A key factor in employee safety that is often overlooked is the everyday behavior of employees. Employee behaviors have a direct impact on safety. Therefore, to improve safety, it is important to address employee behaviors. This methodology is referred to as behavior-based safety.
First, let’s define what that means. According to Wikipedia, behavior-based safety is defined as "a process that creates a safety partnership between management and employees that continually focuses people's attentions and actions on their daily safety behavior." Now that we have defined this concept, let's work to influence your employees' safety behavior.
Listed below are 5 tips to improve employee behaviors that impact safety:
Get employees involved in your safety program and training to increase engagement. The best way to get true buy-in with your safety program is to have employees play an active role in the creation of the program. This way, employees will see your safety program as “our program” instead of the company’s program. This immediately gives credibility to the program and allows it to be viewed as realistic and attainable. Once buy-in has been established, employees will be more comfortable to engage in the process and take a proactive role in establishing a true safety culture.
Behavior change is the goal, not just education. Although it is important for everyone to understand what safe behaviors are and how they look, that is not your ultimate goal. Many people know the best or safest way to do something, but that doesn’t mean they will always choose to behave in that manner. The goal is to create a fundamental change in behavior that follows a safer path. This means you need to be focused on observing actions, providing feedback, and supporting consistent, safe behaviors.
Behavior change requires the right kind of positive reinforcement. Keep in mind that people are more likely to repeat their actions when provided with positive reinforcement. Unfortunately, positive reinforcement sometimes comes from unsafe behavior. For example, if an employee is asked to quickly unload boxes from a shelving unit onto a pallet and there are no back-support belts nearby, an employee may decide to complete the work without the necessary protective equipment. Completing the task quickly saves time and could solicit positive feedback from the supervisor. The goal should be to provide positive reinforcement that encourages safe behavior. Consider creating a program that has management looking to catch employees doing the right thing and offers rewards for those who take the time to complete tasks safely.
Behavior change often requires system change. It is important to give employees the tools they need to behave safely. For example, if you ask your employees to use a ladder to safely remove items from shelves over 4 feet high, then your business needs to provide enough ladders that they are readily available when needed. If acting in an unsafe manner is easier and offers positive benefits, then expecting your employee to act safely will be a struggle. Management should provide the necessary resources to make safe behaviors easy and convenient. Having personal protective equipment conveniently located and well maintained will significantly increase the chances of it being used on a regular basis.
The focus must be on everyone, including management. Many safety programs focus primarily on hourly employees, since they are often the ones at risk. It's important to understand that hourly employees typically pattern their behaviors after the behaviors of management and people they respect. Management can inadvertently show approval for unsafe behaviors by not immediately addressing them. Failure to address unsafe behaviors in a timely manner can imply acceptance and encourage repeat actions. Any unsafe behaviors noticed by management should be immediately addressed and corrective action taken right away.