Human Behavior and Safety
After assessing and ascertaining the existence of risks and hazards, the next step is usually to establish employee behavior and engagement in risky patterns of behavior. Essentially, this step entails establishing the employees’ degree of adherence to policy, rules, and etiquette, as well as their performance. It is quite important to assess these aspects in order to establish the presence or existence of physical consequences of exposure to the hazards and risks identified. Furthermore, this step also helps in the evaluation of the type of environment created within the workplace, and whether or not it discourages engagement in risky behavior. This allows for the identification of factors that contribute to at risk events.
The basic concept behind human behavior is that human beings usually repeat behavior reinforced by their culture. As such, behavior is motivated by prejudgments, habits, perceptions and thoughts the individual engaging in the behavior in focus has.
The hour glass presented attempts to emphasize through graphical representation, the probability of at risk events occurring, as well as their near miss potential. Similar to the pyramid, the hour glass demonstrates the fact that, while the probability is lower, the chances of at risk events occurring are still very significant, though possible to ignore and forget about. A majority of individuals become complacent due to this slim chance (low probability) of an at risk event occurring, to the extent that they may even become careless and unnecessarily engage in risky behavior or practices. The low probability usually reinforces the belief that risks can be taken at no cost.
The four main components of human behavior are attitude, thinking, perceptions and prejudgments. These components of behavior determine not just an individual’s choice of behavior, but also their motivations for engaging in the given behavior. Further, perceptions normally significantly affect an individual’s responses in particular situations they may find themselves in.
Priorities refer to various aspects in an individual’s life that they feel they must take care of, while values are essentially what define us as individuals. As such, priorities that an individual may have, usually change based on what the individual values. For instance, if an individual values safety above all else, the priority changes from simply accomplishing the task on time, to observing the provided safety guidelines.
Culture is defined as what members of the organization see as the “right way” to do things developed over time, due to repeated engagement in such practices. When it comes to matters of safety and engagement in at risk events, members of an organization may find themselves repeatedly ignoring safety measures, until this becomes the routine or the norm, rather than the exception, which then builds an undesirable culture. In particular, the book quotes Dan Peterson who refers to culture as the way it is within a given place. For an individual, culture refers to ideas, skills, perceptions, customs and prejudgments an individual may have at a particular time.
Examples at the level of employees include compliance with safety rules, as well as the reporting of hazards and injuries. For managers, the measures may include their own compliance, enforcement of the rules, as well as the levels of motivation to implement safety and health training for employees working under them. The degree with which employees comply to the rules is a very important indicator of the levels of responsibility, and accountability, results of which are seen in the injuries or incidents reported. Similarly, the authority of managers when it comes to safety is seen within their own efforts to engage in safe practices while enforcing existing rules.
A management system with a behavioral component attempts to ensure that it bridges the gap between how a particular activity is carried out and an observation of certain defined at risk events. This bridging usually occurs using specific selected data collection tools, which help in evaluation and reevaluation of different measures developed. Further, the process usually involves the employees during the Job Hazard Analysis process as well as at other stages in the process. A management system that recognizes the importance of the behavioral component in the management of at risk events ensures that employees are involved in the assessment of consequences of engaging in such behaviors. This allows for a better understanding of antecedents to behavior as well as consequences, by both employees and management.
Self imposed behavior is as its name suggests, self imposed, it focuses on the selfish gains that are bound to come about as a result of shortcuts. It is also borne out of an air of invincibility, and the belief that whatever risk the individual takes is not going to result in any harm to them, as they are better than everybody else. Traffic cop mentality focuses more on the improved sense of efficiency and potential benefits to the organization, that are bound to eventually trickle down to the employee. While under the traffic cop mentality an individual engages in self assurances, under self imposed behavior, the culture reinforces their behavior.
Programs and efforts may fail to work if they do not take behavioral factors into account. Integral to instituting successful safety programs, is gaining an understanding of the existing culture and progressively encouraging changes in attitudes and prejudgments. Once a program adequately tackles the four components of behavior, and aims at proper behavior modification, it is bound to achieve better results. Doing so ensures the program is able to effectively bridge the gap between activities the employees engage in and a clearer and objective understanding of the risks involved.