Are Workers The True Safety Hazard?

Is the hazard on your jobsite the problem or is it the behavior of the employees when they encounter the hazard?
By themselves hazards on the jobsite are not usually dangerous to people. For example, a wet floor isn’t by itself a hazard. Someone noticing but choosing to ignore the wet floor or a worker who is not made aware of the wet floor is the point when it becomes dangerous. It is the interaction of people with hazards that create the situation that can lead to an undesired incident. Worker behavior when encountering hazardous situations are at the root of safety in the workplace. Sounds a little like the old riddle: ‘If a tree falls in the woods and on one is around to hear it, does it make any noise?’ In this instance it would be ‘If the hazard exists but no one interacts with it, is it a hazard?’

The goal for Workplace Safety professionals is to ensure the correct safe behavior of the workers when encountering a hazard. With the wet floor example, the desired outcome would be identifying the hazard, warning others of the hazard and then ensuring corrective or preventative measures are followed to mitigate the hazard when encountered by people. The struggle comes into play when we try to alter another person’s behavior pattern.
The altering of behavior comes down to two basic philosophies; the carrot or the stick. The stick is the method that has been used time and time again in workplace safety. This can be in the form of write-ups, docked pay or firing of employees who do not exhibit the desired behavior. Supposedly the fear of the penalty is enough to cause the behavior modification. We know that this is not enough to truly change behavior. So what works?
The option left to us to utilize is the carrot, the incentive or reward earned for consistent good or safe behavior choices.  Before some of you freeze up at the mention of incentives and safety in the same article you should know that OSHA is against incentives that recognize lagging indicators or results driven awards. What OSHA has approved is the use of incentives for behavior reinforcement. OSHA agrees that incentives can be used to effectively drive behavior that will in the end produce the result we want; reduced incidents on the jobsite. With the wet floor example, the worker who is incentivized to followed the desired correct path of hazard identification, warning and hazard abatement could be rewarded. It was after all their correct interaction with the hazard that led to the hazard correction. Behavior conditioning or correction using carrots or rewards through incentives can be very effective, just ask Pavlov’s dogs.