An accident waiting to happen. An industrial worker using a cell phone in a warehouse.

Understanding behavioural safety hazards

Your businesses health and safety procedures are the driving force behind reducing risks within your business’s day to day tasks, but behavioural safety hazards are something that you should be aware of and reinforcing with your workforce.

Behavioural safety hazards can be caused by new rules or precautions that workers feel are unnecessary and therefore do not feel the need to carry out, or because a workforce or organisation become careless with their safety procedures and culture.

Causes of behavioural safety risks 

Woman on a ladder reaching for a box out of reach

Normally behavioural risks are caused by habits or the unwillingness to adapt to an updated system or procedure, for example, someone who has worked with certain machinery for 10 or more years without accident may not see the benefit of using the latest technology to protect themselves and are in a habit built up over those 10 years to carry out the task in a certain manner.

This doesn’t usually mean the worker is purposely being disobedient but more likely there is stubbornness or ignorance to change.

“I’ve never had issues doing it this way so why do I need to change?”

Something along the lines of the above statement is often true when you’re looking to change a policy or introduce new steps in your health and safety procedure. These habitual procedures are even more difficult to introduce when the task one is carrying out becomes either more difficult or longer to complete due to the changes. For example, someone who has previously not been required to wear gloves is now asked to wear protective gloves, but they impede his ability to complete the task due to the bigger size and lack of movement.

When implementing a change in equipment or procedures you should make sure you sell it to your workforce. Most of the updated equipment’s marketing will be around the benefits of it, how it works and what risks it will reduce and/or stop. This should be relayed to those who will be required to use it going forward so they can see why you’re making the changes.

An accident waiting to happen. An industrial worker using a cell phone in a warehouse.

Changing the behavioural habits

Managing behavioural risks are a challenge that all businesses face and changing existing procedures can be extremely difficult.

Often these behaviours become habits and they can be extremely difficult to change, but here are a few steps your business can take to reduce bad habits creeping into the workplace.

Take a no-tolerance stand

The easiest and arguably the most effective way to stop behavioural risks from entering your workplace is to make sure you have a no-tolerance stance on your health & safety procedures. This simply means that all of your workforce are aware that if they’re found to be breaking rules or taking shortcuts they will be removed from the environment. This not only will help you to weed out anyone who might be starting to set a more relaxed culture, but it also reinforces to other employees that the matter is serious.

Sell the change to your staff

As mentioned previously, make sure your staff are aware of the reasons behind the changes in procedure or equipment. Make sure they’re aware of why you’re implementing the changes and are aware of the risks that come with not following the rules. This can often be done by using examples of instances where accidents have happened or showing them some worst-case scenarios of what has happened within other businesses. Also highlighted that the changes are being made for not just the safety of them individually but also their colleagues.

Often people are more willing to change if they know that it’s more than just themselves being put at risk, the thought of causing injury to a colleague is often more powerful than injuring themselves.

Create a safety-first culture

Creating a culture within your workplace will take time but once the culture is in place you will find it’s much easier to manage changes in the long term. Often people will push the boundaries with what they can get away with and if they know the repercussions of their actions is nothing more than a stern word, then they’re far more likely to push those boundaries.

Taking a no tolerance stamp on health & safety will help to reduce people pushing those boundaries and if you can get employees to buy into the changes with your sales pitch then what you can create is a self-regulating workforce who will report or at least have words with those that are dropping their safety standards. Once this culture has been created your task becomes much easier, the safety standards are now being pushed from within teams and not from a head at the top of the business.

A step-by-step guide to improving behavioural safety:

Group training on behavioural safety

  • Review your current processes and/or equipment and decide on the areas you want to improve. Consider using previous accident, incident and near-miss reports to help you identify areas of improvement.
  • Once you’ve reviewed your procedures, select 1 or 2 key areas that can be improved. A complete overhaul of all procedures will be tougher for employees to follow and digest.
  • Begin developing your communication strategy. How are you going to present the changes to your employees? Can you use examples from your business?
  • Implement your changes with a few initiatives such as:
  1. Colleague observation studies
  2. Regular inspects from senior management
  3. Regular bite-sized training or refresher classes
  4. Reward those who excel with positive feedback and reinforcement
  5. Include behavioural risks within your risk assessments
  • Monitor the changes and make improvements and changes where necessary. Be open with your employees and ask for their feedback.