Safety has come a very long way in the last two decades. Not too long ago a company’s “Safety Management System” consisted of some training, weekly safety meetings, and investigations when incidents occurred. Today, many companies have developed very sophisticated Safety Management Systems (SMS) including a wide range of components such as: thorough safety training and communication plans, comprehensive risk management processes including pre-job hazard analysis, emergency preparedness plans, ergonomic programs, leader safety interactions, health and wellness programs, management audits for safety assurance, and peer observation systems. These new systems help to educate, clarify roles and responsibilities, and address a wide range of safety issues. Importantly, these systems are more proactive and preventative than traditional SMS and they encourage engagement at all levels.
Despite the vast improvement in Safety Management Systems, they are often missing one very crucial component—effective behavior management to ensure that the tools and processes outlined in the SMS are being used as intended, and are having a positive impact. Viewing SMS from a behavioral science perspective, it is clear that most of the components of these systems fall into the category of antecedents—things that prompt desired behaviors (set people up to do the right thing). The science is clear that while antecedents are necessary, alone they are not sufficient for sustaining behavior. Without deliberate feedback and positive reinforcement built into the SMS, one or more of the following is highly likely:
If any or all of these challenges are present in your organization, behavioral science and behavior management technology can help. Safety Management Systems are all about behavior—they are about identifying all the things that need to be done to make the workplace as safe as possible. This includes behavior at the front line all the way up to the boardroom. As noted, while a good SMS outlines what needs to be done and provides tools for doing it, most do not integrate the learnings from behavioral science to ensure that those things get done and get done well. While there is much the science teaches us, here are a few tips that can help you make your SMS more effective:
Once your Safety Management System has all the tools and processes needed, set your sights on applying behavior technology to ensure you get the maximum benefit from those tools and processes. Encourage your management team to engage in deliberate coaching—providing helpful feedback and meaningful consequences (largely positive ones) around the behaviors required by your SMS. This will ensure that the elements of the system are being used as intended and, more importantly, are having the impact you need and want.
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