In recent decades, health and safety has become a top priority for business globally, in construction and beyond.
While this is great news, health and safety managers risk getting lost in risk assessments and legislation, overlooking the biggest risk of all: the human factor.
What is the human factor?
Humans are inherently unpredictable. Though by nature, we generally like routine, it is impossible to predict how anyone might react to a situation, and nowhere is this more obvious than at work.
Human behaviour can impact health and safety in multiple ways, and no matter how many safety measures you put in place, you can’t entirely mitigate risk because of this unpredictability.
Whether it is a worker overlooking or ignoring the rules to get the job done faster, or a manager cutting corners to save a few quid, or simple ignorance, human behaviour is a tricky obstacle to well thought out and comprehensive safety measures.
Most health and safety provisions are often little more than common sense, but this means they rely on employees making use of their own common sense to be effective. When workers ignore common sense and take risks, all your safety measures go out the window.
Why do people take risks?
There are a few triggers of risky behaviour in the workplace.
Every workplace has its own unique type of banter. While there’s nothing wrong with good-natured ribbing, it can sometimes get out of hand without firm boundaries.
Immature behaviour can quickly lead to injuries, especially on modern construction sites where there are plenty of risks to human health, no matter how many provisions you put in place.
People often blame health and safety for ‘killing fun’ in the workplace, but that’s far from the truth. There’s a place for banter and jokes at work, but not to the extent that people are put at risk.
Management should support HSE managers in setting firm boundaries to keep everyone safe, allowing for a lighthearted culture that does not encourage risky behaviour.
Lack of Training or Communication
Often, risky behaviour on-site is just poor training. What seems like unsafe behaviour may come down to the fact that there are gaps in the employee’s training, and they’re filling those gaps as best they can.
When making safety provisions, you should always ensure that employee training is a top priority to minimise the possibility of risky behaviour. No worker should ever be doing a job for which they are not trained and equipped.
Lack of Communication
Risk assessments are all well and good, but no use to employees if the correct course of action is not communicated to them. Workers may seem to be ignoring the provisions put in place when they don’t even know they’re there in reality.
Lines of communication should be open at all times, with employees and contractors kept up to date on safety provisions.
As mentioned above, the push for cost and time savings is a big reason people put themselves at risk in the workplace. However, this type of behaviour is often triggered by pressures from above. If upper management encourages employees to put themselves at risk to benefit the company, then the issue runs far deeper than employee behaviour.
Conversely, weak leadership can often be as bad as actively bad leadership. For example, when risky behaviour is ignored, other workers may wonder why they’re bothering. When people are left to get away with ignoring the rules, there’s no incentive to improve.
Safety managers, supervisors, and forepersons need to have the power to step in when they witness poor behaviour. On the other hand, there also needs to be some reinforcement for those following the rules and striving for safety: it’s a balancing act where those in charge need to be prepared to react and respond accordingly.
Awareness is all well and good, but it very rarely leads to changed behaviour on its own. Awareness campaigns need to be followed up with active behaviour management and achievable goals.
It’s important to look beyond just punishing the bad behaviour and actually set targets which entice everyone to improve. Simply telling your employees to be aware, or be careful, isn’t enough.
Ultimately, your approach to safety should be dynamic and ongoing, encouraging employees to change their behaviour and always strive for better.
It’s impossible to predict human behaviour at work fully, but this does not mean it’s impossible to improve it with behaviour management.
By working closely with your employees, setting firm boundaries, and implementing ongoing incentives to improve, you can manage this behaviour and minimise risks.
I firmly believe health and safety is just simple common sense. Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of businesses to help manage their human factor and maximise safety wherever possible. If you think I might help you, why not get in touch via the contact options below.