Talking about safety

I’ve undergone a conversion and I feel compelled to tell you about it. The received wisdom is that the route companies take to behaviour based safety is via a gradually improving health and safety performance brought about by the development of a traditional safety management system. Accidents reduce gradually through the implementation of safety inspections and housekeeping audits and risk assessments and training etc. until a stubborn plateau is reached. This residue of accidents has nothing to do with unsafe facilities or equipment or procedures or systems of work; the accidents that remain are caused by unsafe behaviours. The IOSH guidance on the subject says Behavioural safety processes are not a ‘quick fix’ and it is important not to overlook fundamental elements. Organisations should begin by concentrating on policies and systems – assessing and improving management and operational factors, training, design and so on. The inference is that addressing behaviour can and should wait. I used to believe that, now I don’t. Unsafe behaviour can undermine all of the effort that is required to develop a traditional safety management system at a time when there are often few victories to be had. So doesn’t it really boil down to this and this alone? If addressing unsafe behaviours can lead to a significant reduction in accidents – and there is plenty of evidence that it does – shouldn’t we give it a try rather than wait? My number one client certainly thinks so. Together we’ve developed a 1-day training workshop called Positive engagement to train employees how to challenge unsafe behaviours in a positive and constructive, rather than confrontational way...