Changing safety behavior I
Time & Location
About the Event
Safety focuses primarily on the reliability and maintenance of (process) installations and the prevention of incidents that can lead to damage, loss or injury. A good management system, good procedures and good use of rules and structures support this. Risks are identified and actions are taken to control these risks by means of inventories, inspections and audits. Improving safety performance cannot be seen in isolation from a change in culture and behavior. Measuring culture and learning about behavior is an important part of this.
How do you change behavior?
Culture and leadership determine the way in which risks are dealt with in an organization. But how do you know how good the culture of your organization is and how can you improve it? The answer to this question is a missing puzzle piece for many companies. It is not only important to know what you want to improve, but it is also how you do it. For example, how can you stimulate desired behavior or stop unwanted behavior?
Changing culture goes hand in hand with changing behavior. What is behavior? In short, everything someone says and does. What makes someone do or not do something? And how do you ensure that someone does what you want or does what has been agreed?
Simply to say, but more difficult to implement, you need to create the right conditions and have the right consequences. I see you already thinking, ah, consequences, it's easy: punish! But consequences can also be positive consequences: a pat on the back, a good assessment, no injury. Positive consequences will strengthen the behavior and negative consequences will decrease the behavior.
It is therefore important to know and measure what the stimuli or triggers that cause someone to show a certain behavior and what the consequences are that reinforce or inhibit the behavior. Many organizations use the ABC method for this. ABC stands for Antecedent (stimuli / triggers), Behavior (behavior) and Consequences (consequences).
So it starts with recognizing and specifying behavior. Behavior is active, measurable, specific and observable. You must therefore describe behavior specifically. "Someone does not work hard" is not a specific description, "someone has not finished his work and handed it in at the agreed time".
Antecedents come in many forms. A traffic light on the street, a speed camera, a PPE sign in the factory, a procedure or a rule of conduct, all of which trigger us to do or not do something. However, antecedents make up only 20% of people's behavior. The consequences ensure 80% that the behavior is shown.
Antecedents are more powerful if they better predict the expected consequences of the behavior. If antecedents are not supported by consequences, they lose strength. This nullifies changes and makes them disappear. If a pedestrian has to stop in front of a red traffic light but there is no traffic for which to stop and there are no police checks, in many cases the pedestrian will ignore the red traffic light and still cross it. There are no negative consequences of collision, injury and fine. The positive consequences of time savings, no chance of injury, no money lost on a fine, no sermon from an agent, are there and that ensures that the pedestrian walks through the red traffic light.
Effective consequences maintain and reinforce behavior. Negative consequences or the lack of positive consequences cause the behavior to diminish or disappear. Important with the consequences is that a measure of immediacy and certainty is required. If a consequence is in the future and it is uncertain whether it will happen, it is a weak consequence that will not change behavior. Someone continues to smoke despite cancer risk and death. The chance of getting cancer is small, uncertain and lies in the future. This consequence is weak and will not stop the behavior. Smoking a cigarette gives immediate and sure pleasure, in other words the consequence is immediate, sure and positive. That reinforces the behavior.
Sanctions only work if they are consistent
Many organizations are still trying to change undesirable behavior with sanctions. However, that only works if you do this consistently. As soon as you make exceptions or deviate from the severity of the penalty, the behavior will change again. The experience then clearly influences the behavior. However, this is a situation on which you as a company or organization do not want to base your safety culture.
To ensure that someone shows the desired safety behavior, you need the right triggers or stimuli and consequences that are certain, immediate and positive. This combination is the strongest to influence behavior.
Another combination is the right triggers or stimuli and consequences that are certain, immediate and negative. These kinds of consequences avoid people and will therefore no longer show the undesirable behavior. If a pedestrian has to stop in front of a red traffic light on a road with a lot of traffic and where police often check, the pedestrian will in most cases be inclined to stop and wait for the green light.
The right example
Finally, when changing behavior, creating the right conditions is a must. If, as a manager, you do not set the right example, a subordinate will never show the desired behavior. Remember "the lowest standard of a manager is the highest standard of his employee."