Safety: Behavior or Motivation

I was recently at my final residency. Part of this process was to complete my dissertation research plan. The discussion around my topic about safety was talking about the theory behind the process of safety psychology.

On a complete side note, I did learn that with a qualitative research plan the theory is really something that gets built into the process as the research is conducted and not as a basis like quantitative research.

Back on topic: One of the discussions in my group was if I was studying behavior or if I was studying motivation. This whole discussion turned my thoughts upside down. Since I first began in safety over twelve years ago, I have been told that changing people’s behaviors was the ultimate goal of the safety professional. What if for all this time, I really should have been seeking to create motivation not change behavior. Mind blown!

With this new way of looking at how safety should be integrated into a organizational culture, it begins with the most simple thought: why do people need motivation to be safe? The over simplified answer is that going home whole should be enough motivation for anyone. Yet national statistics show that there are still 4,500 people a year that never go home to their families at the end of the work day. There are still too many people needing medical attention just by going to work. The real answer is much more complicated and infinitely more varied.

When evaluating motivation for safety, I personally subscribe to the Mazlow’s Hierarchy model. I feel this explanation fits the Occam’s Razor approach of being the most simplified and easiest to understand. The hierarchy shows that safety is the second key motivator of people. The first motivation is physiological: food, shelter, warmth, etc. In modern society, this need is met by having a job and affording a place to live and food to eat. So, the motivation for someone to have a job to meet their physiological need is greater than their motivation for safety. In my experience, this holds to be generally true.

Looking deeper at the motivation of the workplace, the comparison of the major metrics of business is safety, quality, delivery, and cost. Employee’s get very different messages when it comes to these and how they are motivated among them.
For example:

The site is able to have zero quality defects for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to meet all production targets for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to meet all cost metrcs for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to have zero safety incidents for a day = An expectation of the job
Another Example:

An employee misses their quality target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their production target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their cost target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their safety target = Probably nothing happens. They have found a work around to potentially help compensate for quality, production, or cost. They are seeking the most primal motivation of the physiological need.

Additionally with safety, the unsafe action statistically will not lead to an immediate injury. Someone could perform an unsafe act multiple times that would not lead to a direct injury. The more the act is performed, the more the individual becomes accepting of the risk. Ultimately though, risk will create a hazard and potentially an injury.

All that said to simply summarize that this whole time I have been wanting to change behaviors when really I need to be seeking to create motivation. As a safety professional or as a supervisor or as a manager, what can we do to create the motivation for our team to go home injury free? There is no simple answer. There is no silver bullet approach. Even though it is not all about behavior, there are cultural components and norm setting that has to occur to create that motivation for the team.

So here is a closing thought exercise: Look at the way your team is motivated and the systems that are in place to motivate, what behaviors and culture is it creating?

Weekly Safety News Roundup – 5/24/15

In news this week was some criticism of the OSHA fines in the DuPont, Texas deaths. It continues to show the antiquity of the OSHA fine structure. For small businesses, the fines can seem insurmountable while for large corporations the fines are are inconsequential. When it comes to risk from fines the EPA has far exceeded OSHA in terms of how they fines are conducted. The articles are interesting reads in regards to how the fines are perceived based on the perceived severity of the violations.

Article 1 & Article 2

When it comes to fines, there are many that feel that OSHA could do better to seek legislation to update and improve the overall structure of the way they calculate and present fines.

In some interesting news, OSHA found the owner of a company to be in criminal contempt for not allowing OSHA inspectors onsite after employee complaints. The OSHA officers had a judges order to be able to come onto the site and perform the inspection. The company still disallowed the inspection officers to enter the facility. OSHA then turned back to the courts to get a criminal contempt charge. It makes me wonder why the company did not allow the OSHA officers to enter the first time and especially when they came back with a judges order. That is quite audacious. Certainly by acting in that way, the company creates a high level of suspicion of what they are trying to cover up or avoid.

Weekly Safety Roundup – Easter Weekend

I am a little late getting this one together, but without further ado here is what I have found interesting in safety news this week.

In the “Lockout is for everyone” category

A bowling alley was cited by OSHA after a fatality where a mechanic was caught in a pin setter mechanism. The premise of safety guarding from equipment is simple. Either it has to be guarded, or it has to be locked out. There are very few exceptions from an OSHA standpoint, and they are hard to prove. Even with work that sounds simple, it is very important that the equipment is guarded or securely turned off. Even at home, there are times where it is important to make sure the item is unplugged or that you maintain exclusive control

In the “scaffold” category

A scaffold collapse in North Carolina resulted in multiple fatalities. It is still not exactly known of what caused the collapse. It is a good reminded of how important competent scaffold builders are and inspections of the scaffolding. It will be interesting to see what comes from the investigation

In the “get the job done” category.

A roofer had an electrocution fatality and following the even sent another guy back to the same site under the same conditions to finish the job. Sadly, this happens more than it should. I remember a few years ago sitting in the TOSHA annual review of state fatalities. In their PowerPoint deck was a photo of roofers on the job. The previous day one of the roofers fell off the roof and was killed. The next day when the compliance officer showed up, the exact same work was going on with no additional safe guards. It truly makes me shake my head and wonder “what were they thinking?”

In the “makes me wonder about humanity” category

Wal-Mart has chosen to end their appeal of the 2008 Black Friday trampling death. I remember when this happened and wondered what kind of cheap electronics is worth a mob mentality tramping someone to death. How could people just keep charging into the store and not see they were killing the guy who opened the door. In Wal-Mart’s defense, I am sure they did not see that as a potential risk. I have in years following the incident an increased awareness of employee safety around Black Friday.

