Over the years there have been countless resources, attention and time put in by government agencies and safety professionals alike to achieve the goal of zero harm, zero injuries. The costs of incidents have a significant impact to people and to the bottom line. One way to focus for positive changes, reduction in costs, and greater safety cultural results is to look to leadership.
The human element cannot be ignored. Any safety professional looking at root cause will be the first to admit that 90% of all accidents and injuries were contributed to by human behaviors – something someone did or didn’t do that resulted in a near miss or injury. If we don’t focus on the human element with strong leadership we may not reach the goals for safety performance that we all desire.
Positive and Negative Reinforcement for naturally occurring safety behaviors in the workplace is a fascinating study. When an employee follows the rules and puts on the required PPE for the job – they are more likely to experience naturally occurring negative reinforcement for doing the right thing. You may hear complaints about their experience – “This is too hot.” “It takes too long.” “It slows me down and effects my efficiencies.”
Where possible – highlight the positive reinforcement stories to help combat the naturally occurring negative reinforcement that may be happening on the job. Share the experiences about the one time the PPE was utilized and it made a significant difference. “I would have lost my eye if I hadn’t been wearing those goggles.” “I could have had a serious burn without my gloves on.” “That fork truck would have never seen me if I had taken that short cut.” We’ve even heard positive reinforcement in traffic accidents, “The officer said my seatbelt saved my life.”
We’re all human and we’re going to tend to focus on the negative naturally occurring inconveniences of following safe workplace procedures. One way a leader could impact this would be to find out the stories that would help to provide the positive reinforcement. Encourage employees to share those positive stories and get those testimonials out to encourage others for the “one time” that PPE or following that safety rule really made a difference.
All of us focus on what our leaders are focused on – so take the time to focus on positive reinforcement for the right safety behaviors. Anything you can do to remain on the proactive side of injuries, to impact that 90% of all accidents that are related to human behaviors, and to keep employees positively reinforced to offset the naturally occurring negative reinforcement – these are powerful leadership steps in the right direction.
by Lara Hoke, Leadership Foundations & BRSA Board Member