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  • Writer's pictureLeverage Safety

Understanding Behavior: Key to Enhancing Safety Performance

Updated: Jul 19

When we hear the word "behavior," it often carries a negative connotation. We associate it with discussions focused on performance and potential criticisms. Imagine your significant other saying, "I want to talk to you about your behavior last night." It's unlikely you would anticipate a positive conversation. However, behavior simply refers to observable actions, encompassing everything from the words we use to our body language and work product.

In the realm of incident and injury prevention, behaviors play a crucial role. There are two main types of behaviors: mandatory and discretionary. Mandatory behaviors are governed by rules, policies, and procedures, which serve as tools to address and control them. On the other hand, discretionary injury-prevention behaviors are influenced by tools such as behavior-based safety programs. It's important to note that controlling and influencing tools should not overlap, as they serve different purposes. Mixing them can lead to compliance issues and cultural challenges.

Within the realm of observable behaviors, there are three categories: unsafe behaviors, at-risk behaviors, and safe behaviors.

Unsafe behaviors: These actions are inherently dangerous and often result in injuries. Common sense and experience can easily identify them. For example, driving at high speeds while diverting attention from the road for 30 seconds carries a high likelihood of a negative outcome, such as an accident. Such behaviors should be immediately stopped.

At-risk behaviors: These behaviors have a lower probability of resulting in injury, but they still pose a potential risk. They may not lead to accidents or injuries most of the time, but there is a chance that they could. Detecting these behaviors solely through common sense and experience is challenging; more data and sophisticated tools are required for analysis. For instance, driving at a low speed while being distracted and changing the radio station falls into this category. Coaching and intervention should be employed to address these behaviors.

Safe behaviors: These actions involve minimal or no danger and almost never result in injuries. The risks associated with these behaviors are well controlled, and any observer would agree that they are safe. An example would be driving with hands on the steering wheel, eyes focused on the road, and a constant awareness of the surroundings, devoting full attention to the task at hand. Positive reinforcement should be provided to encourage and perpetuate these safe habits.

As the likelihood of negative consequences increases, people tend to recognize the associated risks more readily. Conversely, when the potential risks decrease, we may overlook or fail to acknowledge the dangers associated with a task and continue to engage in unsafe or risky behaviors. Sometimes, it takes someone else pointing out the unsafe nature of our actions for us to realize we are not performing a task in the safest manner.

To promote safety, rules should be established and consistently enforced, with appropriate consequences, to prevent or stop unsafe behaviors. At-risk behaviors require coaching and interventions to change perceptions, overcome influences that encourage risky behavior, and develop new habits. Safe behaviors should be positively reinforced immediately and consistently to reinforce and solidify safe habits, whether they are newly acquired or already established.

The terms and tools we use to improve safety performance have a significant impact on outcomes. They can either create alignment and buy-in or cause confusion and resistance to change. Consider how you use the term "behavior" in your organization and what tools you employ to enhance behaviors. By understanding and effectively addressing behaviors, we can create a safer work environment and foster a culture of continuous improvement.

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