains in more detail how the firm’s current product – and its future plans – map onto the EAST framework.

Easy and Attractive

Geoghegan describes one of the aims behind Engage EHS: “The user shouldn’t have to change what they normally do. Doing safety needs to be part of how they do their job. It should be frictionless.” This ties in well with two of the key rules recommended by BIT – to reduce the hassle factor of performing a task safely, and to simplify procedures, forms and other written messages.

Simplification comes from being able to deliver to workers only the information they need. This could be the method statement for an unfamiliar task, a risk assessment for relevant hazards, or a list of jobs which need to be done in the area.

smartphoneHowever, Geoghegan is clear that this isn’t just about delivering information to workers. Workers need to be able to get information back to managers, without friction and without hassle. “A lot of the roadblocks to quality reporting are down to having to go somewhere else, change what you’re doing, and fill in a form” explains Geoghegan. “People should be able to communicate using what they already have in their pocket – their mobile phone. The opportunity to report should be built into the daily routine.” This ties into a third recommendation from BIT for ease, which is to make the opportunity for the right behaviour a default, rather than an exception. When reporting is the exception, it requires more effort. If reporting any concerns or snags at the end of a job becomes the default, hazards reporting will be an easier process.

For workplaces where mobile phones can’t be carried (for example, in some manufacturing or security environments) Geoghegan hopes that a walk-up kiosk can provide the same hassle-free functionality as the mobile app.

While making something attractive might seem like a less serious aim in safety and health management, BIT explains that this is about more than using pretty colours. It’s about attracting attention, and framing the message for maximum effect. Personalisation is one of the key strategies listed by BIT, and with Engage EHS managers can configure the information provided to each individual, to people with a particular job title, or within a given department. Hence each user only needs to see the information relevant to their role.

Many people end up with multiple sources of actions. A list on their phone, another on a pad of paper, and several more tasks sent via email or text. As BIT outlines, having a clear call to action is a key part of making the right behaviour attractive. A key feature of Engage EHS is the ability to raise actions within the system, and to see all your actions in a single dashboard. Actions from risk assessments, incident investigations, audits or training can be shown in priority order. You can see what needs to be done without having to search multiple systems.


social mediaAs BIT points out, the actions of those around us have a large influence on our own behaviours and Geoghegan sees this as the key strand that runs through all the developments they are making. He explains “If you see that your colleagues are reporting hazards or concerns, you’re more likely to get the idea that you can do it too. If you see that they get positive feedback from it, like actions being taken and processes being improved, you’re even more likely to have a go.”

BIT encourages us to use the power of networks to spread new behaviours across groups. Geoghegan responds “There is nothing more networked than your mobile phone. It allows people to be connected to the information they need at all times. Everyone can see, depending on their access levels, what everyone else is doing. That’s the power of a social network.”

What is also important about social media apps relates back to ease and attraction, as Geoghegan explains “Consumer software like Facebook and Instagram only succeed because they are attractive, simple and very easy to use by millions of people. Engage EHS needs to maintain those same social media design principles, while providing value to the workplace.”

A further recommendation from BIT that chimes with the Engage EHS approach is supporting employees to participate in making decisions. Time and resource pressures on managers often mean that genuine employee consultation is squeezed out. There is a rushed incident investigation, where not everyone involved was asked for their view of events. Or risk assessments are signed off without the people who do the task being asked for their experience. Engage EHS provides a platform where people can collaborate, and thereby increase their involvement in decision-making.


How often do people look at their training notes, the applicable risk assessment, or the method statement when carrying out a task? For most everyday tasks, we rely on memory and experience. BIT recommends that for the best performance we need to prompt people when they are likely to be most receptive. Geoghegan concurs. “We want people to be able to get just the information they need, just when they need it. That could be microtraining relevant to a task you’re about to do, or reminders of actions that need to be done, at the time they need to be done.”

Geoghegan makes a comparison with a well-known social media platform. “If I’m in a new town and I’m hungry, I ask Trip Advisor to search for restaurants near me, and I’m offered a selection of reviews, based on where I’ve eaten before. The equivalent would be what audits or other tasks need to be done near me? Or what hazards have been reported near me? What updates are relevant to equipment near me?”  Timely information provides efficiencies and reduces the chance of missing essential safety information.

Future Plans

qr codeThe Engage EHS plan is to enhance timeliness with more location-based information. “A simple approach is already in use using QR codes on equipment” Geoghegan explains. “A worker can scan the QR code and immediately be presented with documents relevant to that equipment. This could be a risk assessment, or maintenance records, or fault reports. Whatever is linked to that code.”

Long term, Geoghegan sees that this could be much more sophisticated, using more accurate location settings, and with the social safety app pushing notifications, rather than waiting to be asked. “Already, Facebook might pop up a message spontaneously saying ‘It looks like you’re in Berlin. Here are some recommendations of places to see.’ That same approach can be used in safety management, with a pop-up on your phone saying ‘It looks like you’re in plant room A. There are three outstanding tasks for you in this location.’”

If hazards are mapped to a location, these can be flagged up to users when the mobile device detects they are nearby, and this could include reminders to wear particular PPE for the hazard.

Location-based information will be more timely, prompting people when they are in a position to do an essential task. It also makes it easier for people to know what needs to be done, and more attractive, because they can focus on relevant information.

EAST demonstrates a modern understanding of safety behaviour by treating workers as social beings, who want to be connected to each other. People who want to be engaged, not programmed with rewards. EAST for health and safety from BIT is free to download. It is full of interesting examples, and should be essential reading for all health and safety professionals.

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