Home Features Health and safety HEALTH & SAFETY: Right decisions make a safe workplace

Health and safety measures are often focused on processes and  machinery, and how best to protect employees and the general public from the dangers inherent in each. However, the people  involved in every process also present potential hazards. And this  is where behavioural health and safety programmes can help.

Visible health and safety measures are easy to spot on construction sites. A couple of instantly recognisable examples of these being the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensuring that guard rails are in place to help keep people out of harm’s way. But to focus solely on these kinds of provisions is dangerous in itself; in every process, there are people involved. These people also present  potential hazards that need to be considered and addressed as part of any comprehensive health and safety plan, and focusing on  behavioural safety is the way to do this.

What is behavioural safety?

At the most basic level, behavioural safety attempts to define what is, and is not,  acceptable behaviour in the workplace. Of particular interest is the mitigation of incidents that are believed to have been caused by human error.

Behavioural safety is as much a culture of welfare-first thinking as it is a series of  procedures; a management-led drive to  encourage responsible behaviour in the  workplace. Employees at every level need to  be reminded to give careful consideration to their on-site activities, following each one through to its logical conclusion. If they discover a potential risk during this period of self-evaluation, they will need to adjust their actions accordingly.

In this way, behavioural safety becomes a form of constant personal risk assessment, but one that doesn’t negatively affect the working culture that makes the workplace enjoyable for employees. That said, some employees may need an amount of ‘re-education’ to reverse bad habits.

Why is behavioural safety so important?

The way that employees act as they carry out their duties has a direct bearing on workplace safety. A bit of banter here, a bad habit there, and the  potential for accidents increases  exponentially. Left unchecked, these behaviours can become ingrained in your company’s culture, creating potential blind spots in all of your projects and processes. Should this happen, your business will find it increasingly hard to protect employees because risk assessments will naturally ignore poor behaviour and practices that have become the norm.

Behavioural safety programmes have the  added advantage of encouraging dialogue between employees and management. With feedback at all levels, businesses can boost safety provisions and potentially gather information that can be used for other purposes, such as  increasing efficiency or cutting costs.

What are the challenges of  implementing behavioural safety plans?

Although the goal of any health and safety programme is to protect employees, there are often political hurdles to adoption of behavioural safety standards. Many employees will feel that they are being unfairly singled-out by management. Some may even feel that they are being made to carry the blame for organisational  failings, particularly if there is  little evidence of these behavioural changes being enacted at every level of the business.

If the culture shifts too far towards placing the blame for accidents onto the individual, your business may struggle to identify and implement organisation-wide improvements.

This negativity makes it hard to execute a behavioural safety programme successfully. It is even harder to keep one running when faced with outright hostility from the people you are trying to protect. Open communication between employees and management will be essential to underscore the message that behaviour in the workplace is a serious matter, one that has  potentially massive repercussions.

Get some help

Like most health and safety issues, it often helps to have an impartial third party come on board to help assess current provisions and identify gaps and failings. With the assistance of a third party such as Veritas Consulting, you can create a  strategy to address these shortcomings and  benefit from the consultancy’s experience to decide how you will go about implementing a behavioural safety framework.

Behavioural safety programmes can be  expensive – particularly when they identify  workplace habits that will require additional investment to rectify. It is vital then that the programme is seen through to its conclusion, otherwise the funding allocated will have been wasted. You need to know what you are trying to achieve, and how to measure progress towards those goals.

By taking best-practice advice in this way, your business can avoid many of the pitfalls that cause many improvement programmes to fail. Get in touch today and let us demonstrate how you can better protect your workforce with a behavioural safety strategy.

DAVID CANT

Veritas Consulting

www.veritas-consulting.co.uk

 

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