August 15, 2019 | Ryan |

Instinct vs. Institution: The Evolution of Safety

Wherever your workplace and no matter your industry, safety likely plays an important role.

From wearing the most effective PPE for the job, to helping develop programs and protocols, to managing tasks and responsibilities in a high-risk environment, safety is often top-of-mind when looking to protect yourself and others.

Looking for some more tips on workplace safety? Check out our “Decision Tree“.

Behavior-based safety is a natural response to hazards of all sorts: understanding how it works and why it exists can impact your day-to-day routine and play an important role in developing safety procedure.

What is Behavior-Based Safety?

Humans possess something of a built-in safety mechanism (think fight or flight) which has guided us from trouble, away from long-ago predators and from any dangers we might encounter in the modern workplace, whatever the industry.

And yet, even with the benefits of such a supposed skill, for many workers, over time, it can become difficult to use. 

As workers slowly become more acclimatized, more adjusted to their work environment, that preservation instinct, that fight or flight mechanism, begins to disappear. Makes sense, right?

If you’ve adjusted to your workplace environment, you’ll no longer actively scanning for danger or perceived threats to your safety or to that of those around you. You know the equipment, the tools, the risks – that’s where you’re putting your trust. Now, in moderation, there’s nothing wrong with that nor does it mean that workplace hazards aren’t to blame. 

Some workplaces, and the tasks required of them, will simply be more hazardous than others, putting everyone at greater risk. Those that have been around those hazards longer will, ideally, be able to react quickly and effectively in the event of a potential accident. 

The key, though, is not to become too comfortable, either as an employee or an employer. By doing so and relying too heavily on set standards or personal familiarity with equipment or protocols, you can become even more vulnerable to hazards, while possibly becoming an active danger to your co-workers and even, to yourself.

We’ve talked before about both PPE use and how no glove or sleeve is entirely “cut proof”: you can rely on a certain level of protection or resistance but eventually, accidents happen. A similar concept could be applied here: Established safety programs will help to protect you from and minimize risk up until the point that something does go wrong.

When someone becomes too reliant on their own false sense of security or disregards safety measures put in place,it can put others in harm’s way. This is where the concept of behavior-based safety training comes in.

Consider this, from the Construction Owners Association of Alberta:

All incidents are preceded by [behavior], e.g. a worker falls off a ladder because he was over-reaching, or the ladder was not secured. [Both] are individual behaviors. [Behavior-based safety] seeks to change the person’s mindset, habits and behaviors so that these “at risk” behaviors will no longer be performed. As a result, the worker will no longer fall off the ladder…”

What this means is that when developing any sort of health and safety program, for it to work, the people involved must be entirely committed, otherwise, it may not be effective. The goal, more than anything else, is to ensure safety across all levels.

How Does Behavior-Based Safety Training Work?

Regardless of industry or worker responsibility, to understand how big a role worker behavior plays in a day-to-day operation, it helps to see a workplace in motion.

How well does the working environment really protect its workers? How familiar are workers with preexisting safety standards? How do they respond to these measures? And if something does go wrong, how do people react?

For behavior-based safety training to be successful, all these factors must come together. While workers must understand their roles and responsibilities, supervisors must ensure that workers have been provided with the proper training and resources to operate safely within the workplace.

Safety first!

Those possible workplace changes could be varied and include the removal of unsafe or outdated equipment, a simple discussion with employees on how to further incorporate best safety practices into the work environment, or a complete restructuring of an organization’s safety culture.

Establishing Your Safety Culture

We’ve talked about the importance of having a safety culture before but such an undertaking is not easy. It may require a company to temporarily shift its internal politics, productivity goals, or continued economic growth in order to achieve success.

When implemented correctly, a safety culture highlights how safety is viewed and identified within a business and the way in which the people in the workplace influence safety. If repeated injuries are occurring in a work environment – in the same place and in the same manner – it helps to ask why. What factors, if any, are putting employees in a position to fail? What needs to change? And where does the responsibility lie?

From this comes the basis of any strong safety culture program: A reexamination of current procedure and what can be done to improve upon it, making it more accessible and considerate to those who are using it daily.

Safety may be the external brand of an organization but fair or not, the responsibility will always fall on the people within it, its employees, to truly see it be mobilized into action.

Safety in motion.

Having “on-the-floor employees” play an active role in the building and development of such programs allows them to not only be held accountable for their behavior and actions if need be but also, it will allow them to keep their peers committed as well.

Among employees and management, with accountability at the forefront, a safety culture can become self-sustaining, reliant on its people and allowing them the opportunity to make a noticeable difference in their day-to-day working lives.

Combining Safety Behavior and Culture

Once a strong safety culture has been established, it shouldn’t take long before its aftereffects, mainly that of a more engaged, safety-conscious workplace, come into focus.

It may not happen right away, but eventually, some possible cultural changes should start to take hold. Employees should be more conscious of workplace-specific hazards and resulting PPE use, and everyone, management included, should have their programs and practices in place in case of an accident.

Safety, wherever you’re working, should be commonplace. Not a buzzword.

Staying safe in the workplace requires more than just a good program, you’ll need the right PPE, too. Click here to find out how your workplace can best take advantage of the industry’s newest impact standard, ANSI/ISEA 138.

About Ryan Milford