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In my many years of working with Members at Make UK, one of the questions which often arises in accident investigations where human behaviour is a significant factor is “why did they do it?” The answer to this question is not always simple and failures at a management and supervisory level are often significant factors.

Let’s take our current situation, there is no doubt that Covid-19 has had a significant impact on all businesses, with new ways of working, changes to workplace layouts to facilitate social distancing and stricter hygiene requirements. Whilst it is all very well putting these changes in place, they are all reliant on employees actually following them. The message is quite clear that if we have a persistent cough or temperature then we need to stay at home and self-isolate, so why do these people still come to work – and believe me it happens. 

The simple explanation is that they are just bad people, however the reasons that people behave in the way they do are often influenced by a number of factors related to the individual, the job they do and the organisation that they work for. It might be that the department was short staffed, or they were under pressure to get a job finished and came to work out of a feeling of duty. 

Getting a better understanding of how and why people behave in the way that do is absolutely key to encouraging positive behaviours and discouraging the negative ones. Take the simple example of hand hygiene, if the washrooms are difficult to access or hand sanitisers are not readily available then they are less likely to be used. Similarly, if the layout of the workplace makes it difficult to socially distance then we can’t be surprised if people don’t comply.

Human behaviour is influenced by two key factors, Activators or Nudges, which trigger the Behaviour and Consequences which affect the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated. If we can get the activators and consequences right then we are more likely to get the desired behaviour. Take the handwashing example; if we make hand sanitiser easily accessible, publicise hand hygiene through use of posters and toolbox talks and promote the benefits of regular hand washing then compliance is far more likely, as is the likely influence of peer pressure. The importance of consultation and involvement of the workforce also can’t be underestimated. 

Driving safe behaviours in the workplace can be a complex issue, but there are a number of obvious solutions:

  • Address those factors which make it difficult or inconvenient to comply – consulting with employees and getting them involved in the development of procedures is absolutely key.
  • Use a variety of nudges to promote the desired behaviour – posters, toolbox talks etc.
  • Make sure that consequences support the desired behaviours and discourage the undesired ones – effective supervision. 

Underpinning all of the above solutions is the need for effective leadership to drive behavioural and cultural change.

If you would like to learn more about how to improve safety culture and drive safe behaviours within your own organisation, then Make UK have developed a virtual course that gives you the insight & skills to do just that.

This informative & interactive workshop can be delivered through our Virtual Classroom technology and details can be found here

Blog / Coronavirus