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Changing behaviour for safer working outcomes

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The ability to understand and adapt human behaviour is a powerful tool in accident prevention says ZoneSafe General Manager, David Thomas. Could greater focus on this area make the UK construction sector safer?


When safety incidents occur, it is rarely down to just one factor. As Reasons Swiss Cheese model illustrates, most accidents involve a series of events or activities that create an opportunity for risk when aligned. It is important therefore that businesses take a layered approach to safety, ensuring multiple defences are put in place with organisational structure, communication, procedure, equipment and human behaviour all considerations.

142 people lost their lives in workplace accidents in the UK last year reminding us of the need for robust safety procedures and training to be in place. Sadly, however, even the most safety conscious organisations with stringent safety regulations in place still suffer workplace accidents. Human error is a common contributing factor but is rarely down to deliberate behaviour. Often accidents resulting from human mistakes reveal broader issues within the business including procedural anomalies, gaps in operator knowledge and inadequate training procedures. But how can changing the behaviour of people create a safer workplace and how is this achieved?

Changing behaviour for safer outcomes

Changing behaviour isn’t as easy as simply introducing new policies and procedures. The first step is to pinpoint the real problem behind the unsafe action – to determine the root cause of unsafe behaviour and investigate the circumstances around it to find the best route for improvement. A common safety breach might be down to a poorly designed procedure, unsuitable location or an area with insufficient space for the required operation. By identifying the root cause of human activity, organisations can gain understanding into why people behave in a certain way in those circumstances.

It is also important to acknowledge that changing safety behaviour for the better applies to all people at all levels. This is not simply an issue for operational workers but for the whole organisation from the top down. Inspirational leaders follow the rules they apply to others and lead by example. It is essential the whole organisation work together as a team that promotes safe working behaviour underpinned by a positive company wide safety culture.

How can technology help to change behaviour?

In order to manage or change behaviour it is important to understand how and why people behave the way they do and this is where technology can really help. Safety technology not only has the power to support training, improve communication and raise situational awareness, but can also use data capture technology to provide detailed event analysis that helps to determine the reasons behind actions and support change for the better. By capturing event data and thoroughly analysing it, businesses can take an evidence-based approach to identifying unsafe behaviour triggers and taking steps to positive change.

Wearable technology is particularly effective in changing behaviour by actively responding to the actions of the user and delivering messages that reinforce or discourage actions. Wearables have become increasingly popular in recent years for both everyday use and in the workplace and it’s easy to see why. From fitness trackers that encourage a healthier lifestyle to proximity detection devices that alert users to injury risk, wearable tech is available for a wide range of uses. When it comes to safety in the workplace, wearables make a real difference using physical, visual, and audible activators that alert users and operators well in advance of a safety breach. The ability to interact with the user in real time with immediate feedback to actions is a powerful tool in adapting behaviour.

By providing an alert to highlight unsafe behaviour, awareness is immediately raised and users are encouraged  to stop and consider their actions. This leads to raised awareness and behavioural change. A system that detects and alerts the user before collision with a moving vehicle for example could be the difference between life and death. The end goal of this type of technology is for safe actions to become habitual, driving more automatic safe behaviour whilst being supported by a real time alert system.

There is no doubt that by carefully considering the role of human behaviour, identifying unsafe actions and addressing them through behavioural change techniques, it is possible to reduce the number of workplace accidents. Knowledge and understanding of why people behave in certain circumstances, empowers organisations to bring about change for the better and drive a safer overall working culture.

David Thomas, ZoneSafe General Manager

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