Safety begins at home

Safety begins at home

At the ninth annual Behavioural Based Safety Conference held in  Johannesburg recently, BLAIR BURMEISTER gained insight into various approaches to help employees identify safe behaviours over unsafe practices – and how to overcome the challenges involved.

To incorporate a behavioural-based safety (BBS) programme in an organisation is not an easy task – it takes dedication and perseverance to overcome the challenges involved. But according to Jurgen Tietz, engineer and professional safety speaker, the hard work will pay off. He believes that if a company can get BBS right it will make a huge difference to its success in the field of safety.

There was a common thread in the sentiments expressed by the well-respected safety professional at the conference. They are all passionate about BBS and encourage safety managers to see it as “something that lives within you” at the workplace, on the road and at home.

Tietz says: “There has to be momentum in BBS if you want to achieve success – it must be practiced every day.” His strategy is to incorporate simple, smart safety which starts by inventing basic solutions to develop a culture of safety in the workplace.

 “BBS starts with getting into the habit of thinking about consequences. Accidents don’t just happen – they are caused by someone choosing to do the wrong thing,” Teitz explains. “Get people to make good choices instead of taking bad chances.”

Tania Crous, behaviour safety manager at Sasol, agrees with Teitz. Crous has 12 years of experience in the BBS field, earning her a solid reputation in the industry. She is motivated by the work she does at Sasol and implements proper safety practices in all aspects of her life, not only in the workplace. “I take my job home and exercise safety every day. This is such an important part of BBS as it all starts with implementing good habits. We need to start teaching people the value of creating a safety culture,” she says.

Her advice for keeping safety solutions simple is to look at the essential requirements. One of these is to identify barriers, especially ones that hamper communication. “Language barriers are the reality of a mining environment,” explains Crous. “If we look at coal mining, language and literacy are the major obstacles. Sasol uses the safe making behaviour process for such instances where we keep solutions basic and simple, to improve the quality of our data.”

Steve Simpson, CEO of Keystone Management Services Australia, together with his South African partner Stef du Plessis, has assisted with successful BBS strategies in over 50 mining environments around the world. The pair’s recipe for success is to create unwritten ground rules in the workplace which serve as a basis for developing a culture of safety. 

He explains: “Employees need to see safety clues within an environment – these will form part of the unwritten ground rules and will drive safe behaviour, even though these rules are seldom spoken about. When new employees arrive, they will look for these safety clues and if colleagues are adhering to them, they will comply in order to seek acceptance and to fit in with the culture.”

Simpson reiterates the importance of first getting the safety culture right in an organisation, as the rest will follow thereafter. He adds that continuous, safe behaviour will reduce the number of fatalities among employees.

 “One of the most important aspects of success is to get management to adhere to these unwritten rules, because if they don’t, there won’t be a culture of safety throughout the entire organisation,” notes Simpson.

Teitz agrees: “Leadership behaviours make a huge impact and set an example. There will be a culture of safety if management adhere to safe practices – failure to do so is a common mistake when trying to implement a BBS plan.”

He adds: “You also need to praise employees for practicing safe habits – this moves people into action and re-enforces a positive attitude. The CEO should acknowledge employees for their commitment to safety. Make employees feel good about making a positive impact on BBS.”

Simpson agrees that self-worth, value and happiness among employees are key ingredients: “Engage employees in the vision for safety in the workplace. Communication is a key element along with appreciation for individual performance. Teach people about the unwritten ground rules and give them a chance to change.”

He also encourages managers to see the value of getting as many employees involved as possible and to talk openly with employees about the type of culture they would like to see in the organisation. “This can be incredibly uplifting. Get your employees excited about the future and create positive but stern unwritten ground rules.”

Simpson’s final word of advice focuses on the importance of embedding and agreeing on a set of post-unwritten ground rules that are an agenda item in meetings. “You need to identify what is working and what can be improved on. You need hardcore, quantitative data to see if the current rules are working – train up a core group of champions who are dedicated to the cause.”

Crous too, identifies this as a critical success factor: “There has to be commitment and you have to use your data constructively. Don’t generate information for the sake of it – make it worthwhile for your employees. We are often so caught up with the software system that we forget about the most important part: interacting with people.”

According to Crous, the key to BBS lies in the way one communicates with employees and how you approach and speak to people. “Effective interaction will develop the right culture in your environment and you will be able to understand the true reason as to why a person may be acting a certain way,” she adds.

Teitz agrees that this proactive approach will make a huge difference and will generate the results that may not be achievable sitting behind a desk. “If you want to be serious about safety, you have to leave a footprint on the ground. Assess the hazards and inform your employees.”

He concludes: “In terms of safety, leadership has to be visible and involved, this will move employees to follow good habits.”

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