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?

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs, Part 8

Over the course of eight posts and a few detours along the way, we have explore that safety behaviors can be quantified in a similar fashion as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There are reasons that are based on basic needs that demonstrate why safety cultures may be moving forward, falling behind, or remaining stationary. There are basic needs that have to be met to allow a safety culture to progress within an organization.

Maslow’s Hierarch of Needs is a good model to predict behaviors based on what need are being fulfilled. When the needs based approach is applied to only the occupational safety area there are many striking similarities. The safety behaviors of a company and be interpreted using a needs based approach. If the needs of the more basic function are not met, the behaviors will mirror and be driven to those needs. A company cannot create a good safety culture without working to assure that the basic needs are met. The most basic, largest, and more energy driven phases of the safety hierarchy are driven primarily by the company management. They have an inherent social contract with the team to first provide gainful employment and to also provide a workplace that is free of serious health and safety hazards. Without the primary needs being met, the company cannot expect safety behaviors to be changed in a meaningful and productive way. As the employees and management fill the lower tier needs and start to shape progressive behaviors, there has to be an acute cognizance of threats to the basic foundation of the pyramid. When threats are encountered, there has to be more effort to mend the foundation or acceptance of the changes in perceptions and behaviors. Overall, the needs based approach to safety delivers insight to why employees may have trouble altering or progressing safe behaviors.

Just as humans have basic needs that have to met for social progression, the world of safety if similar. When considering a company, safety is the most people oriented metric. With that being said, people in groups have social and primal needs that have to met for progression. It cannot be expected that a company can set high expectations without equally empowering their team for success.

In the next series of discussions, I am going to look at the link of programs and behaviors and how those two items can be quantified using a similar typology.

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs, Part 4

To recap the needs based safety theory so far: 1) Safety is a needs based behavior 2) Before an organization can progress to the next need, the previous one has to be fully realized 3) The process is: Gainful Employment, Personal Safety, Team Work, Recognition, Continuous Improvement. 4) The previous posts have: discussed the theory and promoted personal safety. This post is in regards to creating a team based safety culture.


This phase is marked by a behavior that is more inherently concerned with the “we” rather than the “me.” The individual first has to feel personally safe before he can look to his team member and have concern for them also. In this phase of the behaviors approach, safety committees can start to realize their full potential. The lower needs have been fulfilled, and the individuals can start to become more socially aware of safety. The goals are for the groups to begin to identify issues and work together to avoid injury. The social process of safety is simply an approach that is broadened beyond the individual. It will be a process of where the work group will share safety items, be aware of hazards to the group, and work together to improve the environment. The goal is to encourage the teams to self-develop and empower them to solve problems along with progressing safety.

A key management behavior in this phase is to conduct technical training. This is so the teams understand the safety regulations and programs the implement those laws. For the team to be effective, they have to understand the end of goal of not only meeting but exceeding the safety regulations. They cannot be expected to accomplish this task without some technical training on the relevant regulations. The team will also need some training on what it means to be a functional team. This would include fostering team work, listening skills, and facilitation workshops. The team has to function singly with and have the interpersonal skills to support one another.

A critical component of this phase is open and honest communication between the company and the committees. It is the company’s responsibility to assure that the committees understand the constraints of the business. The scope of the work has to be set to that items such as time, resources, and money are defined. There is no reality of having unlimited of any of those three. On the other hand, it is the company’s responsibility to assure that those items that can be corrected are accepted with the utmost importance. Quick wins should be implemented with speed and longer projects should be tracked with milestones being publicized. The two way street of implementation and communication between the company and the employees start to emerge, grow, and take on life. Overall, this is a phase where team work among the individuals and between the company and employees starts to bloom.

HeirarchyDescription

The Heirarchy of Safety Needs. Part 3

There is much effort and time that goes into building the base of the pyramid but for good reason. For the process to be layered upon, the bottom sections have to be strong and stable. The bottom of the pyramid is the largest in area, holds the majority of the weight, and creates stability for the next steps. As the pyramid is being build, any flaws in the lower sections jeopardizes the work of the behaviors above it. Before taking the next steps, it must be assured that the current layer and the layers below are stable and secure. Cultural and behavioral change takes time. The process cannot be rushed because any uncertainty will eventually be felt through eroding of need based behaviors. For example, take a site has progressed from basic safety programs to creating team based approaches and committees The process is working well, and the teams are starting to make some dramatic changes in the site behaviors. Suddenly, market conditions change and the plant is potentially faced with a layoff. The base of the pyramid has been dealt a staggering blow. People are not as focused on safety, much less the safety committee. They are now focused on how they will keep or find another job. In times of uncertain economics, people will seek what they perceive as certain. They are seeking stability based on needs. The needs of the employees revert to a lower level of the hierarchy because that need was no longer fulfilled. An event such as an economic downturn is out of the control of the safety professional, but it serves as an example of how when a more basic need is a not met a person will return to the lowest unfulfilled need. The culture and behaviors of the team will reside with the lowest stable tier of the pyramid.

