David Cant
Workplace Safety and Behavioural Science

Mindful Moves: Improving Workplace Safety with the Science of Smart Choices

Enter the mysterious world of behavioural science and how it can be a game-changer in transforming workplace safety and culture by tackling those tricky irrational thinking patterns.

Imagine this:

A workplace where safety isn’t just a set of rules but a way of thinking, a shared mindset that embraces the well-being of every team member. Now, enter the leader of this little adventure – behavioural science.

Rewriting the Script:

  • In our minds, we often follow scripts that lead us to shortcuts or risky decisions. Behavioural science helps us rewrite these scripts. It’s like giving our brains a safety upgrade, tweaking the narrative so that making the safer choice becomes the new leader’s journey.

Nudging Toward Safety:

  • Think of behavioural nudges as friendly whispers guiding us toward the right path. Subtle cues, reminders, and visuals are strategically placed to nudge us away from potential hazards gently. It’s like having a personal safety coach cheering you on in the background.

Turning Mistakes into Lessons:

  • We’re all human, and mistakes happen. Behavioural science doesn’t point fingers; instead, it turns mistakes into lessons. By creating a culture that sees near-misses as learning opportunities, we’re transforming oops moments into stepping stones toward a safer, smarter future.

Celebrating the Safety Leaders:

  • Who doesn’t love a good pat on the back? Behavioural science encourages reinforcing behaviour and celebrating the safety leaders among us. Those who consistently make safe choices become the leaders, inspiring others to follow and improve performance.

Unmasking Cognitive Biases:

  • Have you ever heard of those sneaky cognitive biases that can lead us down the wrong path? Behavioural science is like a detective, unmasking these biases and showing us how to outsmart them. It’s empowering us to be the Sherlock Holmes of our own safety adventure.

The Power of Positive Peer Pressure:

  • We’re all influenced by those around us. Behavioural science harnesses the power of positive peer pressure. Showcasing the majority making safe choices creates a ripple effect where safety becomes the right, admirable choice.

Gamifying Safety:

  • Who said safety training has to be dull? Behavioural science introduces a bit of fun into the mix. Imagine safety challenges and games that make learning an adventure. It’s like turning workplace safety into a quest where everyone emerges as the leader.

Setting Sail with Personal Safety Goals:

  • Everyone loves a goal. Behavioural science can encourage us to set personal safety goals. It’s like charting our course toward a safer future. Small, achievable milestones become the compass guiding us, making safety a journey worth taking.

So, by rewriting the script, behavioural science principles can help organisations foster a safety culture that addresses irrational thinking and promotes long-term, positive behavioural change among employees.

Here’s to workplaces where behavioural science isn’t just a fancy term but a guiding force. It’s about nudging people toward smart choices, a companion on your journey to a safer, happier, and more sustainable workplace.

How to sell safety with the concept of fish

Master how to sell your safety ideas and inspire action

Safety professionals, business leaders and managers, lend me your ears!

Today, I want to share some guidance on how to master the art of influence and persuasion and sell your safety ideas in the workplace.

As safety advocates, our success lies not only in our technical expertise but also in our ability to sell our ideas and convince others to embrace safety initiatives.

Let’s dive in and explore practical strategies that can inspire action and create a safer work environment.

Understand your audience:

You must understand your audience’s perspectives, needs, and motivations to influence and persuade effectively. Put yourself in their shoes, empathise with their concerns, and tailor your approach accordingly.

Sell what’s in it for them.

Example: If you’re presenting a safety initiative to the operations team, focus on how it will increase efficiency, reduce downtime, and enhance productivity, as these are their primary concerns.

Build relationships:

Establishing strong relationships based on trust and respect is essential for influencing others. Invest time in building connections with key stakeholders, including supervisors, workers, and management. Show genuine interest in their ideas, concerns, and goals.

Example: Engage in casual conversations, attend team meetings, and actively listen to their experiences. Building rapport strengthens your credibility and makes it easier to sell your ideas.

Communicate with clarity and confidence:

Effective communication is vital when selling your safety ideas. Clearly articulate the benefits, risks, and steps required to implement your safety initiatives. Be confident and passionate about your message.

Example: Use simple, relatable language, avoid jargon, and support your points with real-world examples. Paint a vivid picture of your idea’s positive impact on safety and the organisation’s overall success.

Tell compelling stories:

Stories have a powerful impact on human emotions and can make your ideas more memorable. Craft stories highlighting the consequences of unsafe practices and the positive outcomes that can be achieved through your proposed changes.

Example: Share stories of real incidents that occurred and explain how your safety idea could have prevented them. Also, share success stories of other companies or teams that embraced similar safety initiatives and experienced significant improvements.

Use social proof:

People are more likely to be influenced by the actions of others. Use social proof by highlighting success stories, testimonials, or case studies demonstrating positive outcomes of your safety ideas. This provides evidence that others have embraced similar changes and reaped the benefits.

Example: Share statistics or testimonials from workers who have witnessed the positive impact of implementing safety initiatives. Show how their peers’ support and commitment have improved safety and overall performance.

Appeal to values and emotions:

Connect with the values and emotions of your audience. Frame your safety ideas to resonate with their personal beliefs, aspirations, and sense of responsibility.

Example: Emphasise how your safety initiative aligns with the company’s values of prioritising employee well-being, creating a positive work environment, and being responsible.

Be a catalyst for change

Influence and persuasion are powerful tools for safety professionals to effect positive change in the workplace. By understanding your audience, building relationships, communicating effectively, and appealing to values and emotions, you can inspire action and convince others to embrace your safety ideas.

