October 27, 2014
Note: This is Part I in a series of posts entitled "Evolving Beyond Behaviorism." To read Part II, please click here
"Professor Sidney Dekker of Griffiths University, Todd Conklin of Los Alamos Laboratory and other current thought leaders in safety rail against behavior-based approaches. Still, behavior-based thinking remains at the foundation of safety in the construction industry worldwide."
At JMJ, our consulting to world-scale construction projects includes work with the largest companies in the energy and resources industries and a broad spectrum of their construction contractors. These companies are not only the best at their business, but also at doing their business safely.
Virtually all are using behavioral-based programs as the core of their “people-based” safety programs, and they swear by these programs. They back these programs up with resources, systems, sophisticated reports and metrics which in turn drive, measure and reward behaviour. On a given project site, managers can point to improvements in a sub-contractor performance once the BBS, ZAP, ZIP, PBS, or RBL programs take hold HES Directors also point to enterprise and industry-wide improvements in injury and incident rates.
But progress has stalled. Rates are not falling further. Fatal incidents plague virtually all operating companies, large construction contractors and countries. Despite sustained investment, teeth-gnashing and moralizing, no apparent path for success has emerged. As a result, managers on most sites are driving behavioral programs harder, more rigorously and with more metrics and systems to reinforce them.
“We’ve sent hundreds of workers home for ‘making the wrong choices’, and although it helped at first, it has not fundamentally improved our safety. We have got to do something different.” - Construction Director, worksite of 6000 workers
Behaviorism, in vogue throughout the global construction industry, was basically abandoned by forward-looking psychologists 50 years ago. James Reason, perhaps the most influential thinker in modern safety management, de-bunked behavior “as a cause of incidents” almost 20 years ago. Professor Sidney Dekker of Griffiths University, Todd Conklin of Los Alamos Laboratory and other current thought leaders in safety rail against behavior-based approaches. Still, behavior-based thinking remains at the foundation of safety in the construction industry worldwide.
Here are some common reasons:
These are all very attractive attributes to safety, site and corporate managers. But this infatuation masks the underlying issues of their workplaces, and leads managers in the same direction that in fact causes the injuries! Perhaps this is a “fatal attraction.”
JMJ suggested that perhaps there was a bigger opportunity here. Rather than just reinforcing the rules, what might provide a better overall outcome?
I believe a more fundamental shift in worker engagement and safety management is needed.
My next blog will address why this attraction exists and point to new avenues for managing Safety Differently…
I welcome your comments.
On March 19, 11:30 AM at the Hilton Brisbane Hotel in Brisbane, Australia, Mike Goddu will be co-hosting a Business Lunch with Professor Sidney Dekker, discussing the limits of behaviorism and how to lead and manage Safety Differently.