To What Extent is Safety a Behaviour or a Process: Mining IQ Industry Discussion
Mining IQ recently started a discussion on LinkedIn about workplace health and safety and challenged the audience to comment on the extent to which they view safety as behaviour or a process.
The ensuing discussion proved to be really insightful and littered with interesting and valuable experience and knowledge from the group members. Some trends emerged relatively quickly in the course of the discussion (which you can view here in full) related to the use of incentives, the role of leadership and champions, culture, attitude and self-awareness.
The first premise of the discussion was that safety directly correlates to both personal behaviour as well as supporting business processes. However – the premise of the discussion was also to determine if it is more closely aligned with one over the other or whether they are the Yin and Yang of your safety responsibilities and regulations.
As one might expect – contributors to the discussion were not in full agreement and debate followed around the role of leadership, safety culture, the use of incentives and so on. We will now share some of those discussions before we draw our own conclusions as to whether process and behaviour stand-alone when it comes to safety or whether one without the other is akin to the yin without its yang.
To Incentivize or Not to Incentivize?
Poor old Yorick. He never had a chance. There really is no hard and fast rule that applies here. Yet, we can concur that most of you have a strong opinion one way or the other on this subject matter.
Doug Payton, an independent Control Systems Consultant, believes that “incentives can have a short term impact on safety performance but lose their effect over a relatively short period of time. Most people tend to lose focus quickly; many accidents/incidents take place during tasks that occur often for the same reason.” Doug continues with a potential alternative to the application of an incentive based system stating, “one thing that has been mentioned briefly but in my opinion is a key component of any safety system in 'inclusion'; ensuring each person believes they are part of the system.”
Dan Forgarty, Operations Manager at Pacific Ore, concurred stating, ‘in reference to incentives for safety behaviour, I believe the incentive is to encourage those that do their work safely with the additional incentive we go home the way we come. We have a job and part of that job is to do it safely.” In addition, as Doug has pointed out, Dan doesn’t believe gifts and/or monitory incentives carry enough weight or duration to be affective. There is a very real possibility that in some instances incentives can drive an admin or ‘score sheet mentality’ with little regard to real action or developing solutions.
Molding behaviour can be a tricky process, and monetary incentives are often viewed as a quick-win to overcome this, but they can be a slippery slope. Instead, Bill Gerbig, Safety officer at Beaver Brook Antimony Mine,suggests the possibility of implementing a yearly thank-you gift based on efforts and behaviour. Rather than being cash based they celebrate significant milestones, awards or behaviour. Bill has experience that most workers take great pride in wearing or using an award that shows they were part of a significant milestone of safety achievement and attitude is half the battle. “We have a motto here "The only bad incident is one that was not learned from or was foreseeable and not prevented". Sharing thoughts is part of that process.”
Leading from the Front
A logical next step in this discussion is to consider those natural leaders in our businesses who champion safety, who make the right choices and who inspire others to also do so. There are natural leaders within all groups in all our businesses who should be identified and engaged in your processes and objectives. These people are looked up to by others in the business and are sometimes as/more important (and believed) than the supervision. This discussion had tacit agreement from everyone that it is critical to engage these people and to ensure that they are a visible part of the system. If this is achieved, overall gains as well as buy in will happen more quickly.
Working visibly with all stakeholders, presenting a unified message and being involved at the task level is, therefore, necessary to develop consistent safety behaviour. As a final point – a comment was shared that leaders do not need to be 'old' with 30 years’ experience in your business to be effective. Age and experience is not necessarily a pre-cursor to exemplary safety, rather what matters is that they must lead by example and understand the rules involved in the tasks.
Safety is a culture not job, and should be viewed as such. If you sincerely want to engage your staff through your processes, culture and approach you need to engage all of your staff right from Gen Y through to your baby boomers. There is still truth in the old adage that a leopard can’t change its spots - and, applied to this discussion, you might want to think about getting your youngest workers embracing a safety culture and leading from the front as much as you lean on your ‘old guard’ who know the business inside and out.
Let’s get a little new age… Zero harm or an incident free workplace can only happen when each person makes the right choice every time regardless if anyone else is standing there to witness or not. Thus, it is imperative that everyone in your workforce understands the implications and consequences of a decision or action – and then makes the right choice.
Doug Payton believes that processes will only work in all cases if a person’s behaviour is 'tuned' to following the process thinking even if the process is not formalized. In addition, the formalized process normally only adds specifics to a person’s existing behaviour. With this in mind you need to be aware that setting new behaviour takes lengthy and steady leadership on the job with the individuals performing the tasks.
Doug sums this up by saying, “if an employee has safety oriented behaviour their thoughts will say 'stop, I do not have a process to do this task in a safe manner'. Of course getting the 'safety oriented behaviour' working takes more effort than writing a process. I believe that that safety conscious behaviour causes a 'pause for thought' timeout before a person proceeds with a task. This kind of attitude and safety awareness has the best chance to reduce the number of injuries (and worse).”
Human behaviour is, naturally, unpredictable and can depend on so many influences. Many of those influences can be driven from events outside the workplace and have a psychological impact (e.g. family issues, financial etc.) in the workplace. To counteract this, one of the contributors suggested the need for a ‘safety culture’ which is driven by trust, fellow workers looking out for each other and managerial support. Being proactive rather than reactive will always lead to better end results.
It would seem that the only true way to achieve an incident free workplace is for each of the people that do the actual work is to make the right choice every time without hesitation. One of the contributors sums it up as thus, “If it costs us production to do things right, management has to support those choices and management has to lead those choices. Truly, the only way forward is behaviour based safety.”
Process and Behaviour: The Yin and the Yang of Safety
All concurred that they are inextricably linked.
The best behaviour, while valuable, will ultimately fail if the person does not understand to correct process. The best process will fail without the proper attitude/behaviour.
If you want a safe operation you need to be inclusive and employ people with the right skills who can do the job and you also need to remind them of that responsibility (we do sometimes forget).
Doug Payton also suggests thatyou must never become static or lazy in your approach and that we must all “undergo continual evolution for improvement and efficiency. Things cannot nor should they stay the same otherwise there will be no improvements made. All of us must work together to develop and maintain solid behavioural examples to young and new employees.”
Bill Gerbig, would concur,and also support that process and behaviour are inextricably linked. Bill believes that behaviour is the foundation to the structure of safety and that if you don’t have the "buy in" of the workers the process is irrelevant.
And to summarise how critical it is that you not only promote the behaviour but that you underpin and support this through good process, let’s turn to Jim Munro, Director, ABSC Group, who said, “What I have found (and I suppose we shouldn’t generalize) is that if you follow the process the chances of injury/incident is very low. It’s the behaviour of NOT following the process that lifts the rate into the stratosphere.”
Mining IQ thanks all of the contributors to this discussion, some of whom have been referenced in this editorial and all of who provided insightful, valuable and though-provoking commentary which enabled the creation of this industry piece. If you’d like to join the discussion we recommend you join the safety in Mining group on linked in here.