Remember, your passion for safety is contagious, and through your persuasive efforts, you can create a culture where everyone is committed to prioritising safety. It’s down to you to embrace the art of influence and persuasion and become a catalyst for change, making your workplace safer and more fulfilling for all.

And in the words of Columbo, “Just one more thing”

Before we wrap things up, let’s pause for a moment and reflect on everything we’ve covered. We’ve journeyed through the ups and downs of this topic, exploring its nuances and gaining valuable insights along the way. But now, my friend, it’s time to take action.

I want you to ask yourself: What will you do with your newfound knowledge?

man walking a tight rope

The Types of Risk-Taker and How To Spot Them

As a health and safety manager, it’s frustrating when near misses or accidents occur because someone took an unnecessary risk.

Whether it’s because someone failed to use the right equipment, cut corners, or was simply cavalier with their own safety and the safety of those around them, the consequences of risk-taking can be dire.

Your first response in these situations, understandably, might be to punish the person responsible for choosing to take that risk. But, if you look deeper, you might find that things aren’t quite that straightforward.

The Human Factor

In my twenty years as a risk management consultant, I’ve come to understand that – as with most things – the most unpredictable part of safety is the people involved. I call this the ‘Human Factor’, and it’s one of the first things I communicate to new clients when I start working with them.

Take cars, for example. Over the past few decades, carmakers have invested combined trillions of pounds into making their vehicles as safe as possible, implementing a plethora of fancy gadgets to aid drivers in getting from A to B safely. But for all the money, time, and science, all it takes is one person not paying attention for a split second to cause a terrible accident.

And it’s the same with health and safety at work: all it takes is one person deciding to go off-script for an incident to occur.

Unfortunately, as easy as it is to view all risk-takers as mavericks with no care for themselves or others, this view fails to consider how complex human beings can be.

To implement truly effective safety procedures, you need to understand the people you work with, their place in the system, and the reasons they might take a risk at work. Are they just being willfully ignorant, or are there other factors at play?

There are a few types of risk-takers

The Maverick

Let’s start with the stereotypical risk-taker. Usually overconfident, this person thinks they’re above the law and invincible. We’ve all heard the adage, ‘this is the way I’ve done it for years. Why should I change now?’

They might think ‘health and safety has gone mad’, too. But, it’s their way or the highway, which means they’ll take every opportunity to ‘forget’ their PPE or grab a ladder to ‘sort something quickly’.

It can be challenging to know how to handle these types of risk-taker. You might catch them on their phones during safety briefings, and one-to-ones with them usually end in an argument or a half-hearted, unconvincing ‘OK mate’.

I generally advise against punishing people when things go wrong, as it only leads to pushback and a very negative view of safety. However, suppose after reasonably explaining the reasons behind the procedures, they continue to take risks, putting themselves and others in danger. In that case, your only option might be to get upper management involved for a serious talk and potential dismissal.

This type of risk-taker is why involving health and safety in the recruitment process is so vital. Managers should be doing everything they can to ensure that new hires will (or can) fit in well with the existing safety culture.

We have the Time Saver

This person will cut corners to get a job done quicker, skipping safe choices in risk assessments or using an inferior form of access system because it takes less time to set up. All the risks they take are in service of getting things done quickly. There could be two reasons behind this.

One, the person wants to get home faster. They might not think much of a few missed steps here and there, so it can be as simple as taking them to one side and explaining the danger they’re putting themselves and others in.

Interestingly, they might actually have some good ideas about improving efficiency. By working together with them, you could identify areas where time could be saved in a safe manner. But, again, punishment should be a last resort.

More seriously, it could be a sign that employees are under pressure to do their job quicker, usually from upper management. All the well-intentioned safety procedures in the world won’t do a thing if employees are all but told to put themselves at risk or lose their job. This is unacceptable and should be raised with management immediately.

If you feel that this is happening in your organisation and your concerns are being ignored, you can anonymously report safety failings to the HSE.

And the Innocent

When safety breaks down, it’s important to ask yourself whether the person in the middle of it all is actually at fault or if the problem lies elsewhere – which is more likely.

A near-miss occurs because someone was in the wrong area, not using the right equipment, or because a machine inspection wasn’t undertaken. It’s possible that the Maverick was involved, or the Time Saver was looking to get out by lunch, but it’s equally likely that the person involved didn’t know.

Businesses are a complex web of constant communication, and the biggest organisations can potentially have thousands of people working closely together. So first, think about how many emails get missed each day; now, consider how many of those emails contain important information.

Although health and safety is, at its heart, just common sense, there can be a lot of information to take in. For example, it’s entirely possible the person involved in the incident missed a new safety briefing updating everyone on the latest maintenance timetable or how a specific type of PPE is now required.

This once again comes down to treating employees like people rather than numbers. A 97% take-up rate on the latest online safety sessions sounds fine, but in a business of 500 people, that’s 15 potential risk takers out in the world who might not even know they’re about to do something wrong.

It would be best to make health and safety communication as personal as possible to get your workers involved. You can be sure that everyone is on board and, more importantly, understands why procedures are being implemented.

I know this is easier said than done in larger businesses. Still, the onus is on both safety managers to communicate the resources they need to ensure this level of communication and on management to provide the resources requested. The initial cost might be higher, but trust me, it’s far lower than the potential cost of having several ticking time bombs out on site.

It’s about people

It can be easy to get wrapped up in safety bulletins and statistics. But, ultimately, health and safety is about people. So understanding your employees and why they might put themselves and others at risk should be every risk management expert’s priority. Only then can you put the right safety systems in place.

I’ve been a safety consultant for more than two decades, and in that time, I’ve seen every type of risk-taker there is. So for impartial and independent advice on better managing and coaching people as a safety manager, get in touch.

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