Addressing Unsafe Behaviors: Why Do They Still Happen?

By Michael Matthews, Safety Director

In this day and age where safety is a core value for most successful companies and most high-performing individuals, why do unsafe behaviors still occur? While there are a variety of factors that contribute to safety challenges and unplanned events, the issue boils down to two distinct causes – capability and willingness:

  1. The individual was not adequately trained to begin with.
  2. The individual decided NOT to behave safely as trained.

The first root cause is organizational in nature. Effective training involves more than just stating rules to be followed – the information needs to be presented in a manner that resonates with the employee and makes sense. The phrase “consequences control behavior” is commonly used in the safety community – when an employee has a clear understanding of all of the consequences for not following safety guidelines and protocols, they are more likely to follow those protocols and maintain a safe environment. When they don’t understand the consequences, they are more likely to engage in unsafe behaviors that lead to unplanned events. This is why trainings should always include a verification of understanding component to assure compliance (quizzes and open discussions are good examples). Additionally, since the amount of information an employee is exposed to when they are learning a new function is usually more than can be easily absorbed, a readily available source (usually in the form of a Standard Operating Procedure or Standard Work) should always be accessible.

Once an employee is properly trained, periodic behavioral observation can either validate that they are demonstrating safe behaviors and following protocol, or it allows for proper redirection to prevent unplanned events. This behavioral observation by peers or supervision is pivotal to providing the opportunity to positively reinforce safe behavior or redirect unsafe behavior.

The second root cause of unsafe behavior is not as simple. Sometimes the consequences may be quite severe, but are not certain to occur or may not have an immediate impact. If an individual decides to act unsafely after being adequately trained, the consequences need to be adjusted or triggers need to be put in place to clearly define the consequences in a way that more clearly resonates with them.  While it’s common to hear individuals say that acting in an unsafe manner makes the task quicker and easier to complete, it’s imperative to create an understanding that the unsafe behavior will also likely result in an injury. This conversation is the opportune time to implement some form of redirection or other consequence targeting the behavior so that it can be eliminated moving forward.

So why does anyone act in an unsafe manner if properly trained? Because the consequences of not working safe are not STRONG enough, not CERTAIN, or do not happen SOON enough. It’s our job to overcome those challenges and create a safe environment for our employees to thrive – change the consequences to change behavior.

If you would like help developing, reviewing, and implementing safety protocols for your own team, contact the Duro-Last Safety Department at 800-248-0280 to get the conversation started.