Behavioural Safety – Why do Workers Take Risks?

Behavioural Safety – Why do Workers Take Risks?

24th October 2016

Last week we took a look at Behavioural Safety Programmes and some questions that business owners should be asking themselves when attempting to determine whether such a programme would be relevant to their particular company.  Today we’re going to look at some ways in which employees engage in at-risk behaviour in the workplace that could be putting your health and safety policy at risk.  Behavioural Safety is a vital issue in the construction industry where dangerous tasks are often necessary, very often using access equipment such as ladders or scaffolding which, by their very nature, bring added risks to the task at hand.

Behavioural safety can be viewed as part of a natural progression of safety management from the old-style, highly prescriptive approaches, through the procedural systems (which most companies have already established) to a system which recognises workers as mature human beings with a real interest in their own wellbeing and safety.  This will result in a workforce that will make a contribution towards influencing their own safety and that of others.  In order to achieve this, the culture of the workforce needs to change in order to combine behaviour based approaches to safety improvement and effective procedural systems in order to improve overall safety.

Behaviour could be defined as any action by an individual that is observable by others.  In up to 80% of work related accidents and incidents it’s thought that employees’ behaviour is a contributing factor in the form of either acts or omissions.  This type of risky behaviour enables pre-existing factors to come into play in an event or incident so we’re going to take a look at why employees may engage in at-risk behaviour at work, particularly in an industry that is already deemed one of the riskiest in which to work.

  • Saving Time – cutting corners to save time can be tempting.  It may be that employees decide not to use personal protective equipment (PPE) for a short task that will only take a few minutes to complete.
  • Accepted Practice – this is the mentality that thinks “We’ve always done it this way and it works so why change now?”
  • Ergonomics – this can be as simple as machine controls that are inappropriately placed which could lead to improvisation and potentially dangerous access arrangements in order to make things easier/quicker.
  • Reinforcement – at-risk behaviour that is reinforced by supervisors or management which can serve to undermine employees’ confidence in management’s commitment to manage concerns over safety issues.
  • Misunderstanding – many employees may be unaware of the risks associated with a particular type of activity or task.  This is an issue that can be addressed with adequate training or the provision of the necessary information.
  • Instinct – some people are just naturally more inclined than others to take risks.

The main emphasis when it comes to a behaviour based approach to safety is on employee behaviour.  By influencing employee behaviour and encouraging a culture of thinking about safety, it’s possible to reduce injury rates significantly.  A behaviour based approach will focus on observable, measurable behaviours that are critical to safety in the workplace.  Safe behaviour should be treated as a work-related skill that is vital to progress and productivity.