In “that’s interesting” news

A database of state OSHA laws has been compiled. It is an interesting read.

DOL Report on Injury Inequality, Part 2

To continue thoughts on the DOL report on how workers’ compensation creates inequality in workers.

This report is getting quite a bit of attention from various media sources and confirms some of the same items that reports from both PBS and NPR have investigated.

The report goes through a number of ways that the lack of worker safety along with a potentially failing workers’ compensation system can create a disparity among injured workers. The report is summarized very simply as the best approach to workers’ compensation is to prevent worker injuries. If a worker does not get hurt, a workers does not need work comp. The report is put together well, but there are a number of ways OSHA is not as effective as it could be in creating momentum for worker safety.

First, OSHA has an amazing amount of red tape before a new law can be propagated. Do we have a comprehensive combustible dust standard? No. Do we have an ergonomics standard? No. Are the PELs for chemicals inclusive and up to date? No. Is the injury and illness prevention plan (I2P2) ready for use? No. Too many times a safety professional’s hands are tied due to the lack of comprehensive legislation. I was speaking to a fellow regulatory professional one day, and he relayed the story of a manager who felt that OSHA was the “Cadillac” of the safety world. Amazing, right? OSHA is the law. It is the bare minimum standard. OSHA still relies heavily on the general duty clause which has too much room for interpretation.

Second, OSHA is understaffed and inconsistent. What prevents someone from speeding? The idea that there could be a cop around the bend that will catch and fine you for it. Without sufficient coverage of compliance officers, there are businesses that can operate with minimal fear of the local OSHA office. Certainly, OSHA comes to visit when there are significant injuries (see the updates to the reporting law) or complaints. The key factor, though, is that a company has to be honest with the law. If an organization has made the choice to not follow the law, why would they choose to inform their employees of their rights or report correctly when warranted. Certainly, there are very stiff penalties if caught for willfully under reporting. Overall, the best way to catch problems is to have people in the field finding them. Please forgive the oversimplified analogy: If the police want to stop speeding, they do not create a self reporting hotline for speeders.

Third, in my experience, OSHA compliance officers are inconsistent. I have had some really good compliance officers that evaluate my processes and programs find they are functional and move on. I have also had some visit who did nothing but write citations for anything and everything. It was like an egg on the wall theory. Smack it against the wall and see how much sticks. There has got to be consistency in the process. If a compliance officer is judged effective through sheer number of citations, then they will write more citations. What gets measured, gets done. Just to be clear, though, if there is a true violation; it should be cited clearly and consistently. I can accept tough regulations as long as they are enforced consistently. The problem comes with the grey areas of the law or the lack of legal understanding.

Which leads me to my fourth point, the regulations are not user friendly. In someways, I find that perfectly acceptable as companies need people like me to help them comply. On the other hand, it is not easy to find a clear answer to questions. When speaking in terms of worker safety, the topics are not only a broad array but in-depth. When researching a standard, there are many considerations. What does the regulation say? Are there interpretations to read? What was the intent when the law was written? How did public comment change it? Are the references such as NFPA, ANSI, etc.? How has recent citations affected the interpretations of the law? Are there state specific laws? It takes time to implement a process right just in understanding alone.

Worker injuries are devastating. They should be prevented. But, there is more that can be done from an OSHA standpoint to help that accountability, education, and simplification.

DOL Report on Injury Inequality, Part 1

This morning on my Twitter feed (@thesafetydude), the Department of Labor posted a link to a new report that was released in regards to how an injury to a worker actually creates inequality. The report is quite thought provoking. Sadly, those who will probably read it already are concerned with creating a safety workplace. I would like to think that the report will help progress the safety field and create safer work environments.

Click to access 20150304-inequality.pdf

I am going to take a short break from the Hierarchy of Safety Needs to walk through this report. There are a few topics that I feel should be explored a little further in depth.

One of the key taglines in the report is “(safety) statistics are people with the tears washed off”


That one struck me like a thunderbolt.

Indulge me as I take my soapbox for a few moments. When I was getting my undergraduate degree, I never saw myself as a safety person. This was a career that took me by surprise. I thought my minor would be a means to a degree and really not serve me any real purpose. I am so thankful for it now as it has become not only my career but a defining piece of who I am. I love what I do! I really feel that what I do each day makes a difference. I see the benefit of having a great safety culture. I have seen what injuries can do and how they affect people. I have always viewed my job as an underrated necessity for companies. The misunderstanding comes from a lack of quantification. The business of safety is the business prevention. How does one really quantify prevention? When looking at the profession from that standpoint. Each day is the prevention of catastrophic loss. Speaking in those terms, a safety professional is worth their salary thousands of times over. Unfortunately, many organizations do not see the need for true safety professionals ( One topic that I try to teach when I have to opportunity to is that there are no second changes with safety. From a SQDC standpoint, safety has no mulligans. If the quality of a product is off, it can be fixed or the customers items can be replaced. If a delivery is missed, it can usually be made up. If cost is missed, there may be ways to make up the loss over time. When a safety incident happens, it cannot be undone. The person hurt may recover but will never be the way they were. The people who saw it will remember. There is always the unquantifiable time and effort in understanding, reporting, and managing after an incident. There are not ways to undo the injury.

This report takes time to really focus on many of the unquantifiable aspects of injuries. There are many unexplored ways that injuries in the workplace create inequality for those who are affected. I am looking forward to diving into a little more detail of the report.