The importance of behavior in your safety improvement cycle

Studying and influencing behavior is a completely different field of expertise than assessing the safety of a machine. When making a risk inventory, you need to look at technical, organizational and behavioral aspects of safety: equipment or workplaces may appear perfectly safe, even foolproof, but certain (un) predictable behaviors may lead to a completely different conclusion. The behavioral aspect of safety management is just as important: a machine or tool is only as safe as the way the human being handling the machine or tool behaves.

By Pieter Rooyakkers, Certified Senior Consultant Safety & Environment

Inventorize behavior as hazard

Evolution in safety management has led to relatively safe circumstances in most workplaces. This leaves the human being as a relevant potentially unsafe factor. Studying and influencing this factor is quite a challenge. While inventorizing risks one should not overlook the human factor. Furthermore, people will often regard a behavior as ‘normal’ because they’ve been doing it for years. In this way, dangerous behaviors can be ‘hidden’.

Making the connections

Although experts claim there is always an organizational context leading to an accident, pinpointing the relevant aspects of the organization that may have led to the incident is not easy. Philips Engineering Solutions makes connections between several instruments in safety management, which bring this to the surface, making it possible to learn and make changes.
A behavioral program should not be an isolated activity. It needs to be fully embedded into each specific organization, taking into account the level of maturity on the culture ladder and specific organizational characteristics. The program has to be clearly related to risks, which are prevalent in the organization. Furthermore, introducing new programs and tools every once and a while prevents the organization of getting tired and losing focus.

Being an enthusiastic proponent of Behavior Based Safety programs we see, however, a decline in results over the course of time when the following warnings are not taken to heart:

1. Observation of behavior results in an enormous amount of data. The challenge is to extract the most relevant learning points.
2. Communication is of utmost importance: keep people interested by using several techniques to bring your message across.
3. Keep everyone involved at all levels of the organization.

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