Workplace Safety: It’s All About the Behaviors

June 27, 2019

How well do you manage safety?

For starters, you should not manage safety…you should manage risk. The better risk is managed, the better the safety performance. In other words, if you manage risk well, you will already be well on your way to managing safety.

For example, “zero events” does not mean “zero risk”. It could mean that there are unreported or underreported incidents, or that your company simply got lucky and it’s just a matter of time before an incident occurs.

How do you reduce safety risks? The answer depends on whether we’re talking about process safety or worker safety. In the case of the latter, it starts with identifying and encouraging the right behaviors.

Types of Behaviors to Encourage

By focusing on behaviors, you address primary risk drivers leading to incidents. Behaviors vary by industry and job role, but there are general behaviors that apply across many functions. For example:

  • Systematically report all incidents, near misses and observations in a timely manner without a concern whether it will make you or your co-workers look “bad”.
  • Assess hazards and risks before starting a task or consult the job safety analysis for that particular job, if it exists.
  • Thoroughly read a safe work permit to be aware of protective measures to take.
  • Learn to recognize risks when it’s not too late by adopting a mindset where you don’t just ask yourself “what is wrong”, but more importantly “what could go wrong”.
  • Avoid developing a false sense of confidence due to:
    • Experience: It’s true that younger workers experience higher incident rates, but nobody is immune from an incident, even more experienced workers.
    • Historical performance: If your company, facility or workgroup did not experience a serious incident in a long time, that’s certainly something to be proud of. But you should never let your guards down and assume that things can’t go wrong. It only takes one unfortunate incident to have a fatality or serious injury, and which could undermine all the progress made.
  • Advise or correct a colleague when they perform an unsafe or at-risk behavior.
  • Verify tools, equipment and machinery before using them, even if there are regular inspections already planned.
  • Avoid placing too much faith in PPE. PPE is the least effective control method. Always think about other ways to reduce hazards or control risks, especially about “engineering out” hazards.
  • Apply lockout/tagout procedures to isolate energy sources during the maintenance, repair or servicing of a machine or equipment.

Combine these general behaviors with job-specific behaviors (e.g. wearing hearing protection, wearing a seat belt while driving a vehicle, etc.), and encourage the behaviors.

Remember one critical item: encourage behaviors but be sure that you’re not giving the impression that you’re assigning blame. Words can be easily misinterpreted if they’re not spoken the right way.

Finally, foster a safety culture to create a work environment where unsafe and at-risk behaviors are eliminated in favor of the right ones. When the right behaviors are adopted and reinforced, risks are reduced, leading to improvements in safety performance.

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Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

Content Thought Leader - Wolters Kluwer | Enablon