Behavioural Safety: The New Buzz Word in Health and Safety?

Andrea Simon
There is an increasing emphasis on the importance of managing human behavioural factors to improve safety performance.

Popular perceptions of health and safety (H&S) abound with myths and absurdities. Media coverage often focuses on extreme or sensationalised misinterpretations of H&S law, fuelling widespread confusion around what constitutes a safe environment. In the workplace, this damages employee confidence in safety management, making it harder for employers to get staff engagement and buy-in.

Media coverage often focuses on extreme or sensationalised misinterpretations of H&S law, fuelling widespread confusion around what constitutes a safe environment.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE)'s chair Judith Hackitt highlighted these issues in her speech at the 2013 IIRSM and HSW annual conference, saying the media are not solely responsible for endless lists of trivia banned in the name of H&S. She suggested that such stories stem from someone in the company or organisation involved who has told a customer, a client or an employee that these trivial matters are about H&S.

Hackitt called for behaviour to change more broadly, managing H&S with 'focus and proportionality'. She emphasised that the workforce will not buy into H&S if they see focus on trivial risks while serious risks are being ignored / not tackled. Earlier in 2013, Hackitt commented in a Guardian interview that she could see the pressures that businesses are under, and why there is a need to make it much easier for small businesses in particular to understand what is required of them.

This approach is contributing to a shift in the way organisations approach safety management, and this is reflected in Faithful+Gould's current experience of working with clients. Rather than focusing on process, it is more helpful for organisations to focus on staff and their behaviour.

Management commitment is vital if both management and workforce are to talk productively about safety and achieve workforce engagement.

Organisational factors have the greatest influence on individual and group behaviour and a positive H&S culture will therefore bring significant benefits. This culture needs to promote employee involvement and commitment at all levels.

Management commitment is vital if both management and workforce are to talk productively about safety and achieve workforce engagement. It's useful for management to approach this from a motivational perspective, understanding the needs and wants of individuals, and what drives them. This approach potentially increases the profile of H&S in a positive way. More visible safety leadership is also very helpful – management need to look like they care and to demonstrate it by being right there in the workplace. This enables them to lead by example and to encourage the workforce to learn to act promptly on unsafe acts.

Working with a range of clients and contractors, Faithful+Gould regularly provides training on a range of H&S topics...

Working with a range of clients and contractors, Faithful+Gould regularly provides training on a range of H&S topics, including behavioural safety, the introduction of a proactive H&S culture, and safety leadership skills, to IOSH standards. We help you understand your own teams, improving motivation and communication, and driving behavioural change. If you would like to arrange or attend one of these training sessions please contact me.