SHE 12 – Behavioural safety: a valid approach to improvement or just a load of BS?
Behavioural safety came in for a bit of a bashing at Safety & Health Expo today, as even proponents of the approach agreed that it can go horribly wrong if not implemented properly.
Sitting on the panel in the Arco Academy at lunchtime were Unite the Union’s Bud Hudspith; Jim McKerron – HSEQ director of the utilities division at Enterprise; consultant and former director of health and environment at the GMB union, Nigel Bryson; and Dr Tim Marsh, acknowledged world authority on behavioural safety and regular contributor to SHP.
Nigel kicked the debate off by quoting a behavioural-safety expert, who claimed that 99 per cent of why most behavioural safety processes fail is because of lack of credibility and consequently asked: why would anyone want to join a process that has a 1 per cent chance of success?
Describing himself as “the voice of sweet reason” Bud Hudspith described Unite’s current campaign ‘Beware behavioural safety’, which has developed with the Union of Steelmakers in the US. Said Bud: “The problem they have over there is some of the early schemes were clearly designed around union-busting activities, but that is not the case in the UK, to be fair.
“Common downsides here are where programmes have clearly been designed to shift the responsibility for safety from management on to the workforce. Basically, most behavioural safety programmes don’t work and are a waste of money. Instead of doing them, we want companies simply to identify hazards and deal with them. If they did that, then they wouldn’t have to worry about the psychology of the workforce!”
Jim McKerron, who has had significant success with the behavioural safety approach at Enterprise, said it should be about people, and particularly the leadership of the organisation, without whose buy-in there is no point in taking this approach.
Tim Marsh added that good behavioural safety should focus on the cause of unsafe behaviour, not the individual. He said: “Two things determine your accident rate: asking why things go wrong, and transformational leadership, which includes workforce involvement and leading by example. It’s all about working together to identify the cause and putting it right.”
Bud Hudspith, however, disagreed, saying behavioural safety is purely based on a myth. He explained: “Most advocates of the process say that between 80 and 100 per cent of all workplace accidents are caused by workers. But this comes from the work of Heinrich (of Triangle fame) in 1930s America! No one has ever been able to repeat that evidence since.
“Most safety professionals know that most accidents are down to a combination of factors coming together. Behavioural safety, however, says this is wrong – and that is why Unite’s campaign is telling people to ‘beware’.”
Nigel Bryson also flew the union flag, ascribing his success as a consultant to his continued use of methods he learnt during his time in the union movement. He said: “Unions focus on employee engagement and this ‘dinosaur’ method of getting the views of those who actually do the job actually works! All I have done is focus on worker involvement in workplace risk assessment, encourage joint working, and get the communication right.”
Tim Marsh agreed but said he would add on top of that “‘just culture’ analysis, nudge theory, ABC analysis, and coaching”. At this point, Jim McKinnon interjected saying introducing a ‘just culture’ system was “the worst thing I ever did – it made me really busy! It actually highlighted that despite the good record we had and the awards we had one, we still had a long way to go.”
The debate host, Heather Beech, of Barbour, then brought things to a close by summing up what had been discussed into three main points: there is a lot of confusion about what exactly behavioural safety is; there is a need to be wary of some behavioural approaches and bear in mind that they are just one tool in the practitioner’s armoury; and it’s ultimately about winning hearts and minds – both of the workforce and the organisation’s leadership.
At the Safety & Health Expo on 16 May, Tim Marsh, a panellist in a discussion on behavioural safety held as part of the event, made some inappropriate comments about Dominic Cooper. Tim accepts these were wrong. We are happy to make this clear and apologise for inadvertently posting the comments in the video of the debate on our website.
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