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Behaviour Based Safety and its importance

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It is widely accepted that a safe working environment is a basic requirement for ensuring high safety performance. Behaviour Based Safety is the approach that works within a systems-based paradigm to prevent accidents from occurring and also allows for the best and fastest recovery when things do go wrong.

We live in a complex world that is constantly evolving. Whilst our safety procedures and regulations do become more stringent over time, accidents still occur for a variety of reasons and even the most well-planned activities can be prevented or minimised.

The challenge for safety practitioners is to ensure that the rules, regulations and standards continue to be applied across their organisation, and in doing so ensure that their people and their behaviours do not lead to dangerous situations.

How can we do this?

The answer lies in behaviour-based approaches. Behaviour-based safety means that organisations don’t try to control people or make them do what they are told. Instead, they create safety-based behaviours and make it safer for people to work in a variety of situations. The ‘behaviour’ here is about people behaving to be safer. And the idea is that these safety behaviours are embedded in people’s everyday work. This, in turn, leads to changes in people’s attitudes and behaviours as they respond to the risks they face.

Why behaviour-based safety?

There are a variety of reasons why you should consider moving to a behaviour-based safety approach. The main ones are:

  • Behaviour change is a difficult challenge for safety practitioners to achieve   
  • Behaviour-based approaches build on systems thinking and can be used to address broader safety concerns
  • Behaviour-based approaches are flexible and have a positive approach to achieving safety in practice
  • Behaviour change is hard

It is very hard to change people’s attitudes and behaviours. People’s personal goals, habits, experiences and beliefs drive their behaviours, and when you start to move away from their current thinking, there is often strong resistance to change.

You can’t say, ‘well, I don’t want you to do that, because that’s bullying and it won’t work. It is important to recognise that a person’s actions are based on their own personal goals and motivations, and there is no way to influence these and change their behaviours.

What are your goals?

This is where a behaviour-based approach can help you. It focuses on people and how they behave, rather than on what they are told to do.

It takes a new approach to safety and safety management that moves away from ‘compliance’ and instead, looks at people’s personal goals and motivations, and asks them to work to change the way they think about and act on safety issues in their workplace.

How do you address goals in a way that motivates people to take action?

In order to work towards your goal, you need to create a safe environment for your employees. That means changing their mental models (their way of thinking about the risks they face), and changing their attitudes and behaviours.

These attitudes and behaviours can be very positive, as when people start to think and act in a safe manner. People also tend to perform well when they believe that you and your organisation have their best interests in mind and that they are treated fairly.

Traditional approaches to safety often assume that you can solve safety issues with training. This is true, but only up to a point. If training doesn’t fit into people’s mental models, it won’t work.

Traditional training methods may try to force people into behaviour that they don’t think is safe. For example, the procedure may tell people to perform a task in a specific way, or they may be asked to follow a specific ‘sequence’ of actions. This is what happens when people are asked to ‘train’ for safety. This approach is called ‘theory of mind training’, where you try to ‘teach’ people how to behave safely.

This approach tends to focus on the external rather than on people’s internal experiences and tends to create ‘guidelines’ rather than actions. So people perform the actions in a way that they feel they should and not in the way that is safe and is best for them and for their work environment.

The best behaviour-based approaches allow you to move away from traditional safety practices and instead, create and embed safety-based behaviours that align with your people’s attitudes and behaviours. You can contact us to learn more about our innovative Behaviour Based Safety approach. Happy Learning!

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