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs. Part 2: The Safety Need

Through applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to an occupational setting, a needs based safety equivalent can be contrived. At the base of the pyramid is the primal need that is filled through having gainful employment. The next tier up is one of safety. The safety portion of the pyramid is based on creating the fundamental feeling that someone can come to a place of work and be able to return home at the end a shift in relatively the same condition and they arrived (tired from a day of work but uninjured). Creating a safe environment is fundamentally the responsibility of the employer. This was the whole reason the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was created. OSHA is in place to assure that the employer provides a basic safe working environment. It was not created to assure that the employee worked safe, but with any system that involved people there is always a choice.

First, I want to say that employee safety committees are very important, but looking at the situation through a “needs based” set of metrics shows that basic safety programs have to be in place first. It is interesting to come into a situation where safety performance is poor and those who have watched the programs (and usually safety managers) come and go will push for an immediate safety committee. Usually, this statement of absolute knowledge is followed with the statement that each time a safety committee is started there is a lack of employee interest and the committees disband. Why does this happen? The committees fail because the basic need of safety has not been met. Those in the work place cannot graduate to the team based (esteem) need because they do not feel personally safe and perceive that the company is not providing a safe environment.

What could be the reasons for the safety need not being fulfilled?

First, the site should review if there is truly a safe workplace. Are there glaring safety issues that have gone unabated such as guarding, chemical, or procedural problems? This would be a clear case of the employees’ inability to move on to the next behavioral phase due to a lack of fulfillment in the current one. Most likely though, there are some other underlying issues that are present that have not been addressed. One method to find the cause of the behavioral issue would be to conduct a series of employee surveys or interviews. The survey would include “agree or disagree” questions such as:

  • I feel management is committed safety
  • I feel safety concerns are addressed in a timely manner
  • I feel like safety concerns are taken seriously
  • I feel comfortable talking about safety issues with my supervisor
  • I believe the company wants me to be safe
  • Safety is the most important task I perform

The information provided from the survey would give a good overview of the site’s generalized feeling about safety. The survey would indicate a potential area of the safety process that needs to be further developed. The results of the survey could lead to a stronger focus on timely performance of maintenance safety work orders or allow for more supervisor training on engaging employees and mitigating safety hazards. When it comes to people, especially groups, perception is reality.

The good news is that perceptions can be changed. The goal is to make the change as simple as possible. Some examples of utilizing small changes to make large impacts would be:

  • Publicizing the safety work order metrics
  • Performing visible management safety audits
  • Posting before and after photos of safety corrections
  • Training the management team and supervisors to make a personal contact with employees through the day to simply thank them for working safe.

Here is the bottom line for the safety need:

  • The company is responsible for providing a safe workplace.
  • Review/Create programs for compliance
  • Assure that the programs are being utilized
  • Make sure that training is clear, up-to-date, and reflects the work place
  • When safety deficiencies are found, correct them with urgency or communicate the plan for longer projects.
  • Communicate, communicate communicate. The goal is to change the perception of the safety programs. Show progress where progress has made. Use small changes as a springboard for large scale change*
  • Listen to the feedback coming from the employees. If they perceive something as a problem, there might be one.

*For more on making big changes, I highly recommend “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” http://heathbrothers.com/books/switch/

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs: Part 1

One of the more fascinating theories that I enjoy thinking about in relationship to safety is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

I realize that I just cited Wikipedia, but it does give a good overview of the process. So, I’m going to let that one ride.

Basically, Maslow says there is a pyramid of needs and that until someone fulfills the bottom most need, they cannot progress to the next one. Once that one is also filled, one could progress to the next one in line until an individual reaches the top.

The bottom most tier is the basic/primal needs where the higher-level ones are more advanced.

To Summarize the needs:

Physiological: Primal needs such as eating, sleeping, clothing, shelter

Safety: Personal, financial, etc. What makes someone feel secure in their element

Love: Family & Friends

Esteem: Self-esteem

Self Actualization: The highest progression of needs. Self awareness.

In other words: one cannot feel safe until their basic needs are met. One cannot love until they feel safe, etc. etc.

My thoughts on this theory: Can it be applied to occupational safety? Are there needs in the workplace that are or are not being met that create unnecessary risk taking that could lead to an injury? How are those needs fulfilled?

This theory of needs is a  way of looking at a workplace and the people in it to see where they are on the needs scale and possibly predict their attitude or aptitude toward safety. The idea of needs based safety could be the basic root cause of unsafe behaviors in the workplace.

So, what are the hierarchy of safety needs?

Physiological: Inherent to the theory. If you are concerned about workplace safety, then the job itself is providing this need through employment.

Safety: This is the company’s commitment to safety through policies, procedures, investments, and accountability

Love: Love for self and concern for personal safety

Esteem: Concern for not only one’s self, but the team

Self Actualization: Where the team is empowered to make safety their own and progress the programs and processes through continuous improvement.

There is an element of social contact interwoven to this process. The company has an inherent responsibility to provide a safe workplace, and the employees have the responsibility to follow those programs. Based on the needs, though, the company has to make the first move to meet that need of safety through their safety programs and processes.

In my next entry, I will go into more detail on the “safety” portion of the needs pyramid.