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Harnessing Influences for Sustainable Behavior Change in HSE

Updated: Dec 19, 2023


Understanding and addressing the underlying influences on risky behaviors is pivotal for achieving lasting behavioral changes. This article discusses the four primary influences – perceptions, habits, obstacles, and barriers – and the importance of recognizing and responding to these within an organization for effective safety management.


Understanding the Reasons Behind Risky Behaviors

People often have specific reasons for their actions, and overlooking these can hinder sustainable behavior change. For instance, some individuals may take risks due to a misperception of danger. They might think, "I've always done it this way without harm," reflecting a mindset shaped by how safety excellence is measured in the organization. If safety is solely defined as the absence of injuries, it might lead to the erroneous belief that any action that hasn't resulted in harm is safe. Reflect on the messages and definitions your organization uses that might contribute to these misperceptions.


The Role of Habits in Safety Practices

Adult employees bring pre-existing habits into the workplace, which organizations try to reshape through onboarding and training. Habits are mostly unconscious routines, and changing them requires altering the cues and consequences associated with these behaviors. For successful habit alteration, consider how your organization can modify prompts or consequences to foster safer practices.


Tackling Obstacles and Barriers

Even in high-performing organizations, obstacles and barriers can hinder risk-free job performance. An example is the proper selection and use of tools or personal protective equipment (PPE). If the necessary tools are inaccessible, locked away, or not functioning, employees might resort to unsafe practices. Identifying and removing such barriers can significantly impact safety behaviors.

Beyond Direct Behavior Change Tactics

Efforts to improve safety should focus on understanding behavioral influences rather than solely attempting to change behavior through discipline or confrontation. Often, organizational policies or systems unknowingly encourage unsafe behaviors. For instance, one organization identified that glove usage could prevent a significant percentage of injuries. However, limited glove availability and uncomfortable processes for acquiring more led to non-compliance. Addressing these systemic issues required different solutions and was crucial for changing perceptions and habits.


The Importance of Addressing Influences

Perceptions and habits shaped by obstacles and barriers are unlikely to change unless these underlying influences are addressed. By understanding what drives behavior, organizations can effectively guide desired behavioral changes. Solely focusing on individual behaviors without considering these influences can result in superficial changes that don’t align with the organization’s safety goals.


For lasting safety improvements, it’s essential to go beyond surface-level behavior adjustments and delve into the deeper influences shaping these behaviors. By identifying and modifying perceptions, habits, obstacles, and barriers within an organization, HSE professionals can foster a culture of safety that not only changes behavior but also sustains these changes in the long term. Understanding and addressing these influences is key to driving effective and enduring behavior change in the realm of HSE.

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