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Challenging Attitudes and Influencing Behaviour

Health & Safety has come a long way in the 40 years with legislation, guidance, best practice and shared learning helping to drastically reduce the incidence of accidents and deaths.

But how far do we yet have to go in influencing people in adopting a more positive attitude to H&S? And should we, perhaps, also be looking with a different perspective at people’s behaviour leading up to an incident?

When someone is involved in an accident how often do we assume that their behaviour, during that incident, was a result of “how they are” (i.e. personal attitude, level of intelligence, personality) rather than the possibility that their behaviour may have been influenced by some external factor?

Ignoring that possibility may cause the organisation concerned to miss an important lesson to be learned and not take appropriate action to avoid a similar occurrence in the future. Investing time, money and resources to change behaviours rather than addressing the external cause is also not only an expensive waste for the business, it can actually turn staff “off” and engender an overall negative response to H&S.

We know that simply blaming someone’s behaviour that is judged as wrong in hindsight, does not explain why they did what they did in the first place i.e. what influenced their actions.

Looking at why the behaviour occurred rather than attempting “to cure” the behaviour itself may, therefore, be a better way to directly address the root cause of the incident.

Would a better approach be to take time to understand the behaviour in the context in which it happened: what were they trying to do; what information / knowledge did they have at the time; what was going on around them when the incident took place?

A better understanding of why things happened may result in changes such as redesigning the job role, how tasks are assigned or the conditions in which they are carried out.

For those in the frontline of H&S “enforcement”, whether that is your primary role within an organisation or just an “add on” to your job, now might be a good time to reassess just how you go about H&S. Is it with a “you can’t do that!” attitude or do you engage with colleagues – working with them to develop a best practice method that will cover everyone’s interests and safety. Then, when it really counts and you need to immediately stop unsafe practices, you are more likely to get the right response and the full collaboration of colleagues.

Adam Wade CMIOSH, MInstLM,  AIEMA, MIIRSM

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