Individuals choose to engage in certain behaviors based on internal and external constraints. Internal constraints are values that people apply to themselves. External constraints include rules and consequences that are intended to shape behaviors. While rules should help guide behaviors, some people ignore the rules. However, for those who voluntarily choose the right behaviors, the rules are merely guidelines.
Behaviors are shaped by both internal and external constraints. For example, a desire to prevent injury may cause you to wear a seatbelt and avoid using a cell phone while driving. Although external constraints (laws on these issues) may impact your choices, the desire to stay safe is an internal constraint or self-imposed behavior. You’d follow those behaviors even if there was no law on the issue.
How Do We Get Employees Choosing To Follow Safety Rules
External constraints may be necessary, but rules are effective only if people follow them, and some employees might grudgingly comply under an attitude of, “We HAVE to do it this way.”
Internal constraints are more effective because employees choose to follow safety rules. Employees make these choices when they see the benefits to THEMSELVES, not simply to avoid adverse consequences. When conducting safety training make it personal. In short, rules tell employees what choices to make, but internal constraints tell them why they should make those choices. When internal constraints drive behaviors, the rules are (in a sense) unnecessary because people would make the right choices anyway.
When a company says that it values safety, the company strives to help everyone understand the value of safety. Employees should work safely because they recognize the benefits to the company as well as the benefits to themselves. The goal is to reach a point where rules serve as guidelines, and employees choose safe behaviors for the benefits, not to avoid consequences.
Helping employees develop internal constraints may require imposing consequences, but consequences can be negative (like discipline for making the wrong choice) or positive (like a bonus or recognition for doing the right thing). Even discipline can be delivered in a way that helps build internal constraints, such as issuing reminders along the lines of “because it keeps you from getting injured.” Accidents may still happen but could provide an opportunity to evaluate whether an employee made the wrong choice and whether a different behavior could have changed the outcome. Accidents may constitute failures, but failures are also learning opportunities that can help demonstrate the “why” of developing internal constraints. It’s been said that expertise is nothing more than mastery of the basics. That concept applies to safety, where an emphasis on the basics is essential to preventing injuries. Focusing on the basics is particularly important for new hires, but also for employees returning to work following a shutdown.
Five Simple Rules For A Zero Accident Culture
Nearly every aspect of safety falls under one of these rules:
- employees are responsible for following safety rules and procedures,
- never take shortcuts or work in unsafe conditions,
- report all hazards, problems, injuries, and near misses,
- if you don’t know the procedure, ask for help, and
- everyone is responsible for preventing injuries. If everyone follows these rules, employees will always wear appropriate PPE, report any hazards, and make safety a priority. The goal is to help employees understand that their actions and choices impact their risk of injury.
Accountability & Responsibility
Nearly every injury results from an unsafe condition, an unsafe employee behavior, or a combination of both. We should not blame employees for getting injured, however, even if a worker ignored a safety rule. There’s often something the employer could have done, like enforcing rules more diligently or providing additional training.
In many ways, employers are responsible for both conditions and behaviors, having the authority to correct unsafe conditions and the ability to incentivize and reinforce safe behaviors.
Employees can make an enormous contribution by reporting unsafe conditions and choosing to follow procedures. They can help identify and correct hazards so the employer doesn’t have to investigate injuries. When employees consistently follow the rules, they demonstrate a mastery of the basics that contributes to the overall safety record and moving towards the goal of a ZERO ACCIDENT CULTURE.