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How to influence decisions around safety

14 May 2017

Processes, procedures and hard controls alone cannot provide a complete safety solution.  Even best–in-class processes and systems may not be effective because not everyone interprets and acts on them in the same way. Companies spend millions on behavioural based safety programs, consultants and training, often with little return on investment.  

In this article, Lyn Fernie and Mike Warren of Zento Global Solutions discuss the missing element - people’s natural behaviours - and how these contribute to an individual’s decisions around safety, which ultimately influence safety performance.

Workplace related injuries cost the Australian economy an estimated $60.6 billion each year (4.8 per cent of GDP) with other countries following a similar pattern.

It is well known that there are four critical errors that people make that contribute to 85 - 95% of accidental acute injuries.  It is also well known that when people made these critical errors they were in one or more of the following four states; rushing, frustration, fatigue, or complacency. 

A study in the UK by the Health & Safety Executive in 1995 [Reference HSG 238 2003, Out of Control: Why control systems go wrong and how to prevent failure] found that 85% of the failures of control systems were shown to be a direct result of “people” and the processes they followed.  The study acknowledged that failures in control systems are not due to technical aspects alone; human and managerial factors are extremely important. Issues such as conflicting managerial priorities and incentives, lack of safety engineering training, absence of a ‘safety culture’ and poor contract procedures etc may contribute significantly to an eventual failure that has a technical cause.

Human behaviour has been extensively studied, and many models and hypotheses proposed for how to control, change or improve human error and human performance.  It is known that human performance can be affected by many factors such as age, state of mind, physical health, attitude, emotions, propensity for certain common mistakes, errors and cognitive biases, etc.

However, most behavioural based safety and safety culture programs focus on training people to avoid error thereby preventing injury. 

Companies spend millions on such programs and systems, consultants, training and advice, only to find the return on investment is limited.  Most workplace health & safety expenditure is directed towards creating a safer working environment and the human factors are largely ignored.  Procedural controls are introduced and rules put in place for people to follow.
These programs all miss one important factor that is natural human behaviours. 

Human behaviour

Research into human behaviour can be traced back to the time before Christ.  Hippocrates (400 B.C.) was an observer of people. He noticed the effect of the climate and the terrain on the individual. Defining four types of climates, he categorised behaviour for each climate, even suggesting which people would conquer others in battle, based on the environmental conditions in which they were raised. Hippocrates believed the climate and terrain affected behaviour.

Much later, Carl G. Jung (1921) published Psychological Types in Germany. He identified and described four “types”. These four types are primarily oriented by the four psychological functions: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. These four are further divided into two divisions that Jung called “libido” or “energy.” These two divisions are “extroverted” and “introverted.” Jung believed the extroverted and introverted types were categories over and above the other four functions.

Dr William Moulton Marston published Emotions of Normal People in 1928 in which he described the theory that people behave along two axes with their actions tending to be active or passive depending upon the individual’s perception of the environment as either antagonistic or favourable.

The profiling or measurement system derived from Marston’s work analyses these factors and reveals one’s strengths and weaknesses, one’s actual behaviour, and tendencies toward certain behaviour.  Behavioural profiles measure personality traits that have been recognised since the ancient Greeks and validated by extensive research over the last century.  Behavioural profiling is not impacted by experience or education, it is a scientific indicator of core human preferences. 

Behavioural research suggests that the most effective people are those who understand themselves and others. The more one understands his or her personal strengths and weaknesses coupled with the ability to identify and understand the strengths and weaknesses of others, the better one will be able to develop strategies to meet the demands of the environment. The result will be success on the job, at home or in society at large.

Equally this theory holds true in the safety space.  The decisions people make about safety are influenced by their core natural behaviours. 

Natural behaviours and safety

People do not respond identically to procedures and programs, it can be seen from behavioural research that many factors play a part in the decisions people make.  These factors also play into the decisions people make around safety.  It is therefore logical that mapping people’s natural behaviours can assist with understanding how those natural behaviours influence safe and unsafe behaviours in the workplace, and this understanding can provide leaders with opportunities to improve safety performance.

Understanding how an individual responds to problems and challenges, interacts and attempts to influence others, responds to change and pace of their environment, and responds to rules and procedures provides insight into how that person would react in different scenarios, such as:
•  Under pressure during an emergency;
•  Performing routine tasks;
•  Following rules and procedures;
•  Handling detailed reporting requirements;
•  Leading a team;
•  Making safety interventions; and
•  Making the right decisions around safety versus production.

