Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The problems with behavioural safety

I have just found this article by Nancy Lessin published at

Problems identified in this paper include:

* Focusing on worker behaviour tends to mean root causes of problems are not looked at closely enough. Production pressure is quoted as a common reason why employees do not behave as safely as they should;
* There is a tendency to place the burden of prevention on the worker, rather than developing technical solutions;
* Everyone makes mistakes, is at some time careless, complacent, overconfident, and stubborn. At times each of us becomes distracted, inattentive, bored and fatigued. BS seems to suggest this should not be the case, and that if people are more careful mistakes will not happen.
* BS tends to mean that any individual acting unsafely is subject to 'inquisitions.' This is not pleasant, so the result is incidents don't get reported.
* BS programmes can be used by management to justify actions that unions have identified in the past, and thus undermining the union.
* A 'systems approach' that emphasizes the identification and elimination of root causes of workplace injuries and illnesses: workplace health and safety hazards would be far more effective.

The paper quotes some examples of where unions and workers have fought back against BS. They include:
* Engaging in a campaign that includes educating and involving the membership, identifying allies, identifying leverage and employing escalating tactics.
* Workers all wearing anti-behavioural safety buttons (badges);
* Placing fluorescent stickers on hazards in the workplace to bring a focus back to hazards rather than workers' "unsafe behaviours";
* Making a sign for the union bulletin board that reads "It has been x days since we asked management to correct [a particular hazard] and they have still not fixed it" (and keeping the count going each day);
* Threatening to call OSHA in to inspect the workplace.
* The United Steelworkers of America developed buttons (badges) for locals going through such campaigns that have a large BS in the center, with a line drawn through it, and the words "Eliminate Hazards - Don't Blame Workers" around the outside.

I certainly don't agree with everything in this paper or the way the message is put over. However, I do also share some of the concerns and am convinced that a systems approach to improved health and safety would be more effective and likely to address process as well as personal safety, as well as health.

Andy Brazier

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