Rules and behaviour
We have been building a system of laws and rules, procedures and protocols for a long time. An important goal of this is to increase safety on the work floor.
But people really don’t automatically start working safely and, for example, wear their personal protective equipment (PPE) as soon as they have knowledge of those laws, rules, procedures and protocols!
When I tell this to people, they are often surprised. But just imagine; simply knowing the rules would immediately lead to the right behaviour. Wow! Then you could do anything! There would be no more accidents, everyone would automatically wear their PPE, there would be no more criminals and so on. After learning the rules, everyone would show the correct behaviour!
Ok, that’s not how it works. Admittedly, you already knew this.
How it works
Nevertheless, it is very common for the management to let the employees learn rules and procedures and to give instructions about safety via so called “toolbox” sessions and other meetings. And yes, management then assumes that employees will work in a safe manner.
Please understand, It is very tempting for managers to approach it in this way. Often the management is not involved in the production themselves, they are not doing the work themselves and never, or almost never, wear PPE. I often hear managers say: “It’s just a matter of doing it, isn’t it? At some point we have done everything and safety is, in the end, just a matter of personal responsibility”.
But, is it as simple as that? Is it a matter of just doing it? A lot of things you indeed just do. You get out of bed, and even before you are at breakfast, you’ve already done a lot of things out of habit. When you drive your car, almost everything goes automatically. You don’t really think about putting on your seat belt or shifting gears. Even at work, a lot of things are fully automatic. You just do it. You go to your workplace and almost without noticing you put on your work clothes, grab your tools, collect your assignments. Ready to go!
The power of habits
A habit is an action or a way of acting that you are used to performing and that you usually perform unconsciously – without thinking about it. People form habits by repeating certain actions in the same routine way over and over again. These patterns of behaviour are imprinted in the brain.
When the management of a company passes on information to employees with the idea that they will apply it in a correct way immediately, they do not take into account the power and strength of habits. If you want people to learn a new habit that helps increase their safety, you will have to ‘translate’ the required behavior into habits (easy to learn and comfortable actions).
When it comes to wearing PPE, managers should ask themselves these questions:
- Which PPE are so comfortable that our people will be able to wear them easily, so they can develop good habits?
- Which PPE doesn’t get in the way of doing the job and even supports it?
A similar question can be asked about safe working in general:
- Which safe actions are so easy and comfortable that employees will be able to apply them out of habit?
In the previous article I told you about danger group 4: the danger that we do not experience as a danger and of which we cannot imagine any consequences. We can’ t use our natural behaviours and instincts to protect ourselves against this type of danger. However, we can learn (new) habits. Then we can use the power and strength of habits to automatically do work related to these dangers in a safe way.
How do you develop a habit? You’ve already read that it’s about repeating the same act over and over again. Preferably the same way, at the same time and, if possible, at the same location. By doing so, you literally capture that combination in your brain. You sit in the car and fasten your seatbelt. You don’t think about that anymore. Sitting in the car is connected to putting on the seat belt.
When you start welding, it’s all about wearing your PPE and using fume extraction and ventilation. You can teach yourself to do this automatically by doing it the same way and in the same order every day you come to work. Put on coveralls, work shoes, gloves in your pocket, welding helmet and respiratory protection around your waist. Always turn on the ventilation and fume extraction at your workplace first.
In the beginning it feels incredibly silly and you may even need visual reminders. Until at some point you don’t think about it anymore and just do it that way. Why? Because you always do it like this. And that’s exactly what we want. Always work in a safe manner!!