Our own company uses special behavioural profiling of individuals, teams and managers to help understand how natural behaviours play into safe and unsafe behaviours in the workplace, and how this understanding can provide opportunities for improved safety performance through better communication, trust, motivation, empowerment and teamwork.

Individual profiles provide detailed information about an individual’s strengths, weaknesses, communication style and their motivators. The one-to-one coaching, report and workbook provides a clear roadmap with information on how to maximise their own potential and achieve safe outcomes.

In a workshop environment team members learn what over-arching behaviours exist in their team, what behaviours they might expect from colleagues how best to work with them, and the best approach to achieve strong safety performance as a team.

Good safety leadership can positively impact safety behaviour by up to 86%. Managers therefore have a huge part to play in determining the success or otherwise of a behavioural safety process. The executive style coaching and reports provide managers with direction and support with how best to manage individuals and teams to optimise their safety performance and influence safety culture within the organisation.

Our experience of profiles has demonstrated that the following benefits are realised:
•  Significant reduction in incidents caused by behavioural choices.
•  Improved safety culture – awareness and understanding of safety behaviours.
•  Improved team interdependence – reduce reliance on rules and processes for safety.
•  Increase in productivity due to better task allocation.

Conclusions

Processes, procedures and hard controls alone don’t provide a complete safety solution.  Even best in class processes and systems may not be effective because not everyone interprets and acts on them in the same way. Companies spend millions on behavioural based safety programs, consultants and training, often with little return on investment. 

The last piece in the jigsaw is to understand people’s natural behaviours and how these contribute to an individual’s decisions around safety which ultimately influence safety performance.

Behavioural research suggests that the more an individual understands his or her personal strengths and weaknesses and the strengths and weaknesses of others in the team, the better one will be able to develop strategies to meet the demands of the environment.  This theory holds true equally in the safety space.  The decisions people make around safety are influenced by their core natural behaviours. 

Case study

Zento Global Solutions were invited to run program for an open cast mine site in Australia.  The site had been operating for 7 years and had successfully maintained a good safety culture driving down the total recordable incident rate (TRIF) through a series of focused initiatives on the site.  However as the site entered the final phases of mining prior to closure, a number of problems had been encountered:
•  Demotivation and disengagement throughout the operations teams
•  Difficulty with maintaining the good safety culture
•  Supervisors struggling to motivate teams and turn the rising TRIF around
•  Personnel unhappy with allocation of tasks
•  Generally poor safety performance

Zento Global Solutions designed a 6-month program for the site comprising:
•  Zero profiles© provided for all personnel;
•  Operational team based workshops;
•  Coaching provided to supervisors;
•  Executive style coaching and reports provided to managers; and
•  Support to the leadership team to design a safety strategy for the organisation.

It is well known that most teams never make it to high performance without both training in a behavioural model and commitment to using it from the top management down.  For this reason, the Zero profiles© were completed for all staff and contract personnel on the site, including the leadership team and the managers/supervisors.

The operational team-based workshops provided a platform for members to learn:
•  What overarching safety behaviours exist in their team;
•  What behaviours they might expect from colleagues and how best to work with them; and
•  How to achieve strong safety performance as a team.

The workshops were based on the rostered site teams, allowing the existing teams to develop trust as a common language and understanding was introduced.

The coaching for supervisors focussed on how the knowledge they had gained from the team workshops would allow them to optimise their teams’ safety performance and allocate tasks more effectively, taking behaviours into account.

The executive style coaching and reports provided to managers provided a snapshot of the site’s behavioural biases, allowing strategies to be developed to balance weak spots throughout the organisation.

In order to drive improvements in safety culture and performance from the top, the final step was to work with the site’s leadership team to design a safety strategy for the organisation.  This guidance on how to influence safety culture within the organisation provided tools that the leadership team could use in a volatile environment, thereby providing a measure of sustainability.

The language and shared understanding provided high levels of cooperation and commitment from everyone from shop floor to board room and this endorsement and belief in the program generated measureable improvements very quickly, including:
• Measurable and sustained reduction in total recordable injury frequency rate (27% reduction over 12 months);
•  Significant reduction in incidents caused by behavioural choices;
•  Improved safety culture – awareness and understanding of safety behaviours;
•  Improved team interdependence – no longer rely on rules and processes for safety; and
•  Increase in productivity due to better task allocation.


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