Health and Safety Part 3: What Is Behavioural Safety and Why Do We Need It?

30th October 2017

As part of the 2017 Wilson James Health and Safety Tour which took place earlier this month, several Directors have taken over the Sector Expertise Blog programme to write a series of three Health and Safety articles over the next month. 

The first, by Chief Information Officer Sean Kelly, addresses commonly held misconceptions about Health and Safety.  The second, by Peter Jacobs, Managing Director Logistics Services, will provide some thoughts on the benefits we have realised from Health and Safety generally and look to what we can expect in the future.  The third, by Darren Ward and Chas Bray, our Business Performance Director and Head of Health and Safety respectively, will consider behavioural safety and why most of our accidents are now caused by unsafe acts rather than unsafe conditions.

Behavioural Safety has become an important part of any safety culture which, unsurprisingly, focuses on people’s behaviour. Traditional safety focuses on systems, training, procedures and safety protocols, which in turn assist with achieving accreditation, legal/best practice compliance, and creating safe systems of work (SSOW). In our experience however, even though all of this has been put in place, accidents still happen. Companies that have done all of this have realised that at some point, the safety performance stops improving – it levels out. They have also realised you cannot aspire to zero harm without tackling behaviour as well.

You can have the best systems and procedures in the industry, and the most immaculate and tidy workplaces, but injuries will still occur if people create unsafe working conditions, and carry out unsafe acts.  At least 95% of injuries at work have an element of unsafe behaviour – the things we should do but don’t, or don’t do when we should. 

On the positive side, because it is people that have accidents, and people that cause accidents, it is also people that can prevent them, hence the requirement for a behavioural safety programme.

There are many, many reasons why people act unsafely…

  • People don’t have the correct tools and equipment to do the job safely
  • Rules and procedures haven’t been put in place (or they have, but people don’t follow them)
  • People feel under pressure to meet production targets and safety is compromised
  • People take shortcuts because it is easier, simpler appears to save time
  • People are tired, stressed, distracted, unwell or preoccupied
  • People don’t have the knowledge they need to act safely

In our opinion, there are two types of unsafe behaviour

  • Those we do not recognise as unsafe
  • Those we ignore

To tackle the above, we need to be clear on the safe behaviour we expect from people, so it is clear what is acceptable and what is not, sometimes referred to as ‘what good looks like.’  Once this is established we need to not only enforce it, but reward it also.

Secondly, we need to have a workplace where we never ever ignore an unsafe act (sometimes referred to as – don’t walk by).  If anybody observes an unsafe condition or an unsafe act this must be reported immediately. Wilson James has a comprehensive Near Miss programme in place for this very reason.

We do need to stress though, that it is not just that simple!  Behavioural safety goes much deeper, to the culture in the workplace. Management must do their part in creating a culture where safety is valued higher than anything. This is reflected in our Six Safety Commitments highlighting the importance of safety behaviour, responsibility and intervention, in the investment in our Health, Safety and Wellbeing Roadshows and the ongoing Site Safety Visits carried out by members of the Board.

One of the best ways to improve our safety behaviour is to educate and discuss (consultation/engagement) safety within the workplace.  This is normally carried out in the first instance through education (safety behavioural training), asking everybody to look at themselves to discover their own safety beliefs and safety attitude.  We then take this a stage further by regular safety engagement and consultation with the workforce over workplace safety, including risk and hazard identification.  This is then also enforced further with reward (Wilson James has created the internal Time for Safety Awards, for instance) or in some cases discipline, in turn creating a consequence for our safety behaviour. Wilson James have expanded our Health, Safety and Wellbeing team to ensure more of our sites, and more of our staff, meet the team and receive consultation and engagement. We are also recruiting HSW Champions to further improve our coverage of sites and staff.

There is plenty of evidence from companies using behavioural safety programmes, where dramatic improvements in their safety performance and reduction of accidents has been established. We can improve our own safety performance by getting involved in behavioural safety, and running a behavioural safety programme….and Wilson James will be introducing a new Behavioural Safety programme in the New Year.

The introduction of a behavioural safety programme has now become standard practice, within most organisations, in reaching and achieving an acceptable safety culture. It is time for us to not just meet standard practice but to be ambitious and take things to the next level, perhaps, setting the standard for others to aspire to.

We hope you have found this short series of blogs informative and trust you will get involved with behavioural safety and help us to improve our safety culture and reduce the number of accidents we experience.