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Understanding Behavior: Key to Enhancing Safety Performance

Updated: Dec 19, 2023


The term 'behavior' often conjures negative connotations, typically associated with performance criticisms. However, in the realm of HSE, 'behavior' refers to the range of observable actions, from communication styles to work processes. Understanding and managing these behaviors is key to incident and injury prevention.


Understanding Behavior Types in HSE

In injury prevention, there are two primary behavior types: mandatory and discretionary. Mandatory behaviors are those dictated by rules, policies, and procedures. They are essential for maintaining basic safety standards and are non-negotiable. Discretionary behaviors, on the other hand, are those not governed by strict rules but are crucial for preventing injuries. These behaviors are often shaped by behavior-based safety programs. It's critical to ensure that controlling tools (for mandatory behaviors) and influencing tools (for discretionary behaviors) don't overlap, as they serve distinct purposes and can lead to compliance and cultural issues if mixed.


Categorizing Observable Behaviors

Observable behaviors in the workplace can be classified into three categories:

  1. Unsafe Behaviors: These are actions that are inherently dangerous and often lead to injuries, such as reckless driving. They should be immediately addressed and stopped.

  2. At-Risk Behaviors: These are behaviors that might not always result in injury but still pose a risk, like minor distractions while driving. These require more nuanced detection methods and should be addressed through coaching and intervention.

  3. Safe Behaviors: These are actions that pose minimal or no danger, such as attentive driving. Positive reinforcement is key to encouraging these behaviors.


Recognizing and Addressing Different Behaviors

The challenge in HSE management is the varying degrees of risk perception. As the likelihood of negative outcomes increases, the associated risks become more apparent. However, lower-risk behaviors can often go unnoticed, leading to a false sense of security and continued unsafe practices.


To enhance safety:

  • Enforce Rules for Unsafe Behaviors: Establish and consistently enforce rules to prevent or stop unsafe behaviors.

  • Coach for At-Risk Behaviors: Utilize coaching and interventions to change perceptions and habits that encourage risky behaviors.

  • Reinforce Safe Behaviors: Immediately and consistently reinforce safe behaviors to establish and maintain safe habits.


The Impact of Language and Tools in HSE

The language and tools we use significantly impact safety outcomes. They can foster alignment and engagement or cause confusion and resistance. It's important to consider how the term 'behavior' and related tools are used within your organization to influence safety culture positively.


Incorporating a nuanced understanding of behaviors and strategically addressing them can lead to a more robust and proactive safety culture. By recognizing the different types of behaviors and employing appropriate strategies to manage them, organizations can enhance workplace safety and foster a culture of continuous improvement in HSE.

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