Behavior safety benefits workers, employers

Behavior safety once was referred to by employees as the "Flavor of the Month" another concept that would set employees up and blame them when something went wrong. This was due to the fact that prior to behavior safety, programs merely consisted of rules and regulations that employees were expected to obey. At that time, when accidents occurred, it was assumed the employee violated a policy or procedure.

In reality, behavior safety is a process that helps employees raise their level of awareness, assist them to engage behaviors that are designed to reduce human errors and exhibit safe work practices. Let's examine the following facts, opinions and myths regarding this process to better illustrate behavior safety concepts:

Behavior safety programs focus on worker behavior as the cause of almost all workplace accidents. Partially true. Behavior safety does focus on human error as being a major cause of workplace accidents, but this concept explores other factors as well. What are the reasons behind the behavior that caused the accident? Take for example, an employee comes to work after being up most of the night with a sick child. She's distracted by her child's illness. As she gets ready to do a task, her head and hands are not in the same place. Her risk of making an error is high. Behavior safety programs present tools and techniques for helping her cope. Methods such as teaching her to ask herself a question before starting a task: "What am I getting ready to do?" This raises her awareness and brings her to the present, here-and-now. Her head and hands are now in the same place.

Unsafe acts cause 80 to 100 percent of accidents, according to a DuPont study. Not necessarily. Unsafe acts can be the result of conditions as well as behaviors. Conditions, such as the one the woman above faced, can become the controlling factor when individuals are unaware or distracted.

Behavior safety programs are typically sold to employers by a consultant, tying the program directly to management control. Correct. This has been the typical way of bringing programs and processes to the workplace. Most behavior processes focus on the individual and, if skills are implemented, the person will have tools that are useful in all aspects of life. In this way, behavior safety training becomes a benefit of employment.

Behavior safety programs identify key unsafe behaviors that are believed to contribute to facility accidents. Correct. There are companies that base their behavior safety programs on identifying specific unsafe behaviors which are related to actual or potential incidents, accidents or injuries. Based on these critical factors, observation and feedback, techniques are taught to employees.

One process focuses on six measurable behavior skills:

* Managing yourself: As you think, so you go.

* Three awareness levels: Awareness,

focused, options.

*Ask a question: Head and hands in the

same place.

* Thought managers: Emotional and


* Activity managers: Conditions and


* Problem-solving model: Awareness,

assessment, and action.

These six skills help people function on and off the job.

Observation and feedback training is the basis of many behavior safety processes. Correct. Observation and feedback, when used appropriately and willingly, are very effective behavior safety tools. One such method is the "Brother's Keeper" approach where employees watch out for themselves and one another, and are willing to open lines of communication. These techniques do not work well if they are mandated: they must be done willingly. When employees establish a pattern of active participation and involvement, observation and feedback becomes invaluable.

Some believe that management will use behavior safety programs to justify corrective behaviors and blame employees when things go wrong. Not when conducted properly. The search for root causes must involve all aspects of the incident from engineering, management involvement, decision-making process and the person pulling the wrench at the end of an incident. Unfortunately, many analyses tend to be blame remedy-oriented. This creates emotional reactions and intensifies resistance. In order to learn, the focus needs to be on "What can be done?" not "Why did you do that?" Forward thinking, leads to creative thinking a process of problem solving that results in progressive changes, not reactive resentments.

Comprehensive health and safety programs are effective. True, but designers of some of these programs are shortsighted in one major area employee involvement. Unless there is employee buy-in all that exists is a shell. When management legislates programs, resistance is the common reaction. Teaching employees the why and how of a behavior safety process will lead them to evaluate results. The why is the information facts, beliefs, opinions all the things that make the process real and possible. The how is the understanding that comes after the information has been imparted and employees understand how it meets their needs, goals and expectations. Add these components to the program and employees move from participation to active involvement for results.

When employees learn to actively take care of themselves, they are in better positions to help others. When a process raises awareness (active thinking) among a workforce, communication will improve. When active thinking and communication become a part of the work environment, cooperation and teamwork will result. Most behavior processes effectively incorporate employee involvement and active thinking in their approaches.

Actively-thinking employees take responsibility for their actions and are in control. They maintain a sense of hope, experience mutual understanding and accept personal responsibility for their actions. They are the best candidates to manage their safety behaviors and become self-directed.

Implementing a behavior safety process can be the stimulus needed to effect a cultural change. When accepted by employees, it will reduce accidents, injuries-and, most importantly, save lives.

Michael S. Haro teaches industrial safety courses for TMCC's Workforce Development and Continuing Education Division.


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